“And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
As You Like It, Act II, Scene I
As a writer, I spot content wherever I go. My inner pen twitches when I see things that bug my ethical principles! A recent trip to worship at the altar of “all things Shakespeare”, visiting Stratford-Upon-Avon on a weekend break in Warwickshire, revealed a new level of one of my favourite bugbears – bare-faced, all-out Marketing. Assaulted by the Shakespeare Brand at every turn, I fell to wondering how tenuous can a link be and is there such a thing as ethical marketing?
I was privileged to study in my forties, reading English at Queen’s University, Belfast. Although Belfast celebrates such authors as C.S.Lewis and poet Seamus Heeney, the module menu still celebrates many from other countries and unpacking the mysteries of Shakespeare was an obvious choice for me. Stratford-upon-Avon was his birthplace and oozes historic, listed buildings linked to his family, so it has become a natural Mecca for literati’s and holiday-makers alike.
A lengthy career in business, sales, marketing and promotion, preceding my studies, has instilled in my psyche a strong sensitivity to sales pitches and marketing ploys. As my partner and I followed the brown tourist signs, parked and headed for “Bard Central”, I should have been prepared for the pitch of commercialism that was to bombard us at every turn, yet it still astonished us both.
Even without the famous connections, this town is a very pleasant place, with a healthy smattering of picturesque, listed buildings and leafy riverside walks, with canal boats and swans posed for pretty, holiday snaps or professional image alike. I understand that “Brand Shakespeare” draws the crowds from far and wide and naturally local traders must capitalise on the back of this. But do they really have to milk it until the last drop has been wrung from any potential literary link, no matter how tenuous?
I guess, you can expect any old enough building, that the famous scribe could potentially have crossed the threshold of, to have a claim to fame. Visiting them all would be a potentially expensive day out even before you fall prey to any further promotion. However, step into any of the burgeoning emporiums along the way and every shelf will scream SHAKESPEARE at your undefended eyes. Branded T-shirts with witty quotes, trays of toffee and biscuit boxes, quill pens and plastic tat are to be expected at any such destination, but who needs a rubber duck in Shakespearean costume? And how can any perfume, no matter how ancient the recipe, be a “Shakespeare-inspired scent”.
I began to glaze over after spotting a display of packets of “Shakespeare’s seeds”, to grow the flowers the bard might have grown had he lifted a trowel instead of a quill. My blood does tend to run cold at the thought of shopping at the best of times, being an ethical and thrifty consumer due to lifelong necessity. However, I must question the values of any shopper who feels the need for such products. Who holds the reins of responsibility here – the seller or the buyer?
Ethical marketing has been examined and defined as “a process through which companies generate customer interest in products/services, build strong customer interest/relationships, and create value for all stakeholders by incorporating social and environmental considerations in products and promotions.” * Call me a party pooper or kill-joy, but does Shakespeare really need to be “marketed” in such a way? Or can I hear him spinning in his nearby, sign-posted and post carded, grave? Add your comments below and let me know if this “is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
**Macbeth (c. 1605) … Romeo and Juliet (1597), Act V, scene 1, line 45