Will Shakespeare is long dead. His plays come to us as shadows, often in Revue form with canned muzak. Ancient literature and the Elizabethan political turmoil known to Shakespeare’s audiences is also gone. Thus, the crucial context for appreciating Shakespeare is exactly like unobtanium. Except for a diminishing breed of scholars.
Shakespeare has been shown by modern scholars to have hidden wisdom in his scripts. But commoners on the streets of London would have gotten much of it straight-away. Politics was one of Shakespeare’s important backdrops. Tragedy and Love may be front and center but Politics at Court was ironically the way to reach commoners and elites alike in Elizabethan times. Knowing those details give the plays texture. And therein lies but one problem for contemporary treatment. Today, you have to know too much history, to say nothing of literature, to get the Full Monty in Shakespeare. The modern approach uses hip-hop, neon lights, and current events to paper-over deficits. It works because of talented directors, actors, and stagehands. Modern productions can be good but the literary insight required to understand Shakespeare as he understood himself has emigrated to that undiscovered country from which no visitor returns.
The treatment of Love may be a sadder casualty. Love is another of Shakespeare’s backdrops. But its depiction today is so superficial we are led to believe the fall of eros was well underway in Elizabethan England and the Rolling Stones have been unfairly maligned.
Still, it’s always fun to see and hear what’s left of Shakespeare’s England on the stage at Miller Theater every Summer. Who knows? Maybe the sound and fury signifies something even if we no longer remember what it is.
“The Merchant Of Venice” at Miller Outdoor Theater – August 5th 2015