art, politics

Last week Sara and I went to see the Globe’s production of Twelfth Night at the Apollo. I don’t have much experience of Shakespeare; the plays I know (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, the Tempest, Macbeth) aren’t exactly cheerful, and I was expecting something more literary than comedic. It was a surprise, then, that it actually was funny, in kind of a slapstick way, and the iambic pentameter that I was expecting from GCSE English didn’t get in the way of realistic and amusing behaviour and mannerisms.

That new impression, combined with this review in the Telegraph, made me think about some things. In it, the reviewer calls it “Shakespeare in the way that he would have done it himself”.

There are two ways you can look at this. On the one hand, this is certainly pretty close to how it would have been performed in 1602: period costumes, period instruments, female parts played by men, and so on. On the other hand, is it how he’d have produced it in 2012? I doubt it.

The humour and sexual innuendo reminded me that Shakespeare was writing for an audience of ordinary people, not just the upper classes. In 1602 Shakespeare wasn’t writing in Old English and dressing his characters in 12th-century attire, he was writing for contemporary, and often uneducated, audiences to understand and relate to. I think it’s likely that, if Shakespeare was still around and writing today, he’d be writing in modern English with characters in modern dress of the sort that so horrifies Tim Walker.

The Globe’s faithful reproduction of an Elizabethan production is interesting from a historical point of view, but I don’t think that historical accuracy is the only thing to be aiming for. It’s unreasonable to reject modernised productions – certainly not in keeping with what Shakespeare would have done himself, I think.