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Posts Tagged ‘Hamlet’

“Why Shakespeare?” from Tom Ridgely

In Directing, Phil Killian Directing Fellowship, Tom Ridgely on January 16, 2014 at 8:24 PM

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Any theater artist, producer or spectator must at some point during their evenings spent at the theater ask the question: Why Shakespeare? Why do we come back to these plays again and again? Why do we see them in parks, on film, on, off, off-off (even off-off-off) Broadway and in schools? Why do theaters name themselves after him, dedicate their missions and their budgets to his oeuvre, and how does this draw thousands of people night after night to sit in the dark and listen those words? Is it the language, the characters, the comedy, the tragedy, the cross dressing? What is this mysterious hold that Shakespeare has exerted on the human imagination throughout history and across cultures?

After four centuries you would think we’d have moved on.

These were the questions rattling around in my head as I boarded a westbound plane two weeks ago. These were the questions rattling around in my head as I sat down at the table in the Great Hall to listen to the first read through of The Tempest.

And in Act V came an answer. Throughout the play Prospero has sought revenge on those who have usurped his kingdom, dispatching the fairy Ariel to torment them and administer a charm that will render them insane. Ariel reports back to Propsero:

Ariel: Your charm so strongly works ‘em

​That, if you now beheld them, your affections

Would become tender.

​Prospero: Dost thou think so, spirit?

​Ariel: Mine would, sir, were I human

Prospero: And mine shall.

Mine would, sir, were I human.

In this small but pivotal moment – Prospero’s reversal – Shakespeare both demands and defines our humanity. To be human is to behold another and to become tender. He gives Hamlet, the poor prince consumed by a revenge burden, a similar moment in Act V:

Hamlet: But I am very sorry, good Horatio

That to Laertes I forgot myself,

For by the image of my cause I see

The portraiture of his.

In this formulation, to be human is to look at someone else and see yourself. The act of doing so makes us larger, renders our cruelties impotent. Theater at its best, Shakespeare’s theater, fosters tolerance and empathy, teaches us humanity. Theater challenges the outer limits of that empathy – shows us the humanity that is in everyone – not just a small group of people who look and think like us. This is why theater, especially theater dedicated to Shakespeare, must be committed to diversity in the broadest, most expansive sense of the word. This is why I’m thrilled to be spending four months at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. And this is why Shakespeare will never lose his relevance or resonance – our affections can always become more tender.

-TR

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