The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1832 Tuesday, 8 November 2005
Date: Saturday, 05 Nov 2005 14:40:50 -0800
Subject: Shakespeare or non-Shakespeare?
This might join Richard Burt's thread on current trends in Shakespeare.
As an occasional visitor in the Forest of Arden I approach as an
open-minded traditionalist, as I've indicated more than once in
skeptical reviews of Laird Williamson's Julius Caesar at Ashland (2002)
and Andrew Davies' Othello (TV, 2001). Now I am definitely not looking
forward to--in fact, I hesitate to look at--the BBC's new Shakespeare
series (the first program, Much Ado, was scheduled on BBC1 Mon. 11/7;
Macbeth, Taming, and MND follow in November).
Or should I say, *non-Shakespeare* series, for they're retaining some of
his plot materials but rewriting the text. Shakespeare's language in
total is surely the overwhelming claim on immortality, not (all) the plots.
Mark Lawson previewed the series in the Guardian Nov. 2 and, with
restraint, describes the pitfalls of "Changing the Bard." I commend it
to the list:
counterpoints, I suppose, are at the BBC:
Here's Lawson's conclusion:
"But--having selected settings, names and deviations from the plot--the
scriptwriter comes to the most crucial calculation: language. The
frequent justification for renovating his dramas is that most of the
plays use borrowed plots. Shakespeare, though, transformed the stories
he stole into language of complete originality.
"Acknowledging this problem, two Hollywood directors--Baz Lurhmann's
'Romeo and Juliet' in 1996 and the 'Hamlet' (2001) from Michael
Almereyda--kept the original text in sensitively edited form. '10 Things
I Hate About You'  and 'O' , while employing contemporary
high-school speech, found a patois so rich in neologisms and metaphors
that it became a kind of poetry. There is also, in '10 Things', a key
scene in which Kat read a Shakespeare sonnet in class.
"The BBC 'Much Ado' employs the same device, through a sonnet read at a
wedding, but, while none of the scripts are badly written, they settle
for the vernacular banter of mainstream peaktime drama. It's not the
fault the writers that they can't compete with Shakespeare, but it may
seem strange to future generations that Hollywood proved more respectful
towards Shakespeare than the BBC. Drama producers probably wouldn't
commission a series of plays based on the plots of opera because there
wouldn't be much point without the singing. Shakespeare's plots without
the language also lack the singing and the point."
It's pretty awful when I fear what I might find under the greenwood tree
when the cattle have been standing. Too bad, for I would otherwise look
forward to Damian Lewis apparently in his Shakespeare debut, as Benedick.
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