Chronicles & Tales
Ellis J. Wells

Interviews - Prof. Ladan Niayesh - Part III

Prof. Ladan Niayesh
Literary Advisor

What would you say is the overreaching difference between this adaptation and Shakespeare's original play? And how would you evaluate this evolution of script?

The first obvious difference is the change of medium. Shakespeare & Co wrote their play texts – or “scripts”, as you have spontaneously called them – at a time when cinema was not an option. Even if the circular form of an early modern stage offers more changes of perspectives than a frontal opera stage, we come nowhere near the multifocal options of a modern camera, its movements, the cuts, the angles, etc. The cinematic medium by essence invites successive takes and multiplicity of perspective, so the revised text might as well follow and adjust to that, with multiple hands and voices contributing tonal changes: some more philosophical and others more poetic, some ancient Greek, others early modern and others original and atemporal. Yet the ensemble keeps its thematic unity, orchestrated and led by the conductor that Maximianno is by training and background. Overall, I think this version works more in a dialogic, or even symphonic, way across periods and genres, which is a great way of revisiting multiple legacies, not just transposing them in awe and reverence, but writing back to them and continuing the conversations they started.

Do you think using texts and sonnets from Shakespeare's vast body of work is an effective way of adapting and evolving his plays into something even more modern and empowering?

Read more: Interviews - Prof. Ladan Niayesh - Part III

Interviews - Prof. Ladan Niayesh - Part II

Prof. Ladan Niayesh
Literary Advisor

Focusing specifically on the play "Timon of Athens"; let's settle the debate once and for all: is it a tragedy or a problem play?

The answer to your question depends on your definition of “tragedy”. In the first Folio of 1623 (that is the first edition of Shakespeare’s complete works), "Timon of Athens" is grouped with the tragedies. The other two categories in the volume are comedies and histories, and obviously Timon could not belong to either of those other options. It is a tragedy insofar as its action is based on human suffering and a catharsis (purging of emotions), with the fate of the central figure inspiring pity and fear (the two expected Aristotelian tragic emotions) in the audience. But the action fails to fully qualify as a standard tragic action in five stages neatly following the rise and fall of a hero, complete with a final catastrophe involving an onstage death in the early modern English tradition. Here, the hero’s fall occurs much earlier than at the end, and he dies offstage, in a kind of ellipsis. The defiant, fighting dimension of heroism, meanwhile, is transferred to another character, Alcibiades, who embodies the nemesis of Athens here and who closes the play in Timon’s absence, making the denouement problematic. So all in all, we have a play and its eponymous character resisting and rejecting tragic heroism and a proper denouement, making this a problem play, or a ‘problem tragedy’ if you prefer.

It is now established that Shakespeare collaborated with Thomas Middleton to write "Timon of Athens"; how does this play differ from Shakespeare's solo body of work either in structure, tone, lyrical pace, etc.

Read more: Interviews - Prof. Ladan Niayesh - Part II



Interviews - Prof. Ladan Niayesh - Part I

Prof. Ladan Niayesh
Literary Advisor

My starting question is very simple: what was your first exposure to Shakespeare?

My first exposure was very classically Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet seen on TV as a child, in a poorly translated Persian (my native tongue). At that young age, I was obviously more interested in the ghost and misty battlements than anything else. But the first play I was able to read in full text for a school curriculum was – rather unusually for a school programme – Coriolanus. The guidance of a passionate instructor made me all at one go fall in love with Shakespeare and want to become a teacher myself. I am much beholden to the gentleman for both reasons, and one of the highlights of my career many years later was to have his son among my students at university for a course on Shakespeare!

As a distinguished scholar of Shakespeare, can you talk us through your educational journey with Shakespeare?

Read more: Interviews - Prof. Ladan Niayesh - Part I