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Shakespeare in the Netherlands

Dutch schoolgirl Emma Weijers writes about her love for Shakespeare and choosing him as the subject of her diploma research essay.

Emma Weijers

When I was about 14 years old, I read my first Shakespearian play at my old highschool. I immediately fell in love with his way of storytelling and style of writing, and of course a story about two lovers in fair Verona really appealed to me as a theatregoer and thespian. From that year on, my reading of choice was always the works of Shakespeare, even though some teachers dissuaded me from this!

Two years ago, I flew off to Verona to visit the city where my favorite play Romeo and Juliet, was set. We visited all the iconic places, answered letters at the secretary of Juliet, and even booked a ticket to see a traveling live performance of the play in the streets of Verona. It was absolutely magical and I will definitely go back to visit the wonderful friends I met there, who I am still in contact with to this day.

About a year ago, I started writing my final essay before my graduation. In the Netherlands, it is mandatory to write a research paper to obtain your diploma. I have always wanted to dive deeper into the works of Shakespeare, and this was the perfect opportunity to do so.

So I set out to research about the (potential) influences of Shakespeare and his life in the modern world, and I did a survey to gauge his popularity amongst friends, family, my fellow students and teachers of my school. To complete the paper, I wanted to include an interview with an expert, and since the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust was one of my most frequently used sources, I decided to email them, and came into contact with Dr. Anjna Chouhan.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Portrait of William Shakespeare, c.1610 - 1615
Shakespeare inspired a 100-hour essay by Dutch schoolgirl Emma Weijers

At first, I initiated by following an online certified course about Shakespeare’s life and works, and did loads of research to become as educated on the subject as possible. Then I started writing my essay, which turned out to be a 100-hour-long project. I am going to take you through some of the amazing things I learnt, and summarise some of the aspects which are related to Shakespeare’s modern influences.

There are countless words in current English language invented by Shakespeare. He often made up words and phrases when he could not find the right words to make sense of what he was trying to express. Sometimes he wrote according to a rhyme scheme, and he had to come up with a word that would fit the rhyme. Even in these modern times, Shakespeare’s influence is all around us. There are over 525 films which have Shakespeare in some sort of credits on the script or storyline, and there are almost 300 published full film adaptations of Shakespearian plays worldwide. Hamlet is by far the most popular play when it comes to film adaptations, with more than 50 versions since 1900, and the 1948 version was the first British film to ever win an Oscar!

Anjna told me during our interview that Shakespeare pretty much invented the structure of romantic comedies: couples having to face loads of obstacles before they can be together, (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) or two people hating each other, and end up marrying because they changed their minds (Much Ado About Nothing). She even told me that most Disney films are inspired by the stories of Shakespeare, and it was really fun to look further into those storylines which are basically my childhood!

Dutch translation Hamlet
A Dutch translation of Hamlet

Finally, I sent out a survey with loads of questions about William Shakespeare’s works. 68.9% of the participants had never read a Shakespeare play in their lives! I asked the participants why they would want to read a play, and the storylines and interesting characters were the most named motivations. In the Netherlands, reading Shakespeare’s plays during English courses is not part of the school system, which may explain why the majority stated to have never read one of his plays. Many participants told me that the difficult style of writing is the main thing that keeps them from having a glance at one of Shakespeare’s works.

The fight between Tybalt (Hugh Quarshie) and Mercutio (Michael Kitchen) in Act 3 scene 1.
According to Emma's survey 33.8% of the participants had seen a Shakespeare play at the theatre

33.8% of the partakers have seen a play at the theatre, and 32.9% have watched one of the film adaptations. The most watched film and seen performance is Romeo and Juliet, which makes sense due to the fact that it was the most popular and read play according to the survey (closely followed by Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream).

All in all, Shakespeare’s language is very influential and useful if you would want to understand the current English language better. In addition to that, his characters in the plays have interesting ways of expressing themselves, which includes lines that are still used nowadays!

I think that Shakespeare’s works offer crucial life lessons, which are valuable no matter who you are, where you are from or what language you speak. Although Shakespeare died hundreds of years ago, he still has a huge influence on our everyday life, and all the arts surrounding us, and he probably will maintain a powerful linguistic position in the future.

I truly appreciate you for taking the time to read this article! I am so grateful towards everyone who took part in the process of this research, especially Dr. Anjna Chouhan and my mentor Magda van der Burg! And as Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night: ´I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks!´ ;)