The worlds of Will Shakespeare come to us today in Revue form complete with muzak signalling Scene changes. The plays are lightened because the political turmoil of Elizabethan times is absent in the modern audience—the crucial context enjoyed by Shakespeare’s original audiences is long gone. The Bard’s audience was the poor masses of London…quite possibly the most informed people in the history of the world.
Shakespeare has been shown by certain modern scholars to have hidden wisdom in his scripts…but might any commoner on the streets of London have gotten it all 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 of Shakespeare. The modern approach to dealing with that is to depict the plays in a modern context: modern scenes, dress, language, along with adulterations such as gangsta-rap, neon lights, and bizarre sets. It often works because there are so many talented directors, actors, and actresses. These modern productions are almost always good. Yet Shakespeare’s worlds are all but lost on today’s stage.
Ironically, the modern treatment of Love may be the greatest endangerment to those miraculous plays. Love is Shakespeare’s great MacGuffin. But the presentation of love in Shakespeare is now so playful and superficial that it is tempting to believe the fall of eros was well underway in Elizabethan England and that the Rolling Stones have been unfairly maligned lo these many decades.
Nevertheless, it’s always fun to go 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