7. Breathing Life Into Life

Shakespeare Restored has been on my mind recently. My interest in the topic began due to my interest in Shakespeare, but the play is about two of the early editors of Shakespeare, not Shakespeare himself. Much of what Alexander Pope and Lewis Theobald, the two editors, struggle with is how the language had changed and how difficult it was even in the 18th Century to figure out exactly what Shakespeare had written. So this play begs the question: why Shakespeare?

The main reason we understand as much of what Shakespeare wrote as we do is because of the research editors, scholars, actors and directors have given to Shakespeare's writings since the early 18th Century. Imagine trying to understand Hamlet’s "to be or not to be" soliloquy without the help of footnotes to inform us that fardels are burdens or quietus is to be released from one's debts. Then fight your way through the entire play and see how much you would be capable of understanding.

For all their poetic and literary qualities, Shakespeare's plays were meant to be performed. They belong on stage, not in the classroom (though work in the classroom will often enhance the enjoyment and understanding of what you see on stage). Their value is in what actors and directors bring to life. There is one thing most people don't see on the written page but is essential on stage--so essential people rarely talk about it: Shakespeare's characters are more alive. Four-hundred years after they were written, audiences love to see, actors love to act and directors love to direct the most living, breathing, fully-fleshed-out characters the world has ever seen.

originally posted March 2012
reposted March 2018

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