Shakespeare Is Alive and Well and…

hanging out in Toronto!

Many of us seniors have bad dreams about Shakespeare. We think back to our grade 12 English class where we studied Hamlet or Macbeth or another one of his murderous tragedies. We remember those 40-minute classes where we listened to a tape recorder playing scene after scene in deadly monotone, as we slowly felt our head sinking towards the desk and a nap. Or we think back to our homework: memorizing lines we barely understood, and then reciting them the next day in front of the entire class. When we were desperate, we made a trip to a bookstore for a copy of Cole’s Notes.

These days Shakespeare is redeemed for us by a trip to the Festival Theatre in Stratford or another venue, where we can watch expert actors bring those plays to life. Twice in the past weeks Peter and I have watched performances that have reminded us of why this 400-year-old guy is still around. Still attracting big crowds. Still relatable to our lives in the 21st century.

Two weeks ago we saw & Juliet, one of the Mirvish shows for this year. The idea behind the plot is that Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, decides to challenge her husband about the ending of the tragedy Romeo and Juliet. “Why does it have to be so sad?” she asks. “Why does Juliet have to die? Why can’t she just go off and start her life over?” After a lot of arguments that you have probably lived through yourself, Will gives in. A happy wife is a happy life, as the saying goes.

Anne takes Will’s writing quill and sets out to rewrite the story’s ending. Juliet, recovering rather quickly from her grief at finding Romeo dead, heads to Paris and finds other opportunities to fall in love. The show is smart, funny, and full of energy. The themes are timeless: women’s rights, gay marriage, parents letting go. The ending is satisfying. The audience members are on their feet singing and clapping,

Last wee we went to High Park to watch As You Like It, one of Shakespeare’s comedies. We packed up a picnic supper; with sandwiches, condiments and some wine concealed in a water bottle. We grabbed our folding outdoor chairs and drove there early so we could get good seats: on top of a hill, where we could look down on the stage. We had an hour to enjoy our picnic and study the set, a forest scene within a forest. The High Park trees serve as a backdrop to the plastic vines and cardboard flowers that decorate the 2-level stage.

This show pretty much follows the original script, with a few extra mannerisms and inside jokes to remind us that Shakespeare can be tweaked to suit a modern audience. Although some of the dialogue requires careful listening, the actors exaggerate their lines to help us along. We watch as 4 couples – a pair of disguised Royals, the court jester and his partner, an inter-racial couple, and a shepherd and his goat herd lover – all of them find their way through the forest. And then they all find love. Once again the theme is timeless: love can flourish in many forms, settings, and variations. And once again, at the end of the performance, the folks in the audience are all standing and cheering,

It just goes to show you that old Will Shakespeare never really does get old. He just reinvents himself to suit the times. Is there a lesson here for the rest of us?


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