The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0715 Tuesday, 16 March 2004
Date: Tuesday, 16 Mar 2004 14:54:54 -0600
Subject: 15.0647 "It makes it more accessible to a modern audience"
Comment: RE: SHK 15.0647 "It makes it more accessible to a modern audience"
Since no one else seems to be rising in defense of modern (or
semi-modern) adaptations of Shakespeare, I would like to add a few
comments to the dialogue.
Many complaints against modern-dress productions center around the idea
that something gets "lost in translations" as it were. I would argue,
however, that no production, even those absolutely faithful to the ideal
of period accuracy, can convey everything a reader of the text might
see. All Shakespeare plays are weighted down with information, thematic
threads, cultural messages and implications. No single production can
possibly communicate all of these "chunks" of information with the same
emphasis - a director has to make choices as to which threads she wishes
to emphasize, and which must be de-emphasized. Every production is an
act of interpretation to this extent.
Jonathan Dietrich says that we must "tell a story." Absolutely, this is
what a performance must do, but every Shakespeare play text contains the
suggestion of many different stories. The plays do not come to us
pre-interpreted and directed like the scripts of Tennessee Williams
(which are complete with intricate stage directions and set
descriptions). In any production of a Shakespeare play, a director has
to choose which thematic elements of a text will be emphasized and which
personality traits will be highlighted. She cannot tell all of the
stories within the play. She cannot give every thematic thread equal
emphasis. A good modern adaptation will enable the director to tell the
story she sees in the text.
One of the most brilliant elements of Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of
"Hamlet" is his use of the mirrored hall. The room is central to the
production, and the play's action returns to it over and over again.
The room becomes a metaphor for Hamlet's life - everywhere is a mirror
that both reflects and is coldly silent, everywhere are eyes watching
that cannot be seen, the viewers just out of reach. Branagh's
production emphasizes the twin themes of a dead-end introspection and
political paranoia while de-emphasizing other thematic elements -- the
mirrored hall served brilliantly as an anchor for those themes. Yet,
this is an element of the production that would have been impossible had
Branagh stuck to the rigid requirements of an Elizabethan production.
There have, of course, been countless adaptations that were miserable
failures, but when it works, it can be stunning.
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