Monthly Archives: March 2015

Dangerous Shakespeare

I just finished watching Antony Sher’s Primo; it’s a one-man performance Sher adapted from Primo Levi‘s description of his experience surviving Auschwitz (If This Is A Man).

sher primo

I found it after reading Sher’s biography Beside Myself about his life growing up gay in South Africa and moving to London to become an actor. I had to read it for one of my classes at the Shakespeare Institute, because he’s famous amongstĀ bardolaters for playing Richard III, Macbeth, and Leontes (as well as recently playing Falstaff in last year’s RSC 1 and 2 Henry IV).

What has any of this got to do with Shakespeare? Well, I’m really interested in exploring the idea of “dangerous Shakespeare”; that is, how and in what ways is performing Shakespeare dangerous?

For example, Nazi Germany’s favorite Shakespeare play was Merchant of Venice. Is Merchant an anti-Semitic play? Can we still perform it today? Should we?

Most bardolaters go round and round about Shakespeare being the “universal humanist.” He was 400 years ahead of his time with his characters and his sympathy for them. He wrote great parts for women, sympathized with black and Jewish characters, and wrote about the horrors of colonialism before anyone even knew there were any.

Or did he? What if Shakespeare thought Petruchio should tame his shrew, Othello deserved to die, and/or it was right to force a speechless Shylock to become a Christian? How would our view of Shakespeare, and particularly Shakespeare in performance on the modern stage, have to change?

I wonder if someone would let Sher perform Primo in rep with Merchant. It might make for some interesting conversations.

What do you think?