Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Future of Shakespeare Is The Past

Why have we not explored what Shakespeare's
plays meant to Shakespeare's audience?
Today, I'm handing over to a guest blogger: David Schajer from Shakespeare SolvedDavid has a series of Shakespearean un-adaptations, and here he tells us more about his approach to the world's most famous playwright.

Where do we go from here? 

There have been endless adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, sometimes they are set in the past and sometimes in a more modern period. Many adaptations try to make the plays relevant to our modern world. 

As far as Hamlet is concerned, there’s classic black and white Hamlet with Laurence Olivier. The first Hamlet in color with Nicol Williamson. Beefcake Hamlet with Mel Gibson. Marathon Hamlet -- the complete play, and shot in 70mm, by Kenneth Branagh. And an animated musical, The Lion King

Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet was in 1996 -- over 16 years ago! 

The last major film production of Hamlet was almost 13 years ago, starring Ethan Hawke. 

We are long overdue for a new version. But what to do? 

Where do we go from here? 

I was excited by the movie Shakespeare In Love when it came out (can you believe it was almost 15 years ago?) since I thought it would show us the world in which Shakespeare lived, what it was like to watch the plays back in his day, and what kind of man he was. 

It did none of that. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the film. It’s funny, romantic and the actors have a great deal of fun. Have you ever loved Gwyneth Paltrow or Joseph Fiennes in a movie more than you did with this movie? Of course not. 

But the movie shows us a London that has more in common with a Disney theme park than the real Elizabethan period. The audience sits and stands in almost rapturous silence as the play unfolds before them. And the Shakespeare the movie portrays is a caricature of the real man. 

Shakespeare in Love didn't show us the
real Elizabethan London
One scholar has said that when he thinks of the real man from Stratford, he thinks of Shakespeare not in love, but at work. The real Shakespeare was a terribly busy man, who was in pain if he could not go back to his flat every night and write. The real Shakespeare was hardly the kind of man who drank every night in taverns. 

I can appreciate that there may not be much demand for scholarly biographies of the real Shakespeare. The audience for such books is relatively small. 

So, where do we go from here? 

I would hate to think that the future of Shakespeare is a choice between fluff films that airbrush Shakespeare, and books that give us a great deal to think about but don’t get our hearts racing. 

As far as the plays being staged in theaters across the world, I’m all for it. The more the merrier. I think it’s an invaluable tradition, and it is the best training ground for actors. 

But I am asking you to consider one last possible future for Shakespeare, and it’s found in a rather surprising place -- the past. 

Shakespeare’s past. 

Why have we not explored what Shakespeare’s plays meant to Shakespeare’s audience? 

Instead of adapting the plays, why don’t we sweep away all the preconceived notions we have about the plays, and take a fresh look at them? 

Instead of trying to make his plays more relevant to our modern times, why not figure out how they were relevant in his time? 

Shakespeare did not know about World War II, Fascist Germany and Italy, the Holocaust, the Internet, etc. All too often we interpret his plays from our place in history. That’s a mistake. 

Shakespeare wrote his plays for his audience
and his audience only
Shakespeare did not write his plays for us. He did not write his plays to be published. As far as he knew, the plays would be performed once or a few times, and then be forgotten forever. I am sure that it was a constant source of amazement to him that his plays survived at all. He died before the First Folio was published. 

He wrote his plays for his audience and his audience only. 

Why have we not represented Shakespeare’s plays as if they would have been seen for the very first time, in Elizabethan London, at The Theatre and The Globe, back 400 years ago? 

My versions of Hamlet, Richard III, and The Merchant of Venice take us back to see the plays as they would have been staged for the very first time in history. We can see the plays the same way that first audience -- of nobles and groundlings -- saw it.

Many of them were probably drunk at the time, so I leave it up to you if you want to get plastered before watching Shakespeare. 

In the process of researching the plays in their time, I solved many of the oldest mysteries surrounding the plays. For the first time, we can know why Shakespeare wrote these three plays. 

Would you like to know when Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, and why? Would you like to know who the real Hamlet was? Now you can find out. 

David Schajer

If you'd like to learn more about David's interpretations of Shakespeare's work, be sure to check out Shakespeare Solved.


  1. Have u been to see Drunk Shakespeare. In NYC

    1. Hi there,

      I haven't, but I'd like to! I'm not sure if it's the same company (I assume it is), but there's a show that's been on at the Edinburgh and Briton Fringes (here in the UK), called Sh*t-faced Shakespeare and they're going to be in London's West End from spring next year.

      It looks like a great deal of fun!