three questions for the world:
In conjunction with the 50th episode of the Chop Bard podcast,we are attempting to take the nations/worlds ‘Shakespearean’ temperature, as it were, by posing three questions to educators, artists, any anyone whose business or interest it is to deal with Shakespeare.
By doing this, we hope to get a clear picture of just how Shakespeare is doing in our culture, and provide some kind of commonality for those of us who need to see his works thrive.
What is your favorite thing about Shakespeare’s plays?
In your experience, what is the biggest obstacle preventing more people from enjoy Shakespeare?
What is the most valuable thing Shakespeare has to offer us?
If you wish to participate, please answer the above questions, as briefly, or in depth as you wish, and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The characters. Even the smallest roles can be turned into dynamic and interesting characters when put into the hands of a capable actor. There are so many ways to interpret the roles. For instance, thanks to your podcast back from about Macbeth, I am now far more sympathetic towards her character (and it only makes me want to play her that much more).
- Not to sound like a parrot of what EVERYONE else is saying but definitely the language. it is very different from what our ears are used to hearing and can assault your ears in a very alien way if you are not in the right mindset to start with. However, I am also going to say another obstacle is the reputation it has for being so hoity toity... when it really isn't, but so often teachers walk into the room and start handing out the plays, its like they are holding their breath. Like they are assuming that everyone is going to hate it and by extension them.
- Timeless lessons. Its fascinating to think that the same lessons that we need to learn now we were trying to learn 400 years ago as well. It doesn't say much about the human condition, but we sure are trying.
- My favorite thing about Shakespeare's plays is their endurance. These plays have stood for over four hundred years and through all the social change (or lack thereof), through all the performances both good and bad, they have stayed with us. These plays have withstood significant changes in views on race, religion, sex, and sexuality and they continue to be relevant. Suspect that this continued relevance is due to several factors.
The first, of course, is the language. No one ever spoke quite like Shakespeare's characters, and I believe that having the freedom to stray from 'naturalism' allowed Shakespeare to find a truth in the English language that is so very rare.
The second aspect, and one Marjorie Garber addresses early in her book, is Shakespeare's neutrality to issues. Sure, his plays are (mis)quoted left and right as proof that Shakespeare believed this or that, but what I see in his writing is a willingness to address issues without coming to a conclusion. Rather than being force-fed what to think, we are challenged to explore the issues and come to our own conclusions (or not), be we audience or performer.
There are other elements of his works that I find aid in its endurance, but I have a tendency to ramble, so I'll cut myself off here for now.
- The biggest obstacle that I hear from students, friends, and anyone else who haplessly brings up Shakespeare with me, is a perceived lack of 'relevance' to today's society. As you've explored in your show, and as so many Shakespeare lovers have known for these four centuries, this just isn't the case.
My current go-to comparison is that Shakespeare was the "Quentin Tarantino" of his time. His work focuses on truth as opposed to realism, he can with a single phrase be both epic tragedy and farce. His work so eloquently explores antithesis that we don't care when his plots become repetitive or unoriginal or when logic is ignored... we'll go along for that ride no matter where it takes us. It's the ride, not the destination, that we're here for.
I, of course, have looked for the root of the perceived 'lack of relevance' and like others, I correlate it with the treatment of Shakespeare as literature. As you've said so many times, it is meant to be seen and heard with a crowd of fellow onlookers, not read in solitude. I hope more high schools and colleges can get the hint and start having kids go to performances, watch movies, and listen to your podcast. There are so many excellent resources out there now that we need not be restricted to the printed page.
- As an actor, the most valuable thing Shakespeare has taught me is that truth trumps naturalism. It was only when I broke from the shackles of naturalism that I found the courage to be truthful, and my performances made a significant shift for the better.
As a culture, I think that Shakespeare teaches us the importance of language and that it's okay to explore ideas and opinions without coming to a conclusion.
- My favourite aspect of Shakespeare is the realistic characters and their development through mostly dialogue. This is something I want to replicate in my own writing.
