Portia’s Casket

(This is a re-post from my weekly column at The Shakespeare Standard for Wednesday Voices. Originally published on August 3, 2011. See the original version and comments here.)

Hi! For my first column, I took inspiration from the awesome character of Merchant of VenicePortia. My weekly columns, as I visualize it, will be like opening Portia’s caskets and finding opinions, commentaries and discussions about Shakespeare. I don’t have a degree in Early Drama like most of my colleagues here in The Shakespeare Standard but I have always been a fan of Shakespeare. This is a circumstance that a lot of you, readers can relate to. We need to engage more people in this aspect of the Elizabethan world that we love and enjoy. He should be a part of our everyday life and a topic of our everyday conversation.

The Golden Casket. The question of Shakespeare’s relevance to our world often comes up. Seeing Shakespeare through the glamorous golden casket often brings isolation and death. Such an instance is Murray Wardrop’s report that Jane Horrocks will no longer be doing Shakespearean play, “Jane Horrocks: Shakespeare is inaccessible.” After being required to urinate on-stage night after night during her performance for Macbeth, her statement is quite reasonable. Though she says it’s the pentameter, rather than the peeing, that she doesn’t understand. Personally, I think that’s an unnecessary loss in to the community. Shakespeare should engage us, not isolate. What can we do to prevent such deaths while spouting pentameters, preferably without public urination?

Use Lead. Theatre does not necessarily have to be shiny and sparkly. Open the lead casket and you might find something more interesting, like Anthony Stoeckert did when he discovered Plays in the Park, Midsummer Meets Mardigras. William Bard is directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a Mardigras twist at the Pleasant Valley Park Amphitheatre in Bernards Township on July 29 to Aug 5. He says, “People bring blankets and sandwiches and their beach chairs and their bug spray. They come out and have a great night with their family. They’re introduced to William Shakespeare in many ways. It’s really a great community effort.”Getting the community to engage, more importantly, to enjoy Shakespeare is a great feat.

Stumbling into silver. Ben Brantley, on the other hand, unearthed a fools head on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s popular version of Merchant of Venice. He finds Rupert Goold’s version full of unnecessary razzle-dazzle and was deeply bothered by the Elvis, Batman and Robin costumes. Still, some commentators on the article find the show more acceptable than Brantley. One even states that it’s enjoyable. With two varying perspectives, the question arises, which is better, an Elizabethan adaptation that the Brantley’s of the world would approve of or familiar and localized adaptations such as those tried by Rupert Goold and William Bard? Will the community be misled by such adaptations? Or maybe, just maybe, it can make Shakespeare involved in their daily lives?

Gold, silver or lead, each casket had a purpose. The key concept here is engagement. What would make people talk about and even debate about Shakespeare? It’s not so much about appreciation but consideration. What can help people not dismiss the concept of Shakespeare? Can it be theatre? Or school? Or the community? Andrew Cowie opens a discussion on the question should Shakespeare be a required subject in school while Sylvia Morris presents Shakespeare in Cinema. There are a number of approaches the can be taken, or as I would love to say, a number of caskets that can be opened. Though one casket is better than the others,Merchant of Venice would’ve been bland and lifeless with just the lead casket.

Rainbow-coloured caskets. Shakespeare also influenced numerous movements and even language. Shakespearean discourse is engaged, not just in theatrical performances of his plays, but also in language, culture and reinterpretations. Harold Raley explores the relationship and impact of Shakespeare and the King James Bible on the modern English Language. Meanwhile, Emma Young discovers an indirect re-interpretation of Shakespeare in The Weird Sisters where his characters Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia were given new life. Surprisingly, even Shakespeare is present in Dulaang UP’s Rizal X, a play about the re-introduction and re-interpretation of Philippine’s national hero. Pleasantly surprised when as early as Act 1 (Auditions), Shylock’s Jew from the Merchant of Venice was recited, pertaining to Rizal’s feeling of oppression.

Continue looking. I’ll keep my first column short, for now. I just had this discussion with a friend, “how can we popularize Shakespeare”? How can we get more people to read him, watch performances of his plays or make him a topic of everyday conversation? We are still at a loss for a true answer to that. Then, I got a positive e-mail from Jeremy, giving me a chance to engage readers of The Shakespeare Standard. I hope I do an alright job. I’d love to hear comments and feedbacks, so I can improve on what I do. First things first, let’s open up the caskets and start the discourse.

Points for Discussion: How can we include Shakespeare in our everyday conversations? What are his other influences in our everyday lives?

The Lead Casket—“Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.”


6 thoughts on “Portia’s Casket

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  1. Hi there, thanks for referring to The Shakespeare blog. You’ll see if you keep reading that I often refer to ways in which Shakespeare is still current today, and still being used in conversation, as above all he understood how people felt, especially in moments of extreme emotion and articulated their feelings better, perhaps, than anyone has done since. Although we live superficially different lives now, in many ways we are still the same underneath.
    Sylvia Morris

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