Is Shakespeare Meant to be Read and Not Performed?

After quite a few mentions to this topic in the last few posts on The Shakespeare Blog – the first being For Readers’ Eyes Only – I thought I should join in on the discussion and give my three cents.

Everyone is, of course, entitled to their opinion about a piece of art… but those who claim that Shakespeare’s works are not meant to be performed just annoy me. If he wasn’t meant to be performed, I’m obviously not down a good career path!

The fact is that drama was did not have a widespread appeal as reading material until well after Shakespeare. George Bernard Shaw championed that cause to an extent. But until then, plays were written to be performed. Tons of them. Theatre was a very popular forms of visual entertainment in Shakespeare’s time… no TV!

Now one of the arguments brought up against Shakespeare being performed is that “language itself is so complex and rich that physicalization only serves to obfuscate the meaning of the text.” Yes, the language is complex. No, an audience won’t understand everything. BUT the significance of each individual word is of minute importance in relation to the entirety of a whole play. The important part is to understand the story to entertain, and to provoke thought. I don’t know about you, but I always seem to be much more entertained, understand more, and be more apt to think when I see a quality full fledged production of Shakespeare, rather than just reading silently. Yes, there are advantages to reading and studying the text on your own. But is Shakespeare not meant to be performed at all!? I don’t think so. No way.

Now just because we have TV and movies today doesn’t mean that we can put Shakespeare in a book and forget about the stage. Theatre is still a living art form. Shakespeare’s words don’t really LIVE unless they are spoken in performance, as intended.