Love English

Shakespeare and spoken word: Poetry that speaks

© THSCWelcome to our third guest post from The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company. This one is by poet and spoken word artist Rhael ‘Lionheart’ Cape. THSC is a music theatre production company that explores the social, cultural and linguistic parallels between the works of William Shakespeare and that of modern day hip-hop artists.


Depending on when you encountered Shakespeare, from a great or uninspiring teacher who may or may not have forced his work onto you in school, Shakespeare for most, especially of this generation and mine, is still inaccessible, written in a language we use, but still find it a struggle to relate to.

For many millennials separated by the centuries between the language used in Shakespeare’s time and our own, even though they fall under the same family tree, the branches bear a fruit that is not particularly palatable for them, and furthermore isn’t introduced in a digestible way.

The modern day poet (or Spoken Word Artist) in my opinion is one who has learned the perils of art which divides society, one who’s learned that art must be profound and provocative just as Shakespeare’s is, but delivered contextually in order to reduce the divide between the people of various ages it wishes to bring together. Spoken Word, in a similar way to Shakespeare’s plays and poems, provides a cause for cognitive change; whether it’s done directly or discreetly, the artist speaks their audience’s mother tongue of comprehension. (You can see an example of what I mean in this TEDx talk by Akala.)

Similar to how in classrooms around the world people find it hard to differentiate between Nas’s Hiphop lyrics and the quotes of Shakespeare, indicating the similarities in poetic delivery, when performed, however, a clear distinction is made, one that is able to find kinship with contemporary audiences.

With the overwhelming number of modern day media platforms such as Youtube, Vine, Instagram and Tumblr, to name a few, we’ve learned that language is now perhaps best delivered in a compelling and visual way, rather than being read off the page. The written word typically has a ‘non cool’ stereotype to the youth, whereas performance has the glitz and glamour that exudes from many celebrities we all know.

However this isn’t to say that Poets nowadays have succeeded where Shakespeare didn’t due to ‘having a stage or their chosen composition of words’, as his work is clearly championed on and off the stage by many worldwide.

Nevertheless, it is to say, that the inadvertent lessons of language being in the hands of the unreachable has allowed Shakespeare to raise the rebellion in younger poets (SpokenWord Artists) to not just write, but to speak out on a stage, or a street, or a pub and cocktail bar, in front of a few people or hundreds, and let their poetry speak volumes to those who were told that they could hear, but not truly understand the magnitude of art that incites a change in people. Commonly associated with Shakespeare, yet now the tide is changing in their favour, and the millennials are slowly taking the baton from where Shakespeare left it, with his just-out-of-reach art.

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Rhael Cape

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