On May 20 the Olympic torch arrived in the UK aboard a special flight from Greece. It began a 70-day, 12,500-kilometer journey around Britaintraveling through 1,019 cities, towns and villages. A total of 8,000 people will carry the torch for one mile each (that's 1.6 kilometers), and it will also be transported by boat, bicycle, tram and train. The youngest torchbearer will be 12 and the oldest will be 100. Sailor Ben Ainslie, who has won gold medals at three consecutive Olympic Games, confessed to being very nervous when he carried the torch on its first leg in Cornwall in the south of England. But it's not just famous people and well-known athletes who are carrying the torch, others have been nominated for their good work. For example, Dave Jackson, 61, was nominated for his volunteer work with the coastguard. And in case you're wondering where the flame came from -it was kindled from the rays of the sun using a parabolic mirror in a special ceremony on 10 May at Olympia, the home of the ancient Olympic Games.
And while the 2012 Summer Olympic Games (or as they are officially known, the Games of the XXX Olympiad) run from July 27 to August 12, it is interesting to learn that London is currently hosting the 2012 Cultural Olympiad in preparation for the summer games. This is a huge cultural celebration and aims to inspire creativity across all forms of culture, for example, music, film and art. I suspect few of us are aware that the Cultural Olympiad is not a 21st century innovation, but goes back to the original concept of the modern Games in 1896. In Ancient Greece, art and sport were seen as perfect partners, and it was hoped that the modern Olympics could balance body and mindand become a civilizing force around the world. From the 1912 Games in Stockholm until the 1948 Games in London, competitions for art and designwere part of the Olympic program, with categories for literature, music, painting, sculpture and architecture.Today, those competitions have been replaced with cultural programs that are separate from the sports competitions.
Included in the wide range of activities in the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad is The World Shakespeare Festival (WSF). As part of this festival, the BBC has already produced new television adaptations of four of Shakespeare's history plays: Richard II, Henry IV (Parts 1 & 2)and Henry V.But it is a radio program that has caught my eye (or should I say has caught my ear?). Neil MacGregor, the charismatic director of the British Museum in London, is fronting a 20-part radio series that explores the world of Shakespeare through actual historical objects from Shakespeare's time. In one program, for instance, he focuses on a thin sword called a rapier and a dagger found on the shore of the River Thames in London. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/shakespeares-restless-world/programmes/swordplayandswagger/. The weapons were probably dropped by someone getting out of a boat. A great problem of London in Shakespeare's time was knife crime among the upper classes. In fact, fights with swords and knifes were part of everyday life. Laws were passed but,as there was no proper police force,those laws could not be enforced. Macgregor explains that people on their way through London streets to the theater would very likely see people fighting. As a result, to the 16th century audience, Romeo and Julietwas not just about adolescent love: it was also about what knife crime does to a society and the failure of the authorities to control it.
A second radio program focuses on a brass fork found in London's Rose Theater http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/shakespeares-restless-world/programmes/snackingthroughshakespeare/. In Shakespeare's time (1590s) the metal fork wasa very new, smart, foreign implement (In fact, the fork Macgregor talks about was Italian.) We know from the excavations of the theatres that if you were standing in the pit, you were eating oysters and whelks from their shells - and you were not using any tools (apart from your knife to open the shells). But the richer people in the expensive seats were eating grander things. They brought their own food, their own glasses and their own forks. Interestingly, the London theaters were set in Southwark, a 'rough' part of London. Shakespeare's audiences made their way here either by boat or across London Bridge. Southwark was where the action was - the dancing bears, the cockfighting, the brothels and the theatres. Macgregor uses the fork to bring this all to life.
A third program is a favorite of mine as it illustrates a crossroads in history - the creation of the flag for the new country called Great Britain.Many of Shakespeare's plays before 1603 talk about England. But in 1603, James I ascended the English and the Scottish throne. James wanted to be king of a unified Great Britain, and he decided to create a new flag for his new country. James tried various designs using both the English and Scottishflags (see picture (a) below) and opted foradesign that placed the two flags side by side - in balance (picture (b) below).The unification of England and Scotland is the big theme of politics throughout the 1600s and it is interesting that after 1603 Shakespeare began writingplays that talked about Britain not England- such as Cymbeline. However, Macgregor notes that King James I of England, (and King James VI of Scotland) found himself ruling over two countries with different political and legal systems, and a long history of mutual dislike and suspicion. The new flag was a failure and it wasn't until the 1800s that the union flag was adopted in both countries in its modern form. (Picture (c) below.) http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/shakespeares-restless-world/programmes/flagthatfailed/
(a) (b) = union flag designs in 1603
(c) = union flag adopted many years later in 1800s
Born around 1564, Shakespeare was part of an English generation struggling to understand the rapidly changing world around it. There was huge religious and political uncertainty in England and in the major European countries at the time. Macgregor delights in using museum objects to bring Shakespeare and his changing world to life. I wonder what Shakespeare would have thought of a worldwide Shakespeare festival and an Olympics with a viewing audience expected to reach 4.7 billion viewers -- or 70% of the world's population.