Bad Bard

Bad Bard

As I sit making final tweaks to a review for Shakespeare Bulletin of Jobsite Theater‘s production of Pericles, a collaboration with George Wilkins, who is believed to have written the first two acts, and one of Shakespeare’s less frequently produced and most frequently criticized plays, I couldn’t help but think about recent blog discussions of the Bard.

While he is a perennial topic in the theatre community, there has been a particular surge in discussion of his work/shadow/overdoneness/overall value in the past week, in part due to debate over staging new work versus “classics” (which, statistically, overwhelmingly means the Bard) spawned by the recently published Outrageous Fortune: the Life and Times of the New American Play and in part due to Young Jean Lee’s Lear, currently running at Soho Rep (Interesting interview of YJL regarding her latest play here).

Various suggestions have been offered up in posts and comment threads for how to temper the general overproduction of Shakespeare’s works and the overproduction of particular works by him (you know the ones). Critic David Cote (and others) have called for more productions of lesser done Shakespeare plays.  Another suggestion has been for only exclusively Shakespeare-oriented companies to put up his work.  What about a temporary moratorium that only allows staging of the most done works for educational purposes as part of theatres’ outreach programs?

We’ve seen tons of what’s considered good Shakespeare or Shakespeare’s “best” works.  (Of course, some would argue that all Shakespeare is good, but that’s a whole other topic.)

But how about a cheeky, bad-to-the-bone “Bad Bard” festival that only puts up the less often read/staged/taught–and less liked–Shakespeare plays? Perhaps, directors would feel less afraid of taking risks if they weren’t taking on something such as Hamlet or King Lear?

See how my Pericles review got me here…This play has always been saddled by complaints about its uneven structure, multiple settings, vast time frame, etc. which may be why it worked so well in Jobsite’s adapted rendition–a rock musical, no less.  (Even formally problematic plays can have worthwhile stories to tell.)  The storyline remained in tact, but the play was relocated from its six foreign locations (Tyre, Antioch, Tarsus, Pentapolis, Ephesus, and Mytilene) to familiar American ones (Rikers Island, Brooklyn, Coney Island, and Cape Cod) and recontextualized as a New York mafia story.

What do you consider to be Shakespeare’s worst plays and why (characterization, structure, ending, etc.) ?

Below are a few links to recent discussions. (And I’m sure I’ve missed some):

•   Isaac Butler at Parabasis, “Our Shakespeare Problem” (comments to this post worth reading, too) and  “Quick Question,” in which he asks:

When did King Lear oustrip Hamlet to become the critical consensus for Greatest Work of Shakespeare? I almost feel like the Shakespeare play is being over-venerated as an excuse to beat up on Young Jean’s latest.

•   Chris Wilkinson, “from Godwin’s Law to Shakespeare’s Law” (The Guardian Theater blog)

•   Two pieces by David Cote, “Who Will Protect Shakespeare?!?” (on Time Out NY’s “Upstaged” blog) and “Most Stagings of Shakespeare Don’t Go Far Enough” (on The Guardian’s Theatre blog)

4 Responses to “Bad Bard”
  1. I’d love to see a Shakes fest which focused on the lesser-known works. However, some of those are lesser-known for a reason (i.e., “Two Gentlemen,” “Two Noble Kinsmen,” etc.). I think perhaps the play I love to hate is “Romeo and Juliet”; it’s poorly constructed, has plots holes you can drive jetliners through, and many of the characters are not only two-dimensional but unlikeable. I fail to see why it’s considered one of the great works of Shakespeare.

    • nstodard says:

      You know, I’ve never really understood why R & J gets taught so much (or more than some of Shax’s other works). I remember reading it in high school and again in college…problem (at least in my estimation) with both instances was that they were taught alongside film versions (the Zeferelli version in the former case and the Luhrman version in the latter)…the text got lost in the experience..I don’t know that I came away from either experience understanding the language, in particular, any better… Reading R & J years later, I was actually surprised by the difficulty of the language… it struck me as nearly on par with, say, Love’s Labor’s Lost. My point in this ramble is that it’s a popular play, frequently taught and fairly frequently staged…and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to question more why this has been the case.

      Short reply– I hear ya 🙂

  2. isaac says:

    Well, the worst of shakespeare’s plays is clearly TIMON OF ATHENS, which is basically unfinished and perhaps abandoned. It’s a play whose protagonist doesn’t want to be in the play, but before meta theatre had been invented so Shakespeare can’t have fun with it.

    I find MERCHANT OF VENICE to be both tedious and irreperably offensive.

    I’ve never read Henry VIII. Someone should do that one.

    • nstodard says:

      I will have to take a gander at Timon of Athens…

      the Henry plays altogether are interesting to me–particularly thinking about US productions of them…makes me want to look into US production history. I wonder, also, about modernized or adapted versions of Henry plays…

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