The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0834  Tuesday, 19 March 2002

From:           Brian Willis <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 18 Mar 2002 09:40:55 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0820 Re: A Renaissance in Need of Reform
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0820 Re: A Renaissance in Need of Reform

> Re: William Reilly's
> 1991 "Men of Respect"

Annalisa, I have not seen the film but there is another example for my
case. Thanks for pointing that out to me.

Which brings me to another point I would like to make. It is perfectly
fine to dislike these adaptations as bastardizations of the originals if
that is your genuine opinion. However, I sense a feeling of undue
reverence here for the originals.

The plays, like any plays in any timeframe, were written to be performed
and explored. Shakespeare, notoriously, has been elevated to an
untouchable status where performance is concerned. Any attempt at
variation or updating of the play meets with harsh criticism from
conservative circles. I'm sure that some people even refuse to accept a
production that doesn't perform in period costuming.

This concerns me. Placing such boundaries on these plays or any plays
defeats their purpose. A play inherently cannot be reproduced. It was
not meant to be a relic of its time (at least not in the outright living
performance of it.) A play lives in each and every second it is
performed and it changes each and every second it is performed. To
suggest that a modern interpretation is wrong because it doesn't capture
the essence of the original is problematic. What is essence? Is it the
language, period feel of the original? Or is it the sense of tragedy,
the idiosyncrasies of character? The previous is a relic, the latter is
living theatre regardless of setting.

As far as film goes, many of the interpretations of the last 12 years
fail on the first point but succeed on the second in many ways.
Sometimes the essence of a play is the emotions it makes you feel and
the insights into character that it enlightens in your mind and heart.
Language and period feel can facilitate that essence, but they can also
be reworked and resituated and achieve the same effect. I have not seen
very many Othellos but "O" reached me the way many of them cannot. That
must say something for its success as a film, regardless of its fidelity
to Shakespeare. Curiously, although the DVD extras do make some mention
of Shakespeare and include the 1922 Othello, he does not receive any
screen credit.  Neither the "An Adaptation of..." or the "William
Shakespeare's 'O' credits". The advertisement campaign makes no mention
of Shakespeare whatsoever. This is not a snub but an attempt to use
Shakespeare's material as a springboard for this film. The respect for
Will's work is in the script, but the total dependence on him as a
cultural relic and icon is not.

Brian Willis

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