WHAT WOULD SHAKESPEARE DO?
How could a playwright today use language for dialogue as enhanced as Shakespeare’s was in his day?
Somehow, Shakespeare could get away with inventing speeches far removed from ordinary discourse, especially speeches in blank verse or in rhymed couplets or even in sonnets. These were conventions tolerated and appreciated by audiences then and thereafter, despite their flouting of “realism.”
One can almost say that all his speeches, even by the lowest of characters, are meant to be sung rather than said. Compared to dramatic dialogue in plays today—prosaic, conventional, realistic—his language sounds operatic, larger than life, unabashedly so, replete with rhetorical flourishes, sonorous effects, and memorability. They are lines to be savored and retained. But convention and taste today do not allow such range and virtuosity.
Why not? Were a genius of Shakespeare’s kind alive today, with comparable linguistic and lyrical aptitudes, similarly inclined toward making plays, what would he do? How would he write? How curtailed would he be by the tastes and expectations of accepted theatrical conventions? At least, he would be heartened that Shakespeare’s plays themselves still flourish, are still performed and eagerly responded to—as period pieces. But would he not lament that the tastes of contemporary drama forbid the exercise of such linguistic scope and exuberance? Would he not feel like a caged eagle or nightingale?
I suppose he might go to Hollywood, not Broadway, and he might opt for some genre of fantasy, even science fiction, that would loosen the parameters of realism and open the dialogue to exotic idioms.
But then, taking my hypothesis a step further and supposing that this new dramatic, poetic genius were in fact the reincarnated soul of Shakespeare, invigorated by a youthful body yet still possessing his accumulated expertise, what then might he do?
He’d write more Shakespeare plays, anachronistic though they’d be. He’d find new matter in old manuscripts, in ancient tales and histories, and then he’d pass them off as newfound antiquities— Shakespeare’s Lost Plays.