On the floor of the Maine House of Representatives on May 3, Rep. Lance Harvell spoke in favor of repealing the Informed Growth Act by asking his colleagues: “You know what the Informed Growth Act and Shakespeare have in common? They both belong in the 16th century.”
As the leader of one of the theaters in Maine that regularly produces professional productions of Shakespeare, I can assure Rep. Harvell that William Shakespeare is alive and well in the 21st century. According to the “World Shakespeare Biography,” there were nearly 400 separate professional productions of Shakespeare produced around the world last year.
I personally know of at least 10 professional or amateur productions of Shakespeare right here in Maine last year. Rep. Harvell apparently didn’t make it to any of them. But don’t worry, there will be at least that many productions in 2011. I know that we’re planning them at The Theater At Monmouth (named The Shakespearean Theater of Maine by the Maine Legislature in 1975 — when Rep. Harvell was a schoolboy*). There will be some Shakespeare in the next few months at the Freeport Shakespeare Festival, Ten Bucks Theatre in Brewer, Acorn Productions in Westbrook and Portland, the Fenix Theatre in Portland, the Stonington Opera House and others.
As good luck would have it*, even if Rep. Harvell doesn’t like Shakespeare and would never go to his plays, he’ll find a generous* number of Shakespearean words and phrases in our everyday speech.
I hesitate to wear my heart upon my sleeve*, but in his excitement* to undo the Informed Growth Act, Rep. Harvell played fast and loose* with the facts: While Shakespeare was certainly alive in the 16th century, his first play, “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” was not written until 1589. And most of his masterpieces such as “Hamlet,” “Macbeth,” “King Lear,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Twelfth Night” and “The Tempest” were written in the 17th century. So he at least belongs in the 17th century as well.
But even a blinking idiot* would know that Shakespeare was popular in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, too. Shakespeare is the most-produced playwright in the world — that’s the long and the short of it.*
Perhaps Rep. Harvell got tongue-tied* when he was speaking on the House floor, but it also occurs to me that even an uneducated* view of the 16th century would reveal that the Informed Growth Act would be completely out of place. I’d guess that the vast majority of trade in 16th century communities was among small-business men. The concept of the “big box” store would have been strange to even the most fashionable* businessman.
While I love the Legislature’s time-honored* tradition of debate from the floor on the key issues of the day, Rep. Harvell’s comparison seems flawed*. Neither Shakespeare nor the Informed Growth Act fits only in the 16th century. Shakespeare’s plays and language are alive and well in the 21st century. And while its days may be numbered in Maine, the Informed Growth Act concept seems to be very much a 21st century concern.
So please, Rep. Harvell, get your head into this century for goodness’ sake.*
*These words and phrases created by Shakespeare.
David Greenham is the producing artistic director at The Theater At Monmouth — The Shakespearean Theater of Maine.