Bard of Ipswich translates Shakespeare

ROMEO, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?Somewhere in among the 380,000 words Ipswich man Michael Stewart has written during his ten-year bid to modernise the complete works of Shakespeare - along with King Lear, Richard II and Hamlet to name but a few.

ROMEO, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

Somewhere in among the 380,000 words Ipswich man Michael Stewart has written during his ten-year bid to modernise the complete works of Shakespeare - along with King Lear, Richard II and Hamlet to name but a few.

And today Mr Stewart is preparing for his first major book signing in Stratford-upon-Avon as hundreds of literature lovers flock to the Bard's hometown to celebrate his birthday.

He said: “This will be the first time I've done a proper signing like this and to be able to do it during such a big event is amazing.


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“It has been a ten-year full time project. I have not drawn a salary for the last ten years so it's great to see it all finally coming together.”

It was in 1996 that Mr Stewart, of Berners Street, decided to embark upon a mission to rewrite all of Shakespeare's 38 plays in to modern English, accompanied by artwork from across the world, but he was derided by book publishers who told him it could not be done.

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He said: “All the big publishers like Scholastic and Pearson said it would take a team of at least 30 people, but we've managed it with just eight and I'm so proud.”

What makes Mr Stewart's tale even more incredible is that he had never picked up a Shakespeare play until he was 23.

He said: “I left school at 15 and had never read Shakespeare. It wasn't the done thing for a Chantry boy in those days!

“I'd always been interested in singing and then once I'd left school I got more involved with the drama side of things.

“It was actually Joanna Carrick, now of the Red Rose Chain theatre company, who first introduced me to Shakespeare. She was a student at the time and we sat down and read through Hamlet together when I was about 23.

“I was just so touched by it that I knew I had to read more.”

Before long Mr Stewart, now 47, had enrolled on a course at the Guildford School of Acting where he was able to study many of the plays in greater depth.

After graduating he spent some time in America, where he pursued a singing career in Nashville - the home of county and western music - before returning to Ipswich to embark on his dream project.

He said: “It was something I had been thinking about for a long time but is has been extremely difficult.

“I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I'm a working class boy and I fell in love with Shakespeare and I knew that, if I could, then so could any other 'normal' person.

“That was my main aim behind the idea. It's not about trying to better the original, because no-one could ever do that, it's about providing people with a key to unlock it and help them discover the magic for themselves.”

Mr Stewart has condensed each of the 38 works to around 10,000 words. Shakespeare's versions are around 30,000 words each.

The new versions are written as stories, rather than in the format of a play.

They have been edited by California-based Professor Jeffrey Khan to ensure they are true to the originals.

The words are accompanied by specially-commissioned pieces of art from across the world.

The first play Mr Stewart translated was The Tempest.

So far only The Winter's Tale, The Merry Wives of Windsor and King Lear have been published but the others are all ready to be released over the next few years.

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