In the past two years at Bard on Beach in Vancouver, I have attended two Shakespeare plays that have been difficult to watch because of the themes they provoke: “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” and, of course, “The Taming of the Shrew.” Based on the themes of the plays, the plays should not be produced at all.

“The Two Gentlemen of Verona” explores a close male friendship and how their attraction and possibly love of a woman almost breaks their friendship. The play prioritizes the male bond, regulating romantic love with women to a secondary, subjugated status. Not only is this false, and does not explore the nuances in those relationships and how they relate to each other, it is revealed in such a horrific way I do not see how a theatre company can produce it without at least implicitly—no matter how much editing takes place—encouraging or even agreeing with the premise of the play.

In the play, Valentine’s banishment from Milan is secretly orchestrated by his best friend Proteus so Proteus can woo Valentine’s lover, Silvia. But, Silvia goes in search of Valentine, even as she refuses every advance of Proteus. When Proteus follows her and in the forest finally realizes he cannot have her by consent, he attempts to have her by force. He sexually assaults her and attempts to rape her, prevented only by Valentine (who was watching the whole time and could of intervened sooner) who pulls him off of her. After some judgment from Valentine and contrition by Proteus, Valentine forgives his best friend (the betrayer; the rapist) and they exit the stage in harmony and marital bliss.

Although the production at Bard on the Beach in the summer of 2018 shifted the ending by having Silvia silently judge the men by pretending to fire an arrow at them and leaving instead with a band of outlaws who are discovered to be women, the actual theme lurks behind it all and cannot be silenced. Besides, if you feel like you need to change the theme of the play because you do not like the theme, produce another play with a theme you do like.

“The Taming of the Shrew” explores (in heightened absurdity) societal expectations of women, and what should be done to a woman who rejects those expectations. Kate is physically and emotionally abused throughout out the play for the purpose of those expectations. She even does some abusing of her own, primarily the physical abuse of her sister. But, her husband, Petruchio, eventually abuses her into submission. Her last didactic monologue submits unto him as she proclaims that women should be subjugated to their husbands and that is all. The play does not explore the nuances of societal expectations and marital relationships. It’s just kind of funny and absurd.

The Bard on the Beach production in the summer of 2019 twisted the play by switching lines and intent between characters so much so that the play “The Taming of the Shrew,” was no longer the taming of the shrew. Instead the characters and plot became stilted because characters were speaking lines that were not their own thereby confusing the plot. The original theme was then hidden and the last monologue shifted into irony and trickery and became a judgment against the society that constrains and subjugates women. Yet, Kate and Petruchio still escape into marital bliss.

Though the characters were stilted and the play lacked depth, the production was lively and fun and in some ways meaningful. Yet, I still ask the question: why does a theatre company put so much effort in changing a play with such a negative and false theme?  By changing it so much, you are revealing that you do not like the original play. Therefore, if you do not like the original play, do not produce the play.

By subverting the negative and false themes of plays by editing or changing them I fear we will begin to forget their history and refuse to remember how to change the present because those themes are still present in society today. Do not ignore them or attempt to hide them. By simply producing the plays, no matter how much you change it, you implicitly encourage, condone and accept, if not agree with, their premises.

These plays and others like them should be studied with a historical perspective in mind with the clear intent of the historical context and how it applies to the present. An honest examination will bring to light these negative and false themes so we can explicitly reject them. It is important to know these plays were produced, and even were popular and may have been just as controversial as they are today; but, it is also important to know to not repeat them.

“The Complete Works of Shakespeare” is not the Bible. He wrote some mediocre plays with bad themes. Don’t produce those mediocre plays. Bard on the Beach has performed “Hamlet” three times and “The Taming of the Shrew” five times. Hamlet speaks the truth. Are we so afraid of it?

To escape the fear of the truth, theatre producers can sometimes hide what is true so that their audience feel less fear and are more comfortable attending a play. This is not only done to the themes of the plays, but to the Characters themselves.

Lady Bracknell may be the Bible. Yet, we have tamed her. A character in Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest,” she is a strong, older, witty woman who has an intelligent that is absurdly formal. Yet, men are frequently cast in her role. It has happened so much that it has been ingrained in the theatre community as tradition, even though the casting of men as Lady Bracknell didn’t happen until the 1960’s.

When a man plays Lady Bracknell the character becomes a stereotype, a caricature, a simple rude joke that finds its climax in the line “A handbag?”—a loud screech that is somehow funny because a man with a deep baritone voice is trying to imitate a stereotypical female scream.

Not only does the casting of men as Lady Bracknell lose the beauty and depth and even absurdity of the character, it blocks older female actors from the role, when so few good roles exists for them. If you watch the 2002 film “The Importance of Being Earnest,” where Dame Judi Dench plays Lady Bracknell you will see why it should be very rare that a man should play Lady Bracknell.

Also, I don’t know a lot about the history and form of drag performance, where a man performs as a Drag Queen or a woman performs as a Drag King, but it seems and feels to me when a male actor who has no experience in Drag portrays Lady Bracknell he disrespects the artistic form of Drag, even ridiculing it without honoring it, falsifying her truth.

Theatre artists seek new ways of expression as they seek the truth of theatre and challenge its form. Yet there is a form; yet there is truth: a true form. Continue to challenge it, but also embrace it. Fear the truth. But, know that it is the truth.

Speak Lady Bracknell, speak!

The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately, in England at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.