From now on, I only want to see Shakespeare from nerdom icons

26 Jun

In the last year, I’ve fallen in love with Shakespeare all over again.

All thanks to a time lord and the father of Buffy & Angel (a WAY better love story than Twilight).

I have always (and will always) have one foot stuck firmly in academia. I love the study of things—the consideration of minutiae, the historical context, the different lenses of interpretation. The -isms. God, I do love the -isms.

After graduating from my MFA, I took a nice break from the highfalutin, practically burying myself in sci-fi and satirical cartoons. Then it came time for me to teach Shakespeare again, and I took executive order and chose Hamlet for my class. I reread the key speeches and all the scenes marked in my collected works. I was touched all over again, remembering how crazy beautiful language can be, how crazy perfect. Shakespeare, if read with good comprehension, can pull on you in a way that is almost invasive. Your innermost, irrational whims displayed before you, as plot. He was a genius, no ifs, nor ands, nor buts about it. Genius.

I am of the faction that believes that Shakespeare must be experienced, as well as read, so I went on a mission to find a good production of Hamlet that my students could understand. I found this one. Holy hell crazy-good performance, batman. Of course I loved Tennant as the Doctor, but Tennant did something truly special for me with Hamlet, and his treatment of the language was so skilled it seemed as if he were adlibbing that verse. Wonderful.

While not everybody cast in Whedon’s recent take on Much Ado about Nothing was  quite as much at ease with the Bard’s lines as others (though no one tripped), as an ensemble, they were wonderful. At times, I was literally bouncing in my seat and clapping my hands like a six year old. I never want to see a stuffy, academic, straight-backed performance of either of these plays again. When I reread them, I will forever see Tennant running towards down-center stage, stopping and asking in a pleading voice “Am I a coward?” And Alexi Denishof gamboling around Whedon’s backyard. They made those moments real (again) but also familiar, something I could imagine experiencing in my own life.

I think the transition from Sci-fi to Shakespeare is not the stretch it would seem, and if you think about it, it makes total sense. The key to delivering Shakespeare well is to speak as though off the cuff, while not butchering any of the pacing and beauty of the verse. This is difficult for a twenty-first century actor, and it takes some time to absorb a different way of speaking. Much like the blending of Chinese and English that Whedon uses in Firefly, or the incorporation of nonsense-future words that are so often a central part of science fiction.

I hope that this trend continues and does some shaking up of the academic world. There is a pervasive feeling of separatism in academia, building a hard and fast barrier between anything speculative and “real” literature, which is hurtful and effectively rendering the discipline stagnant. This barrier is breaking down in the real world with these smart creatives doing whatever they want and doing it pretty damn well. (No one does post-modern metafiction better than pop-culture nerds like Whedon and co.) Hopefully it will trickle up to the ivory tower, too.

So maybe JJ Abrams can take a stab at Titus Andronicus. Maybe starring Benedict Cumberbatch. We’ll make a new seven degrees game.



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