Friday, December 4, 2015
Was he perfect?
This post is tangential... no, not tangential - rather, completely unrelated to anything that's gone before. "Was he perfect?" The "he" here is Shakespeare. I've just read a couple of reviews of the latest film version of The Scottish Play - known to folks not subject to theatrical superstitions as Macbeth, directed by Justin Kurzel. One of these reviews was in The New Yorker. The other in the New York Review of Books. (Yes - I'm showing off!) Both reviews reference Orson Welles' 1948 version, Polanski's 1971 version, and, of course, Kurosawa's Throne of Blood. But what I found interesting in both reviews was the implicit assumption that there is a genuine Macbeth, the play written by Shakespeare. To be judged a good film version, apparently, means to capture Shakespeare's intent, whatever that might be.Any deviation from this intent, or any novel interpretation of the play is judged somehow, if not exactly sacrilegious, at least wrong-headed. Now I'm in no way qualified to dispute Shakespeare's reputation as the greatest playwright in the English language... BUT - he was a WORKING playwright, trying to produce something that both his patrons and the hoi polloi would PAY to see. He had to make decisions based not always on "artistic" criteria, but on the basis of getting butts in seats, paying his actors, meeting expenses. Producing plays was his livelihood. Working within real-world constraints, I'm betting he wasn't PERFECT. Perhaps - just maybe - someone else's vision of Macbeth, or for that matter, someone else's vision of the character, Macbeth, also has merit - regardless of whether or not that vision corresponds to Shakespeare's original intent. (I note that in the field of Constitutional Law, "original intent" is a nice-sounding but very difficult criterion on which to base decisions.) Perhaps reviewers could allow later interpreters to give it a go, and decide if the choices made contribute to a unified, coherent production. Base the review not on how well or poorly the director captured Shakespeare's intent, but whether the work he or she has produced is a satisfying artistic whole. Does it hang together on the director's terms? (... which may or may not coincide with Shakespeare's!) Just a thought.