Portia’s Casket (Stumbling into) | Voices News for the Week of August 17

This is a repost of my weekly column at The Shakespeare Standard. See the original article and comments here.

Looking, searching, and many times, just stumbling.

Sometimes, you don’t have to look too hard to find Shakespeare. You’d be surprised; Shakespeare will just come and find you.

Ty Cacek/The New York Times. Underground theatre: Paul Marino, with beard, and Fred Jones perform a scene from “King Lear” in the subway.

Lead Subway. Do not be afraid if you suddenly find two guys screaming scenes from Romeo and Juliet on the New York Subway, no, they are not insane; yes, it is illegal; and yes, they still do it anyway. Claudia La Rocco tells the story of Fred Jones and Paul Marino as they create an underground theater and perform Shakespearean plays such as Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. Bringing theatre to the people was exhausting work but has become their main source of income, aside from the much applause. They let their voices be heard from the underground, reminding people of the bard and his plays. No, you don’t need to spend too much money, or any really, to enjoy Shakespeare.

Golden Casket. Inspiring as Jones’ and Marino’s stories are, some theatres are suffering some financial cut backs according to Misha Berson. Though Shakespearean plays, such as those by Oregon Shakespeare Festival are spared from such difficulties, it is still a major issue in the theatrical world. Berson writes, “If theater is, as Shakespeare declared, a mirror held up to nature, wouldn’t it be grand to not just see a few faces reflected in the glass — but sometimes, also, a crowd? Yes, in this financial winter of our discontent, it seems like a distant dream for any playwright to dare that. But artists should always be encouraged to dream big.” Now, if only it is as simple as selling that golden casket to provide financial backing…

Lottery. Though money is not always the problem for some, “Neither a borrower, nor a lender be.” Maybe we can just find more things for free? Just like Portia’s lottery of a love life, lucky ones can avail of tickets for Shakespeare Theatre Company’s free performances for Julius Caesar. As traditionally practiced since 1991, they give free performances to the public once a year. Tickets can be availed via an online lottery or by simply arriving early, as there are 200 tickets reserved for the standby line. More public Shakespeare, whether on the underground, the streets, the park and even in the comfort of the theatre; the bard is becoming a part of our everyday life more and more, and you don’t even have to worry about the costs, just don’t forget to pay with applause.

Of lead dreams and successes. We can always start with dreaming big, and then we can be very surprised to what it can bring us. Oregon Shakespeare Festival celebrates their 75th Anniversary with WillFul, named after and inspired by the bard, it is “a different sort of theatrical creature. Instead of sitting and watching it in one of the festival’s comfortable theaters, audiences will take a journey, moving from place to place, watching scenes unfold in a park, on a loading dock, on the stairwell of a parking garage. And though the actors are working from a script and telling a story, the show’s method — and its goal — is less about delivering a narrative than shaping a communal experience.” I wonder how much Shakespeare would enjoy a new interpretation of theatre rooting from his own innovations and bringing it closer to the people.

Alla Dreyvitser/The Washington Post

Interpretations. Is there a right or wrong interpretation? To cut or not to cut, that is the question.The Washington Post explores that very debate. Is it really better to cut in modern Shakespearean for more understandable interpretations? Or do we need everything so we can fully appreciate Shakespeare? What would bring it closer to the people? On the other hand, would the meaning be lost because of the cuts? The article cites, “If you can’t follow at all why something’s funny, then I’m going to cut it,” Posner says, “because I’m not interested in the theory of why it’s funny.”

Tragedies. Alexa Rae Smahls reports that UCLA students in Shakespeare travel study program unaffected by London riots. Meanwhile, Sylvia Morrisprovides Shakespearean reading on the London Riots as  she sees Richard III in Bill Bratton’s statement, “In a country that loves gardening, you fully appreciate the idea if you don’t weed a garden, that garden is going to be destroyed – the weeds are going to overrun it. Similarly for social disorder: if you don’t deal with those minor crimes, they’re going to grow. What also grows is fear, the most destructive element in any civilised society.”

Why should we …
Keep law and form and due proportion,
Showing as in a model our firm estate,
When our sea-walled garden, the whole land,
Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up,
Her fruit trees all unpruned, her hedges, ruined,
Her knots disordered, and her wholesome herbs
Swarming with caterpillars.

Closed Casket. Some caskets deemed not to be opened. One of this is of the bard himself. Ojeme Usiahon, a Nigerian artist, expresses his opposition to the plans of exhuming Shakespeare from his tomb. The inscription on the tomb specifically states, “Good friends for Jesus sake forebear to dig the dust enclosed heare, blest be the man that spare the stone, cursed be he that moves my bones.” Usiahon argues that, “Though others have been wondering what difference it makes to the remains, since Shakespeare is already dead, someone even said will there have been any controversy if he weren’t so popular. But my great respect to this living legend is that could it be that their (scientists) purpose is to determine the value of his remains? Can the value of his remains outweigh any respect the world has for his epitaph and last wishes? Will the society allow his privacy, honor, and respect be dishonored? Will it affect over 200,000 tourists that visit the place of his baptism and burial?” I also have to agree with Usiahon, for once, this is one casket that should not be opened.

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