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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ira Glass's Shakespeare Blindness



I have three stories for you:

I just read a quick article about Ira Glass, the host of This American Life, who went to see John Lithgow as King Lear on Friday, and thinks "that maybe Shakespeare sucks."

He tweeted to John Lithgow after the performance:

@JohnLithgow as Lear tonight: amazing. Shakespeare: not good. No stakes, not relatable. I think I'm realizing: Shakespeare sucks.

— Ira Glass (@iraglass) July 28, 2014

He then followed that with:

Same thing with the great Mark Rylance shows this yr: fantastic acting, surprisingly funny, but Shakespeare is not relatable, unemotional.

— Ira Glass (@iraglass) July 28, 2014

And:

@dpecs that maybe Shakespeare sucks— 

Ira Glass (@iraglass) July 28, 2014


Ira Glass needs more Shakespeare in his life



I went to the performance the next night, on Saturday (here is my review) and unless John Lithgow managed to completely bungle the performance before mine, I can't see how anyone would say that the play is bad.

I also saw both Rylance performances he refers to, (here is my review to Twelfth Night, and to Richard III), and again I don't know what plays he was watching, but they were both brilliant.

I don't want to spend too much time on Ira Glass's Shakespearean blindness, but I do want to comment on his criticism of Lear as "unrelatable."

Does he have a father? Siblings? Does he consider the effects of aging? Does he not foresee a day when his mental and physical powers will diminish and desert him?

I will agree with him that some productions of Lear can leave you cold. I was unmoved by Simon Russell Beale as Lear, despite his talent and my love of his work. But for the first time watching Lear, Lithgow as Lear made me cry.


John Lithgow as King Lear



Anyway, I have two other funny stories for you.

While I was sitting in the audience during, before the play began, I overheard two men talking about the play. One of them seemed to know it rather well, and the second man was unfamiliar with the story and characters.

The second man said: "I'm sure I won't have a hard time understanding it. After all, I'm more educated than the audiences in Shakespeare's time."

Hahaha!

I love this story. As you may know, I am re-writing the plays to show how they were performed in Shakespeare's time, and the one assumption I am definitely NOT making is that his audience was dumb.

Rather, Shakespeare's audience, comprised of people from a broad social spectrum, had varying degrees of education. Some had little to no formal education, and some had the highest educations possible at the time, the Earls who frequented the theatres, and the law students from the Inns of Court, for example.

Guess what? I am positive that all of them were smart enough to understand the plays.

Finally, the plays were meant to act as dress rehearsals for performance at royal court of Queen Elizabeth and King James, two of the most educated people in the history of the world.

I have a feeling they understood the plays better than the hipster guy behind me. Just a hunch.


with Annette Bening as Goneril



The third story I want to share with you is about two other people I overheard at the theatre on Saturday.

During the interval, or intermission, a young woman apologized to her male friend for having nodded off, and sleeping during the play. She said that she was bored, and it was hard to understand.

Her male friend tried to make her feel better, and said: "Don't worry. I'm sure there isn't one person here who understands everything that's going on in the play."

Hahaha!

I had to resist the urge to turn around.

So, I spent some time thinking about these three stories, and I came to a conclusion.

Each of these people needs more Shakespeare in their life.

We all need more Shakespeare in our lives, whether we know a lot about the Bard, very little, or think we know enough to make stupid tweets.

I don't imagine that everyone will enjoy every last Shakespeare play, but it does worry me that a particular performance might turn someone off of Shakespeare.

I listen to all kinds of music. I don't stop listening to a particular band because they have one bad song, or a bad album.

So, I hope Ira Glass, and the people in the audience, and anyone out there reading this, might consider giving Shakespeare another shot. Watch a Shakespeare DVD, see another play, or read one, or two.

Cheers,




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