I recently read an article about two Shakespeare plays, currently on Broadway, being staged the way they would have been in Shakespeare’s day. Minimal sets, all male casts, engagement with the audience, and a heavy emphasis on the language. In fact, the article stressed that back when these plays were first performed, people would often say that they had gone to “hear” a play, not “see” a play, like we do today.
That got me thinking about how far society has come in our exploration and interpretation of these plays. Sets get flashier and costumes get more and more elaborate. Movie versions of the plays incorporate music and special effects, and the language does often get lost in the glamour. Viewers don’t really need to understand the language to understand the storyline because so many other methods are used to bring the story to life. So what does that have to do with us? A lot, I would argue. I think that in some way we here at Playing with Plays are trying to get some of that simplicity back.
Of course our versions are extremely modernized, and we do take liberties with the scripts. But what we’re trying to do with each one of our books is to break the storyline down to the bare bones; we have the main characters basically tell the story without crazy sets, without too many props (although we encourage them), and without too much pretense. And then we make sure to throw in the actual Shakespeare lines so that the kids can actually HEAR the language. Scratch that… not just hear the language, but begin to understand it, too. And if we’re lucky, they will also begin to enjoy and appreciate the beauty in Shakespeare’s words. Just like they did back in the olden days.