The “Rude Mechanicals” play a major role in Shakespeare’s beloved A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
I think we’re on pretty safe ground in saying that the only purpose the Rude Mechanicals serve is a comedic one. The question is what kind of humour is being elicited, and is it possible for us to ‘get’ all of the comedy of the play today?
Well, some of it’s plain and ageless enough: Their repeated oxymorons, “most lamentable comedy”; Bottom’s diva-like behaviour, “That will ask some tears in the true performing of it”; and the complete hash that is the product of their attempts at amateur dramatics.
Today, I argue we have a whole new class of “Rude Mechanicals” in real society — but they’re Millennials, not Mechanicals — and they’re new, and rude, and play the same role in the drama of our lives as the Shakespearean mechs before them.
Ask a random current student if he or she has read something by William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, or Mark Twain, and the answer will almost certainly be a yes— whether that “yes” is voiced with fondness, indifference, or bitterness. Ask that student’s parents or grandparents the same question, and despite generational gaps, the answer likely will not change.
The good name of Shakespeare has suffered through numerous slings and arrows over the years. He has been accused of anti-Semitism through the various interpretations of his play The Merchant of Venice. Then there is the actual authorship itself — was it Shakespeare’s hand that wrote all of the plays and sonnets, or were there multiple writers that wrote under the common name of Shakespeare — or was it all Sir Francis Bacon? Some would even point to poor quality interpretations of his works as being grave insults themselves — Gnomeo and Juliet, anyone?
We all work to try to keep out brains alive through our eyes, and there’s a new way of creating fresh pathways of understanding — and it is delivered to us from afar via our old friend, William Shakespeare using language and “Functional Shifts” found in his plays.
Let us consider the following scenario. Next week, after hundreds of years of relative easy rest, William Shakespeare’s good name is disturbed when someone discovers that he spent much of his life sleeping with married women and occasionally burning down the homes of the men whose wives he wished to bed. Do we need to really ask what sort of impact this would have on our perception of the works of Shakespeare? Would people stop producing the plays or going to productions of the plays?
I cannot figure out what to do with the artwork of Caleb Larsen. We have seen the mutilating world of scarification. We have swallowed hard the brutal images brought to us through the Event Horizon art display. But what to do with this — the kind of art work which doesn’t so much challenge your ideas or push your imagination so much as make you wonder why it is in a museum in the first place. Let us first look at the work titled “The Day The Internet Told Us We Would Die.” The entire work consists of printouts of two dates — the date that a web site calculated that the artist would die, and the date that the site calculated that his wife would die. Two pieces of paper with printed death dates from a death date web site.
I met Romanian director and actor Liviu Ciulei while I was a graduate student at Columbia University. He was teaching directing and Shakespeare and the first thing I learned from him was how to correctly spell his name. That spelling talent came in handy because when others in the department needed to write Liviu a note, they sought me out for help in composing his name. Liviu is more fragile today at age 87, but the strength of the name, and his talent, remains within me.