Tuesday, March 20, 2012

When is Problematic Too Problematic?

I'm revising a manuscript that involves a lot of Shakespeare, and I just had the random thought that it would be an interesting casting choice to have a character in a wheelchair play Richard III. In the text he is described as a "rudely stump'd," "deformed, unfinish'd" hunchback. Having an actor with a disability would be a good way to be true to the text, and it's a complex, intriguing part.

It's also problematic. For Shakespeare, and a lot of other writers up to the modern day, it is easy to give the villan a visible ailment that turns people off of them--in this case a hunchback. Disabled characters are often antagonists, because having an abnormal body is something that automatically--so the thought goes--repulses an audience, particularly an audience who did not understand disability.

At what point do we stop sanitizing things like this to change the image of disabiltiy in the world? Do we cut the lines to appeal to contemporary sensibilities and always cast an able-bodied actor? Or can Richard III be played by an actor with a disability without causing the negative connections?

Just a thought I had.


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