A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Newtownabbey
Hello, readers! I hope you enjoyed our last review from the lovely and talented Victoria. I’ve been discussing supernatural/paranormal literature with her since long before vampires sparkled, so I was thrilled to have her come discuss it with all of you here on the blog.
Today I bring you an interesting story of censorship from Northern Ireland. The Reduced Shakespeare Company (the people behind “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” and numerous other irreverently brilliant or brilliantly irreverent works) ran into some trouble on the first leg of their UK tour of “The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)”. Despite being approved several months ago, it seems the show (not surprisingly) attracted controversy from people who have not seen or read the play, but believed it to be anti-Christian and openly mocking of the Bible and Christianity. This led to the theatre council banning the performance and canceling the two shows in Newtownabbey before politicians banned it for them.
Multiple other theatres, establishments, and individuals immediately offered whatever space they had for the show to go on and the Republic of Ireland asked if the RSC would come to their country and perform at the end of the tour. In addition, the RSC also received words of support from fans both Christian and non-Christian alike. However, with their travel and accommodations paid for and with the technological/logistical requirements of the show, The RSC was still left in a lurch, and so discussed their predicament and their frustrations with both the situation and censorship in general on their podcast.
Thankfully, yesterday (within 24 hours of their post going up) the theatre council reversed the ban. Behold the power of social media and social pressure! However, I still recommend listening to the podcast as they have some great insights on censorship, artistic license/intellectual freedom, and poking fun at the sacred or esteemed. As they pointed out, they made “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” out of a love of Shakespeare, the play itself leaning more towards Affectionate Parody than satire or mockery. Their take on the Bible is no different. Austin Tichenor, one of the creators of the RSC, goes on to say that, like with the key speeches from Hamlet, “The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)” gives the Bible its share of reverence amidst all the irreverence and asks what’s wrong with poking fun anyway.
While one is religious and one less so (though a few sleep-deprived grad students may beg to differ), The Complete Works of William Shakespeare and The Bible are both culturally resonant texts that influence our art, literature, archetypes, mythos, and even language. So why not take them off their pedestal and explore them with the full gamut of human emotion and artistic license? After all, one glance at the numerous retellings/parodies/reimaginings of fairy tales, legends, epics, literary/cinematic classics, or beloved children’s programming show that it’s by interacting, interpreting, and reinterpreting our stories that we keep them alive and relevant (and enrich them along the way).
I spent way too much of my undergraduate education studying epics and religious/mythic/cultural archetypes and wrote an entire paper on the innumerable versions and retellings of the ancient epic The Ramayana (a religious text for many and a culturally important one for even more), many of which vary widely or are openly political, are critical of the original work, or force the reader/viewer/theatre goer to grapple with the story’s (or the storyteller’s) unresolved conflicts. At the end of the day, this does nothing to hurt the tradition or work. In fact quite the opposite.
Using resonant symbols, cultural archetypes, or what Austin calls a “shared document” as a springboard to explore, educate, and entertain is nothing new and no religion or historical/literary figure should be so fragile that they shatter when taken off their pedestal and poked. Nothing is worthy of reverence which cannot withstand a bit of irreverence.
And, hey, if you do want to write something scathing and openly mocking, that should be within your rights to do. If people like it, they will go see it. If they hate it, they won’t. As the podcast says, it’s not the RSC that loses here. Their plays are published both in the US and the UK and they will continue to perform elsewhere. It’s the theatre goers of Northern Ireland who lose. All because someone else thought they weren’t capable of making their own choices about what to see at the theatre.
I have loved “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” since my mom took out the VHS tape of it at the local library for me, along with several movie versions of Hamlet, when I was home sick during my English class’s Hamlet unit in the 7th grade. Since then I have watched it in a high school Shakespeare class, gone with friends to retrieve that same battered copy from the library during sleepovers, and watched my own well-loved DVD of it in college with friends who love Shakespeare and friends who know nothing about him alike. And, while I will laugh at the Bard’s shortcomings and plot holes every time, I have The Complete Plays of William Shakespeare, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, and Riverside Shakespeare (not to mention numerous copies of individual plays, poems, and modern retellings) enshrined on my bookshelf alongside Bardisms, Filthy Shakespeare, and a hardcover copy of Reduced Shakespeare: The Complete Guide – abridged). One does not negate the other but rather enhances it.
Anyway, whatever your thoughts on Shakespeare, the Bible, or the RSC, I still recommend that you check out the podcast and read their post. Feel free to leave your thoughts in my comments section or theirs, whichever strikes your fancy. Stay warm, my good readers. And may the Bard be with you.