Although Shakespeare’s home stage was the Globe Theater, and his plays are set in places as far flung as Denmark, Cyprus, Verona, Egypt, and Rome, there is not much in evidence that he actually traveled to any of those places. Rick Steves’ guidebooks and travel episodes were not available, so Wm. S. did the next best when it came to creating his settings: research sprinkled with imagination.
Then again, why not set plays in jolly old London? No doubt the fear of offending present citizens played into the scriptwriting. Or not having as much wiggle room with creative license. Plus, it’s much easier to imply unknown cultural aspects such as young marriages and sparring families as found in Romeo and Juliet or having a widower mandating the oldest daughter is married off first as stated in Taming of the Shrew. Wild flora and fauna can be invented, which is seen in The Tempest. Conquering queens and funny forest business is better placed in Athens than in England in terms of sparking the imagination (also known as “getting away with suspension of disbelief).
While there is not much Danish about Shakespeare’s Denmark in Hamlet, there is the hint of the romance of Venice in Othello, and there is definitely Roman reign in Julius Caesar. Shakespeare did stick around Britain for his histories, all those Henry plays and what have you. Perhaps it was more than inventing or embellishing cultural aspects in his plays, that encouraged Wm. S. to spin elaborate settings. Methinks the draw of experiencing a two hour traffic set in a land far from London’s teeming streets appealed to the audience.
Shakespeare was no doubt an amazing wordsmith, but he also knew how to plump up box office interest. The show must go on, and it has, hasn’t it?
Considering I had no exposure or any real knowledge of Shakespeare until I began teaching his works in high school, I’ve certainly made up for lost time.
In the twelve years of morphing from a displaced school librarian to an AP teacher I’ve developed an appreciation for Wm. Sh. to the point of labeling myself a Bardinator. *
“Yo, thou intensely doeth Bard if thy be a Bardinator.” image: flickr.com
Bardinator /n./ a person who goes beyond face value knowledge of Shakespearean works and dives in to study, appreciate, and revel in the works of William Shakespeare to the point of total commitment. Simply put–a dedication to the Bard’s works beyond what is considered sufficiently normal.
This summer I have reveled in more Bard than usual. It began, appropriately enough on July 4th* when I landed in Washington DC to study Hamlet for a week at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Later that month I finally got around to Anonymous, which is actually anti-Bard, as it is a ridiculous conjecture that William Shakespeare was not a brilliant playwright but actually a drunken sot of an actor fronting for some earl who was a closet playwright. The only takeaway was how stunningly the time period and the theater was portrayed. I squirmed through this insulting and terrible premise to absorb the glory of the Elizabethean stage snippets. One star of note was Mark Rylance. This observation led me to–
Twelfth Night starring Mark Rylance in the role of Olivia. Yes, finally. A Shakespearen production as it might have been presented because of the all male cast. The play was filmed at The Globe with a live audience (groundlings included) in sharp, glorious HD. Mark Rylance and his troupe superceded expectations. It was unprecedented theater. I will have problems readjusting to women playing women now in Bard dramas because Shakespeare wrote the parts knowing men/boys would be playing women. Or in the case of Viola/Caesario-, a youth playing a woman disguised as a youth. The lines and meaning take on a whole new dimension with the knowledge it’s two men playing they are attracted to each other but the manly man doesn’t want to admit to it . But thr audience knows the fair youth is really supposed to be a woman since it’s a boy playing a woman dressed as a boy. The confusion is intentional, as is the jovial mistaken engendered double meanings.
“Yonder sun doth the moon, y’all.” Image: YouTube.com
To round out the summer I watched my first ever Shakespeare in the Park or more precisely, on the grass at the local fairgrounds. A group of thespians out of Montana traversing five states presenting either Cyrano or Taming of the Shrew graced our fare (or fair) town. And what a turn out. Beginning at three o’clock people arrived to claim their patch of grass and browsed the various booths ranging from spun wool goods to sword play. A lively Renaissance trio added appropriate musical ambiance. At six o’clock the western-themed show begun and the audience whistled and hooted out their appreciation at all the puns and ribaldry. The best bit was unplanned when a wee little lass wandered onto the stage at just the moment when Petruchio instructs Kate to speak to the “maiden” (Vincentio).
“Speak to yonder maiden, Kate. Not that one–the other one.”
Not missing a beat, Vincentio grabs up the sweet interloper and announces: “This is my granddaughter” and managed to return her to an embarrassed audience mother.
A truly fun community event to commemorate the closing of summer. Soon I will be bringing Shakespeare to the classroom, but perhaps we’ll Bard out on the lawn. BOOC–bring our own chairs.
Did anyone else have a bit of Bard along with their beach and BBQ days this summer?
*yes, there is a connection of studying Shakespeare during America’s independence week–Wm. Sh. became our nation’s first playwright when his plays sailed over from England. In fact, the Folger has the first Elizabethean stage. A regular Tudor de force (upon which I played a hammy Horatio).
*I just spent an hour hopscotching about the Net trying to find that nifty definition I stumbled across years ago. No luck. I did find a new blog concerning Shakespeare. I have created my own definition. This will be a work in progress and I am quite open to other interpretations.