Influences of Shakespeare on Yasmina Reza


Among the influences of Shakespeare evident in Yasmina Reza’s plays are the following:

Accessibility to the audience of the time

As Shakespeare never forgot the audience of his time – even though it ranged from the groundlings to royalty and the intellectual community – Reza’s work maintains an appeal the everyday life and human nature of the audience of her time. For Shakespeare, the appeal has lived on through 400 years, but only as it started by piquing the interest of his original audience at a level of universal humanity that has continued its appeal through history. Reza’s plays are not aimed at any particular audience, and therefore offer an appeal to a wide and disparate base. She has said, “There’s no point in writing theatre if it isn’t accessible, because no one will see it. The greatest playwrights such as Shakespeare or Molière – to whom, by the way, I am  not comparing myself – they were also accessible.”

Common themes of maintaining acceptable conduct under a veneer of civility

Audiences often discover that the best behavior of many of the characters in Shakespeare’s comedies are thin and fragile veneers maintained for the purpose of manipulating public opinion (think of Beatrice and Benedict at the height of their civility). In Reza’s work, her characters often struggle to maintain similar veneers, and when those disguises disintegrate, the “real” character comes forth.

Artfully crafted dialogue, invention of words

The quality and artistry of Shakespeare’s dialogue set a world standard in his earliest plays. When he needed new words and phrases, he invented them or borrowed them from other languages. Today Reza’s writes in French, but her plays have been translated into a number of other languages. When translated into English, she has found that American English is superior to the formality of British English. She says, “American English is much closer to French than British English is. English is a beautiful language, but in England it’s very formal and doesn’t allow invention. American English is informal, keen to take influences, to invent words, just as I write in French.” Further, she notes, “I write from my intuition, my sense of freedom, my feeling for words and rhythm.” Shakespeare, of course, always wrote with a keen sense for words and rhythm.

A clear view into characters’ psyches

Shakespeare gave his audiences a look into the psyche of his characters, sometimes using soliloquy, but often using dialogue to reveal the driving forces within – along with the confusion that accompanies intense emotional conflicts. At the same time, he did not belabor his audiences by dwelling on childhood causes for his characters’ current psychological states. Similarly, Reza doesn’t seek to explain or deconstruct her characters’ backgrounds for the audience. She says of her characters, “I’m not interested in what they were like as children, in psychoanalysis, because writing is totally instinctive. I work like a painter. If a painter is doing a portrait of someone, he’s not interested in their childhood; he paints what he sees. There’s no explanation because it doesn’t mean anything.” Reza uses dialogue, permitting her characters to “spill” themselves to the audience through conversation with another character. As a result, the audience is able to enjoy a similar degree of dramatic irony as a Shakespearean audience.

A challenge to self-knowledge

Shakespeare’s plays are not openly didactic, but several offer his audiences opportunities to make observations about human nature that they can take home and apply to their own lives. Reza’s work often offers similar, and perhaps less subtle, challenges to self-knowledge through the characters and plots of her plays.

Clear portraits of human nature through characterization

Shakespeare was a master observer of human nature and an unchallenged artist in creating characters that bring portraits of human nature to the stage. Reza has also shown a real talent at singling out the subtleties of human nature and staging them clearly for the discovery and enjoyment of her audiences as well.