Headline exhibition reveals Bard habits

Last updated 14:43 30/07/2014
Russell Armitage
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ

OF A FEW WORDS: ‘‘Brevity is the soul of wit,’’ wrote William Shakespeare in Hamlet. fIt’s a lesson that newspaper headline writers have taken to heart, as has Russell Armitage, who has collected and is exhibiting some of their best work.

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What's in a headline?

"Shakespeare, usually," says Russell Armitage.

Armitage, who describes himself as an avid patron of the performing arts, is organising an exhibition of Shakespeare quotes as used in newspaper headlines. The exhibition accompanies Apocalypse Lounge's production of Shakespeare's Macbeth, which premieres at the Meteor Theatre tomorrow night

Titled Shakespeare in Headlines, the exhibition opens at 6.30pm, and is open to the public.

Armitage - who Waikato Times readers may recognise as a frequent and enthusiastic letters to the editor correspondent - says the exhibition is a fantastic record of the huge influence Shakespeare has had over non-fiction writing and the English language.

His folio of newspapers spans the globe, collected during his travels throughout New Zealand, Australia, Britain and Europe.

Everywhere people speak English, Shakespeare is in their papers. Even the Waikato Times.

"Words are the food of newspapers, and they love to play on them," he said. "There's nothing a headline-writer likes better than a pun, or a play on a famous phrase, and Shakespeare's writings are full of these."

All the Shakespeare-inspired headlines are presented with the context of the actual articles that accompanied them.

Quotes vary in quality. Some are quite brilliant. Others aren't. They range from the painful ("Winter of Discontent hits vege prices hard"), to the obvious ("To buy or not? That is the question") to the amusingly inexplicable ("Much Ado about his Hair Do").

Armitage cites some of his favourite examples as "Utu, brute", "Exit Milosevic, pursued by Blair", and "Little love for Labour's lost."

"Some quotes, naturally, are walking shadows of Shakespeare," Armitage said. "Others are the stuff dreams are made on."

While there will be plenty of great wordplay on display, Armitage said he hoped, and expected, to see much more in the future.

"There is more wordplay in heaven and earth," he said, "than journalists dream of in their newsrooms."

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- Waikato Times

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