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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: August ::
Updating Shakespeare's Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0419  Friday, 31 July 2009

[1] From:   Terence Hawkes <
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     Date:   Friday, 31 Jul 2009 13:39:46 -0400
     Subj:   SHK 20. 0402 Updating Shakespeare's Plays

[2] From:   Jeremy Fiebig <
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     Date:   Thursday, 30 Jul 2009 20:02:21 -0500
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0414 Updating Shakespeare's Plays

[3] From:   Daniel Somerfield <
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     Date:   Friday, 31 Jul 2009 00:03:22 -0700
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0414 Updating Shakespeare's Plays


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Terence Hawkes <
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Date:       Friday, 31 Jul 2009 13:39:46 -0400
Subject: 0402 Updating Shakespeare's Plays
Comment:    SHK 20. 0402 Updating Shakespeare's Plays

Robert Projansky is absolutely right, but he only answers half the 
problem. The productions he describes are not 'wrong' but, in our terms, 
horribly right. What they confirm is the notion that Shakespeare is 
currently charged with reinforcing an eternal present, involving a 
universal human experience and the consolations of a no less mysterious 
transhistorical and transcultural 'human nature'. This is the blight 
that English was born for.

What an enlightened literary criticism needs is an analysis which 
dissects these productions, rejects their preconceptions, and considers 
seriously the state of mind which they imply. This won't enable us to 
connect with Shakespeare's history, which in many aspects remains 
thankfully unavailable. But it will reveal a number of truths about our 
present.

T. Hawkes

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Jeremy Fiebig <
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Date:       Thursday, 30 Jul 2009 20:02:21 -0500
Subject: 20.0414 Updating Shakespeare's Plays
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0414 Updating Shakespeare's Plays

I agree with Mr. Projansky's assertions with one minor quibble. There is 
room to suggest that the doublets and ruffs and other circumstances 
required by Shakespeare's plays can be anachronistic, disjointed, and 
myriad in nature. Costumes were constructed or inherited from a variety 
of sources.  Doublets were worn alongside tunics or togas alongside 
armour. Some young boys played young boys while some young boys played 
young women.

And so forth. I think there may be room to do Shakespeare inside a 
similar scheme of anachronism without going to a Balkan Lear or a 
Macbeth based on The Matrix and so forth.

I find hope for this approach in Mr. Projansky's description of the MSND 
he saw. I, too, found some hope for this in this summer's RSC production 
of As You Like It, which began in a basically "Elizabethan" costume 
scheme while in the court  --  all characters in this court were in 
black and white. As the play is overtaken by action in the Forest of 
Arden, colors became brown, Elizabethan lines were replaced with 
rustic-but-modern ones. As the play went on, it felt "earthier." Without 
feeling like a "concept," the production design was able to underline 
some of the play's meaning without getting in the play's way. It was as 
though this production had invented its own working world  --  rather 
than finding a world of 1920s speakeasies or some post-Industrial 
landscape that a lesser director might seek. And it worked.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Daniel Somerfield <
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Date:       Friday, 31 Jul 2009 00:03:22 -0700
Subject: 20.0414 Updating Shakespeare's Plays
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0414 Updating Shakespeare's Plays

I am loathe to jump into what is a perennially visited and never 
resolved argument, particularly since as a person directing a production 
of 'As You Like It' set in the 1930s, I might take offense at the 
suggestion that I do not have sufficient judgment to direct the work of 
the Bard, however . . .

To imply that there is anything but modernized Shakespeare in these our 
modern times, denies the fact that times change, language changes and 
that the fact that Shakespeare is still with us means there is something 
in the plays that is not connected to any specific time or any specific 
place. Of course, arbitrarily setting Midsummer's in a disco or Lear in 
a hair salon is destructive to the text, but not because it's in a disco 
or hair salon, but because it's arbitrary. I have seen plenty of 
wonderful "modernized" productions that brought out facets of the play 
that never would have been clear to me had they been set in their 
original setting (whatever that means). I have seen plenty that have 
failed as well, because the chosen environment was not thought out and 
was truly arbitrary, more based on the directors whims than on any 
particular connection to the text.

To say that Shakespeare must be performed in its original setting sells 
short the writing of the author, the broad appeal of his writing and the 
fact that he hit on themes which speak to us still, despite the fact 
that we don't live Thames-side in the age of the plague.

And should we speak the speech, as it would have been originally 
pronounced to us? Modern scholarship suggests that the accent of 
Elizabethan actors would have been something between Scottish and 
American. Should English actors with received accent Americanize their 
accent to be more authenticate? I expect few people would say yes.

Of course it doesn't serve the play well to "force" it into another time 
and place. Again, the problem is not the time and place, but the 
forcing. Almost every argument against so-called modernization of the 
time and place includes such a strawman which shows how absurd a modern 
setting can be.

The measure of a productions success should not be its conformity to 
imagined standards of what Shakespeare wanted. That approach is a 
dead-end. What we can do is find what in that wonderful text speaks to 
us and do our best to try and find a time and place, near or far, past, 
present or future that complements it. Perhaps it will be Elizabethan 
England, or the 30s, a disco in the 80s or, one of my favorites, nowhere 
in particular. As long as it is done as a vehicle to express the ideas 
in the text, I think it is set in the right place.

Thank you,
Daniel R Somerfield
Artistic Director
Willamette Shakespeare
http://www.willametteshakespeare.org

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