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How do I love thee? No, seriously
Experts illuminate courtship in BPAs production of the Bards As You Like It
Whats less comfortable: a sixteenth-century corset or a blind date from hell?
In Megan Smithlings mind, the comparison may or may not be relevant.
People didnt date in Shakespeares day, at least not in the way we think of it, she said. The idea of casual dating didnt exist.
Smithling and others will nonetheless tackle mating rituals through the ages this Sunday in the second of four Beyond the Script discussions, this one to advance and illuminate Shakespeares As You Like It, opening at Bainbridge Performing Arts Friday.
Program coordinator Kathleen Thorne says the series, new to BPA this year, was designed to help turn mainstage productions into stepping stones to the contemporary issues they each raise. And as guest dramaturg, Smithling was brought on board to illuminate the plays, constructing a ladder of relevance that audiences can grab hold of to connect to the material in new ways.
This fall brought a criminal justice specialist to delve into the mind of a murderer prior to Jekyll and Hyde. And just as a modern expert created a novel context for viewing a slasher musical set in tightly coiled Victorian London, Thorne and Smithling hope that Sundays Merry Mysteries of Love will give audiences new food for thought as they enter the Forest of Arden.
Especially as theyll be joined by representatives from the dating service Its Just Lunch! Seattle/Bellevue modern matchmakers who cater to busy singles.
As You Like It comedically chronicles the matchings and mis-matchings that ensue when Rosalind and Celia, best friends and cousins, disguise themselves and escape the court of Duchy overtaker and Celias father, Frederick.
In the suspended disbelief of Arden to which Rosalinds father, the usurped Duke, has already decamped Rosalind and Celia encounter the young gentleman Orlando, who similarly has fled his home. Through mistaken identity, likely and unlikely pairings and gender hijinks, love wins the day.
If contemporary daters face the two-fold dilemma of so many people to choose from that there may as well be none, Smithling describes in Shakespeares time a more straightforward set of courting rituals strictly aligned with economics and class.
The natural real-life order for, say, a Rosalind and an Orlando would have been the cut-and-dried creation of a limited partnership. Theyd have been betrothed at a young age, married later and expected to produce progeny, with love a non-essential deal toy that may or may not have been thrown in at the end like a logo-embossed pen.
Yet as Smithling freely admits, humans are human, and we still act in the same silly ways in love...and go a little crazy.
Especially in the woods. And in As You Like It, Shakespeare provides a convenient escape to Arden, where wild things can happen to anyone.
They dont have to follow the rules that normally society would demand of them, Smithling said. They can kind of kick back. Its the same reason people in the 60s went to Woodstock.
Savvy Shakespeare, while writing for the rule-bound court, possessed the clear view of a social critic and understood that while certain mores must always apply, his audience was also at heart a rowdy, bawdy bunch of people.
I think one of the things people misunderstand about the Elizabethan era is that they think it was pretty tight-laced, Smithling said. And it wasnt.
Thus, old Wills audiences would not just tolerate but embrace the humor of the plays sexual politics a woman loving a woman dressed as a man, to name just one of the identity benders.
He gives them a chance to have that outlet, Smithling said.
As would any modern single, Elizabethan audiences also appreciated a happy ending, which As You Like It offers as tidily packaged as they come. Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia, Silvius and Phebe and Touchstone and Audrey are all married by the last scene, a pat solution that might seem to fly in the face of Shakespeares iconoclasm.
But Smithling points out that even Shakespeare wasnt about to mess with the natural order of things, and we all must eventually emerge from the woods.
What, then, was Shakespeare really trying to tell audiences through the ages about love? In mulling that one, Smithling comes back to the brilliant, brilliant character of Rosalind.
What she tells us and all the characters she interacts with in the play is that love needs to be genuine and heartfelt and free...and it should be open, Smithling said. And it doesnt necessarily matter who you fall in love with as long as you are in love, and that you experience that in your life. And some people are meant to be together.
Which brings lovelorn singles back to their higher calling: to raise their noses from their annotated Shakespeare collections and try to engage some nice new person over a cup of coffee, a quick drink after work, or heaven help them, dinner and a movie.
Im kind of interested personally to hear the Its Just Lunch ladies talk about how it works in the real world, Smithling said. That dating world is just as crazy as what goes on in Arden.