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Surely He Jests

May 16, 1993

Peter Rainer's commentary about Shakespeare as a screenwriter was absurd ("Shakespeare, the Exultant Screenwriter," May 2). Shakespeare was first and foremost a poet, and it was the things he said and the way in which he said them that have made his plays immortal.

His battle scenes are indeed panoramic, but the point is not the battle but the poetic and philosophical heights that are reached as a result of them. In an accompanying article, Kenneth Branagh tells Peter Barnes that he was told about his screenplay for the new film of "Much Ado About Nothing": "Nice story, too much dialogue."

No, if Shakespeare were alive today, he would not be writing screenplays. The powers that be would hire rewriters to get rid of all the silly dialogue and get down to the action stuff. Will himself would be writing his masterpieces for dark, damp 99-seat Waiver theaters, and if he was lucky he'd get a little review in Theater Beat on Friday.

Shakespeare can be transferred to film, as has been repeatedly proven, and it's wonderful that we have those great performances preserved, but I will always believe that his plays can be spectacular in a theater. Branagh believes that, as did Olivier before him. They always returned to the stage.

I still think that a theater can be a magical place where things happen that can never be experienced elsewhere. I wanted to scream when I read that Rainer believes that a great performance of Shakespeare onstage "always seems too much--too rich and various to be contained behind footlights." Is it that perhaps we've lost our capacity for true tragedy in the midst of all the nasty little miseries we encounter day to day? Personally, I want to be lifted out of all that reality onto a higher plane where life seems noble and worthwhile.

I have the terrible feeling that the practice of going to the theater is becoming passe along with reading. Poor, empty world.


Pacific Palisades

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