In a lot of articles and interviews with people who are creating scholarly, theatrical, or other artistic products of or based on Shakespeare’s works there seems to be a common question: “What do you think Shakespeare would have to say about what you’re doing?”
The common answer is something to the effect of, “I think he would have approved because Shakespeare was all about creating and updating art and finding new and creative ways of entertaining…” Or, “I’m sure he’d like to see his plays being taught in this manner…”
Whatever the reply is, the interviewee is quite sure that Shakespeare would have approved of his or her work.
What makes them so sure? What do we REALLY know about Shakespeare, the man, that gives us clues to his opinions on art or education or more specifically on the interviewee’s efforts? Isn’t it just as silly to try to determine what Shakespeare’s intended to tell his audience with his plays, or how he intended them to be acted? Sure we can find “clues” and pose theories that may seem very likely with all the evidence pointing in a certain direction, but we weren’t there and we just don’t know for sure.
Not that I like to bring politics into the mix, but the whole thing reminds me of the Republican presidential candidate debate in the Ronald Reagan Library on January 30th of this year. The final question given to each candidate was, “Would Ronald Reagan endorse you and if so, why?” The first three answered “Yes, of course!” and gave their reasons. But then Mike Huckabee said that he thought it would be arrogant to assume so, and that he didn’t know if Reagan would, “But I endorse him.”
So he was being clever with his words. I won’t tell you any of my political sympathies in this blog, but when it comes to art, you may have noticed I’m rather opinionated. It is rather presumptuous to say that Shakespeare would have agreed or supported the work being done. The work is being done, rather, to support Shakespeare. I love Shakespeare, therefore I read/act in/direct/blog about his works, etc. When it comes down to it, Shakespeare’s works are public domain – freely available to everyone to download, read, hate or enjoy, and then do anything you want with it.
If ever I’m interviewed and asked if Shakespeare would support my work, I’d say “Who knows? But I support his work — without it I wouldn’t be doing [whatever it is I’m being interviewed for].”