Friday, May 09, 2008

Shakespeare and football, again ...

One of those strange things I thought about when I watched 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona' was a football match.

No, don't stop reading ... there is a point to this.

(Oh, I better clarify again for the poor deprived Colonials over the water .. I'm talking "Soccer" - real soccer, with young enthusiastic, dedicated players in it for the glory as well as the cash - sorry, Mr Beckham.)

What struck me were the 'set pieces'.

In soccer, there are moments (usually when a foul has been committed or a corner given) when the game stops and everyone rushes around to position themselves for a pre-planned action: The set piece. Coaches spend hours working out exact moves and then attempt to get the players to do what they are told - in the hope of the all elusive goal. Football players tend to think they know better and don't do what they've been trained to do - so the move regularly fails to achieve the result.

There are a whole set of rituals associated with set pieces - eg attempting to put the ball closer to the net by spinning it forwards and dropping it - pleading innocence when the referee bothers to send you back.

And they are moments watched with increased intensity by the fans - of both sides. A good 'free-kick' can be a match winner, a great corner is a work of operatic scale splendour. They can provoke in the goalkeeper flights of balletic elegance, and regularly result in clashes of heads, in elbows in faces and, the ultimate in set pieces - the penalty.

There were several moments in 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona' when I felt like I was watching just such a set piece - exchanges of 'wit' between Speed and Valentine; the verbal jousting between Valentine and Thurio; Speed in conversation with Lance, Julia with her maid, Lucetta.

There were aspects of each of these exchanges that suggested to me a 'spectator sport' - one where a partisan bunch of watchers would be 'rooting' for one participant, or just delighting in the idea of battle.

Technique is important - not just victory. You really need to 'Bend it, like Beckham' - in his glory days.

And this is where Speed shows his talent - and also where he becomes incomprehensible to the majority of people: It is a talent in a game whose rules have become incomprehensible to us - almost like an American watching Cricket.

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