SHAKESPEARE IN THE QUAD

Introduction | Task | Resources | Process | Evaluation| Conclusion


INTRODUCTION

Everyone says Shakespeare is "eternal" and will always have relevance and interest to humans as long as they are "human."  True enough, but this does not stop contemporary dramatists from staging his "timeless" plays in differing and often updated circumstances.  Movie director Liv Buhrman, for example, portrayed "Romeo and Juliet" in his 1996 film with the Capulets and Montagues clashing with guns instead of swords, while retaining the original Elizabethan language.  Ian McKellan played the tyrant "King Richard III" in a fascist 1930's Great Britain, rather than the medieval England of the original play.  Three years ago in Palos Verdes, CA I saw a production of "Julius Caesar" with soldiers wearing modern camouflage uniforms and carrying M-16 assault rifles instead of ancient togas and Roman swords.  Two summers ago in downtown Los Angeles I attended a version of Shakespeare's comedy "Much Ado About Nothing" where instead of Renaissance Italy soldier-bachelors back from the wars to celebrate the audience saw modern American naval officers carousing on leave.  Last summer at the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon I saw "The Tempest" with the leading role of the patriarch Prospero suddenly changed to a matriarchal female character.  As long as modern minds see Shakespeare's work in different lights, there will always be new interpretations and creative stagings of his plays.

The point is this: while the language remains immortal, interpretations change and updated stage settings can breathe new life and vitality into old plays.  Sometimes these new interpretations are effective, sometimes not.  New adaptations can be successful and creative, but sometimes they fail and are just ridiculous.  


THE TASK

Your job will be to take a scene from William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" and set it in a contemporary Ventura, CA context.  You must use modern props and place the events in your own life, but you must remain loyal to the theme and tone of Shakespeare's play.  Even though the stage will be 21st century California, the language must be Shakespeare's.  You must render Shakespeare's late 16th century language believable and natural in a modern California context.

Keep the following questions in mind as you fashion a staging of a scene from "Romeo and Juliet" that is effective and insightful rather than rediculous or unbelievableHow can you stage your scene from "Romeo and Juliet" in a way that modern viewers automatically understand what is going on?  How can you place the action in modern day Ventura instead of Renaissance Verona, Italy without anything lost in the translation?  Is your interpretation still true to the spirit of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet"?  The answers to these questions will not be immediately apparent; you need to think them through over time.


RESOURCES

"The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet," in your textbook.

Check out the play online at the MIT Tech Server.


THE PROCESS

The following instructions will make completion of your task easy!

  1. Examine the following scenes from "Romeo and Juliet":
    • Act 2 Scene 4
      Mercutio, Benvolio, Romeo, Peter, and the Nurse.

    • Act 2 Scene 5
      Juliet and Nurse.

    • Act 2 Scene 6
      Friar Laurence, Romeo, and Juliet.

    • Act 3 Scene 1
      Benvolio, Mercutio, Tybalt, Romeo, Citizens, Prince, Lady Capulet, and Montague.

    • Act 3 Scene 2
      Juliet and Nurse.

    • Act 3 Scene 3
      Friar Laurence, Romeo, Shawn, and Nurse.

    • Act 3 Scene 5
      Juliet and Romeo.

  2. Choose one scene that you would like to stage and act out.
  3. Get the necessary partners to help you do so effectively.
  4. Brainstorm as to how scene should be staged.
  5. Download this worksheet and complete it to update character and setting.
  6. Collaborate in writing and practicing a script.
  7. Put your own artistic "spin" on this scene.
  8. Understand all language and be able to explain exactly what is happening at any given moment.
  9. Make sure inflection and movement incorporated into your staging.
  10. Bring props and act out scene.
  11. Be ready to answers questions about dialogue from peers and/or Mr. Geib.

EVALUATION

This assignment will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Is the setting of the scene in modern times convincing?  Does it look natural?  Do actors have props that contribute to action?
  • Is the language the same as in the play?  Is it acted out naturally?
  • Do actors speaks words with inflection?  Do they move about when speaking?  Do they bring characters to life?  Are actors prepared?  Are lines delivered well?
  • Is the scene portrayed effectively and convincingly?  Is the action believable?
  • Do you understand everything you say?  Can you explain it to a peer and/or Mr. Geib?
  • Is there an interesting artistic interpretation?
  • Does your group work together as a team?  Is everyone involved?

Click here to see the rubric for this project.  Good luck!


CONCLUSION

Shakespeare and his plays speak directly to the universal human values of love, hatred, ambition, sex, death, loyalty, betrayal, cowardice, greed, jealousy, violence, and self-sacrifice; that is why they are so enduringly popular today, some five centuries after they were first written.  Everyone can "see themselves" in Shakespeare, often more directly than in real life.  Teenagers, in particular, find "Romeo and Juliet" speaks to them and their reality.  Bored young men with too much testosterone hanging around looking for a fight... moody love sick teenagers gyrating between ecstasy to despair... alienated adolescents unable to communicate with their clueless parents - this is as true to life today in Ventura as it was in Renaissance England or Verona, Italy.  In my experience, almost every student in high school English classes studying "Romeo and Juliet" knows a Tybalt or a Benvolio in their own circle of acquaintances.  To one degree on another, all teenagers encounter the pain and melancholy of Romeo's unrequited love for Rosalind - or his joyous, consummated love with Juliet.  Dr. Samuel Johnson once stated that when one is tired of London, one is tired of life.  The same could be said of Shakespeare.

Yet Shakespeare leaves some feeling indifferent.  Many are unable to see past the difficulties and strangeness of Shakespeare's archaic Elizabethan speech or men in tights fighting with swords - they just can't relate to something so different.  Consequently, they struggle to understand what is happening in the narrative, not to mention seeing the nuances of character or grasping subtle witticisms.   Setting Shakespeare's plays in modern settings helps the modern viewer to relate to stories set in the distant past and place them in the proper context, and it also allows a director to put a "spin" on old stories by relating it to present day concerns.  Nevertheless, updating Shakespeare's plays presents risks along with benefits, and considerable care is required if such a production is to "work."  Why might a modern interpretation be better than staging it as Shakespeare designed?  Can the staging be updated without changing the essence of the plot?  Can a modern staging of Shakespeare be ineffective or implausible?  Why?  


SHAKESPEARE GETS A FACELIFT:
Hamlet, Prince of Danes, set in the Manhattan of the 21st century.


FTHS  Ventura, CA     805.289.0023x1214     richard.geib@venturausd.org