Tragedy Hits Ottawa

Take yourself back to the 10th grade. That stage in life that is accompanied by braces, a haircut that even then didn’t look good, and a self confidence that is defective at best.

Your palms are sweating. You avoid eye contact. You shuffle awkwardly in your chair.

(Don’t worry, I’m not taking you back to relive a moment with your high school crush.)

It’s English class and your teacher has called you to read to the class the next section of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

(Yes. That very dreaded piece of “fine literature” that it seems every teacher and school board feels is necessary to inflict upon young, innocent, growing beings.)

You stammer awkwardly as you admit you lost your place and don’t actually know where you teacher is telling you to pick up reading.

“Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty
According to my bond; no more nor less.”
(Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 90-92).

You finish the page and the teacher seems happy, and yet you have no idea what you just read actually means.

(In fact, while we’re being honest, the only way you passed that section of English was because you wrote that essay with the help of your good friends Wikipedia and SparksNotes.)

Pull yourself back to present day. Whether it was King Lear, Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet or Macbeth every student seems to have gone through a similar experience. High school was a darker time, and come graduation and post-secondary studies, the only people reading Shakespeare were those masochistic, English majors. Shakespeare’s gone. Or is it?

Coming this May 2012, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa will be featuring Shakespeare’s King Lear. The twist? It will be acted by an all-aboriginal cast and features a change in setting.

As you read more and more about it, you start worrying about yourself. It’s almost as if you’re… interested. Do you too have masochistic tendencies? Have you become a cultural snob? Has academia ruined your sense of good entertainment?

My theory is as follows:

You know how it’s always told and told again that kid’s hate broccoli or other “weird” foods? And then when you grow up the stuff doesn’t seem quite so bad? Simply put, there’s an actual, biological reasoning behind it: your taste buds die with age. Maybe the same thing happens with art. You can still eat enjoy the KD you ate as a child, but now broccoli seems just as palatable.

Or maybe it’s because this new play might actually be interesting.

Set in the same time period, but in a very different part of the world, this spring’s aboriginal King Lear will be set in Canada during the Iroquois/Huronia Wars. Though still boasting the same depressing plot line as the original Shakespearean play, it will transform this Elizabethan story into a Canadian tale about a chief, King Lear, and his three daughters.

For those who do not already know the plot line of King Lear, I’m sorry to tell you that Googling it may not make it any more clear. Go ahead. Try. I did. But somewhere in there you’ll forget if it was Edgar or Edmund who was bad, and who the heck was Gloucester? Don’t let this turn you away. The key is to remember the following: Shakespeare is meant to be seen not read. The future NAC production, therefore, has taken half of the problem of Shakespeare away for you; as long as you can remember the character portrayals on stage… you may just leave the theatre understanding a bit. I can’t guarantee everything, because it still is one of Shakespeare’s most depressing tragedies, but the all-aboriginal version has one potential perk…

Non-Elizabethan English.

Before I get your hopes up I went to address that that’s a bit of a speculation I’ve made myself but I just cannot picture it being spoken in Ye Olde English. Maybe it’s just my hopeful thinking.

Regardless, I’d like to give myself a good hearty pat on the back. It seems I’ve made great leaps in adulthood since my grade 10, anti-Shakespeare days. Maybe I’ll even be so wild mature as to actually go and see the play.

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One Response to Tragedy Hits Ottawa

  1. kmacdon88 says:

    I will take this one. thanks!


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