Victorian Shakespeare

The Globe
The Globe

When I graduated from university I left with a sense of Victorian times as a desert in the history of Shakespeare productions. Shakespeare at that time, the common wisdom said, was a castrato, sweetened with the surgical removal of the writer’s nasty bits.

It was also an era, the thinking went, during which the words of the playwright were subjugated to a florid, almost choking ornamentation. The set decoration and costume design was vulgar, over the top. A Victorian Shakespearean production was overgrown with irrelevant visual distraction. Shakespeare, the cant went, was meant to be produced as Shakespeare himself produced it: bare bones.

In the intervening years, that belief that Shakespeare was to be stripped down was tested out. In smaller venues, with scrappy companies, his words were given rein. One production in particular comes to mind. The Shotgun Players in the San Francisco Bay Area produced Henry V.[1] The players were clad in all black, with colored sashes alone distinguishing their roles and a bare stage.

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