"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, August 21, 2006

Obliterating Cultural Distinctions: Shakespeare at the Fringe

Shakespeare in a bouncy castle, or moon walk, is the Reuters writer's pick for zaniest Shakespeare adapatation at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival (see full article here).

Every year brings several new adaptations of Shakespeare plays at the Fringe, another of those "outsider" phenomena, like the Lollapalooza festival, that become part of the mainstream culture and redifine it, as is the way of things in the Omniculture. Even midsize, stalwartly middle-American towns such as Indianapolis have fringe festivals now.

This year's Edinburgh Fringe includes a "roller-disco" version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, along with other equally bizarre ideas from a crop which the Reuters story describes as "an endless variety that could be collectively labeled '101 Ways to Murder The Bard' ":

"Macbeth -- That Old Black Magic" boasts a Frank Sinatra soundtrack and you can see "The Tempest" with acrobats, puppets and circus tricks.

In "Corleone: The Godfather," the American High School Theater Festival troupe asks "What if Shakespeare had written the Godfather?"

Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, performed by a Utah school group at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 2001

We can surely hope that such tomfoolery will create an interest in Shakespeare among some individuals who would never otherwise get anywhere near the Bard's works. For the more sophisticated, it could be argued that the contrast between Shakespeare's elevated artistry and the coarse, anarchical surroundings of the Fringe Festival can make for an enlightening contrast that affords one an even greater appreciation of the Bard's work. One could conclude that the humor of such things resides in our appreciation of the contrast between what is vulgar and what is elevated.

But I doubt it in this case. To appreciate the works of Shakespeare, one need only experience them. They still speak to deep truths in human nature and of enduring realities of the human condition. The main effect of such burlesques as are common at the Fringe, it appears to me, is to obliterate lines of distinction between cultural artifacts. Burlesques of Shakespeare do not demistify the Bard's works—as if that were at all necessary; they are, after all, quite understandable to any reasonably attentive person—but instead simply make them part of a cultural stew in which all ingredients are equally important and none may be allowed pride of place.

That is something of which the Omniculture provides quite enough already, thank you very much.

From Karnick on Culture.

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