Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Oh also

Wednesday, 5 January 2011 10:13
epershand: The Tardis has fallen on its side. (Fallen Tardis)
My head hurts.

David Tennant is marrying Georgia Moffett? Who played Jenny (the Doctor's daughter)? And who is apparently in fact Peter Davison's daughter?

Dude.
epershand: Ampersand holding a skull. (ampersand)
Wow, Ursula K. Le Guin, I disagree strongly with you.

I still haven't seen The Tempest (I... don't watch movies, mostly, unless I can do it somewhere where I can multitask.) But still. The best production I ever saw of Hamlet was at a women's college. Most of the parts were played by women in pants roles, but the role of Hamlet was envisioned as an equivalent of King Christina of Sweden (Wikipedia has her title wrong). In this production, Hamlet was a girl raised to be King of Denmark until her uncle swooped in to snatch the crown, "Her Highness, the Prince."

Claudius tells her to stop her "unmanly" grief. Laertes tells Ophelia that no matter how strong Hamlet's feelings for her may be, a marriage is impossible:
...Perhaps she loves you now,
And now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch
The virtue of her will; but you must fear,
Her greatness weigh’d, her will is not her own,
For she herself is subject to her birth;
She may not, as unvalu’d persons do,
Carve for herself, for on her choice depends
The safety and the health of the whole state;
And therefore must her choice be circumscrib’d
Unto the voice and yielding of that body
Whereof she is the head.


Prince Hamlet waxes eloquently about her grief while everyone around her assumes she is mad because her emotions are inappropriate. She kisses the girl and throws herself into a grave and kills her girlfriend's father through an arras, and she dies from the thrust of a poison sword. Her male friends from school follow her around making cracks about women's genitalia, ostensibly trying to take care of her while spying on her for her uncle. Her mother smothers her and her father manipulates her to do his bidding and her uncle slinks onto her throne because he thinks she can't handle it.

Her emotions are inappropriate. To survive she needs to be more manly. More rational. Less talk, more action. Somehow I think I've heard that before.

Le Guin is right, gender matters in Shakespeare. Queen Lear raging on the heath about her children means something different to us than King Lear doing the same thing. Changing the gender changes the play radically. It (cough) transforms it into something new. But that new thing doesn't take away from the thing that was there. It rings what was already there like a bell, striking all the bits we took for granted before and making us see them afresh.

And that's always been what I've loved the most about theatre. The words on the page may be consistent, but every director, every cast, every production is an opportunity to create a completely new work from scratch and show us something we haven't seen before. And Shakespeare in particular is a canvas that is ripe and ready for fresh painting. That is why Forbidden Planet works. That is why Ten Things I Hate About You works. That is why the production of A Winter's Tale where the first act took place in the 50s and the second act took place in the 60s and the character of Time was Albert Einstein in an astronaut's helmet worked.

That is why I can read The Merchant of Venice and see Shylock as a gothic hero rather than an Elizabethan villain (I really want to direct that production some day).

Shakespeare intended none of these things. It doesn't mean they aren't there. And it doesn't mean that bringing any of them to light takes away from the things he did mean. There have been plenty of literal productions. There will continue to be plenty of literal productions. Give me this one too, please.

ETA: All that being said, we're talking about THE TEMPEST here. Has Le Guin not read "The Sea and the Mirror"? Or did it just not hit her the way it hit everyone else I know who read it?

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