- I think, like many others have said, that the antiquated language is the biggest barrier to Shakespeare. What do you think about abridged versions being performed where the more obscure lines are minimised or substituted? This being for people that struggle with English. My boyfriend has good English but it isn't his first language so I'm reluctant to bring him to see most plays since I worry he won't get a lot of important lines.
- Shakespeare offers us a rare, objective look at real human behaviour and motivation. Maybe we should never know more about who he was as a real person, it makes him less biased that way perhaps.
- The humanity that all of his major characters possess. There’s always at least one line that reveals the hidden passions, fears or desires of a villain or hero. He gives them emotions that change as the play progresses.
- First, teachers and especially professors who teach the plays as if they were literature and suck the life out of them. Next, actors. Especially actors who can’t or won’t speak verse. They rob the script of its energy. Actors who don’t really understand their lines. The best example is an aside that is delivered to the air or to another character instead of to the audience. Finally, directors. Directors who can’t or won’t provide good coaching and help with verse speaking. Directors who have some big “concept” or “theme” they want to explore. The concept or theme usually causes them to distort the play, and turns it into a lecture. They forget that the plays were written to be entertaining, and they insult the audience’s intelligence.
- Damn good plays. A better (and deeper) experience than 99% of the movies or plays we’ll see in our life.
- My favorite thing about Shakespeare is the language - there is something about it, even when the words are antiquated, that is satisfying to read out loud or hear said well. His words are flavorful and evocative, not bland and common, and the rhythm and turn of phrase are expressive and beautiful. I was just listening to Frank Langella talk about his new memoir and he made the remark that nowadays the words in plays and television shows are so fragmentary and hurried, nobody speaks in sentences and the audiences are not willing to try to process sentences. It's all, "Got it" and "Over to you" and "What about it?" Shakespeare's well-balanced sentences and paragraphs are worth the trouble (and they clearly aren't present in that boring speech by Hecate in Macbeth...).
- The biggest obstacle to more people liking Shakespeare, I think, is also the language. This is going to reveal me as the crotchety middle-aged woman I am, but I think the US is an anti-intellectual country like it's never been before. There has always been a dislike and distrust of people who are too educated, simmering away under the surface, and it's been making a resurgence lately. Why else would it matter which presidential candidate you'd rather have a beer with, or be a virtue not to read too many books?? A lot of the people I enjoy having a beer with are not people I'd want in charge of the red phone! If people would take the time to understand Shakespeare they'd appreciate the melodrama and violence and bawdiness buried in all that wonderful language, which after all was meant to entertain the groundlings and not just royalty, as well as the complex problems the characters are facing. Maybe we can look forward to a less anti-intellectual age when beautiful language and deep thoughts are respected? I dunno. Now, you kids get off my lawn...
- The thing that I think Shakespeare has to offer us today is the opportunity to get inside of and understand people who appear to be not much like us, doing and thinking things we may have never done or thought. I read an article once that said that one of the most important purposes of good fiction is to create in us empathy for people unlike ourselves, to broaden our understanding of other humans and help us see other points of view. Even Macbeth has some moments where he speaks to us in fear or regret and we see what is inside him and to a degree understand where he comes from. We need MORE of this ability to understand other points of view, which I think we're losing.
- How they can be reimagined by generation after generation.
To quote MacBeth - "And yet an eighth appears, holding a mirror in which I see many more." Shakespeare is smiling at us and pointing to them as his.
- The geek factor
- We are not alone in the human experience.
- The language. I love getting drunk on the words. I love reading the words: they reach across centuries to move hearts and minds. I love speaking the words - they feel exactly right in my mouth. I love hearing the words - they belong on the tongue and in the air.
- Intimidation: Shakespeare needs a better agent. Even after some truly great films and some performances by popular actors, my impression is that too many people hear "Shakespeare" and flinch because of (not an original thought here) a bad experience in school. They don't understand every word on the page or out of an actor's mouth, they aren't willing to/don't have the time or the patience to take the time to look past the fardles and bodkins to see why the plays have endured for over 400 years. Which is where Chop Bard comes in.
