‘Broadcast Yourself’, declares YouTube’s tagline, has Shakespeare’s famous notion that ‘All the world’s a stage’1 been taken one step further? Or have we lost the immediacy and impact of human interaction that comes from theatre and ‘art with real bodies’2 ?
In the digital age we are not encouraged to experience these moments of Shakespearean drama as transitory and fleeting, instead the ever present re-play button on YouTube urges us to repeat the same moments over again.
How does this affect our reception of art, and the moment of death? As Herbert Blau, the prominent theatre creator and critic, has said, ‘in a very strict sense, it is the actor’s mortality which is the acted subject, for he is right there dying in front of your eyes.’3
Is our experience of Shakespeare through the online world a mirror for our own increasingly digital lives? We do not live life, we live on ‘Second Life’, we do not meet each other, we message on Facebook, we do not see whole plays, we watch Shakespeare’s ‘best bits’. Has the digital age, which has brought us so much convenience and comfort, in fact, divorced us further from the realities of life and therefore death? Yet I would argue that the opposite can also be found, the online world is a new performance space which allows us to think of the play in a different way, it encourages us to revisit the play once more, to reanimate the possibilities of the play.
Today, young women can quite literally cut and rearrange Shakespeare according to their whim, using simple editing technology that is available on many computers. There is a ‘giddy power’4 in this, when time itself can be cut, edited and replayed . In particular they are choosing to literally re-embody Shakespeare’s tragic heroines, filming or photographing themselves as Ophelia or Juliet. They can then upload these films to sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, in anticipation and expectation of another’s sight.
Harold Bloom has said that the true focus of Shakespeare is our own mortality5, in trawling through these clips, I began to notice the glimmerings of a pattern, young women were focusing upon the deaths of these young tragic heroines. Echoing the myth of Persephone and the pomegranate seed, they were using Shakespeare to explore their own burgeoning sexuality and its link with death.
The online world is allowing young women to identify more intensely with Shakespeare’s characters, through encountering them in a space which is not demarcated as highbrow, or even separate from their day to day lives, they are able to reappropriate and own Shakespeare in a new way.
1 William Shakespeare, As You Like It, ‘The Oxford Shakespeare The Complete Works’, ed. Jowett, Montgomery, Taylor and Wells, (Oxford: Oxford University Press) 2005, 2.7.139-
2 Peggy Phelan, Mourning Sex : Performing Public Memories (London: Routledge, 1997), p20
3 Herbert Blau, Blooded Thought: Occasions of Theatre, ( New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1982), 133-4
4 Peggy Phelan, Mourning Sex, 160.
5 Harold Bloom, The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (London: Papermac, 1996), 30-1.
To see a selection of young women’s online responses to Shakespeare’s tragic heroines please follow the links below:
Pinterest – search word – Ophelia’ http://pinterest.com/search/boards/?q=ophelia.
Countless young women have chosen to photograph themselves as Ophelia, often floating in the bath. For more on this see Alan Young’s online essay http://www.opheliapopularculture.com/
This video shows a series of young women in the bath contemplating their own mortality. Suspended in water, something as everyday as the bath is shown to be a liminal space.
This short film shows a young woman desperately searching for water, an ironic reference to Ophelia’s death caused by a surfeit water.
‘Ophelia’s Suicide Soliloquy’, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ty1aJ-wKLFU
This young woman felt that Ophelia required a suicide soliloquy, but what makes it really interesting is that the comment function has recreated and rivalled the live experience of theatre, with her ex-boyfriend writing desperately of his love for her.
‘Ophelia among the flowers’, http://vimeo.com/32113022
Inspired by Odilon Redon’s painting, this short film focuses on the sexual element of Ophelia’s death.
‘Juliet Must Die’, http://vimeo.com/30783587
This short film makes creative use of Romeo’s first and final speeches, the film itself could be seen as an exploration of the loss of childhood with the onset of adolescence, which is then aligned with death. The focus is on Juliet’s aliveness, this female artist seeks to embody Shakespeare quite literally, bringing to life the language through defying Juliet’s death.