“The common curse of mankind, – folly and ignorance.” – William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was a legendary playwright, poet, and actor. The man changed the world of English literature forever, inventing about 2000 new words in the language for use in his plays, many that we still use as of today. Words like Bedroom, Addiction, Employment, and many more that seem ‘oh so common’ these days were all invented by Shakespeare. Even if you are not a theatre buff or a literature lover, you must have still heard of the man. We all have read his works in our English textbooks; we all know him. He was a genius with words, a true magician of phrases who doesn’t need an introduction.
His venerable tragedy Macbeth is considered to be so powerful that its name shouldn’t even be uttered in a theatre. Also called the Scottish Play and the Tragedy of Macbeth, the tale is about a Scottish nobleman who steals a throne and meets a bloody end. It is deemed to be one of the darkest and the most iconic works in the Elizabethan theatre. The play asks us important questions about ambition, power, and violence and speaks directly about the politics of Shakespeare’s time and continues to do so on our own.
Shakespeare was a vulgar, unrefined and raw man, unafraid to voice out his thoughts or get into heated debates now and then. Some of his Juliet’s dialogues in Romeo and Juliet were so forward that many denied playing her role. All the women in his plays were braver, stronger, and sometimes fighting for the love of their lives. We all can agree that Shakespeare was way ahead of his time, especially when marriage was seen as a mere economic proposition in those days. If he was an architect, I truly believe that he would have still had all of those admirable qualities in him. He would have been someone not afraid to think outside the box, ahead of his time, unhesitant to try new things, speak up, and just be himself. He would have had a very unique style as a designer, always open to new possibilities and new ideas, to new materials and new forms, to new strategies and new solutions to the same old problems. He would have created his niche in the field. Shakespearean Architecture could have easily been an architectural era, I can see that happening.
Shakespeare always worked with these stock characters in his comedies that were inspired by Roman theatre. There would be a hero, a girl next door, a wily slave, a bragging soldier in many of his plays. But the genius of Shakespeare is that all of these characters don’t feel like stock characters, they feel like real people with real fears and desires. And we don’t laugh at the characters, we laugh with them. There is always a hefty dose of empathy in many of his works.
He would have been an empath if he was an architect as well and knew the needs of his patrons in and out. His design philosophy would have been driven by empathy. And like he had stock characters in his plays, he would have had ‘stock’ characteristics in all of his designs. Some common undertones that bonded all of his works together, brought them all under the same umbrella, his signature style. It could have been anything. Something with grooves or emphasis on daylighting or uncanny windows or anything else for that matter. Something that made his work, his work, something that defined it.
Another thing common in many of his comedies is that they are very complex. Men played women in the shows during the Elizabethan times since women were prohibited to perform in public. Many of his female characters would dress as boys in his plays, so it would be men dressed as women dressed as men. Complex much?
I feel like if Shakespeare was an architect, he would have liked to complicate things visually. His works being adorned by dramatic facades, something that you couldn’t take your eyes off, maybe play around with illusions as well.
One of his greatest history plays was Richard III. The play is, as the name suggests, about Richard III, who ends up murdering Edward IV and Clarence and many more to claim the throne and he is later met with a gorey demise himself. So clearly, Richard III was a conniving evil murderer. But while historians were busy confirming his wickedness, Shakespeare also shows him as an attractive and theatrical chap, someone charming and a genius. He’s the character you can’t stop watching and great actors want to play. Shakespeare takes someone who has a bad side (mostly) and ends up showing us his good side as well.
As an architect, Shakespeare would have taken something that is supposed to be ugly, something one must hide in a building and romanticize it to a point that it becomes alluring. For example, he would have used ‘ugly’ materials like exposed concrete and concrete blocks in his buildings, beautifying them, showing us their true potential. Something like the Ennis House by FL Wright. He would have also pushed out the services of a building, bringing them out in the front, in open glory. And those buildings would have still looked beautiful and no one would have questioned their beauty much like no one questions the beauty of his literary work, Romeo and Juliet.
Much like his work in literature, ranging from ambitious histories to ornate tragedies and romantic comedies, his architectural work would have been highly varied too. I see him designing theatre halls, and housings, art villas, and museums, and ballrooms.
I see Shakespeare making things that many people couldn’t have imagined, even during a creative era like the Renaissance. Experimenting with circular and parametric forms perhaps, maybe inventing a new construction technology, mixing and matching different architectural styles like the Greek and Roman, Gothic, and whatnot and coming up with his very own one.
Shakespeare was a well-read and dedicated gentleman. Even though many things about him are still a mystery but there is one thing we are all certain about, the man knew his audience! People would be paying a large amount of money to sit in the balconies or paying a penny and standing in the pit (for three to five hours straight) to watch his plays. Full house upon full house, we can all agree that he was a bit of Rockstar of the theatre. He used iambic pentameter in many of his works to make them catchy, he knew what he was doing and he was good at it.
If he was an architect, I envision him having the same zeal to work. I see him with this passion for his industry, this love for buildings. And he would know what he would be doing. His buildings would be loud and proud and a testament to what a great man he was. I see his work being a crossover of all the eras, a little bit of everything, here and there. Think Zaha Hadid with Greek orders and Frank Gehry with Gothic and Romanesque features and so on. Casa Mila by Antoni Gaudi is a good example of what Shakespearean architecture would have looked like or the M2 Building in Japan by Kengo Kuma if he was born in the Modern era.
Architect or not, the man did change the world and what a brilliant man was he.