Whenever an interesting question comes up where Shakespeare didn’t necessarily make it clear what he meant, people start to split up. Some folks dig into the text, and others move away from it and into pure conjecture.
So I’m imagining a line. On the far left is “perfect Shakespeare”. As if we jumped in a time machine and travelled back in time 400+ years so that we could see, and thus mimic, exactly what Shakespeare meant and said and why he meant and said it. Of course we’d have to actually go back and live there for a little while to get the right frame of reference, we couldn’t just pop in for a show, but you get the idea.
On the other hand is pure interpretation. Or at least, pure in the sense that you’ve retained only the essence of the original, to the point where maybe “inspiration” is a better idea. West Side Story comes to mind, or Lion King. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is an interesting case, because on the one hand it’s entirely the imagination of Stoppard, but he’s weaved it beautifully into the original source material.
So, where do you put yourself on that spectrum? Would the time machine be interesting to you? Do you care at all about West Side Story sorts of production that have no actual Shakespeare content? What’s your opinion on each end?
I’m somewhere closer to the “inspiration” side than the time machine side. I think that for Shakespeare to have remained relevant for this long, the important part has to lie more in the common core than in the details of what that specific audience would have known going into the show. I do like source material. That’s where I draw the line. If ya ain’t speaking lines that Shakespeare gave you, then have a nice day and go wait over there. I’ll enjoy you, but you don’t get to be in the same camp as those that use the source. Make sense? Take Shakespeare in Love. Obviously, most of the lines in that movie are not in their original context. Don’t care – they’re still good lines.
It’s not that I don’t like the lessons in Elizabethan history. They’re … interesting. But when the lesson becomes “To understand Shakespeare you have to understand the following,” I start to lose it. I don’t *want* that to be true. I want to be able to meet someone who’s never heard of Shakespeare and say “Watch this” and know that he can still come away seeing the genius. You may understand it more if you study it, but that of course is true of everything. When it’s presented as an obstacle to understanding, that’s when I camp myself on the side of the folks that don’t and possibly never will know or care about that stuff. And then I go searching for as much of that core/essence that I can find, and share it with those folks.