Happy 2018, everybody!
Last January, at the start of 2017, I determined to get as much writing done as I possibly could. In and of itself, this goal wasn’t much different from a resolution made in any other year. 2017, however, didn’t turn out to be any other year. (As you might have noticed.) With the nation at a perilous crossroads, its norms of culture and of governance under attack, the stakes seemed far higher past this year than they’d ever been. Whatever I was going to write, it needed to address what was going on in our country right now. It needed to matter.
Well, I can say that I was productive. By year’s end, I’d drafted two full length plays and two short one-acts, and had the outline completed for another full-length (which I’ll start drafting as soon as I finish posting this). Not to sound boastful, but that’s a significant amount of work. what was it that I spent my time writing? With what did I attempt to engage the fearsome issues facing us in our tumultuous present?
With a lot of mock Shakespeare, mostly.
As I’ve mentioned before, the first half of this year was taken up with drafting Philostrate, my behind-the-scenes riff on both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Two Noble Kinsmen. It still only exists as a first draft - I don’t have any immediate submission or production plans for it, so I have some time before I need to revisit it. That’s not true of the next project on my to-do list – a riff on the Falstaff character from the Henry IV plays, which I want to have ready in time to submit to the American Shakespeare Center. Their “Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries” competition has a February 15 deadline, so frantically outlining that is how I brought 2017 to a close. In between I wrote Morningside Heath, which also touched on Shakespeare as I dealt with my absolute favorite news story of 2017. Even my short holiday one-act had a page and a half in iambic pentameter. (I’ve omitted one full-length draft from this synopsis because I’m still investigating rights issues. I’ll have more about that project at a later date.)
And as I look back over the year gone by, I can’t help but wondering: was this the best way to spend my precious time? Shouldn’t I have been dealing with our many contemporary problems in a manner that was more, well, contemporary? Wasn’t I just frittering the time daydreaming, brooding over happier memories of undergraduate Shakespeare classes? Was I simply retreating into fantasy by spending the year in a mock-Elizabethan mode, seeking comfort in the past?
Perhaps. But it’s just as possible – I’d say likely - that these classical dramatic modes provide the best means of examining our current situation. (Bertold Brecht came to a similar conclusion, after all – he borrowed Shakespearean dramaturgy and staging practices for his own Epic Theater.) Shakespearean drama is built to look at big issues, to cover world-changing events and examine their effects on a wide cross-section of people. It doesn’t shy away from the grotesqueries of life – it revels in them, it needs them in order to function properly. In the sheer shamelessness of what we’re dealing with, the heights of greed and avarice, the violent coarsening of our public life, we seem to be living in a Jacobean tragedy – why not use the techniques of Jacobean tragedy to say something about it?
To me, at least, it’s an interesting question. But as it happens, that question is now an academic one. Both the Elizabethan age and 2017, the reign of the Virgin Queen and the last tumultuous presidential election, are now squarely in the past.
On to the future!
Posted on January 1, 2018
by Michael C. O'Day