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Friday, August 10, 2012

Occupy William Shakespeare

I read about this fascinating theater group called Shakespeare In The Park(ing) Lot who perform in the Lower East Side, by clearing a parking lot, putting down some chairs and putting on some Shakespeare.

And admission is FREE!

Truly inspired!

As I have earlier written, I love the idea of Shakespeare outdoors, because it puts a greater demand on the actors to catch and keep the attention of their audience, who are always easily distracted.

Well, according to this New York Times critic, what could be more distracting than people buying Chinese take-out only steps away from Coriolanus?

They are performing Coriolanus and drawing parallels to the recent Occupy Wall Street movement. The 1 percent versus the 99 percent.


I can certainly understand the seemingly inexhaustible desire to make Shakespeare contemporary, and I am sure this production is excellent.

But it makes me wonder to what degree Shakespeare was political, and if he was, what side would he be on.

I have been studying Shakespeare for the last several years in order to translate his plays as they would have been understood by his original audiences. I wanted to strip as much modern understanding of the plays away to see what they were like when he wrote them and why he wrote them.

I adapted Hamlet, Richard III and Merchant. They turn our understanding of the plays upside down. They are not the plays we think they are.

And yes, they are much more political than you might assume. I think that may be one of the most important reasons why there has been little to no effort to understand and learn about Shakespeare the man -- he was not a warm and fuzzy romantic fool. He was not as Joseph Fiennes portrayed him.

He had a strong mind, and rather strong political views.

I would not go so far as to say that he was anti-monarchist. I think he was afraid of the excesses of power of the monarchy.

I would definitely say that he did not like the power brokers around Queen Elizabeth -- men like Walsingham, William Cecil and his son, Robert Cecil.

One of the reasons he would think this way was because of his relationship with the Earl of Southampton, and the like. Most importantly, there has been little research into how close Shakespeare was to the Earl of Essex, who of course led a failed rebellion, and was quickly executed.

What did Shakespeare know about the Rebellion? What were his sympathies? What did the Rebellion really mean, that is, what was Essex rebelling against?

Why did Shakespeare perform Richard II, about the deposing of a king, the night before the Rebellion?

These are touchy subjects even today. But to ignore them, is to ignore Shakespeare the man.

And to ignore Shakespeare the man, is to forever misunderstand his plays. Especially Hamlet.

My adaptation of Hamlet plunges us back into the frightening and momentous period of the Rebellion, to show us how Shakespeare had come to London a simple country man, and turned into the voice of the people, and the age.

So, would Shakespeare support the 99 percent?

I doubt it.

But he would certainly understand them.