Back To The Peasant Pits

By Harriet McKinley Smith

So far, 2016 has been a year to truly shake the world. Brexit actually happened. Donald Trump became President of the United States. And, in the world of theatre, Emma Rice is to be replaced as artistic director at the Globe in London. You may be thinking that Rice’s sacking is hardly to be compared to two of the utmost western political manoeuvres of the 21st Century. But all three do, however, collectively involve taking a step back into the past, or potentially, even further: The Dark Ages of Shakespeare.


It is possible to understand the Globe’s perspective. The building was, after all, designed as somewhere people could go to experience Elizabethan theatre. However, the building itself is a replica. When you go and see the latest adaptation of Hamlet, you are sitting in a building that was built in 1997, not 1599. The original burned down countless years ago. One of the reasons for Rice’s unfair departure, amongst other things, is her decision to use modern lighting. Surely, the Globe’s concerned debate over authenticity is flawed, considering that the audience isn’t sat in an authentic Elizabethan theatre. They are not covered in mud and lice, and they are not watching an all-male cast. The people who claim that Rice’s dynamic approach is sacrilegious are hypocritical. It is impossible to see a play the way it was performed originally, and if it were, they would be the first to complain about the smell.

In his time, Shakespeare was popular amongst the masses. His plays were designed to entertain both the peasants and the monarchy. Today, Emma Rice actually came close to achieving this. CEO Neil Constable said her productions bring in, ‘exceptionally strong box office returns.’ It is easy to see how she is making Shakespeare more accessible to the public, be it through her reworked version of Cymbeline- Innogen, or her radical use of fantastical lighting in Macbeth. The way she reinvents Shakespeare in order to cater to her audience is exactly something that Shakespeare did. Those who accuse her of not being authentic could not be more wrong. Would Shakespeare have ignored the ability to include extravagant lighting, if he could? Let us not forget that the reason the original Globe burnt down, was the result of when a stunt with a cannon went drastically wrong. Shakespeare and Rice share a unique artistic vision that helps to reinvigorate theatre, and to sell tickets. Rice’s reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s plays made huge steps in developing an innovative season. But now, it would seem that her attempts were all in vain. The Globe Theatre is back to square one.


This article was published in our November 2016 issue.

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