Can we modernise Shakespeare? Nay.

Connie Bennett 12 February 2014

Can we moderinise Shakespeare? Nay. Shakespeare is no rarity on the Cambridge drama scene, with each year a director looking to produce a ‘fresh take’ on the classic texts. It’s no wonder Shakespeare is one of Britain’s best exports; his writing holds a common ground amongst us all, as he writes on the human traits of love, deceit and betrayal. However, Shakespeare was writing his plays in the 16th century, in a world far removed from that of the social media and celebrity culture. To be honest he was writing in a world where flushing toilets and sanitary houses were few and far between. Whilst the themes of his plays are undoubtedly still relevant; taking these issues out of Shakespeare’s intended context is going against the Bard himself. Macbeth simply loses its gravitas if you dispose of the setting of an ancient Scottish castle and a man obsessed with the concept of a King’s power. Modernising such plays causes them to lose significance, as the power and influence of the royal family has dwindled dramatically.

Modernising Shakespeare has been attempted time and time again (note the use of the word “attempted”). Baz Luhrmann’s adaption of Romeo & Juliet has been hailed for bringing Shakespeare to a younger audience, yet I question whether the success of the film relied on Luhrmann’s direction or the much appreciated casting of Leonardo DiCaprio (I’m not complaining). Shakespeare’s language acts as both his greatest achievement and his biggest deterrent; in a modern setting the language appears forced and strained. It is unnatural and alienating to hear when the film revolves around Cadillacs and pistols. So if the language is causing such a problem, some may ask why we use it. Films such as 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s the Man (based on The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night respectively) use an entirely modern, re-written script, yet I question to what extent we can actually call them ‘modernised Shakespeare’. They have simply taken the plots, some of which weren’t originally Shakespeare’s anyway, and created a Hollywood blockbuster. The language is what makes Shakespeare what he is, therefore disposing of it is some sort of sacrilege. The beauty of Shakespeare lies in the story and the words, so keeping it in its intended context keeps the focus exactly where it should be.

See the other viewpoint here.