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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: September ::
Re: "Modern dress" Syndrome
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1847  Friday, 6 September 2002

[1]     From:   Jeffrey Myers <
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        Date:   Thursday, 5 Sep 2002 11:54:43 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.1837 "Modern dress" Syndrome

[2]     From:   Ted Dykstra <
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        Date:   Thursday, 5 Sep 2002 13:19:10 EDT
        Subj:   Dress

[3]     From:   Lea Luecking Frost <
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        Date:   Thursday, 05 Sep 2002 16:32:32 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1837 "Modern dress" Syndrome


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jeffrey Myers <
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Date:           Thursday, 5 Sep 2002 11:54:43 -0400
Subject: 13.1837 "Modern dress" Syndrome
Comment:        RE: SHK 13.1837 "Modern dress" Syndrome

Your response is an oversimplification of the issue.  Nor would
Shakespeare and his compatriots have said, "Let's put all the Scotsmen
in _Macbeth_ in 6th-Century Chinese dress to emphasize..."

Jeff Myers

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ted Dykstra <
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Date:           Thursday, 5 Sep 2002 13:19:10 EDT
Subject:        Dress

Indeed, one need only read Julius Caesar (rife with anachronisms) to see
how completely inaccurate Will himself was at portraying "period"
politics, dress and props. Almost all his plays are actually "set" in
his modern-day England, whatever else he'd have us believe.  But of
course his audience would not have near the global and historical
awareness that today's has.  The directors that get it wrong when
playing around with period are the ones who think their ideas are more
clever than the play is. The ones who get it right are able to use a
period to bring the truth, the timeless truth, of the play to light.

Ted Dykstra

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lea Luecking Frost <
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Date:           Thursday, 05 Sep 2002 16:32:32 -0600
Subject: 13.1837 "Modern dress" Syndrome
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1837 "Modern dress" Syndrome

>King Lear would have dressed like a Renaissance King, not
>an Ancient
>Briton.  You might have seen the odd toga in a Roman play,
>but this
>would not have been consistent throughout the dramatis
>personae. Etc.,
>etc., etc. Why is it an issue now, if it wasn't then?

It's an issue now because of our historical and cultural distance from
the time in which the plays were written -- the usual complaints seem to
be that the language seems jarring when coming from people dressed more
or less like we're dressed, and that some of the plot points seem
considerably less believable if the play is supposed to be happening in
modern times. (For instance, Juliet's faking her death would be pretty
hard to pull off in a modern setting, as one might wonder why her family
doesn't, say, have an autopsy done, which would put a terrible kink in
the plan!) It can rattle the audience's suspension of disbelief a bit --
and I say this as an advocate of modern-dress Shakespeare.

OTOH, a modern-dress production can bring out facets of a play that
aren't necessarily immediately apparent. I saw an excellent modern-dress
Richard II last fall at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and one of the
scenes that sticks out for me is the one where everyone goes to visit
the dying Gaunt; since the cast was in contemporary clothes it really
felt like a family get-together gone horribly wrong rather than just a
gathering of noblemen.

Side note: that production and the Loncraine-McKellen Richard III have
led me to soften my stance on modernization of the histories; I used to
dislike the idea, but now I'm fine with it if it's done well. Of course,
most productions of the histories I've seen have used costumes that
evoke fifteenth-century clothing without reproducing it, with the
exception of the Richard II I've just mentioned, and this season's
Stratford, Ontario production of Henry VI, which was actually done in
Elizabethan dress (though the women's costumes actually were
15th-century, as were the costumes in their production of Richard III,
advertised as part of a cycle but staged as a standalone).

Lea

p.s. Is it bad form to announce your first post? I feel so
self-conscious... ;)

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