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As we can see in Michiko Kakutani’s review of one of the latest versions of Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare and his works are not save of “actualizations” that often tend to achieve a new point of view, different from the original of its creator. William Shakespeare, who almost died 400 years ago, in 1616, is the most inmortal playwrighters in history. People all over the world know his works: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear… But something that happens nowadays all around the world affects these magnificous works: modernization.

Recently, more and more theater companies have created and still are creating modern versions of the before mentioned masterpieces. At first sight, there is no problem at all in this idea. It is, indeed, a new way of adapting and expressing the feelings of the medieval situations that are shown to us thank to Shakespeare’s imagination and creativity. Howerver, good intentions might become disastrous acts due to the ambition of companies which want to have the most amazing and astonishing playwright of the season earning money for them and covering full pages of the most important newspapers in the world.

As a proof of this, we find this review of a “modern” version of Romeo and Juliet in The New York Times made by Ben Brantley. This new version, at the end, turned to be a story of two teenagers with family problems and a gullible love:

The members of the cast tend to embody the least interesting and most irritating aspects of teenagers, like sulkiness and tedious flaring tempers. […] Watching them may still make you think of high school Shakespeare.

But this review is just an example of something that began some years ago. The popularity of William Shakespeare has lead the theatre companies to “innovate”, just by making “evolutions” of the original works. Indeed, the Bard was, in the decade of the 1990′s, the most produced playwright in America. So, what is it about Shakespeare and his works that makes him able to engage the imagination of people all over the world? Maybe the imagination of his works, the richness of his lanuage or even the range and depth of his characterizations are some of the probable answers for this question. However, some authors, like Gary Taylor, an editor of an Oxford University Press edition of the playwright’s works, suggest that luck had also great relevance for the fame of Shakespeare. As the previously mentioned author, Gary Taylor, says in his book ”Reinventing Shakespeare”:

The Bard owed much of his success to happy accidents of history. If, for example, France had won its wars against England, if England like other countries had been culturally transformed by the upheavals of the late 18th century, then Shakespeare would almost certainly not have achieved or retained the dominance he now enjoys. […]Shakespeare’s current international reputation was at least partly the fruit not of his genius but of the virility of British imperialism, which propagated the English language on every continent.

Anyway, by luck or not, Shakespeare’s work has been, in a way, institutionalized: taught in schools, cited in dictionaries, studied by scholars and laymen alike – he has insidiously become our familiar. We daily use phrases popularized by Shakespeare like ”brave new world,” ”the primrose path” and ”sound and fury,” and even those of us who have never seen a play associate Romeo and Juliet with doomed love and Hamlet with existential indecision. Morover, he has influenced writers troughout history such as Dostoyevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, Baudelaire, Ibsen, Strindberg and Pirandello.

Apart from all his influences, it has been proved that the english playwright anticipated the violence and cruelty of 20th-century history. The Polish Jan Kott in his book ”Shakespeare Our Contemporary”, as able to:

Underscore the affinities between Shakespeare and such avatars of the Theater of the Absurd as Beckett, Ionesco and Genet.

In plays like ”Hamlet” and ”King Lear,” Mr. Kott discerned:

A dark, uncompromising and very modern view of the world as an irrational place, ruled by violence and chance, a place in which ”it is the clowns who tell the truth.”

Lots of works, lots of interpretations and a world that, just by hearing his name, thinks of an utopian love, the old age and madness of a tirant king, Otelo’s jealousy and envy and, of course, an undertaker questioning the sense of life and the world. That is the legacy of the greatest playwright in hisotry, the Bard, William Shakespeare.

“TO BE, OR NOT TO BE, THAT IS THE QUESTION”.

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