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Shakespeare, Quiz Example

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Quiz

Question #1:

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius reside in Ancient Greece, their names very reflective of this. The Mechanicals are from contemporary (16th century) England, and have very simple, lower-class names. Oberon, Titania, and the faeries are straight out of Celtic Lore. What reasons can you think of for mixing these three different “worlds” in the same story?

In the comedic and highly imaginative play A Midsummer’s Night Dream, written sometime during the 1590’s, we find a number of diverse characters that often stand in contrast to one another–Hermia, the young Athenian daughter of Egeus; Oberon, king of the fairies; and the Mechanicals, such as Francis Flute (a bellow’s mender), Robin Starveling (a tailor), and Tom Snout (a tinker), all being contemporary but stereotypical figures from Shakespeare’s 16th century England. Some of the reasons for Shakespeare’s decision to include three diverse or polar opposite sets of characters (i.e., from Greek mythology, Celtic mythology, and contemporary English culture) includes his fascination with historical myth which can be found in many of his other plays like The Tempest, Troilus and Cressida, and the tragedy Titus Andronicus; and his vast knowledge on popular literary conventions via the use of the “doppelganger” or double, a sort of mirror image that symbolizes contrasting attitudes, habits, and behaviors (Frye, 1986, p. 35).

Question #2:

History plays were quite popular at Shakespeare’s time, hence his first play was one, namely Richard III. Why do you think that is? What would a historical play (based in fact) provide entertainment-wise to Shakespeare’s audience? What do movies and shows based on a true story provide to us as an audience in the modern day?

In the times of William Shakespeare during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, theater-going audiences, such as those that attended the Globe Theatre in London where many of Shakespeare’s plays were first produced and presented, were eager to know their own British history; therefore, with plays like Richard III which presented the lives of the Plantagenet kings and princes of the 15th century, theater audiences could witness the trials and tribulations of the main characters and perhaps laugh at their efforts to outdo one another for power and influence. As Northrop Frye points out, the problems of the main characters acted as a catharsis or an emotional release of tension (1986, p. 68) which entertainment-wise gave the audience comedic pleasure, even though a play like Richard III is a tragedy. Today, the same can be said of movies that are based on real-life events and situations which for audience members serves as a source of pleasure and delight. Basically, audiences have not changed that much since Shakespeare’s time.

Question #3:

How much do you think a fictionalized account of a true story can impact the public perception of that story? Do you think it could change people’s minds or influence them outright? Have you ever seen a movie based on a news story that you knew of, only to have that production change the way you looked at the real-life situation? What was it, and how did your perceptions change?

If a true event is fictionalized, either through a novel, a short story, or more commonly the cinema, it holds the potential to drastically alter how the public views the event and the people involved within it. For example, if a movie depicts the life and times of a popular figure from the past whose life is not that widely understood, such as William Shakespeare, audience members will go away with false assumptions about how Shakespeare lived, how he wrote his plays, and who the important people were in his career as an English playwright. However, there is such a thing as the suspension of disbelief which is required in most fictionalized film accounts on a person’s life in order to present a well-developed story or plot.

One movie in particular that helped to change the perceptions of the audience was Oliver Stone’s JFK which presented a fictionalized account on President Kennedy’s assassination in November of 1963. In this film, Stone emphasized the so-called multiple assassin theory, meaning that Oswald was not alone in his plans to assassinate the President; however, the evidence for this theory remains  rather flimsy. Personally, due to the fact that I had read a good deal of factual and well-documented material on Kennedy’s death prior to seeing JFK, my own perceptions did not change at all, but for some audience members, Stone’s fictionalized representation of the President’s assassination

obscured the real-life facts and perhaps convinced them that Oswald did not act alone as the sole assassin.

Question #4:

What is your opinion of updates and adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays? Do you prefer them to productions done in period, meaning in the original time-frame setting? What is it that makes you prefer one over the other?

Since the beginning of the film industry, circa the early 1920’s, plays by Shakespeare have been prime source material for hundreds of movies with most adhering to the time frame and/or historical period in which they were conceived and written. However, over the last several decades, many filmmakers and producers have updated the plays of Shakespeare, mostly due to the fact that some of the plays like Julius Caesar and The Tempest have complex plotlines that may not be understood nor appreciated by the audience. Another reason is that historical period pieces are very expensive to produce, especially related to the sets, costumes, and locations. But overall, if a filmmaker does justice to Shakespeare’s masterpieces, then I see nothing wrong with updating a play like Romeo and Juliet. Personally, I prefer to see Shakespeare’s plays in the original historical time frame, due to feeling that original period settings lends more realism to the plot.

Question #5:

Where do you think Shakespeare ultimately belongs in the pantheon of literature and/or theater: near the top as a justified genius, or closer to the bottom as a lucky hack with outdated ideas? Do you feel his works are indeed relevant in our modern day and age? Why or why not?

Within the pantheon of Western literature, Shakespeare almost always comes out on top, due to being considered by many critics as the greatest literary genius of all time. This is quite understandable because of Shakespeare’s vast output of material and his ability to bring the distant past into the modern world. However, it has been suggested that Shakespeare did not write his plays with some pointing to poet Christopher Marlowe or some other contemporary playwright who had the proper education and experience to create such compelling characters (recall Dr. Faustus). But taken as a whole, Shakespeare’s plays are by no means outdated nor irrelevant. I say this because of his uncanny ability and talent to tap into the human subconscious mind and create characters with true human emotions like hate, envy, love, and often a lust for power. I believe this viewpoint is upheld by the fact that even after 400 years, Shakespeare’s plays remain as vital and inspiring as when they were first written by the “Great Bard of Avon.”

References

Frye, N. (1986). Northrop Frye on Shakespeare. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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