If It Ain’t Shakespeare…
Shakespeareances.com—What’s in the Name?
The issue came up even before this Web site went up. When I sent Carol, my copy editor, my review of a play written by another playwright, she asked why we were including it on a Web site devoted to Shakespeare. She was merely curious and accepted my explanations that I was keeping in line with the practices of Shakespearecentric theaters and festivals.
But since Shakespeareances.com went live Oct. 1, I’ve been surprised by the people who go to the extremes of Bardolatry at the exclusion of all other theater. One person claimed to "love Shakespeare" so much that tracking down every possible production of his plays has become something of a crusade; then in the next breath, that person claimed to “hate the theater” and thus will not attend any plays except those by Shakespeare.
To me, that is like loving the color blue but refusing to look at a rainbow because it has other colors. Theater is a brilliant array of talents, tacks, styles, and formats, of which Shakespeare is one of the brightest bands in the spectrum or perhaps even the splash of gold at its foundation.
I bring this up for a couple of reasons: to explain the breadth of Shakespeareances.com’s content and its actual name, and to join Shakespeare in advocating for all theater. It is why this site devoted to Shakespeare contains a long list of “Non-Shakespeare Productions” in the About section, a Top 10 list of “Non-Shakespeare Shakespeareances” (two of which, notably, came courtesy of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.), and a large selection of non-Shakespeare reviews in the On Stage section. It’s also why The Bard on The Boards includes theaters with nary a Shakespeare play in their current lineups (the theaters must at least have some degree of Shakespearecentric activity to be linked on this Web site, not only to maintain the site’s focus but also to make sure my fingers don’t suddenly and involuntarily fly off the keyboard and pull out my hair or, worse, grip my throat).
Broadening Shakespeareances.com’s content to include other theatrical works fits in with the Web site’s mission as “an advocate for theater arts and the prosperity of festivals, playhouses, and education programs throughout the world.” Note that I say “theater arts,” not “Bard arts,” in that mission statement. And so, with an irony that is almost beyond my comprehension, I’m herein applying this advocacy to the most diehard of Shakespeare fans.
Shakespeare and theater not only should be inseparable, both suffer in any divorce. Blue is blue by itself and a lovely color. But in a rainbow blue not only exhibits a wide range of hues in and of itself but also gains the depth of context for those who dote on blue. Shakespeare is great reading, but he’s immeasurably better in his natural habitat, the theater. Then, when you put him in the context of other plays from the whole spectrum of what we call “theater,” you appreciate him even more. It’s not just because he’s better than the rest, either, but because his influences and the artistry he singularly advanced in his time runs through all theater, from productions of plays written before his time through plays written during his time to the latest Pulitzer–prize winners in this time.
I also invite those people passionate about Shakespeare to join him in his own passion for the theater. He was a man of the theater in the broadest sense and, based on much available evidence, he was keener to advance the theater as an industry than he was his own works as art. Through his advocacy of the theater, he made himself and his communities rich while also enriching his world. His work in and for the theater helped turn the London of 1590–1615 into one of the most influential cultures of all time.
Speaking of influence, let’s not forget, too, that Shakespeare the playwright was greatly influenced by other playwrights, by the ancient Greeks and Romans throughout his career, by Kyd and Marlowe in his early career, and by Jonson and Fletcher later in his career. Not only did Shakespeare’s company, of which he was a shareholder, put on works by other playwrights, as an actor in that company he played in those other plays, even after he had become one of London’s most famous playwrights. Legend has it that Shakespeare played the Ghost in his own Hamlet and Adam in As You Like It, but if you’re looking for more certainty, the closest you will ever get to see William Shakespeare himself in action is to watch Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour, first presented by the Chamberlain’s Men in 1598. In his 1616 folio version of the play, Jonson lists the principal actors in that production, and top of the list is William Shakespeare, whom scholars believe played the principal part of Old Kno’Well (got to love Jonson’s pun, intended or not, if this is true).
This holistic thinking is manifested in the etymology of this Web site’s name. The more common spelling, one that has been used for years, including by me, combines the name Shakespeare with the word experience. To experience The Bard is, in this equation, to Shakespearience. But my Shakespeareances derive from the root word Shakespearean, i.e., all things Shakespeare. In my formula, Shakespeareances is the world of Shakespeare, what world you will: his world of words, his world of characters, his world from his humanistic perspective, his world from his commercial perspective, his world that he lived in on either side of 1600, our world that he somehow seems so attuned to, and, most pertinent to this particular discussion, his world of theater.
Certainly, I could range far and wide across the spectrum of “theater arts” and fill a bandwidth under these parameters; perhaps some day I’ll supplement this site with a Shavianances.com and a Shaffereances.com. But for now, I’ll dote on Shakespeare above the rest because, taking his canon as a whole and in a handful of individual plays, his work is superior to the rest and his grasp of the timeless human spirit is far firmer than that of any other artist. But the rest are still there, not only made better by Shakespeare’s art, but making his art better, too.
November 30, 2011