Monday, October 25, 2010

SHAKESPEARE'S STORYBOOK : Folk Tales that inspired the Bard

I once heard a well-known storyteller say- the most essential thing for telling a story is to have a story to tell.

That is exactly what human beings have been doing for time immemorial -telling stories. Even in pre-historic times, man used cave paintings to tell a story. As human beings migrated all over the world, they took their stories with them, using their immediate environment to explain things further, embellishing their stories. These imaginative additions are such an integral part of storytelling, that today we have a phrase "telling a story" used in lieu of "telling an untruth".

The re-tellings by different people led to many versions of the same story-seed. Much in the way of evolution of all species. As an example, there are many versions the world over of a catastrophic event like a flood, told differently in different cultures. This may point to a common memory of such an event.

To quote from this excellent article,  "Different stories, or different ways of telling the same stories, shape distinct cultures. A people’s stories are often similar to those of other cultures, but distinct in themselves. Your culture’s stories became part of your self-identity. It’s possible that culture is rooted in storytelling."

All storytellers thus draw from experience or from stories already told, and tell the story in their own styles. And who better than William Shakespeare, the Bard, as a storyteller?

SHAKESPEARE'S STORYBOOK : Folk Tales that inspired the Bard
Narrated by Patrick Ryan
Illustrated by James Mayhew
Published by Barefoot books.
Ages 8+

In Shakespeare's day, the face of storytelling was changing from the traditional to the commercial. Storytellers before Shakespeare's time would be in the service of noblemen, the church, or the court. For the first time, there began a practice of opening the theatres to the public, and the players working in these became the first professional performers. 

Like all great storytellers, Shakespeare drew inspiration from stories he already knew. Maybe he heard them from his parents, or from minstrels, ballad singers, storytellers, who moved from place to place, or read them in books which may have been printed in printing presses which had been invented only about a century or so before his time! And then told them in his own inimitable way, enriching the English language in the process, giving us many phrases that we commonly use without realising their origin.

SHAKESPEARE'S STORYBOOK gives us a peek into the folktales /fairy tales that can easily be recognised as the inspirations for seven of his works, encompassing most of the genres covered by him. The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, Hamlet, King Lear, The Winter's Tale.

The original stories are from a wide spectrum- Welsh, Irish, English, French, Scottish, Italian, Oriental, Turkish, Norse-  and sometimes seem to drawn from more than one source. The storyteller at work again, where Shakespeare manages to amalgamate tales from various sources and various cultures to tell his tale, sometimes set in a totally different culture from the original tale. He also uses accounts of actual events in many of his works, as also his personal experiences as father to two daughters.

Each of these seven works of Shakespeare is separately presented as a simple tale with a discussion on the possible sources and processes behind each one, followed by the tale that seems to be the most likely source. All in a fun manner that does not overwhelm the child. And a wonderful treasury of folktales for the reader!

In the introduction to his book, the author Patrick Ryan, a wonderful storyteller himself, tells us that "...each story has many different sources- some told orally, some written down. The stories have changed and evolved from teller to teller. Shakespeare is just one more yarn spinner who belongs to this grand tradition..."

What do I say about the illustrations? Done in rich, full colour by James Mayhew, author and illustrator of the Katie and Ella Bella series, they transport us to the magical world of fairies, princes, princesses, noblemen and commoners that feature in both the original folktales and Shakespeare's stories.

There's more. The book comes with two full length CDs, so that the book can be heard in true storytelling fashion as well as read. Double the treat!

As stated in the introduction, "People have loved hearing these stories, and reading them, and telling them and re-telling them, for hundreds of years. When you've had fun with them, maybe you'll re-tell them in your own way, and do an even better job than William Shakespeare did!"

So put on your storytelling hat, get hold of a favourite story and re-tell it in your own way!

Image courtesy Barefoot books.


Tharini said...

Wow. To think we will get a peek at what inspired Shakespeare himself! I have this book in our shelf right now, having borrowed it from the lib. after hearing you were going to review it. The title was so intriguing. Yet to read it. Will get back again once I do.

artnavy said...

This sounds very interesting. For me to read at the moment.

I need to intro Shakespeare thaatha to Anushka...hmmmm

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Sandhya..came across your website and blog via The Young World. Thanks for this informative post. I agree that all storytellers draw from experience or from stories already told.

Retelling stories is a wonderful way of introducing stories to children; stories that they have not had access to, by telling the stories in ways they will understand and identify.


sandhya said...

@Tharini: Great to know you have the book at hand. Do read it and share your view with us.

@Art: LOL at Shakespeare thaatha! You'll have to read it to Anushka- maybe a bit beyond her. But she'll enjoy it with a few explanations.

sandhya said...

Welcome to Saffron Tree, Rachna. I hopped across to your blog, and came away quite impressed. You have SOME blog! Will be visiting again at leisure.

Do visit the rest of the posts at CROCUS and even later at ST. And do help spread the word.

Yes, storytelling is a wonderful way of passing our heritage and history and anything else for that matter- on to the next generations, isn't it? A wonderful way of holding their attention while doing it.

Meera Sriram said...

Nice pick Sandhya. I'll try to look for this at the lib. Sounds very interesting.

Vibha said...

Sounds really interesting Sandhya. Actually as Art said, I would like to read it myself first.

Anusha said...

There are many Bard festivals that take place around town every summer; and next year, the older kid will meet the age criteria to attend a few of them, so am definitely getting this book before that to prepare us! Thanks for picking this out and for the neat review!

starry eyed said...

Lovely book and lovely review Sandhya! Would love to get this for Div (after we get some bookshelf space!!)

sandhya said...

@Kodi's mom:We had had a chance to visit Stratford-on-Avon when in the UK. It was a wonderful experience for someone who loves Shakespeare's work. I can imagine the fun you must be having at the Bard festival.

@Meera, Vibha, thanks.

@Starry: Lovely to see you here. Yes, Div will enjoy the stories very much.

utbtkids said...

Will definitely look for this book Sandhya. How can I miss Barefoot's collection of stories that inspired the storyteller?!

I am loving Barefoot:)

Praba Ram said...

Always loved barefoot books, especially their collections. We have one. Will look out for this one to add to the bookshelf. Loved the part about stories shaping a culture's and your own self-identity part. Very nice! Enjoying the over-arching points/thoughts you are tieing in with the review.

sandhya said...

Thanks, UTBT and Prabha.

Yes, Barefoot books have the most wonderful books, don't they? We have at least five featuring in CROCUS. Had gone to a Butterfly books sale recently, and they had the whole range of Barefoot books on offer. I was salivating just looking through them.

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