Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 1, No. 4. Friday, 27 Jul 1990.
(1)   Date:         Thu, 26 Jul 90 20:15:21 EDT              (34 lines)
      From:         Willard McCarty <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
      Subject:      old plays in modern mode
(2)   Date:         Fri, 27 Jul 90 05:51:12 EDT              (35 lines)
      From:         Ken Steele <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
      Subject:      Modern Productions
(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date:         Thu, 26 Jul 90 20:15:21 EDT
From:         Willard McCarty <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Subject:      old plays in modern mode
I recall hearing about a production of Euripides' Bacchae in Toronto
during the early 1970s in which the Maenads and Bacchantes were played as
hippies, Pentheus as a fascist dictator. According to my informant
the followers of Dionysus had long hair, wore outrageous clothing, smoked
joints, and so forth. It was hugely successful, I am told. Of course it
did great violence to Euripides' play, which is nothing at all like that,
and had it been, it most certainly would never have survived to our day.
But does anyone say that it is WRONG to try such things?
Or take Pasolini's version of Euripides' Medea, very different than what
it is based on. I happen also to think that Pasolini didn't manage to
bring it off, but that's neither here nor there. Or perhaps it is. Perhaps
the only criterion is whether or not the thing works.
As my wife (an artist) is constantly reminding me, artists are notorious
thieves, often with no respect whatever for the scholarly virtue of
faithfulness to time and place. They take what they can use. On the
other hand, I have observed how some of the greatest of these thieves
(e.g. Ovid) manage to remain extraordinarily faithful to their material,
although not in an antiquarian's sense. I get the feeling with Ovid, for
example, that he reaches the timeless and brings it into his own time.
So, can we expand and refine the criteria by which we tell whether some
new production, say of Shakespeare, is successful by comparing it with a
good traditional one? Can a new production by comparison with the old
open our eyes to what is good, or what we think is good, about the old
Willard McCarty
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------39----
Date:         Fri, 27 Jul 90 05:51:12 EDT
From:         Ken Steele <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Subject:      Modern Productions
I think I would agree with Willard McCarty when he suggests that the
most important criterion for a modern production's legitimacy is its
success on-stage; if modern embellishments are faithful to the central
theme and are drawn from the play's own imagery, they can be powerful
and effective.  (I hope I pointed out some of the ways that the
French/English clash was suggested by Shakespeare's own language and how
certain situations truly gained in the translation.)
Almost immediately, however, I start to see complications on the
horizon.  Certain plays seem to demand greater fidelity to the author's
purpose than others.  The Comedy of Errors, for example, has been
successfully performed in New York as a combination
Vaudeville/Juggling/Acrobatics display, and in Toronto on a stage
covered with sand with the actors all in bathing suits.  Perhaps
the distinction I am making is simply generic, and I am simply observing
that more liberties can be taken with comedies than with tragedies.
Akuro Kurosawa's *RAN* is a very effective version of King Lear, though,
despite its considerable transformation of the original play.  Perhaps
something essential is retained nonetheless.  Although I did not have the
opportunity to see Mabou Mines' King Lear when it showed here in Toronto
(and I understand it also showed in New York), it sounds rather more
radical, swapping the gender of every major character and turning it
into a matriarchal tragedy.  From the few still photos I've seen,
though, it looks more like a transvestite performance of a comedy than a
tragedy (did anyone see this production?  Am I right?).  Just how far
can a director alter a Shakespearean play to make it more "relevant" and
"modern" without transforming it into something completely different,
like Tom Stoppard's *Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead* or
Anne-Marie MacDonald's *Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)* (both
of which, incidentally, I enjoyed very much!) (and both of which,
perhaps significantly, are comedies).
                                                 Ken Steele

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