Something that’s been discussed as we begin this multi-season Henriad enterprise at Kentucky Shakespeare, with casting and design that carry over from production to production and year to year until we’re done or it kills us (it’s hot out there), is how to…not change anything about the plays themselves, exactly, but how to convince people that they are certainly no harder (and perhaps much easier) to follow than, say, Game of Thrones.
And yet when you mention Shakespeare’s Histories to even a fairly well-read person, there’s that tendency to recoil, as if the word “history” has already made things sound homeworky and antiseptic. Often the person will be able to bob and weave effortlessly through the subtle complexities of House Lannister or the cultural reasons for dwarf/elf antagonism in Middle Earth, but as soon as the names aren’t made up, they go cold as any stone. Never underestimate the educational incentives that are Boobs’n’Dragons, I guess.
I need to be clear here that I’m casting no aspersions – this is more of a marketing perplexity. I’m an avid watcher of Game of Thrones, a still-avid reader of Tolkien (though there is a point at which I don’t need to read every published napkin he scribbled on, Christopher). I’m working my way through Rothfuss, too, though I’m enjoying it enough that I’m intentionally making it last.
That’s a good example, in fact: the Kingkiller Chronicles have a distinctive world with distinctive rules, but they are being told to you as if you already knew those rules, which you then pick up by context and gradual revelation. And people love it because the writing is good. I don’t think I’m being excessive when I say it would be easy to write the same sentence about the Histories.
I wonder if it would help people to know the plays are wildly inaccurate. Maybe not wildly, but certainly…condensed & made more legendary than factual. Partially because you’re on dangerous ground when you start attaching motives to people whose Houses are still walking the streets and patronizing theater companies and beheading people. Partially because speculation is more interesting, even within those boundaries. Partially because of the bit of wisdom from John Ford (the filmmaker, not the Jacobean playwright – though cf. Angela Carter’s “John Ford’s ‘ ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore’” which is a favorite of mine) regarding whether to print truth or legend (I’m betting both Fords would agree the latter).
In fairness, there are people you’re introduced to whose names you barely know and whose backstory you have to imagine, if you even care to; even a historian would have some trouble digging up useful information on some of the all-but-supernumeraries. But if you put this in a modern scenario, these would be the very characters making a living by making appearances at conventions populated by people who learn Klingon (and therefore can totally handle Elizabethan English). Signing autographs and obscure Kenner figures, taking photos with fans astounded to meet “one of the guys who drowns George, Duke of Clarence!!”
I’m trying to avoid bringing the Hollow Crown series into this so as to duck the inevitable flaming that would follow my true opinion, but suffice it to say that it is not the answer I’m looking for.
Anyway. I don’t have a conclusion to this ongoing process. I’m just musing as I type or vice versa. Fortunately, this is only Year One. We just have to convince audiences to see Richard II, which in this political climate should be a cinch.