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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Is Twitter Killing Shakespeare?

I just read an interesting and very provocative article about how the interest in Shakespeare is dying -- and how Twitter, Facebook, and other social media is killing him.

If you look at Google Trends, you can clearly see that interest in Shakespeare is trending lower and lower.

Google Trends for "Shakespeare" from 2004 to 2013

I am sure there are lots of reasons why this decline is happening, and while I don't agree with the analysis in this article, I can't argue with the fact that we are entering a dark time for Shakespeare.

The article brings up some very good points, like how in this day and age with Twitter, our attention spans are so short that we just don't have the time or energy to read plays that are so remote and distant from the events in our lives today.

The article asks, one month before the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth, is Shakespeare relevant anymore?

I agree that the question is worth asking, because I think the world of Shakespeare is in crisis.

I can not even remember how many articles I have read that describe how schools are cutting back on teaching classic literature like Shakespeare. It's depressing.

I see many attempts to make Shakespeare more accessible -- like the No Fear Shakespeare series of "translations" and the graphic novel versions of some of his plays.

There is the occasional Shakespeare adaptation, like Romeo and Juliet by Baz Luhrmann, Coriolanus by Ralph Fiennes, and the upcoming Much Ado About Nothing by Joss Whedon.

These films are great, and we need more, but I fear that they only appeal to a narrow audience that is obviously getting narrower, based on the Google Trends evidence.

So what is the answer?

I don't have all of the answers, but I do have one.

This article concludes that Shakespeare's plays were just history stories on the stage, and set in Shakespeare's contemporary Elizabethan context.

Wrong.

This mistaken view speaks to the problem with Shakespeare in general -- we are looking at Shakespeare as literature and not as literature that was intimately linked to the world in which Shakespeare lived, and written by a very specific man who had a very interesting life.

We are not looking at Shakespeare correctly.

If we looked at Shakespeare and his plays in his original historical context, there would be a revolution in the study of Shakespeare.

James Shapiro, Stephen Greenblatt and others are working very hard right now to show us the world in which Shakespeare lived and how and why he wrote the plays he did.

I have written new versions of three plays that show what the plays mean and why Shakespeare wrote them.

Hamlet was written for a very specific purpose -- as a birthday present for his friend, who had recently died in what was the greatest political scandal at the time.

Richard III was written to celebrate the life of Christopher Marlowe.

The Merchant of Venice was written to express Shakespeare's anger and frustration at a society that was making people's lives cheaper.

I have just recently discovered that Othello was written for and about King James.

Romeo and Juliet was a present to two of Shakespeare's closest friends who had fallen in love, against the express wishes of Queen Elizabeth -- and it was written in a time when Love was just beginning to blossom in England for the first time in history.

There is so much more to be found, if we start to study the plays and their original context.

If we continue to study Shakespeare's plays out of his historical context, then we come to the conclusion that Shakespeare is great because he wrote great plays.

If we begin to study the history of the time and the life of Shakespeare then we can also learn that he is also great because of the great personal journey he took to London, the tremendous risks he took as a playwright, and the fact that he wrote and performed some of the greatest and most controversial plays ever written -- all during one of the most politically repressive periods in world history.

This article also says that Shakespeare is becoming the subject of spoofs, and that the works of Shakespeare are dead -- his greatness will endure, but his works will not.

I would hate to think that this will ever be true.

But if we just study Shakespeare just as literature, I think this article may be right.

But if we start to study Shakespeare as literature, and as history, and as biography -- then I think we have a fighting chance to revolutionize the world of Shakespeare, and bring him back to glorious life.

We can all help -- not just teachers and academics.

We can all start a conversation about Shakespeare -- all of Shakespeare, about his life and times, the people he knew and the things he may or may not have done.

You could read about his best friend Richard Burbage, the actor who first performed Hamlet, Richard III, Macbeth, Othello, Shylock and so many more roles.

You could read about John Heminges, another fellow actor.

You could read about James Burbage, who built the first successful playhouse in the history of England.

You could read about Robert Cecil, who was the real face of Richard III in Shakespeare's play.

You could read about Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway.

There is so much to read and explore that it may take you a lifetime. But isn't Shakespeare worth it?

We can start to imagine what it was like for a simple boy from Stratford who got a good education and had a burning ambition to make it big in London as an actor and playwright -- who ended up writing entertainment for the Queen, then later the King -- and who changed history in the process.

All we need is curiosity, and a willingness to imagine what his life was like.

I implore you to do this. Tell your friends, your family and anyone else you can think of!

In fact, you could Tweet them right now. You could update your Facebook status that you learned something new about Shakespeare today.

And then I can write another entry on this blog about how Twitter is Saving Shakespeare!


Cheers,

David B. Schajer

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