New Adaptations Solve Shakespeare Mysteries by David Schajer

Posted to General with 1 Comment on 03.07.12 by Sarah Ellis

What if the most radical and innovative interpretation of Shakespeare for the 21st century would be setting the plays on Shakespeare’s stages in the 16th century?

About 5 years ago, Shakespeare changed my life. Before that day, I had a love/hate relationship with his plays. I loved them, but hated the feeling that I wasn’t truly understanding what the plays mean, no matter how much research I did.I avoided The Merchant of Venice. I was familiar with the story, but I was put off by its problematic history. I couldn’t bring myself to read it.

When the film came out, with Al Pacino as Shylock, I relented and watched it. I had an profound epiphany. While watching the film, I imagined a radically different Merchant of Venice — one that was funny, bawdy, dark and full of life.

The Merchant of Venice is arguably Shakespeare’s most problematic “problem play.” The Merchant I imagined solved the problems.

Since then I have studied Shakespeare and the world in which he lived, and I have written and published adaptations of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice.

In these adaptations, I discovered solutions to many of the questions, problems and mysteries surrounding the plays, including: Who was Hamlet? When was Hamlet written? Why did Shakespeare write Richard III? Why is Shylock not a villain, but indeed a hero?

The radical vision I had was to go back to the moment Shakespeare wrote and performed the plays for the first time — their world premieres. I wanted to know what his audience thought of the plays, and I investigated whether the plays only make sense in their original historical context.

In my adaptations, Shakespeare’s audience speaks aloud. They serve as a chorus as they watch the plays unfold, and they provide us with a look inside the Elizabethan mind, from the nobles to the groundlings.

There is evidence is in the plays themselves: at the end of the “To be or not to be?” soliloquy, Hamlet says “Soft you now! The fair Ophelia!” as Ophelia enters the stage.

“Soft you now” means “hush” and “be quiet.” Is he telling himself to be quiet? Or is he is telling the audience to be quiet? Why would they talk aloud? Because as he debates whether or not to kill himself, it would not be surprising if they were imploring him to lay down his dagger, not kill himself, but rather take his revenge on Claudius.

There are several examples where characters seem not to be speaking to the audience, in asides and soliloquies, but rather with the audience. In fact, it begs the question whether all of Shakespeare’s soliloquies were not in fact colloquies — a back and forth exchange with the crowd.

This approach reveals the plays to be very different from what we have come to expect. I am confident that you will enjoy seeing these plays in a radically new (actually very old) way.

Please visit my blog to learn more:


  • Noel Duffy


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