The Hidden World
The worlds of Will Shakespeare come to us today in Revue form with muzak. Knowledge of the political turmoil in Elizabethan times – the crucial context enjoyed by Shakespeare’s original audiences – has been lost. The Bard’s audience was the poor masses of London and possibly the most informed people in the history of theater.
Shakespeare has been shown by modern scholars to have hidden wisdom in his scripts. But commoners on the streets of London would have gotten that straight-away. Politics was always the backdrop for Shakespeare’s plays. Tragedy and Love may be front and center but Politics seems to have been on everyone’s mind in Elizabethan times and knowing those details give the plays texture. And therein lies the problem for contemporary treatment. Today, you have to know too much history to get the Full Monty in Shakespeare. The modern approach uses hip-hop, neon lights, and bizarre sets to paper-over our ignorance of history. It often works because there are so many talented directors, actors, and actresses today. These modern productions are usually quite good. But Shakespeare’s worlds are hidden on today’s stage.
The treatment of Love may be the saddest casualty. Love is another of Shakespeare’s ultra-fine MacGuffins. But its depiction today is so superficial we might 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