How do changes in human subjectivity over time affect how we view a Shakespeare play? Should Shakespeare’s plays be staged as they were in his day, or can they be staged in a modern setting?
These questions were posed this week on a course I am following on Future Learn about Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Personally, I don’t think Shakespeare’s plays have to be staged in Elizabethan costume at all. The thing I love most about seeing Shakespeare performed is the seemingly infinite interpretations of the same text – surely it’s what makes the Director’s job so challenging?
I have seen Hamlet several times and costume or setting rarely make a difference to the overall experience. Perhaps this is because the play is predominantly about emotions; and politics and conflict are universal themes. In any case, I enjoy seeing Shakespeare’s plays re-imagined with settings and costumes that are often surprisingly relevant, even when they are a far-cry from what the Elizabethans, or even the modern-day Globe audience would expect to see.
The current productions of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won (or Much Ado About Nothing) at the RSC are cases in point. Beautifully staged productions set either side of the first World War, they are spot on and work brilliantly. Likewise, the RSC’s Merchant of Venice with Patrick Stewart, set in modern-day Las Vegas with an Elvis Impersonator, and a South-African influenced Tempest with Antony Sher as Prospero – both genius productions, still true to the text, but shedding a whole new light on the plays.
This whole notion of how Shakespeare’s plays are performed is something I feel very strongly about. After all, there wouldn’t be anywhere near as much inspiration for my design work if every performance was firmly entrenched in 1599!