Sunday, July 01, 2012

Are Shakespeare Conceptual Gambits Getting Out of Control?

Peter Marks, writing in the Washington Post, thinks about the reasons we are seeing so many of the Bard's plays updated to 20th and 21st century settings.  

And he wonders about the cost of all this "tinkering."

The fussing with the cosmetics of Shakespeare has become so routine that it is a shock to more devoted patrons of the Bard when any of his plays are performed these days in both the time and place the author intended them. Has a belief taken hold that only by placing Shakespeare’s characters in elaborate disguise can a contemporary theatergoer view them as relevant? The compulsive tinkering yields distressing side effects. Distracted audiences can not only lose touch with the pleasure of listening to Shakespeare’s language but also may become less able to distinguish clearly the worthier attempts at innovation.
My sneaking suspicion is that the mania for transporting a Rosalind or a Richard III to a newfangled forest or kingdom may sometimes be an anxious reflex, a product of a general unease in contemporary theater over the rigors of speaking the verse and fully illuminating character. What better way to take some of the pressure off a cast’s uneven vocal skills than to plop actors into realms in which the flatness of speech more easily echoes that of our own?
You can read the whole thing here.

1 comment:

Thomas Garvey said...

This is an amiable argument - and it's true as far as it goes. But it should also be remembered that Shakespeare himself (as far as we know) made little or no attempt to physically conjure ancient Rome, say, with costuming or set design. Past eras were generally contemporarized and normalized to the standards of everyday life in Elizabethan/Jacobean England (the language of the plays clearly reflects this). So when we "update" Shakespeare, we're only doing what he himself was already doing in 1600. As long as a production concept is clearly interpretible to its audience, it therefore has at least some legitimacy.