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Monday, August 13, 2012

Shakespeare Un-Adapted

I read this interesting essay by Michael Kahn, the artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC.

The quote that really caught my attention was this:

"In a sense, all productions of Shakespeare are interpretations: We do not know the performance style of Shakespeare’s actors, so succeeding generations have adapted their performance to the dominant acting style of the day."

With all due respect to Mr. Kahn, if we don't know the performance style of Shakespeare's actors, then why don't we find out?

He goes on to write about the various ways in which Shakespeare has been adapted. I am confused why there seems to be no effort to understand Shakespeare as Shakespeare, a man who wrote and performed his plays, and why.

Mr. Kahn later writes that Shakespeare selected stories from ancient Greece, ancient Rome, France, etc. and adapted them for the Elizabethan period.

Is it not short-sighted to assume that we should in turn just take Shakespeare's plays and adapt them for our time? What if we are filling the stage with clutter that continues to confuse and distract us from the original Shakespeare? What if we need to clear the stage of everything "new?"

What if Shakespeare had something to say? What if he wanted to make a political point? He wrote plays. Therefore he would have made himself heard in his plays.

You may not agree that Shakespeare was political. But then I think you would be hard pressed to explain what his purpose was as a playwright. No artist writes in a vacuum. All art is political, even if it attempts to rise above politics.

I am not certain what his politics were, but it does need to be explored.

My versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice take us back to see why and how Shakespeare wrote these plays.

As such, I consider my versions as Un-Adaptations. They strip away all of the modern elements and modern expectations we have about the plays.

I do not think that Shakespeare wrote his plays for us, the modern audience. I think we are eavesdropping on stories and messages he was communicating to his audience.

Until we start to go back to the beginning, to the source, clear the stage, and look at Shakespeare with the eyes of an Elizabethan, we will never truly appreciate and understand him.