Stephen Fry on Shakespeare and love

It’s hard to follow the thread and take notes when Stephen Fry takes to the stage to deliver a lecture on Shakespeare and love. To a mere mortal such as myself, he seems to have a brain the size of a small planet, and yet he didn’t consider himself a scholar of Shakespeare. The Bard was, he confessed, an inspiration for him, as he read him compulsively from a young age, with an ambition to get into Cambridge University. Which he did, with a scholarship.

He admitted that his understanding was made more profound after he fell in love for the first time, and then proceeded to debunk all claims that Shakespeare’s words were written by either Marlowe or Bacon – with credible evidence of course. He then read Sonnet 20 and Sonnet 18, (‘Shall I compare thee to a Summers day?’) examining and analysing the language and form – of course it all makes perfect sense when someone like Fry explains it, leaving me wishing that every English teacher I ever had was just like him. If you haven’t read any of his books on language, I urge you to do so.

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Jennifer Saunders, Bonkers.

Yes she is, a little, and endearingly so. Interviewer Francine Stock was mid- introduction when Saunders sauntered onto the stage, looking indignant, clutching a Claridge nursing home bag, cracking jokes. She remarked how someone asked her why didn’t she go on stage alone and talk, reply that she had always been part of a double act, and Francine should regard herself as Dawn French for the duration!

I could hardly take notes for laughing, as she commented on various parts of her memoirs, Bonkers, , which were loaded with humour as you would expect, but what also came through was the warmth and love of her family, her friendship with Dawn, and her honesty.

Almost upstaged by the sudden unplanned appearance of her dog, and a question from a member of the audience who professed her love for Ade Edmondson (who also made a brief appearance to huge applause), it didn’t phase her. I don’t usually read memoirs or autobiographies, but I’m about to go and buy this one. Still smiling!

Simon Armitage – The Great War: An Elegy

Simon Armitage talked about his commission from the BBC, in composing seven poems to commemorate the 700,000 men who died during WW1.

He took an alternative approach, by exploring the lives of ordinary people and how they were affected by the war. He also stressed that he wanted to find a way to elegise them, in case these kind of experiences should disappear from memory. One of the most poignant was that of nurse Edith (Edie) Appleton, who kept meticulous diaries of her experiences of nursing soldiers who had been injured on the battlefield. One element that struck him was how she sought solace in the coast, away from the battlefield on her days off, and often swam in the sea, as if to wash away the experience.

He read some of his poems, and some were shown on excerpts from a film he’s made which will be shown in the Autumn on BBC two. Sea Sketch, Remains, Lazarus, In Avondale, The Thankful, Considering the Poppy, Memorial took us on a journey of different experiences of various ‘ordinary people’ who had extraordinary tales to tell, reminding us how far removed we are today in the 21st century western world. When asked by an audience member if he had felt anger when he was writing, he answered no, he just felt a tremendous sadness. Armitage also added that he didn’t feel that he had the authority to feel that emotion, unlike the war poets such as Sassoon and Owen.