Sunday 5 June 2016

Hay Festival 2016, Part One

A.C. Grayling: The Age of Genius:

Grayling began his eloquent talk with two images – one, someone looking up at the night sky in 1600 and seeing a beautiful display created for human pleasure, the Earth at its centre, man at the heart. Second, the same action but in 1700, this time seeing a vast spread of space from a small pinnacle, aware of how tiny our planet, our lives are. He questioned why this drastic change in mindset had occurred, listing other examples as evidence of intellectual change such as the execution of Charles I a mere generation after Macbeth premiered, a play based around the idea of the divine right of kings.

He points to the Thirty Years War as a catalyst for change, as war so often is. It was the most destructive war Europe had seen at that point and it took some areas two centuries to recover, yet it allowed great genius to flourish. Practical changes such as the breaking down of barriers allowing easier movement and greater transfer of ideas contributed to the advance of progress. He also cited the breaking of the Church’s power as a major influence. It had prevented development with its harsh regime of punishing, even by death, anything that went against the orthodoxy. This meant research and experimentation had to be carried out in secret, severely stunting its potential spread. When the chains are loosened progress will naturally follow.

Grayling expertly demonstrated the move to the liberty of conscience and the further move to liberty of thought. He spoke of the realisation slightly before this period that history does not merely show decline but that progress has been made and that predecessors had not had the knowledge, the equipment available to them to make further discoveries. This realisation of potential, and greater freedom of expression and transfer of ideas made the period ripe for genius. He conclude that the impact of this had far greater reach than being confined to the time, but allowed our world to be born out of it.

BBC Radio 3: Free Thinking – New Generation Thinkers with Rana Mitter:

New Generation Thinkers is an initiative run by BBC Radio 3 with the Arts and Humanities Research Council, bringing exciting academic research to the public through radio programmes. Rana Mitter introduced the ten winners of the title this year and we were given a snapshot of their research.

Varied and unusual are their current projects, from the scientific instruments used and made by medieval monks to the history of hairdressing to the child’s voice in contemporary fiction on Biafra, and the relationship between the telephone and literature. This was a tantalising glimpse into the broad range of topics being explored. They will be appearing on BBC Radio 3 throughout the month to share more details of their investigations.

Russell T. Davies and Maxine Peake: A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Russell T. Davies and Maxine Peake discussed the creation of their new version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which aired on BBC One the day after their talk, Monday 30th May 2016. They did more than speak about how it came aout however, discussing how important it is to introduce people to Shakespeare, to allow them to enjoy it. Peake admitted to having left RADA without having ever performed in a full Shakespeare work and felt for many years that it wasn’t for her, something of a contrast to Davies who knew by the age of 21 that he wanted to create a version for television.

When asked about the challenge of condensing and whether or not he’d had any difficulties with people being too precious over it he responded that he hadn’t met anyone like that. He pointed out that there is no definitive version, and that every production does something different, which can help to keep it fresh. He spoke about his decision to cut all lines referring to women killing themselves for love. He wants to engage girls with the story and wouldn’t have felt right leaving such lines in, something that he was clearly passionate about.

Both Peake and Davies described their version as dramatic, that they’ve made Titania a strong warrior and Bottom less annoying. Despite the drama and comedy they spoke also of the underlying love and the references to peace. They see the story as relevant to today with links to environmental issues.

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