“Chances are, unless you’re an English grad student or engaged in a lifelong swoon over Shakespeare, you haven’t read or seen ‘Timon of Athens.’ Or even heard of it. Heck, my job is covering Shakespeare and I’ve never seen it. So the Folger Theatre’s mission at the moment — staging a modern-dress version of this obscure work, often consigned to the filing cabinet of classical drama labeled ‘deeply flawed’ — begins as strikingly esoteric.
But it also strikes me as marvelously vital. Because in our age, the canon of classical works to which audiences are exposed shrinks by the year. Oh, the old favorites aren’t going anywhere. Romeos and Hamlets will continue to wax poetic before our eyes — although, methinks, in smaller and smaller venues — and costume shops will be backed up into the future with orders for Macbeth’s tunics and Desdemona’s nightgowns.
Yet the fact that many theater companies seem to believe they can fulfill their classical mandates with only the most widely known plays, or worse, sacrifice more challenging plays to the popular-entertainment demands of the box office, makes me wonder whether these are signs of a deeper problem. That is to ask, are Americans too intellectually lazy to fully appreciate Shakespeare anymore?”
I’ve certainly heard of Timon of Athens, and I’ve seen the BBC production from the 1980s. While it’s often described as a minor Shakespeare play, I found it fascinating, and I’m looking forward to when my local theater (the Royal Shakespeare Company) produces it. Because I’ve seen a lot of Hamlets and Years, but I’m interested in seeing the others.
Of course, I’m the exception; I’m a true Shakespeare buff. I moved to Stratford-upon-Avon in part because of the theater.
But this article makes it sound like the United States is especially handicapped as far as Shakespeare is concerned. That’s not the case here in the UK, with two major theater companies (the RSC, and the Globe in London) producing Shakespeare plays all year round. With those plays filmed, broadcast to cinemas, then released on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Lots of Shakespeare plays are produced in the UK; I guess it makes sense, since he’s from here. But Americans do seem to be piling on the dumb lately, “translating” texts into modern English, for example.
It’s a shame. It isn’t easy to understand Shakespeare, but it’s quite rewarding. I take pleasure in knowing that at any time in the UK, there are lots of excellent Shakespeare productions; such as this list of seven Shakespeare plays this year. And it doesn’t even include this production of King Lear, which I’ll be seeing from the front row in the fall. I guess that’s because it’s sold out; and it’s Ian McKellan in the title role.