Earlier this year there was an annual arts festival here in Perth. When the catalogue came out, showing all of the plays and films and music and other events, I predicted to myself before reading it, “I bet there will be no productions of Shakespeare that let him speak in his own voice.” I opened up the catalogue, and sure enough, there were about four different productions of Shakespeare, all of which were substantially updating him, so as to speak freshly to the life and concerns of a modern audience. (Here’s an example of this that I’ve mentioned before.)
This happens here so frequently that I’ve decided to start a conspiracy theory about it: the theory is that because we are committed to the idea of societal evolutionary progress – such that we are technologically, scientifically, ethically, and relationally superior to previous generations and eras, we have nothing to gain from hearing past voices on their own terms. They can only speak to us if we ‘update’ or ‘modernise’ them, such that they sound like our own voices. So directors have made a pact to censor the past, so that we don’t have to be provoked by it; instead it can pat us on the back for our cherished and superior ideals – either by providing an affirmation or a foil.
Well, wife and I are off to see a production of Shakespeare’s Henry V tonight… will I find my new conspiracy theory confirmed??