Why We Need Modernized Shakespeare: An Introduction

Well met, sweet reader!

My name is Hannah Wisterman. I’m currently a student, studying mass communication with some English on the side. I’m also a long-time fan of the theatre, with a particular fondness for Shakespeare. How do those things come together? Well, it should come as no surprise that the storylines, tropes, and language that Shakespeare immortalized are now used all over mass media, both directly and indirectly. Doubtful? There’s been two films made of Romeo and Juliet with big-name actors in the past 20 years, and a film of Macbeth with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard was released just a year or so ago, not to mention the films that borrow storylines (For example, She’s The Man, 10 Things I Hate About You). Clearly Shakespeare isn’t as antiquated as one might think.

As the Bard’s legacy continues propelling into the modern era, I think it’s important that we continue re-evaluating how to interpret and present it. Shakespeare’s home theatre, the Globe, has done a great job of that from an acting and directing standpoint, and theatres everywhere have reimagined settings, characters, and contexts to keep Shakespeare’s work relevant. Through this blog, I’d like to pick up on some of their examples and hone in on possible new approaches to Shakespeare’s work, from LGBT subtexts to race-cognizant productions and more. It is often said that the beauty of Shakespeare’s work is its enduring and universal relatability; in a vibrantly diverse society, we should explore how to make that true.

From my own experience as a woman, reading and watching Shakespeare is simultaneously thrilling and disappointing. As much as I love the stories, traditionally-produced Shakespeare is starved for positive female representation—not to mention PoC and disabled characters. For a long time, I thought this was just a limitation of the style, until, when teaching Julius Caesar, a teacher had me read Cassius’s lines in class. In a flash, I realized that modern Shakespearean casting can be not only gender-blind, but gender-inclusive. Suddenly, Shakespeare felt much more dynamic, much more alive. That epiphany and subsequent excitement is why I want to write this and share it: so that readers, actors, directors, designers, and plain old fans of Shakespeare can breathe new life into classic work.

A portion of my Shakespeare mini-library. These are some of the resources to which I will refer.
A portion of my Shakespeare mini-library. These are some of the resources to which I will refer.

On this journey of revitalizing and reimagining the Bard, I will propose new readings of works, analyze nontraditional approaches set forth by others, look critically at characters’ relationships and roles—anything that feels relevant. I welcome idea proposals! This as much learning as it is sharing, for me, so I will be referring to a few resources, both my own copies and online.

My expertise is, regrettably, limited, so I of course won’t be covering Shakespeare’s entire body of work; most likely, there will be a handful of plays I return to regularly. (Just so everyone’s expectations are clear.)

This is a challenging undertaking, but one for which I’m excited. Let the show begin!

Follow the author on Twitter (@wisterfairy) for updates and musings.

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