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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: November ::
Re: Relevant Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.2029  Tuesday, 7 November 2000.

[1]     From:   Mari Bonomi <
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        Date:   Saturday, 4 Nov 2000 11:32:24 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2023 Relevant Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Kris McDermott <
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        Date:   Saturday, 4 Nov 2000 19:01:14 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2023 Relevant Shakespeare

[3]     From:   Sophie Masson <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 7 Nov 2000 09:15:52 +1100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2023 Relevant Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mari Bonomi <
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Date:           Saturday, 4 Nov 2000 11:32:24 -0500
Subject: 11.2023 Relevant Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2023 Relevant Shakespeare

Pervez Rizvi, Thank you!

You have given me yet another tool to help explain why I found Baz
Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet (I refuse to agree that it was William
Shakespeare's <g>) fails to work for me.  By making the two households
distinctly NOT "alike in dignity" he undercut one of the key pillars of
the tragedy.  These two lovers need to be a pair that, except for the
feud, might indeed have been betrothed to each other at some point.

In the kind of casting which is color-blind-- that is where members of
both families and their associates and retainers are of diverse hues and
natures-- a fair vs. brown R&J couple might not send the message of
racial division.  Otherwise, a conundrum not wrapt into Shakespeare's
text is imposed upon it.  The message may have vital importance-- but it
is not one inherent in the text.

Mari Bonomi

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kris McDermott <
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Date:           Saturday, 4 Nov 2000 19:01:14 EST
Subject: 11.2023 Relevant Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2023 Relevant Shakespeare

I think Pervez Rizvi's point about contemporary racial casting in Romeo
and Juliet is well-taken, but I have to differ with his assumption that
Western audiences take lightly the question of Isabella's virginity.
I've taught Measure for Measure in both a historically Black, urban
college and a rural midwestern university, and in both settings, my
classes have almost always been evenly divided on the questions of 1)
whether Isabella should sacrifice her virginity to save her brother, and
2) whether she should marry the Duke.  I make a deliberate effort not to
lead them explicitly to these points of contention, and am always been
impressed with how passionately (and well) they argue with one another.
Their debates, far from being superficial, took into careful
consideration the historical issues of Catholicism (and
anti-Catholicism), the process of the marriage contract, and Renaissance
disease theory.  Those who think that Generation Y is blase' about
chastity in both the sexual and theological senses would be heartened by
these conversations.

Kris McDermott
Central Michigan University

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sophie Masson <
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Date:           Tuesday, 7 Nov 2000 09:15:52 +1100
Subject: 11.2023 Relevant Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2023 Relevant Shakespeare

I think this is very true. For all the talk today about 'the Other', and
accepting 'difference', in fact a bland, 'relevant'  homogeneity seems
to be much more desired. It is indeed, easy to put a racist spin on
Romeo and Juliet, because after all everyone knows that racism is a bad
thing; but the danger is that it makes it all very, very superficial. In
my own family, there are mixed marriages of all kinds, including between
black and white, and there's never been any Montague/Capulet type thing
because of race or religion ; the real conflicts have arisen in fact
between my father and the father of my French sister-in-law--same
ethnicity, same language, same social background even, but utterly
opposed to each other. It makes things very difficult for my brother and
his wife!  And it's a much more subtle and disturbing thing; more
intractable too, than a purely race-based thing would be. As the saying
has it, wars between cousins are the worst of all!  The other thing too
is that in trying to make Shakespeare relevant by injecting modern
social issues blatantly into it, you run the huge risk of alienating
people because of your contempt or at least dismissal of their
imagination and intellect and subtlety.  This is a century when all too
many people assume that audiences or readers or what you will are too
daft or ignorant or prejudiced to risk taking a real look at real
difference, and wonder of wonders, finding relevance there not preached
to you by some well-meaning nannying type, but deep in your own heart
and blood and guts.  It seems to me that patronisation of the past,
amongst the cultural elites of the west, has replaced patronisation of
other contemporary cultures; it's as if these feelings of superiority
need to go somewhere. No longer do we see ourselves, as a medieval
author put it, as 'dwarves mounted on the shoulders of giants' and thus
able to see further; but as giants on the shoulders of dwarves, crushing
them remorselessly into the ground. It is thought that these dwarves are
far too mean and petty and tiny to be worth anything in their own right;
they are good for something because we enlightened giants deign to
interpret them according to the pieties of our age!

Yet people in general are perfectly capable of relating to the past, and
drawing their own conclusions without being beaten around the head. I
work a lot with kids of all ages and backgrounds and am constantly
delighted and amazed and inspired by how they do relate the past to
their own lives--if you neither swathe it in false reverence or attempt
to make it 'relevant', but make it come alive in other ways. The theatre
has the enormous advantage that its stories and ideas are conveyed
through the medium of flesh and blood as well as words--embodied in
people, not just in chapters. Why don't directors give people credit for
their own responses?

Sophie Masson
Author site: http://www.northnet.com.au/~smasson
 

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