I take it personally when people don’t get Shakespeare. This is something I am not very good about working on. I will outright judge you. Now, to be clear this is only in the case of those acting in the role of critic-pretending-to-know-Shakespeare. My current frustration lies with Chloe Riley of the Reader. Her latest review of Paul Pasulka’s play Gruoch, or Lady Macbeth seemed more like a personal morality beef than a thoughtful or critical theatre production review. Her chief concern was the “foul language” and a “cacophony of grunts” during the performance.
Really? I mean c’mon.
Chloe is dismayed because of the foul language in a play that takes its inspiration directly from the great mastermind of sexual innuendo. Second only to Chaucer perhaps in his use of genitalia jest, Shakespeare is known for his cunning tongue. All Pasulka did was update the vocabulary. Contemporizing Shakespeare results in as much. Jokes about sexual stamina, class position, and competence are commonplace. It’s Shakespeare. The language might get an update, but I can guarantee the up-skirt will remain. It’s Shakespeare.
For your humble consideration I submit the following:
The Taming of the Shrew: Act 2, Scene 1
Who knows not where a wasp does
wear his sting? In his tail.
In his tongue.
Yours, if you talk of tails: and so farewell.
What, with my tongue in your tail?
Othello: Act 1, Scene 1
I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.
Titus Andronicus: Act 4, Scene 2
Thou hast undone our mother.
Villain, I have done thy mother.
Much Ado About Nothing: Act 5, Scene 2
I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be
buried in thy eyes.
Venus & Adonis (Ven. 233-234)
Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry
Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.
Okay let’s recap: we’ve got anal rimming, straight interracial sex, quite possibly the first ever "your mom" joke, reference to sexual climax, make out sessions and cunnilingus. And that’s just a minescule sampling of four plays and one poem. Chloe, our very own Master of the Revels, also took exception with the “grunting” and what she describes as “poorly performed” roles. I’ve seen some bad Shakespeare, and though I had my own thoughts about some of the casting, on the whole they understood and loved every minute of what they were performing. They used melodrama, and humor to convey and exaggerate meaning -- and it was successful. Pasulka’s playful use of the contemporary familiar, intermittent with the Elizabethan plot tropes was fun, new, and daring.
People are far too safe with Shakespeare, pedestaling it without a nod to the groundlings it was equally penned for. Our culture which privileges so-called "high art" over "low brow" art is the problem here. The things which have been allowed into the Canon, into the Ivory Towers of Academia, into museum institutions often get white-washed of their historical or popular context. That results in critics who take up this "high art" position, shaming and patronizing folks who are experimenting and reviving popular (i.e. of the people) theatre.
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearnéd luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call:
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
-- Puck, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act V, Scene 1