British envoy to Turkey treats arts lovers with Shakespeare reading
Dominick Chilcott says Shakespeare's writing has influenced modern movies and musicals such as The Lion King, West Side Story
Helping to usher in the fall arts season, Britain’s ambassador in Ankara treated fans of the bard in Turkey’s capital to a spirited reading of one of his best-known sonnets, evoking memories of the bygone summer.
Despite the passage of four centuries since the age of Shakespeare, interest in his plays and poems shows no signs of disappearing, said Dominick Chilcott, who has served as ambassador in the capital Ankara since 2018.
As a special contributor to the 12th International Sefika Kutluer Festival, with this year's theme “Shakespeare and Music,” he said the well-known flautist Kutluer and her husband Refik came to him a few weeks ago and proposed an evening combining music and Shakespeare.
Chilcott was asked to read aloud some Shakespeare poetry, accompanied by some period songs along the lines of "early Baroque music" in between, he told Anadolu Agency in an interview.
Admitting that he would have difficulty choosing a favorite era of literature, he said, “I have various different enthusiasms in English literature. I like a certain amount of fantasy literature,” mentioning Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the Narnia author and theologian.
Moving closer to the present age, he continued, "J.K. Rowling, I know these are meant to be children's books, but actually, I think the Harry Potter novels are tremendous,” singling out the third book in the series, The Prisoner of Azkaban, as “one of the great short novels ... in recent years."
On his personal view of Shakespeare, Chilcott says he was introduced to Bard of Avon in his school years, and even acted in some of his plays.
"It gave me an insight into how somebody writing 400 years ago was able to produce something extremely beautiful from the English language. And he writes in these pentameter sentences, and even his prose is like poetry sometimes," he said.
Chilcott added that Shakespeare's poetry can be quite hard even for a native English speaker, since it is not straightforward, and the archaic language requires concentration.
"Because the language has moved on in 400 years, but it's still accessible,” he explained. “So it both requires a bit of effort. But at the same time, it's not like it's not Chinese, not impossible, you know. And you can you just enjoy, I think, the sort of engagement with what he was saying in the text.”
Fickle winds, clear prose
Choosing for his reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, whose opening lines are among the best-known in the history of the English language, Chilcott recited:
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Of the famed 14 lines, he called them “really lovely,” adding: “Five beats per line, 10 syllables per line, very simple rhymes. And the rhyming scheme is not complicated. But they're full of wonderful metaphor.”
Unpacking the poem starting with the opening lines, Chilcott elaborated: “He's saying how his love is better than summer's day, more reliable because (on a) summer's day you get rough winds, cold winds, that shape the darling buds of May, or sometimes the sun's too hot, it's uncomfortable.”
“Quite often in England, you know, it's covered by clouds, so you don't feel very summery," he added.
Chilcott says he dipped into composing love poems when he was a teenage schoolboy, but then stopped when he entered university.
Yet his current diplomatic job still “involves a lot of writing,” he said, stressing the importance of writing well and with clarity.
“I believe very strongly in the importance of good writing, and its connection to clear thinking,” he said.
“If you can, if you force yourself to try and write clearly and well, then it forces you to think through issues more clearly. And so you provide a better product. So I think although I'm not a creative writer, I do think it's important even in a job as a civil servant or diplomat to make an effort to write.”
He also stressed that Shakespeare's writing has greatly influenced modern culture, calling the popular Disney movie The Lion King something like the Tragedy of Hamlet but set in the animal kingdom in Africa.
"Or West Side Story as a version of Romeo and Juliet,” he added, referring to the popular Broadway musical.
“So I think there's a lot of Shakespeare that's permeated and influenced other things that are more accessible to us," he said.
For more information on the Sefika Kutluer Festival, which lasts through Dec. 1, visit sefikakutluerfest.com/en.
* Writing by Dilara Hamit