An Evening With The Bard!

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Tonight the newest movie version (2013) of Romeo and Juliet was on television and I decided to give watching it another try.

Those of you who know me well, know R & J is my absolute favorite play of all time. Without a thought I can recall just about every line from every character in that play. So when this particular film version first came out I couldn’t wait to watch it. But, a few years ago I turned it off before Romeo ever set eyes on his beloved Juliet. Why? Because the director had it rewritten so that it was in every day language and thus despite the exquisite scenery, gorgeous costumes, and beautiful actors, it was a mockery of that which we call Shakespeare.

However, this time when I flipped through the stations, I came upon the scene where Romeo first gazes at our gal Juliet. He went right into his original lines. “O she doth teach the torches to burn bright! ” etc.
And so I gasped…and tears instantly welled up because their “meet and greet” scene was exactly as it was originally written. Just as I performed it in college back in 1970, and just as I taught it to my students year after year. And in that moment I was immediately drawn back into the world of blank verse. (Better known as unrhymed iambic pentameter).
Yes, to my delight, the director was at least clever enough to use The Bard’s original verse for most of the important lines between the world’s most famous lovers. Thank goodness!!!!!!

I don’t know why this director felt the need to dumb down a good portion of the dialogue. Young people today aren’t stupid. They would still watch it, and still understand the content and passion this play evokes without ripping good old Will’s words to shreds. Thankfully, enough was left intact for me to enjoy .  But seriously, why would anyone want to tamper with perfection?
The director could have changed the costumes, the staging, and the set; modernize the make-up or hairstyles, but NOT the words! NEVER THE WORDS!!!

There is a reason this play and all of Shakespeare’s plays have survived for centuries. It’s because they are brilliantly written. His words fall of the tongue like musical notes and float up into the theatre, circle around, and touch your heart. And they stay with you for a lifetime.

So… tonight I found some unexpected joy when I watched my favorite play.  I now have yet another movie version to enjoy when I long to hear The Bard.
Sigh…An evening with Will Shakespeare and unrhymed Iambic pentameter. Ahhh… Life is grand!!!

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1970 University of Miami. Juliet AKA Lesley

 

 

 

 

12 thoughts on “An Evening With The Bard!

  1. You make a good point Davy.The real deal will hopefully endure forever!!!!!

    What I found upsetting was that The Shakespeare company in New England said they were rewriting his plays to increase their audience. I think that is for money rather than art.
    How fortunate you were to actually see plays done by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Was it at The New Globe Theatre? I have a children’s popup book about that theatre and the man who built it that I would read to my students and now have read to my grandchildren.. We made our own Globe out of popsicle sticks, cardboard etc. and had fun with that. Then we made puppets for the main characters.
    But, most importantly, the children I taught always knew the premise of the play. I would take them to lovely place down in South Miami?Coral Gables called Vizacaya. The grounds were magnificent and several years back they would put on Shakespearean plays outside and invite the local schools to see the performances. They even had work packets for the younger students with word finds and games so they got used to the language. When I took my last group to see “Midsummer” my 5th graders were explaining the plot to high school seniors sitting next to them. It was obvious my little ones understood the plot because they were laughing and chatting about Puck and Oberon etc. because we performed it in class several times so all the children got an opportunity to play various parts. (A shortened version that I created for them.) Anyhow, it was a riot to see these 17 and 18 year olds asking my students who were 10 and 11…. “What did he say? What’s going on?” And my little ones explained…”Helena loves Demetrius but he loves Hermia and wait… just wait because it is hysterical when Puck puts love juice in Demetrius’ eyes… ” And my students were explaining to the big kids what was going on. Honestly, if you read the plot it is easy to get. And there is a marvelous 1939 movie version with Mickey Rooney as Puck that is hysterical that I showed the kids which they loved. So they were well prepared. Obviously, I wouldn’t take them to see Macbeth because they were little. But, once they got the gist of the plot they understood the language to several of his comedies. It’s amazing what children can learn. And yes, the language is supreme. Here’s a link to Vizcaya. They no longer do the plays since one year we went and there was a huge rain storm during the show and the sound system fell and someone got hurt. I imagine it became a liability. What a shame because it was the perfect place to perform the plays.
    http://vizcaya.org

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    1. Davy D

      I haven’t been to the Globe Theatre yet Lesley. One play I saw at one of the theatres in Stratford Upon Avon. the other was performed, open air, in a forest in Suffolk. Halfway through there was a thunderstorm which added to the beauty of the performance. Even though the actors and audience were drenched it created a great atmosphere and connection.

