Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Few Random Shakespeare Thoughts, Part 2

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Neal Freeman

To recap from earlier this week:

-I’m a Shakespeare snob.

I was going to briefly summarize my other points from the previous post, but actually I think that about does it.


I complain of free outdoor Shakespeare.

At one point this summer I had (what seemed like) six different friends doing (what seemed like) six different free outdoor Shakespeare productions in (what seemed like) six different parks around New York.

Does it seem like this market is a bit over-saturated?

I understand that outdoor Shakespeare (like short play festivals) is a way for fledgling companies to produce on the cheap. But I wonder how much service they’re doing Shakespeare by making him “accessible” to the strolling and Frisbee-playing masses.

Let’s face it - Shakespeare is a specialized taste, and not one suited to every weekend park-goer who happens to be walking by. And call me a pessimist but I don’t think screaming blank verse at them from the middle of a field is a great way to change their minds.

I love the poetry in The Tempest more than in any other play.

Caliban’s speech about the noises of the isle are my favorite lines in the entire canon.

The notes in the Arden editions are too academic to be consistently helpful to directors.

Every teacher and professor I’ve ever had has talked about how the Arden editions are “the best.” I think what they mean is that they are the best for other teachers and professors. When I’m directing the plays, I don’t care so much for a long discourse on the origins of a particular word or its usage throughout history. I like my notes more to-the-point and less in-the-way.

“‘Tis said they ate each other.”

On the night he is murdered, Duncan’s horses become deranged, break out of their enclosures, and devour each other.

I was teaching Macbeth to high school kids on September 11, 2001 and I remember being particularly struck at the time by this passage describing how an evil act resonates palpably throughout the natural world after it is committed.

Powerful stuff.

I don’t like Romeo and Juliet and never have.

Perhaps it has to do with not being allowed to see Olivia Hussey’s…um…hooha…when I was a high school freshman. (see the intro to Part 1 of this blog for an explanation of that reference)

Actually, it’s that the emotions in this play are way too over the top. I understand the chaos of teenage love and all that, but (for instance) I defy anyone playing Capulet to pull off the scolding of his daughter and the mourning at the funeral without seeming like a complete buffoon. That stuff is COMICAL. It’s called subtlety, Shakespeare. Look into it.

Speaking of Olivia Hussey…

I hate cheap laughs.

As You Like It is a beautiful, wistful play and I refuse to decorate Rosalind and Orlando’s scenes with Laurel and Hardy shtick. I think this is why reviewers have generally hated my approach to the play both times I directed it. They wanted cheap laughs, not the deep-down searching and aching that truly activates it.

In a similar vein, the lovers in Midsummer are not meant to be The Four Stooges. The reason the mechanicals are in the play is because THE LOVERS ARE SERIOUS. Their scenes are funny and are supposed to be, don’t get me wrong, but they must be approached with a real sense of stakes and drama or else we simply don’t care.

True story – I saw two completely unrelated productions of Midsummer (one of them by the RSC on Broadway in the late 90’s which was terrible), where the exact same shtick was used for a particular moment. Lysander and Demetrius, as they are about to walk offstage and fight in the dramatic climax of the play, followed Demetrius’ line “Follow! Nay, I’ll go with thee cheek by jowl” by comically sticking their cheeks together and duck-walking offstage like conjoined twins. Two separate directors thought this was a good idea! The non-Broadway production was a semi-professional one in Baltimore in 1993, a few years before the RSC one, and I guarantee Adrian Noble (director of the RSC production) did not see it. He was just in touch, somehow, with the magical collective unconscious stupidity.

I’m fascinated by the authorship debate.

I don’t think it matters a whit to the understanding of the plays, but I find it a fascinating discussion. One of the books I particularly enjoyed a few years ago when I was nerding it up big time about this topic was Diana Price’s Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography.

I never ever call Shakespeare “The Bard.”

I also avoid Bill, Will, Willy, Billy Shakes, Our Will, Sweet Swan, and pretty much anything else that is not SHAKESPEARE or WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.

Thanks for reading. I told you I was a snob.



  1. I hate cheap laughs in general. my favorite funny moments, especially in Shakespeare, come out of treating everything very seriously. the lovers' back-and-forths are hilarious, but the more seriously you take them, the funnier they become.