Interesting reflection from John Lloyd this week on an expression of nationalist pride, which sidesteps the usual stereotypes, and brought Italians into the centre of Florence or three weeks in July and August, at the height of the holiday season to celebrate their own living inheritance in the form of Dante Alighieri epic Divine Comedy written after he was banished from the city. Roberto Benigni, according to Lloyd cut out the middlemen of academia, and re-introduced ordinary Italians to the genius of the poet.
It was an extraordinary evening. A great poem had been at its centre, with a great performer recreating its meaning. It raised the thought: why could this not be done more widely? Why could those who have the talent and the following not take the canonical authors – Cervantes, Shakespeare, Goethe – and breathe new life into them from a public stage? If we have lost the practice of memorising and reciting, then at least we can have great tragedians, or great comics, do it again for us – to let us see, through their interpretations, something of the essence of these authors. We could have Samuel L. Jackson do Goethe. Gwyneth Paltrow, naturally, Shakespeare. Gerard Depardieu, Cervantes.
This is a real protest – against the loss of memory of the great stories, dramas and poems. It could do some real good: the recovery of a public appreciation of what has become the private pleasure of too few. It could tap that desire (a large one, it would seem, from the standing-room-only performances Benigni mounted) for understanding of texts which had become daunting – indeed, which had become just texts, not stories. And that would be a much more radical act than the blah-blah.