John Seven: Recent attacks on Shakespeare & Co. both vitriolic and uninformed

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NORTH ADAMS — Of all the nationwide controversies for a Berkshires organization to become embroiled in, Shakespeare & Company being dragged into the new anti-Shakespeare movement is an absurd one.

It reveals how outsider idiocy can descend upon your own respected regional institutions, how an area like the Berkshires that is in sync with the way art works can be attacked by those who don't have the slightest clue.

The issue is that a play written in 1599 is under attack from people who believe a new production of it in New York City somehow violates the sanctity of the presidency because it has been staged in such a way that it draws parallels between the story of Julius Caesar and our own President Donald Trump.

Some of the outraged seem to think that any organization with the name Shakespeare has something to do with that exact production. Shakespeare & Company has no current production of "Julius Caesar," but even if it did, would the complainants understand basic concepts of theater, like different groups doing different productions of the same play or one production being vastly different from another?

The real idiocy comes in with the people who have chosen to hold Shakespeare & Company accountable for a production of "Julius Caesar" by another theater company in another state that has a completely different board of directors, creative crew, etc. In any other situation — say, sports — the difference would be a common cultural understanding.

Think of it this way: The Red Sox play baseball. The Cubs play baseball. And that's pretty much where the similarity ends.

They are in different leagues, different locations, have different players, different owners. The only thing they have in common is the rulebook that dictates the game they are playing. If a player for the Cubs refuses to put his hand on his heart for the national anthem, you can complain to the Red Sox, but the Red Sox couldn't do much about it.

Now imagine if, despite this fact — and I know that in this day and age, facts are disputable and directly related to what you choose them to be rather than what they are — you wrote the Red Sox management these words: "I wish you all the worst possible life you could have and hope you all get sick and die."

That's what was written to Shakespeare & Company for something that the Public Theater is doing and has every right to do — just like, as the Eagle article points out, five years ago when the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis used the exact same Shakespeare play with a President Obama figure in the Julius Caesar role.

It gets absurd at a certain point. Take Ted Nugent — please, to paraphrase Henny Youngman. Currently bemoaning the state of anti-Trump rhetoric in the country, he breezes past the time he told Obama to "suck my machine gun." That's not an innocent statement to make about the president, and it's not related to an over 400-year-old stage play that is being used the way any art is used — in context of current events.

Books, movies, stage plays, music, gallery art, that's the point of it, really — how relevant a work remains as time passes and how unrelenting it is in offering truth, despite living in a post-truth era.

In an age of Pizzagate, even with situations that seem ridiculous, caution is mandatory, because violence has become the currency in post-truth America and it can happen here because it can happen anywhere.

And it starts with a bunch of people trapped in a mass delusion of rage.

Contact John Seven at mister.j.seven@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @damnjohnseven. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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