Shakespeare in a Modern Setting Essay

Submitted By OlToll
Words: 2097
Pages: 9

Throughout the advent of digital media and the changing of our perception of theatre, there has been a hotly contested debate as to whether modernising Shakespeare's plays into a contemporary setting is beneficial, or even appropriate. As the pinnacle of English literature and the most widely appreciated author in history, Shakespeare is set upon a pedestal, and his works are esteemed just as highly. However, it cannot be denied that the original setting for his works - namely that of medieval Europe - is not as appealing to a modern audience, and in particular is not relatable for youths who have yet to appreciate history as educated scholars who oppose modernisation have learned to do. Furthermore, why does modernisation detract in any sense from the messages and themes of the plays? If anything, modernisation leads to a better understanding of these ideals, since the audience is focussed upon this instead of strange societal norms. With this in mind, it may be deemed appropriate to change the setting of the plays, even if the language itself is left as close to the original script as possible. Despite some minor changes which may have to be made, the result would be a much more geo-politically aware and recognisable play for more and more modern generations. A widening of the audience who appreciate the literature, whatever form it may take, also creates a much wider spread of the messages in the plays. Additionally, it is important to note that many of Shakespeare's works were intended to be set in relatively current times for his audience: why should we not do the same today?

There are, of course, some plays which can be wholly inhibited by a modern setting, or any adaptation of the language. Titus Andronicus, widely regarded as one of the most brutal of Shakespeare's plays, does not hold similar ideals to modern society. Wherein the play there are sacrifices within moments of its opening, these practises are now considered barbaric and futile. Placing Titus into a modern setting would only make the audience feel distant and unsympathetic to him, just as if Shakespeare had chosen to set the play in his own time. People would have rejected any empathy the bard tried to forge between them and the character. In this regard, there is a particular reason why Shakespeare wrote the play to take place in Roman times - they considered themselves more enlightened than the 'barbarians' portrayed in the play, and therefore could sympathise with the character from an enlightened point of view. However, even though the ideals of Titus Andronicus do not translate into a modern tableau, why do some others? Why does Richard III adapt so much better to a 'west wing' style setting than Titus Andronicus does to a modern equivalent? Ultimately, it is the focus of the play which determines its adaptability. Richard III is a play which focuses upon the depiction of humanity, not on society's conventions and social norms of the time. Richard does not act in any way which would be out of character in the 21st century. His motivations are not limited to his period - they are universal. He is, ultimately, a classical villain: "I am subtle, false and treacherous" (Shakespeare, Richard III, I.i.38). Therefore, this universality of inspiration which drives him makes him able to fit into any setting, no matter the surrounds. He could be placed in a classical Greek setting, a futuristic setting or any time in between or beyond. Richard III is a play about human nature, not politics. It is a study into the psychopathy of an individual, and his quest for power. Both of these themes are very present in today's society and are recognisable by every individual. Therefore, placing the play in a contemporary setting means that audiences may be able to better understand the content. Within this, however, there are many other aspects of Shakespearean society which the play draws from, and simply taking the characters and changing their attire and setting…