Being Brazilian I have never had a close experience with Shakespeare’s works like English native speakers do – that is before I started with Theatre Studies. Back then I had heard about certain works and even watched some performances like Romeo and Juliet, Midnight Summer Dream, Hamlet or Merchant of Venice, but if someone had asked me not long ago what a quarto or folio is, I would not know the answer. In Brazil we study at school mainly Portuguese and Brazilian literature when international immortal geniuses are for those who develop a personal liking and curiosity for them, or for those people who decide to get a college degree in literature or theatre.
Because English is not my mother tongue it has been a challenge to differentiate verse from prose when the lines were being spoken, since Shakespeare mostly didn’t make use of rhyme. But today I can say that I feel comfortable about my improved understanding of some of his works and also about the time he lived – late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century.
What surprises me most is how modern his topics are, even the historical plays. Shakespeare wrote for the Globe in a specific time of great changes in society, yet the core of humanity hasn’t changed much since then. Science’s development explained through the centuries many things that were believed to be sorcery or witchcraft, yet human beings remained greedy, aggressive, romantic and also superstitious, among others. For that matter, I will keep in mind that anything I write from this moment on is having a modern thought and modern understanding behind it.
I could not state that a play like Romeo and Juliet is about one thing only (consequences of forbidden love) when I see so much aggression among the youngsters. They are always trying to prove themselves and don’t have yet enough control of their actions. Criminologists affirm that the most dangerous age is between 20 and 30 years old because it when most crimes are committed by young males. The lack of attention from Juliet’s parents towards their own daughter is also a modern topic. Conventions of that time were that the nurse was the person really looking after children when parents could even get confused about their ages, but today it is not so different. How many parents are not present in the lives of their children, not talking enough with them, not knowing what they want, what goes through their minds, what scares them…
Richard II is also a very modern play because analysing Richard I see a spoiled and rich child who never got a no as an answer. Consequences for such education can only be negative because the world doesn’t revolve around a single person. Having to let go of his power was the moment when Richard grew up, finally understanding that for every action there is a reaction and that no earthly king equals God.
Racial discrimination and jealousy that drives cold-blooded acts (Othello), uncontrolled greed making someone kill even family members if necessary for ultimate power (Richard III), pay-off for pain others caused in the past (Merchant of Venice), occult and superstition (Macbeth) and so on. All these topics are so modern that all of them keep serving writers to work on new material. With Shakespeare’s plays being so contemporary it all comes down to the staging, depending if the production will be more traditional (less set and more costumes) or more up to date to today’s modern and technological standards. The decision of the production’s style will dictate the approach as the topics will continue to be as modern as they ever were, because although I am an optimist, there are certain things that will never change in humanity, like greed, aggression, romance, superstition and so on.