Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Oh, I Get It Now

We’ve asked the question here before about when you “got” Shakespeare.  Liz at Blogging Shakespeare puts a more specific spin on the question when she asks what production did you see that made you “get” it?  With examples from Hamlet, Much Ado and Julius Caesar, Liz cites from her own experience.  Bonus points for acknowledging that she’s not yet seen her defining Lear, and until then, “King Lear is a story about a stupid old man who makes a stupid mistake and gets his comeuppance.

I’m not sure I have my own story to add, however. I think that this is one of those lines that divides the world of Shakespeare fandom a bit.  Some people, particularly those that are in the business, will have the desire and opportunity to seek out many productions.  More casual theatre goers, like myself, will see far less.  My wife came with me to see King Lear once.  It wasn’t a good production.  But if King Lear came around every year, it’s not like I could drag her to it every time.  But unless somebody’s paying for the privilege I can’t go off on my own and see every production that comes to town, either.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen my share.  Seen a number of Midsummers’, Tempests and Hamlets in particular.  But for the most part I switch over to movies, which I have a better shot at watching in my down time, carrying around Richard Burton or Ian McKellan on my ipod.  For those live productions that I have seen?  I can’t say that any are really “get it” moments.  I leave that for the text.  I try to learn something new from every production I see, certainly.  But I don’t think I’ve yet seen one that I’d call defining in any way.


Mark said...

When I was young, I was very cynical about Romeo and Juliet, until I saw an indie production of it in New York. It was well-acted and made the romance believable. I'm not sure if that's an example of me "getting it," but it definitely changed my perspective. But I'm still a little cynical. Seriously, she kills herself over her first boyfriend. She'll get over him.

JM said...

Mark said..."Seriously, she kills herself over her first boyfriend. She'll get over him."

I've always thought that would be somewhat affected by someone's arbitrary conception of what Paris looks like. :)

In all seriousness, I had trouble with R&J when I was in high school. I thought it was rather sappy and somewhat unrealistic until (much later) I really had to delve into it before directing it. And I had already played the Prince/Prologue several years before I directed it. It sort of grew on me. But I think for me it has very much to do with the interpretation as it's translated to the stage (or screen). I began to be able to forgive their impulsiveness because I realized how intelligent (especially Juliet) they were otherwise--if that makes any kind of contradictory sense at all?

Duane said...

I think R&J is certainly one of those plays where your perspective changes, and perhaps is supposed to. When you're a kid, and you identify with the kids, it's a romance about how parents don't understand and the lengths that you're willing to go to for true love.

When you're an adult it's a tragedy about what happens when parents are stupid and don't pay attention to their kids.

Mark said...

JM: You're right, Juliet's incredible intelligent. She has the impulsiveness (and the hormones) of a 14-year-old girl, but the intellect of a middle-aged playwright. :P It's a dangerous combination, but while you can think Juliet makes a foolish choice, you have to respect her. She knows what's going on, even if she doesn't have the experience to know how to deal with it.

Duane: I'm only 25, and don't know what it's like to be a parent. But when I was young, and before I had my own income, I used to get my dad to take me to plays every so often. We went to see King Lear and Henry IV, pt 1, and while my father isn't a fellow Shakespeare geek, he had his own reactions to what was going on. He tended to align with the fathers, and I with the children.

Duane said...

Juliet's pretty trapped. If she doesn't marry Paris, then she's essentially disowned. If she does, then she's going to hell for being married to two people. Her only real escape is the one she chooses.

What I think is interesting, although it may take some of the romance out of it, is the idea that she kills herself for practical reasons, not because Romeo is dead. She's already said previously that if she wakes up and Romeo isn't even there, she's going to kill herself, that's why she's got the dagger in the first place. Given that Romeo is here but dead, she's still stuck (ha! pun approved!) with plan B.

I think this is the cynical interpretation, though. Her language doesn't suggest that her thoughts in this moment are "Oh, shoot, now what?" She really is thinking "I can't live without you." So that is a point back on the romantic interpretation side of things.

Mark said...

Duane, you might be interested in the book, "Hamlet without Hamlet" by Margreta de Grazia. Her thesis is that, although we tend to think of Hamlet as a play that deals with modern themes like life after death and metaphysics, it's really about Elizabethan concerns, like land and succession. For example, she argues that Hamlet is primarily ticked off at Gertrude's marriage not because it disgraces his father, but because it prevents him from ascending to the throne. I don't really agree with it, but then, that's one of the reasons I like it so much! I'm sure I'll write in my own blog about it at some point.

Sorry for directing the conversation to another play entirely, but your comment about practicality made me think of it.

catkins said...

My first "get it" moment was the film version of Julius Caeser with Marlon Brando. Totally blew me away when I was about 13.
I have been lucky enough to see Simon Beale in London in a mesmerizing performance of Macbeth. The whole audience was on the edge of their seats, and in tears. Also, Ian Mackellan's Lear at BAM was electrifying. And I saw a superb production of All's Well at Theater for a New Audience. Most surprisingly, I saw a performance of Twelfth Night at Shakespeare and Company that totally changed my view of the play. Made it completely funny by making it obvious to Malvolio that he was going to be successful in convincing someone that he was not crazy and get out of his dungeon.

I am going to borrow from JM's playbook here and stress the importance of seeing performances in order to fully appreciate Shakespeare. There is something that actors can do on a stage that a reader cannot quite access on his or her own most of the time. I have read all the plays, but I have not seen enough of them!