Inmates Adapting Shakespeare

Wabash Valley Correctional Institute is not the first facility to have the prisoners interact with Shakespeare, but they’re the first that I know of who are writing their own adaptations. Instead of just staging the original play, they read through the text (in this case, Taming of the Shrew) with the program coordinator before going off to work on their own adaptation.  Here the play is used to teach about the problem of domestic violence (the inmates were even partnered with women from another facility so they could get both sides of the issue).  The new play is then performed. I find this intriguing.  I mean, I don’t think Shakespeare had domestic violence in mind when he wrote the play (it is a comedy, after all), so this is surely a case of making Shakespeare say what you wish he said.  But still, if it works, is it a bad thing?

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5 thoughts on “Inmates Adapting Shakespeare

  1. I'm a graduate student at Indiana State and my professor, Laura Bates, is the one running this program.

    One of the originators of the program, Larry, was in solitary confinement and all he did was read Shakespeare. He wrote his own theses of plays that we read in a class. Larry even had a chance to meet with David Bevington. The video was amazing. Bevington sitting there with this tattooed man losing his mind on Richard III.

    I had the opportunity to work with the program because they needed grad students to help with the expansion to the women's prison for "Taming" , but teaching high school full-time wouldn't allow me to do it.

    I watched one of their videos where they rewrote monologues for all the kings in the history plays. Pretty good stuff.

  2. Of course it's not a bad thing–Shakespeare's greatest asset, popularity-wise, is to make any number of interpretations, textual or not, seem so valid to so many. If you get something new from a fanciful adaptation, more power to you.

    @Haley, is that video or a transcript of it public?

  3. If it works? Will it work?

    "Promising is the very air o' th' time; it opens the eyes of expectation." Timon of Athens, 5.1.23-24

    Should you make anyone say what you wish he said?

    Let's say I could make you a better man, because you have obvious and undesirable flaws, and I, well, I'm just gifted, let's say I know something you don't, like Shakespeare, would you like to be at the end of my strings and see Shakespeare dangling along with you?

    On "This American Life" they aired a report of a "similar" program in which inmates, murderers, etc., get a taste of Hamlet and theater. They are coached on acting and encouraged to examine the back story. Afterward, they act out Act V and freely draw their own conclusions about the play. Some of the interpretations were interesting. Some were marred by their own narrow experience, but nevertheless they took a step closer to the Bard. It didn't turn their life around. They didn't become repentant all of a sudden, but hopefully, they didn't view those trying to introduce culture into their lives as just another bug they'd squash if it got in their way. In my opinion, that works, and there's no need to ask any questions afterward.

  4. That sounds much more interesting, Haley. The article, using Shrew as an example, seemed a little light — "Ok, now you see, what Petruchio did was bad, can we all agree?" There's so much more material they could work with, as you point out.

  5. I don't believe it's a public transcript. I know she's using Larry's writings to complete a workbook on Shakespeare, but even I'm not entirely clear on who the target audience would be for it.

    A couple years ago, they did Romeo and Juliet, from the men's prospective only, and it became a story about gang violence and remorse. They filmed it for area high school students to be a real lesson about paying for their crimes. I remember the end of it ended with all of them telling the kids their own crimes and how long they would be in jail.

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