Good morning and welcome back! This is Lauren Romagnano and today we will have the pleasure of hearing Michael Dobson speak about Staging Shakespearean Comedy: Much Ado About Nothing, Love’s Labours Lost, and the Curse of Realism. Dobson will be introduced by Paul Menzer. Menzer begins speaking about the Director of the Shakespeare Institute by listing a few of the topics from his work, but chooses to focus on his work about amateur performance. He reflects on the etymology of the term amateur and examines how Dobson works towards the original meaning, which leans towards a love of the subject. Menzer welcomes Dobson to the podium by thanking him for coming to share with us his love of theatre.
Dobson begins by mentioning that he has now seen Much Ado About Nothing and Love’s Labours Lost doubled casted twice this year. He wants us to think about why audiences react so differently to the same premise and setting between the two plays. Dobson begins by discussing how, due to the circumstances, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is rarely performed on a Shakespearean stage, the ASC’s show last year proving the impossible, but Shakespeare is frequently performed on Wildean stages. By discussing the literary progression from epics to realism, Dobson leads us into the supernatural circumstances of the illusionist stage. Such supernatural shows featuring faeries and ghosts are more easily transported to proscenium arch theatres. Dobson remarks, on a lighter note, if we don’t believe in Tinkerbell and Ariel, common fairy figures, they will die. The true belief in this magic is what makes these dream-like performances possible.
Dobson next moves towards Much Ado About Nothing and Love’s Labours Lost, plays frequently performed anachronistically on realistic stages. He begins by showing images and describing frequent settings and time periods for Much Ado About Nothing, such approximated Elizabethan period, Italian period, and moving towards the modern period including 50’s Cuba. This works towards a form of escapism, but results in changing the central nostalgia of the play. The dangers faced by Hero and Beatrice become humorous period charms rather than perceivable threats. Love’s Labours Lost has faced similar faults in costuming and setting. This play that flirts with topicality in a France that doesn’t quite exist in a time that doesn’t quite exist. Ultimately, the reformation antagonism is escaped through sonnets and charades, leaving the courtship as something lost, albeit cherished.
Dobson concludes with this distinction between these plays: time is urgent in Much Ado About Nothing, but Love’s Labours Lost sidesteps history all together. These plays miss the modern realism through these distinctions and instead turns towards escapism from the societal reality. The behaviors featured within these plays fail realism once transported to a different time, a different place, a place that a modern audience can try to relate to. Therefore, these modern performances are in fact adaptations because something, the characterization, the audience suspension of belief, or the sense of urgency of events, must be changed. However, in the end, no time change can hide the fact that the messenger of death, Marcade, is coming for us all.