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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: July ::
Updating Shakespeare's Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0395  Thursday, 23 July 2009

From:       Julie Sutherland <
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Date:       Wednesday, 22 Jul 2009 11:01:47 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 20.0391 Updating Shakespeare's Plays
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0391 Updating Shakespeare's Plays

 >I applaud Eric Johnson deBaufre's bold stand for traditional staging.
 >And like him, I deplore the radical postmodern tendencies of Sir
 >William Davenant and of the Lord Chamberlain's Men.

I absolutely agree that there have been some abominable 'updatings' of 
Shakespeare, and equally abominable performances by women in 
Shakespeare. The worst productions I have seen, however, have been 
'true' to the text and context (acknowledging our limited understanding 
of that context, unless we want to challenge the inerrancy of Hamlet in 
*Hamlet*, but we all know where believing in the inerrancy of anything 
gets us).

There have been, in my opinion, some notable Canadian productions of 
Shakespeare in which women have played men's roles. Most notably -- and 
I leave it at two because, to be true and contextual to Shakespeare, I 
understand that brevity is the soul of wit (am I permitted to write 
that?  It is, after all, uttered by Polonius. Perhaps I should relegate 
myself to women's lines.) -- I would like to flag up *la tempete* (now 
of course this is a translation - perhaps those are abominations, too?) 
by Theatre Experimental des Femmes (1988, dir. Alice Ronfard) which was 
met with critical acclaim and which featured all women. I would also 
like to highlight Necessary Angel's *King Lear* (1995, dir. Richard 
Rose) with Janet Wright in the role of King Lear. Of course responses to 
both plays were mixed (there will always be purists in the audience), 
but overall these were critically acclaimed and have been noted in the 
annals of Canadian theatre as worthy productions.

Very briefly, in defense of updating, I only suggest that it falls into 
the philosophy of art that considers such things as the colourisation of 
film. Some like it; some hate it - but the truth as far as I know it 
remains that more people see classics as a result (I add here that I 
don't prefer seeing colourised versions of black and white films). The 
biggest defense, in my mind, against the colourisation of film is that 
it destroys the artist's original intention. If anyone can tell me what 
Shakespeare's original intention was -- beyond a shadow of a doubt, and 
beyond ensuring people saw his shows -- I will never again applaud an 
updated production of the Bard.

Respectfully submitted (though I know there is some tone, and for that I 
apologise),
Julie Sutherland


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