“Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue,” Hamlet urged his players in one of Shakespeare’s greatest works. I think in this monolog, Shakespeare was not only writing in the voice of Hamlet speaking to his motley crew of actors, but also as himself speaking to audiences and actors to come.
Shakespearean theatre has always been about language and it is incredible that work so rooted in language and in a language that is complex and different from modern day colloquialisms still survives and is still relevant and widely produced today. There are purists who feel like enough is enough with the modern day adaptations. I would know; I used to be one of those purists. It took a dystopian production of Much Ado About Nothing where I played Hero to understand the magic behind changing the given circumstances and the world of the play and relying solely on the characters, relationships, and plot to uphold the Shakespearean tradition. I’ve found that most modern day or reinvented Shakespeare products do hold true to the initial story and this is no doubt a testament to Shakespeare's brilliance and uncanny ability to capture the human experience in its purest form.
The recent controversy over Julius Caesar outraged me. Having enjoyed Shakespeare in the Park for the four summers I’ve been in the city and knowing Julius Caesar quite well, it’s clear that protesters just don’t get it. I get frustrated with the media because they rely on general emotions to provoke outrage in the public without providing pure facts. I think anyone protesting The Public Theater should have a copy of Julius Caesar mailed to them. Protesting something that you don’t fully understand is a waste of energy, but that’s another story. The Public’s Julius Caesar is an excellent example of Shakespeare being modernized. It’s incredible how much we can learn from it; especially because he wrote so many histories and history, as we know, repeats itself.
Contrary to the protestors' belief that the Public’s recent production of Julius Caesar advocated for the assassination of The President, the show did quite the opposite. Anyone who has read the play knows that the assassination happens only midway through and the real action of the play is the aftermath of the gentleman who was responsible and Rome as a whole dealing with the consequences. It urges that though many are unhappy with the current political climate of the US and would love to see the President impeached, it’s a far more complicated process and that the consequences should be thought out. I think this is a vital piece of theater that both sides of politics could learn from. It sparked a discussion and that is what theater should always do. Because of the controversy surrounding The Public’s recent production, Delta pulled its longstanding funding from The Public; however, they did not pull their funding in 2012 when the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis produced an eerily similar production with an Obama-esque Julius Caesar.
Another great application of Shakespeare in modern times was also produced by The Public Theater last summer. Normally not a fan of The Taming of The Shrew because of the male characters’ blatant misogyny, I left this show in tears from both laughter and how close to home this hit. Executed with an entirely female cast, the male roles were a borderline caricature but were still, in my opinion, portrayed very truthfully and thus the show revealed its true colors. It taught me to see Taming of the Shrew in a completely different light. It exposed the manipulative nature of misogyny and the downward spiral that is society’s treatment of women and instead of depicting “the shrew” Katarina as the quarrelsome villain you’d expect from the name of the production, she was portrayed as a victim of the system she was brought up into- in this case, a heightened version of reality being set at a traveling pageant show where gender roles were more prevalent than normal.
Though Katarina fought the expectations of this heightened world the entire show, in a riveting final scene, we see her lose it after she finally falls in line as an agreeable wife for Petruchio. I think that this piece was really important because of its commentary on society and gender roles and its explicit warning that we fight so hard but still have so far to go. It’s incredible that a piece that old can do such a powerful thing.
If you’re an avid Shakespeare reader or audience member, you know that a lot of his plays are about war, revenge, power struggles, romance, and sex. These are eternal struggles that society will always face and thus Shakespeare will always have a place in the modern world. The Public’s brilliant work over the years is proof that we still have a lot to learn about Shakespeare and they, in turn, inspire more up and coming theater companies, like the one who produced my Much Ado About Nothing production, to break barriers and bring the relevancy of Shakespearean drama to the spotlight. To support The Public Theater in lieu of Delta’s recently pulled funding, visit their website here and show your solidarity by using the hashtag #weareonepublic on social media.