British critics and directors debated in March whether there should be a 10-year ban on Shakespeare productions in Great Britain.
Read details of the debate.
Playbill On-Line sought readers' opinion of this millennial proposal. Here are the results. Playbill thanks all who took the time to write.
From Alan Kornheiser:
In the last year or so, I've seen Richard III three times (as Fascist in a movie, as search in Al Pacino's LOOKING FOR RICHARD, and at the Theatre for a New Audience); I'm first coming to know him as the wonderful smartass he is.
I've seen HAMLET three times also (in the movies, in Wilson's deconstruction, and in ELSINORE); the play is just beginning to make sense to me, as one of the very few true tragedies in the canon: Hamlet as a boulder, rolling downhill, crushing everything in its path.
I've seen RICHARD II twice in the last year and still don't really know him. I've seen ROMEO and JULIET twice and am becoming tired of them, although not bored with the poetry.
I've also seen, or have tickets for, OTHELLO, TWELFTH NIGHT, MACBETH, ANTHONY AND CLEOPATRA, HENRY VIII, plus probably one or two others. Recently, although not in the past 12 months, I've also seen one CORIOLANUS and passed up another; one WINTERS TALE and passed up another. Plus other stuff. TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA; HENRY VI; you know, other stuff.
So no, I'm not yet ready to give up my Shakespeare. I am willing to argue for some of the lesser plays, which are lesser only in comparison. TIMON OF ATHENS was poor Tony Randall's only solid success--and he lost a fortune on it; alas--but it was wonderful. When did you see KING JOHN? TROILUS AND CRESSIDA? Everyone has his one list.
I'm also more than willing to get into anybody's argument about how to produce Shakespeare. Sure, do it straight--let's hear the poetry. But if I know poetry, maybe it's better to "say it slant" (as dear Miss Dickenson put it). Produce it for the theater goer who will only see it once, or the fanatic who has seen it a dozen times? Modernize the language? Horrors--but then again, what are fardles? (Burdens--editor's note.) Lots of fine arguments here.
Let's argue this all night; but no moratoria. Please.
From Paul Dixon:
By banning the works of Shakespeare, or any playwright, we commit an act of censorship, regardless of the rationale behind the ban.
Perhaps we should simply ban bad productions of Shakespeare, although even that is a form of censorship as what constitutes "bad" would always be subjective no matter how many "objective" criteria were used in evaluating the production.
I saw my first at age sixteen. I am glad that I did not have to wait until I was twenty-six.
We cannot blame people's disinterest new theatre (or theatre in general) on W.S. I cannot even imagine that people who have a limited knowledge of theatre are flocking to the RSC. It would be more appropriate to ban CATS.
From Kenrick, John:
Shakespeare's voice has echoed through the centuries, and a bunch of self-appointed gods think they can silence it? What utter rubbish! Let those so-called theatre experts resolve to spend the next ten years doing Shakespeare as written, without the director-centered, playwright-obliterating productions that have bored and confused audiences in recent years. A ban on director egos, and let Shakespeare's music play on!
There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so. Ban Shakespeare? You might as well ban the sun, the stars, the water, air. He is THE muse of fire who, after 400 years, has become a force of nature. He can't be cut off from humanity -- he is humanity. On a mundane level, if the first amendment protects the rights of tabloid editors to exploit OJ Simpson, Princess Di, what about the rights of directors, producers, actors, and the ghost old Will to express themselves in the most beautiful words known to the language? Even more mundane, we need Shakespeare so that non-theater lovers get a chance to find out where all those quotes came from . For theater lovers, Shakespeare is the respite from the comedies, AIDS dramas, and glut of historical-musical, musical-comical, historo-comical musicals that dominate theater today. Even if London is suffering from a glut of Shakespeare, it is unthinkable to stop the Bard. As Macbeth says, "Damned be him who first cries 'Hold enough'.
Thalia can't think of a better glut.
From Kent Hansen:
A decade-long moratorium on the Bard may seem like a clever and avant garde choice for those who are hip-deep in Shakespeare but for many of us who only have the chance to hie away to Stratford-on-Avon in measured doses, the ban is an unconscionable as it is irresponsible. Some of us still want to expose our children to his great classics and the loftiness of his language. In fact, if anything, we should demand an increase in Shakespearean production. I would be the first to admit that poor Will has been the victim of some very ghastly productions but there have also been many superior ones. So please, please, please do nothing to curtail the Kenneth Branaghs of the world but rather rally them on. There is still much we have not seen.
From Charlie Veprek:
So far the debate about whether or not to ban Shakespeare has ignored the basic question: Why is Shakespeare produced?
1) He is well known. Shakespeare has an aura of "intellectualism" that theatergoers like to turn to in an era of big-budget musicals with floating tires and descending helicopters. People who like to see drama and comedy with something to say naturally turn to Shakespeare.
2) He is free! Shakespeare has no booking agent, no press reps, and certainly has no Samuel French representative to collect royalties. For cash-starved theaters looking to make some cash on a play with built-in publicity, Shakespeare is the perfect choice.
3) His plays are phenomenal! Finally, Shakespeare's is simply the most impressive canon of dramatic literature in history. To ignore Shakespeare is to ignore the inspiration for hundreds of years of dramatic literature as well.
One expert complained that Shakespeare has been done in musical form and nude. He even complained that "The Tempest" was produced 5 consecutive times. Most of these complaints have come from theater intellectuals who are not the major audiences for these works. Shakespeare knew better than anyone that theatrical audiences will eventually get what they want. Shakespeare tried to please everyone: low comedy and swashbuckling for the groundlings, and intense drama for those sitting above them.
Let the audiences decide what they want to see and let them reject what they do not find interesting. Personally, each adaptation of Shakespeare I see reveals new truths in the text that I may not have seen before. It is up to producers, directors, and designers to be responsible, however. For the Royal SHAKESPEARE (my emphasis) Company to stop producing Shakespeare would deny audiences (especially young audiences) the distinct joy of seeing Shakespeare's best works come alive on stage. Perhaps the RSC should explore some of Shakespeare's less-often performed works like Coriolanus or Antony and Cleopatra.
No way should there be any ban on Shakespeare! The idea of such ridiculous self-censorship. If people want to come and see a show, any show, any author, the theatrical community should welcome them.
No Shakespeare. Try no air!
Absolutely not. The works are too important. It seems that we are reading less and less in this electronic age and it becomes even more important for our young actors and theatre-goers to see and act in Shakespeare's plays. The most meaningful work my young actor son has done are the works of Shakespeare he has appeared in. And those are his words!
From Lynn Slotkin:
How about an indefinite ban on stupid debates like this one? Or an indefinite ban on bad productions of Shakespeare.
If there were five productions of "The Tempest" in London in a short space of time, and an audience for every production then that should answer the question. Do these people really have so little to do over there to debate such a dumb question. Bravo to Peter Hall.