Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future

Shakespeare has stood the test of time. In early America, some religious traditions were against the Bard and performance of plays. However, by the 19th century, he was greatly admired. (This could have a religious as the language of Shakespeare was very similar to the language of the King James Bible.) Shakespeare in a Divided America explores some instances where Shakespeare has helped to bridge or exacerbate the political divide. 

Lincoln was well read and would often quote some of his favorite passages. However, he rarely included Shakespeare's quotes in his speeches. Lincoln was also an avid theater-goer. That was one of the common sources of entertainment in his day. (Alas, his assassin was also an actor.)

A few decades later, theater was one of the true egalitarian forms of entertainment. In New York City, the rich and poor would all attend a show together. The millionaire set was a little upset with this and tried to enforce standards to keep the riff-raff out of a new upper-crust theater. This did not go over very well and led to riots.

Recently, the staging of Julius Caesar in New York City created controversy. The production attempted to portray the moral conflicts on all sides. It was obvious that Caesar was a Trump figure. (He was even made to look similar.) When he was assassinated, many of the theater-goers saw it as the elimination of an impediment to democracy. However, some were also upset that the production appeared to encourage the assassination of the president. This created great controversy. Alas, lost in the commotion was the conflict that the production was attempting to portray. The death of Caesar did not produce the change that the conspirators hoped for. Instead, it ushered in the future empire and cemented the end of the Republic. Those hoping for the end of Trump would be caught with similar issues.

Many  Shakespeare movies have been made, yet have only had limited success. (Perhaps the most popular were those set in the modern day.) Yet in spite of this, the influence of Shakespeare remains strong.   

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