Saturday, April 20, 2013

Where There's a Will, There's a Way

Google as of late enjoys meddling with my life and somehow managed to delete the draft that was going to be Wednesday's post while I was trying to delete another draft. Hopefully there wasn't anything more important in that draft other than the links I wanted to incorporate (and I think I re-found all the ones I wanted) so I'm just going to have to go with it. Also, I failed to actually publish this on Wednesday because my many other numerous obligations got in the way. So it goes.
Anyway, the topic at hand today is (once again) Shakespeare and his presence in our current times. My love for Shakespeare continues to grow as I stumble across various articles about his plays. I've recently noticed how fantastic The Guardian is and came across a couple of really great articles about good old Bill's work - extremely fitting, as his birthday happens to be coming up on April 23rd (okay, so we don't totally know if that's his birthday, but that's what it's attributed as because it's also St. George's feast day and that's just beautifully fitting).

We'll start with this video/article from PBS, which discusses using Shakespeare to deal with school bullying. This seems clever but rather unsurprising to me. I have been, for many years, absolutely resolved in the idea that drama/theater in education can do amazing things for student, especially when it comes to emotional and personal development. Shakespeare is an especially powerful source, as his plays are filled with conflict and power struggles. Bullying is sort of power struggle,  so what better source than to go back to a writer who was one of the first to describe so poignantly the struggles in action and in language of people using power against one another? Not to mention Shakespeare is the pinnacle of why jumping to conclusions and reacting violently is a bad idea. Shakespeare in five words or less:
This article discusses how mutable and adaptable Shakespearean plays are, highlighting how many questions are left unanswered and how each production can have its own spin on things. For example, I saw this fantastic performance of The Taming of the Shrew by a British theater group called Propeller (they were at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and MAN WERE THEY AMAZING) that had a really feminist take on the play (and it was performed by an all-male cast which was also really cool) (but I'm going to stop myself there or I'll be fangirling over this production for the whole rest of this post). Point is, Shakespeare leaves a lot up to the actors. Or as they state in the article: "Simon Russell Beale is fond of describing acting as three-dimensional literary criticism."

I really love this description of acting. I don't think I've ever discussed my strange relationship with acting on here (or maybe I have. I can't remember anymore :P), but I once wanted to be an actor. Except that I can't remember lines, used to be really uncomfortable in front of people, and... well, have dubious acting abilities overall. But in my mind, writing has always had a sort of parallel relationship to acting. They are both ways of looking at other people's experiences through language. One happens to use written words to express thoughts and stories, while the other uses verbal and physical language. I was discussing this with my dad over coffee one morning this winter (there is still snow on the ground, therefore it is still winter in Minnesota) and somehow the relationship between sharks and pilot fish came up. Maybe it's because I like biology too much, but this comparison seemed like an interesting metaphor. Pilot fish and sharks, along with clown fish and sea anemones are part of symbiotic systems, or mutual relationships in which the two organisms assist each other. I think
writing and acting are sort of symbiotic relationships because they share so much in common, work off of each other, and inspire one another. One of the biggest reasons I like Shakespeare is because this link is so clear in his work, perhaps because he was both a playwright and an actor, or perhaps because his language is so intricate that reading it carefully, thinking about how it's pieced together and how it could be different along with hearing it performed are equally necessary. Using acting as literary criticism is really fascinating because it's building off of this symbiotic relationship, doing something that, when usually done in words, might carry a different sort of power that traditional criticism can't. And because Shakespeare is so adaptable... well, it's the perfect platform for this sort of thing.

I could talk about this sort of thing all day, so I'm going to force myself to move on. This article is just fabulous because it discusses a current production of Othello at the National Theatre in London (which I would love to see, but thankfully the Guthrie is doing Othello next year - YES - and I am certain their staging of it will be amazing). There's a lot of really insightful and wonderfully phrased things here, especially in terms of Iago, who might be my favorite villain in Shakespeare (though Richard III is very, very close second). Like this:
Kinnear nobly suggests shared billing. "In the first half Iago is the engine of the play, but it gets to a point where he's no longer the puppeteer. He's just trying desperately to keep all the plates spinning, and it becomes very much this appalling tragedy of a man in absolute torment." But Shakespeare's great trick, he suggests, is to make the audience complicit in Iago's villainy. "He's afforded seven soliloquies to get them onside. That's part of the horrendous joy of the play."
The really wonderful (and exquisitely painful) things about Shakespeare's works are he marvelous villains that draw you in, show you their schemes, talk to you through soliloquies, and then leave you in an absolutely helpless position. Because you're just the audience and you can't stop them, even though you know things are going downhill faster than a cheetah with a jet-pack. Joss Whedon is releasing a film version of Much Ado About Nothing this summer and I believe this film will be brilliant, not just because Joss Whedon is brilliant in general, but because he also knows how to really draw in the audience, then tear out their hearts, set them on fire, and then stop on the ashes with football cleats. What I'm trying to say that both Shakespeare and Whedon are masters of wit and also kings of making their audience feel like this for much of their work:
Along with Whedon's version, there's also a Romeo and Juliet film coming out this year, which I'm curious about. Shakespeare can be kind of tricky to translate to film (and Romeo and Juliet can be so easily overly-romanticized), but I'll keep my hopes up and see what they do with it. It appears as if there's a reemergence of focus on Shakespeare right now and it makes me giddy. It's a fantastic time to be a Shakespeare nerd. :D


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. In terms of emotional and personal development and the impact of humanities, take a look at this: "What Would Socrates Do?"