Shakespeare: The Two Traditions

Shakespeare: The Two Traditions

Shakespeare: The Two Traditions

Shakespeare: The Two Traditions

Synopsis

The two traditions -- Shakespeare on stage and Shakespeare on film -- have experienced a midair collision with postmodernism. The purpose of Shakespeare is to examine recent productions of Shakespeare on stage and film and to lay out some interpretive guidelines for responding to the scripts as re-created in these two very different formats and within the conflicted environment of shifting critical paradigms. Illustrated.

Excerpt

Above Shakespeare's stage was a small roof on the ceiling was painted a zodiac. Shakespeare could refer to the sky as a neutral presence with clouds in it (as Hamlet does), to God in the Christian sense of the word, and to the pagan world of astrology and fate. One of the "star-crossed" lovers, Romeo, can shake his fist and cry, "I defy you stars!" as he rushes back to Verona and death in the fine and public Capulet tomb. Hamlet can look up and point at "this brave o'rehanging firmament"β€”at the zodiac immediately above him and at the sky above it. York can remind Bolingbroke that "the heavens are o'er our heads" and suggest the judgment of God of which his brother, Gaunt, had gone on at length. Bolingbroke blithely keeps his eyes "on the earth" and says, "I know it, uncle, and oppose not myself against their will." He is, by default he would have us believe, the instrument of the heavens. For others, the issue is more immediate. "There is no shuffling," says King Claudius of Denmark, having made it to the throne but doubting that he will make it to heaven. As he points up, he is not pointing at a pagan zodiac or a neutral sky, but at a Christian heaven, which he is unlikely to experience for eternity. Two traditions existed side by side in a remarkably tolerant Globe, subject like the 1990s to its own version of "political correctness," but freer, more syncretic and plastic than our own culture, if not as ubiquitous. Our ability to communicate within a "global village" does not erase the bulkheads between cultures or the Balkanization of Shakespeare studies, in which we should have common ground and goals. The several traditions of Shakespeare's stage blended into something else: a zone that probed deeply beyond tradition and into the realm of archetype. Shakespeare's continuing presence proves that much.

As Shakespeare moves forward to the twenty-first century, three major areas of his presence dominate all others. They are: the classroom, the stage, and film. Insofar as the classroom is a function of new historicist critics, it remains irrelevant, except as academic careers are furthered or thwarted and except as we modify historicist tenets so that they can apply to production. The new historicism will not wither and die. Too many of its practitioners control the classrooms . . .

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