- Again, not the most original thought, but: insight. People haven't changed in
And, no less importantly, entertainment: Shakespeare was many things, but high on that list is master of plot and pacing and character. He really was just that good.
Dawn Rochelle Tucker, Director of Education, Southwest Shakespeare Company
- I have never been able to answer this question....None of them holds all his genius, they each hold a piece. I can, however, tell you my least favorite: Henry VIII. I think Shakespeare wrote very little of it in fact.
- As literature: Rhetoric. In production: passion.
- Language as a complex and ever changing art form.
- Seeing/Reading them time and time again doesn't get old there is something new to discover and my perception of the play changes as I get older. Not that I didn't enjoy them before but now I enjoy them differently.
- For me it is the language first, for non natives it can be a real block. Having to check up words a lot can affect the enjoyment of the plays. One other obstacle is the "aura" around the plays like with classical music. You don't need to have a degree, to be a literary buff, to enjoy Shakespeare; it was done for the masses in its day after all.
- An intemporal window to the human condition.
- My favorite thing about Shakespeare's plays is that the characters are written with enough depth and complexity that we can see ourselves in them. Each time I return to a play, as I have changed and experienced so much since last encountering it, I find something new in each character and am newly touched by their stories.
- The biggest obstacle preventing people from enjoying Shakespeare is the way that it is taught in school. It is treated as high culture, something that belongs to scholars and intellectuals, when it is specifically designed to appeal to everyone and defy distinctions between high and low art. Also, students are introduced to analyzing the play before they really get to experience and digest it. I enjoy literary analysis, but to do these plays any justice you have to live with the characters for the course of the story and - even better - feel the words on your own tongue and let them become a part of you first, before you try to pull it into a more abstract, intellectual kind of framework. It's like showing kids a banquet and then making them stand back and talk about the food instead of eating it.
- Shakespeare offers us a kind of deep compassion for the pains and absurdities of life, encountered in so many ways by so many different and distinct characters that it feels like a medium through which we are encouraged to feel a kind of fellowship with one another in our suffering and in our happiness. It makes us more reflect on, and become more sympathetic to, what it feels like to be human.
- My favorite thing about Shakespeare are the characters. No matter how minor, each (named) character has his or her own personality-and each can be played in MANY different ways. All the characters can be identified with, and even the villains are relatable.
- I think it's the language that puts most people off Shakespeare. I once had a friend say, "How do you even understand that stuff?" The differences between our English and that of Shakespeare's are very different, for all that he invented many of the most common phrases and words we use. In schools, he's dreaded because the students think of Shakespeare as a whole new language, one as difficult to learn as Japanese or Russian.
- The most valuable thing I've found in Shakespeare is the insight into human nature. To borrow a phrase from the Doctor Who Shakespeare episode, "He's the most human human." He understands both the joy and the pain of existence and channels that into the plays and the characters. The grief of King Lear, the hatred of Iago, the young love of Romeo and Juliet, the melancholy of Hamlet-and those are just the tragedies! Shakespeare has a line for every occasion and a character for every personality. In watching the plays, you can empathize with everyone, even Claudius, even Malvolio, even Caliban. No man was ever as versed in human nature so well as the Bard. It is why his work is hailed, 400 years later, as the greatest of the great.
G.Robin Smith (complete answers in episode 50)
- The Depth. No matter how much you dig, there is always more.
- Pretention. The idea of, “don’t worry about understanding it”, that it’s just something we have to go through, and put up with it. Shakespeare is accessible; we just think that it is not.
- Perspective. The fact that he is accessible, and we can read him and realize “someone else is seeing my pain, what I’m going through.” It shows we’re all part of the same humanity. When you read Shakespeare, you're not reading history so much as you're reading the blueprint of the human experience.