Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Forward - On Shakespearean Appropriations

What does it mean to do an appropriation? I mean a good one, because we're not just working with someone's fanfic here. I'm working with Old Bill's script here and if you don't get it right there's a special Hell that critic's reserve just especially for Shakespeare gone bad! Well, to appropriate means to take something and use it for your own purposes. It is often used as a synonym for stealing and when you think about it, if Old Bill were alive today, a cease and desist from CBS / Paramount would be the least of my worries, I'd probably be defending myself against a charge of plagiarism!
Or would I?
I like to think that it's just as likely that he'd punch me in the shoulder, demand I take him down the pub and buy him a schooner of beer ... and who is this Quentin Tarantino character anyway?
He'd laugh it off because, that's pretty much what he was doing himself! Old Bill would be no respecter of copyright today! His plays were, for the most part, appropriations of the type of material that the upper middle class, his target audience, thought of as "cultured".
Culture. It's all in the eye of the beholder! If Italy was the Hollywood of the Elizabethan age then London was Bollywood, or Hong Kong, or Vancouver! I imagine his rooms in Whitechapel to be strewn with books, but not dusty old tomes lined up on shelves to simply act like trophies of an Oxford education and a Grand Tour of the continent. They'd be worn and dog-eared copies of Latin classics, broadsheets and pamphlets - some of which he might have ghosted himself to pay his debts! By contrast, locked in a coffer at the base of his bed, you'd also find carefully wrapped copies of the latest bestsellers from Milan, Venice and Rome, given or lent to him by patrons in the hope that they might stir his muse.
And they were usually right, for Shakespeare had appropriation down to a fine art! His plays might have been based on the work of others but they were adapted specifically to his audience. They were written for a city populated by merchants and diplomats, artisans and courtesans, seamen and cutpurses. It was the capital of a small country whose merchant adventurers sailed the world and brought back riches of questionable origin.
Shakespeare wrote for an audience that was smart , cosmopolitan and intellectually challenging. In an age when politics and religion were irrevocably intertwined, England was a Protestant island state in a Catholic sea. The popular house of Tudor was coming to a barren end with England's beloved 'Virgin Queen', Elizabeth, and only three generations later, their culture was to be torn asunder by a vicious civil war where the divine right of kings was forever capped by the rule of parliament.
So, sure appropriation might be stealing but I’ll bet Old Bill would only charge me a beer as long as I did it prettily.
ah, d'ye mind if I borrow a couple of these DVD thingies off ye as well? What was his name again, Lucas?

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