I teach Shakespeare in a literature class. I encourage students to call up a college production on YouTube, or listen to a BBC radio adaptation, and read along with their script. However, I remind students that because I’m an English teacher, I’m asking them to focus on the script, not on any individual director’s production of the script. Students whose responses refer to line delivery, facial expressions, or camera angles may certainly be engaging with the choices that the actor made during that performance, but my task in the literature classroom involves asking them to pay attention to the words Shakespeare wrote. (If they feel they need to see a production in order to understand it, I encourage them to change to a new video after each act, and focus their response on the words in the script.
Here’s a wonderful example of an interpretive choice that really helps bring out the humor in Hamlet, but I wouldn’t want a student in my literature class to write a paper about Polonius’s iPhone. (A paper about Polonius as shallow, easily distracted, and full of empty words would be fine, but the student would have to quote words from the play and present some kind of non-obvious textually-based argument, rather than just describing how an individual production used an iPhone to make a point about the character.)
Screenshot of a social media post by user celluloidvampire:
always thinking about the production of hamlet i saw at the pop up globe a couple of years ago where everyone was costumed in typical shakespearean dress and the set was fairly minimal BUT! they gave polonius an iphone. it was like a running gag that his ringtone kept going off when hamlet or claudius were trying to speak and they would get more and more impatient with him every time. the cast had perfect comedic timing and it was such a perfect modernisation of typical shakespeare humour
but oh my God. the nervous laughter that rippled through the audience when his phone went off behind the tapestry. the heavy silence that followed, interrupted only by the incessant chime of polonius’s ringtone and the muffled “shit, shit!” while he tried to decline the call. it keeps ringing even after hamlet has already put his sword through him. hamlet picks it up and ends the call, puts it back in polonius’s grasp before turning back to face gertrude.
hands down the best set up and pay-off of any addition to a shakespeare play I have ever witnessed