It’s very interesting to see that, in the final months of the 400th anniversary of his death, we are still seeing Shakespeare in the news. In the last week, two major announcements have been made about Shakespeare’s works, and the performance of them.
Will and Kit
Based on new research using data and algorithms, it has been determined (and accepted by the good people at Oxford University Press) that Christopher Marlowe was a “major collaborator” on the three Henry VI plays. In an interesting marriage of scientific analysis and literary criticism, it has been determined what some scholars already believed – that Shakespeare didn’t write all of this plays single-handedly. That it was Kit Marlowe who is identified as the collaborator on these particular plays is arguably the more interesting news. There has long been evidence of a rivalry between Shakespeare and Marlowe prior to the latter’s untimely (and highly suspicious) death in 1593, so to hear of a working relationship between the two is quite intriguing.
I don’t personally have an opinion of this. It has been long suspected that Shakespeare either had direct collaborators or imposed editing (see the inserted Hecate scene in Macbeth), so this is hardly news, and it doesn’t diminish the power of this work. That he collaborated with Marlowe (whether voluntarily or not) on three highly successful plays speaks to their collective, potentially collaborative writing prowess.
Art or History?
What is perhaps more surprising is the news out of Shakespeare’s Globe that, after only one season, it was decided that Emma Rice would end her term as artistic director after the 2017 season. Having had the opportunity to see her critically-acclaimed production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this past summer and being astounded at the vivacity of the production (which impressed even my Shakespeare-ambivalent younger sister), it calls into question the wisdom of this decision.
What is even more disappointing is the (quite frankly) lame reason for the change. Neil Constable and the Board of the Globe seem to have made a disappointing and counter-productive decision: that Shakespeare’s plays are History, not Art. By deciding that they would adhere strictly to a “shared light” aesthetic. That he goes on to refer to the Globe’s work as being a “radical experiment” is laughable. By choosing to be so rigid in the interpretation of Shakespeare’s work does nothing for their programming but relegate it to a museum. While the idea of performing Shakespeare in its original surrounding is important, I would argue that Shakespeare himself would have embraced the actual radical experiments undertaken by Rice.
If we look at the evolution of Shakespeare’s own works across time, we can see him constantly experimenting with the form and structures of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stages. Shakespeare was innovative and inventive. This decision on the part of the Globe are neither.
Luckily, London and the UK have many, many companies that are more than happy to innovate and take risks with Shakespeare’s works. One can only hope that Emma Rice doesn’t abandon the Bard after her tenure at the Globe is done.
And the Globe? Well… one small step for OP, one giant leap backwards for the modernization of Shakespeare as a whole. Well done, Globe, well done.