The Boston Globe has a story about juvenile offenders in Western Massachusetts being sentenced to act Shakespeare as an alternative to jail or community service. Lenox's Shakespeare & Company troupe, a Berkshires institution, has a special program just for these wayward youth. It's written as a feel-good story, live theater and immortal poetry as a roundabout path to rehabilitation. But I'll admit I had two instant and inappropriate responses.
First off ... acting Shakespeare is a punishment now? Whose car did Kenneth Branagh steal? (More seriously, I wonder about the wisdom of making art a punishment, and what that teaches these kids about making art.) I like to imagine Sir John Gielgud as an extremely classy former crime lord, working off a long, long sentence.
Second, I was deeply amused at the idea of Shakespearean acting as a way of keeping out of trouble, considering what menaces to the civil peace some of Shakespeare's coevals were. If only Shakespeare had gotten Marlowe a walk-on in 3 Henry VI, maybe he wouldn't have gotten stabbed in the head like that. Maybe if Ben Jonson had been good enough to get a gig with the Lord Chamberlain's Men, he wouldn't have killed that other actor in an armed brawl. (Or course, the fate of the actor Jonson killed does complicate that theory.) Maybe, though, society will ultimately benefit from a generation of hooligans who use more literate and poetic threats. Aroint thee! Art drawn, and talk of peace?
Dead for a ducat, baby. Show me the ducats, and it's done.
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