American Shakespeare In The Shadow

When you watch a movie of a Shakespeare play, or a filmed stage version, or listen to an audiobook what do most of the actors have in common? Most are British. Now I have nothing against the UK, but a lack of good Americans doing Shakespeare in the media poses a set of problems for students of Theatre and Shakespeare in the US.

What kind of problems? Life threatening? No. First off, it’s much more inspiring to see people who speak the way you do doing things you want to do. The average American when asked to speak something Shakespearean will put on a bad British accent and give you the few words they know from Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet. Seeing nearly only Brits do Shakespeare subliminally into our heads, “Americans can’t do Shakespeare.”

This is of course not true. I remember when I was reading Romeo and Juliet during freshman year of high school, I spoke the text aloud in an English accent because I thought it sounded better. Poor ignorant little me. Americans don’t do Shakespeare because they don’t know how, not because it’s a British thing. Shakespeare wrote in English, we Yanks speak English too. Shakespeare’s language was a predecessor of both modern British and American English. A lack of education about The Bard is the real problem at hand. It’s sort of a vicious circle of not learning, never trying, and then not teaching it. What’s worse is that when Americans put into movies with British actors they look very out of place (i.e., Keanu Reeves in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing )

There’s not a whole lot that can be done to change the educational system at the moment, so it’s up to individuals to educate people both in and out of school. And maybe more Americans should make Shakespeare movies, audiobooks, and putting on the plays and doing a good job. I’ll do my share when I get the chance. How about you?