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Honor, Shame, and Violence: Exploring Human Nature Through Shakespeare

Wretched figures crumple on stage, forming rows of corpses framing the honorable final dialogue between the scene’s principal actors in a macabre display of misplaced pride and vain promises of honor preserved.  As Hotspur lies in the lap of Hal, gentle murmurs of glory and bravery sharply contrast the previous display of extreme brutality and bloodshed.  Honor, Shame, and Violence examines humanity’s eternal fixation on valor and pride, proving that such seemingly antiquated values demonstrated in Shakespeare’s works persist in the modern world.

Katherine Kerr/Gavel Media

Katherine Kerr / Gavel Media

Honor, Shame, and Violence functions primarily as a Shakespeare anthology, pulling scenes from King Henry IV Part I, Othello, Coriolanus and Romeo & Juliet.  The Shakespearean scenes are each prefaced by modern thematic correlations, authorizing a contemporary analysis of the original works that allows the audience to freely explore the themes of honor and shame without having to peer through a lens of antiquity.

Before the ultimate battle unfolds in King Henry IV Part I, a narrator interrupts the action to create a comparison between King Henry IV’s crusade and President George W. Bush’s war on terror, implying that the motives of both men are comparable.  In suggesting the contemporary lens and providing more familiar examples of honor, Honor, Shame, and Violence fosters a meditation, as the audience is encouraged to consider the nature of man and his development over time. 

Katherine Kerr/Gavel Media

Katherine Kerr / Gavel Media

Intermittent musings on the use of honor and shame as justifications for acts of atrocity throughout the scenes further pervert the audience’s interpretations of Shakespeare’s works.

The murder of Desdemona results from Othello’s shame as a result of her alleged adultery — deceived by Iago, Othello justifies his crime by asserting the honor in his actions.

Through such constant reinforcement, the suggested contemporary lens becomes fixed, and an intimate reflection on humanity results.  As our application of contemporary norms influences our interpretations of Shakespeare’s themes, the characters impact our understandings of contemporary values.

An interchange occurs as the audience realizes that many of the seemingly ridiculous justifications and themes present in the plays still exist today as long-engrained values that are constantly overlooked and taken for granted.  The glorification of bravery in combat — the attribution of heroism to warriors who sacrifice themselves for others — is one value that Honor, Shame, and Violence explicitly points out.

By allowing this interchange, Honor, Shame, and Violence establishes a framework for the audience to explore and identify the unchanging elements of human nature.

Katherine Kerr/Gavel Media

Katherine Kerr / Gavel Media

While the production accomplishes its clearly delineated objective of reflection and comparison, many of the moves made by director Tina Packer seem heavy handed and overstated.  The prevailing pacifistic message that underlies the entire play stands out overtly, and little room is left for interpretation.  Though Honor, Shame, and Violence provokes thought, it is very clear which thoughts the production expects from its viewers. 

Honor, Shame, and Violence will run between January 21 and January 24 with showings at 7:30 p.m. in the Bonn, with its final showing on January 25 at 2:00 p.m. If anything, this show is worth a view for the contributions of the cast and crew whose two semesters of work on the original production have created something that is uniquely their own. 

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Espresso enthusiast and amateur bike mechanic. Enjoys long shoegaze dream sessions and short walks to the local organic grocery store. Most likely working on a postmodern bildungsroman set in the Pacific Northwest.