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  2. Davy D

    Lesley, I can’t comment too much about the plays of the Bard as I have only seen a couple. They were done by the Royal Shakespeare Company and although, at times, I didn’t have a clue what was going on, the use of the original language kept me spellbound. It also had me looking and researching the original texts to get a better understanding. I wonder if some of these Hollywood adaptations will be around in 400 years time.

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  3. Lesley, I couldn’t agree with you more about the importance of keeping the original language of important works. Well, maybe of all works.
    I love the language of Shakespeare too , to me it is like beautiful music. How can you possibly with good conscience ruin it.
    miriam

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    1. Exactly Miriam! If for 400 years The Bard’s work stayed intact, then how vain and ignorant can 21st century man be to make those kinds of literary decisions? How do you affect future generations by denying them the right to his original plays? I work with young spoken word poets now that I’m in retirement. They have turned Poetry into an art form that I liken to Shakespeare. In his day his work was the people’s language and today’s poetry slams are very similar. I have had them read his Sonnets using spoken word inflections and it fits perfectly. The people who think it’s outdated don’t know how to teach and inspire. If introduced properly to any form of classical writing students will be motivated and inspired. Do we get rid of The Odyssey,Plato’s Republic, or even The Bible because of a few thees and thous? I say no.

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      1. I say no to the same books you do. No getting rid of and why shouldn’t we understand some theses and thous. It is part of what makes a language rich.
        You go, the world need passionate teachers.
        miriam

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      2. Thank you! I just feel we can always look forward to new styles in writing, but we cannot lose touch with the past. (I’d be lost without Jane Austen.) Truly great writing endures for all time. In order to move forward we must embrace our past.

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  4. Also Amy, I was in college in 1969 when the Zeffirelli movie came out. My friends and I were blown away by it and to this day it is still my favorite version. The next year my college hired a California director and put on the production. I was fortunate enough to get the role of Juliet. I always wondered if I got the part because in 1970 I resembled Olivia Hussey. Either way, it was an extraordinary experience and I am still good friends with the actresses who played The nurse and Juliet’s mother. Lady Capulet is now on the NYTimes best seller list and my former nurse is a talent agent in NYC. Shakespeare brought us together as life long friends. And the subtext we three created to fill in the tears between the lines, bonded us for eternity. The power of the Bard is immeasurable.

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  5. I’m right there with you, Lesley. I’m a major Bard fan. I remember my entire English class going to see Franco Zefferelli’s Romeo & Juliet in the movie theater. We loved it. I think Will S. has lasted 400 years because his stories always get to the root of our humanity–love, jealousy, greed, confusion. The language is beautiful, as you note, and not insurmountable even for the TTYL generation–it’s a matter of repeated exposure.

    In 2015. the New York Times reported that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, having decided that “Shakespeare’s language is too difficult for today’s audiences to understand” announced that it would commission playwrights to translate all of the Bard’s works into modern English. I don’t know if this travesty came to pass, but it was deeply distressing to me. I felt nothing would kill old Will faster than that.

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    1. Oh I so agree. I taught his work to 4th 5th graders. First, we’d read it in story form and then I’d give them a mini play I created using the most pertinent lines and we’d do the play in class. The children loved it. Yes, We’d add modern music and make cool costumes, but it was still Shakespeare. One year I had a parent make a donkey head for Bottoms out of a rug that was amazing! Andthe lines were always true to form. If 11 year olds “got it” then teens and adults certainly can.
      I have former students, who are now grown, still emailing me quotes and informing me of movies with a Shakespeare theme. One sent me a copy of her college entrance essay which was about her experience playing Hermia in her 4th grade gifted class and how that led her on a quest to pursue literature and theatre. We should never underestimate the abilities of young people. They are much wiser than we give them credit for.
      Amy, I loved your response. You are definitely my literary soul sister!

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  6. Hollywood has its ups and down with what it produces. Not much what they produce lately do I find enjoyable so I understand how you feel. Sometimes I go to see the acting and scenery only. The plots and special effects bore me along with all the violence.

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    1. Very true Ruth. This was gorgeous to look at, but it missed the boat somehow in my opinion. At least compared to past productions. I’m glad the world still appreciates the likes of Shakespeare, but it’s a slippery slope when we change his language. He literally invented words which are used to this day. You cannot graduate high school without studying his work. It seems to me that his writing, which is nationally celebrated, shouldn’t be butchered for box office success. We all know the story. If you don’t want to hear original Shakespeare, then just watch West Side Story or Twilight if you want a different version. But if you’re doing the original, then keep in his own words which are more exquisite than anything else that could ever be written.

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