Friday, October 21, 2005

The Burden of the Bard

image "borrowed" from Toothpaste for Dinner

One of the other things I have been thinking about a lot lately is William Shakespeare’s plays. I am a pretty big fan of Shakespeare, although I haven’t always been. I think the first time I ever read any I was pretty annoyed. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand how “Romeo and Juliet” could possibly be relevant to whatever the hell I was doing as a freshman in high school. And it was hard to read too! Not to mention the iambic pentameter, what the heck was that all about? But with a little guidance (and oh how important that is for the Shakespeare reader), I came to see the value and the pleasure of his plays. And oh, yeah, I also found out that Romeo and Juliet were just about the same age as I was when I was first reading it.

One of the most important things I have learned about appreciating Shakespeare is that it’s not nearly as tough as it seems. Shakespeare, by most accounts (and please, I could get into all the theories about how he never lived, about who actually wrote Shakespeare’s stuff, about how Shakespeare himself was not smart enough to have created all that and how it must have been Bacon or Marlowe or, my personal favorite, Queen Elizabeth (there’s a new contender now but at the moment his name escapes me)) was a pretty simple guy. And the stuff he wrote was pretty…simple. He wrote about the universal themes in life that we all deal with because they are…universal. Tell me you don’t think about life and death (MacBeth), cheating and honesty (ooh, MacBeth again and Much Ado About Nothing) your relationships with your parents (Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, King Lear), the evil guy at work (Oooh, how about Richard III or Julius Caesar?) and race relations (Othello) or even a bad travel experience (The Tempest) on an almost daily basis (can you tell I much prefer the tragedies to the comedies?)? It’s all there in black and white to be read (See, what’s black and white and read all over? SHAKESPEARE!). (Who uses too may parenthesis and with no real rhyme or reason? REN!)

And Shakespeare, he was good to the ladies, even if he was writing the parts for men. Actually, he was better to the women in the comedies than he was to the women in the tragedies or histories but I’m sure I’ll get to that later. Bridget Jones may long for the end of her days as a singleton but Katherina (of Taming of the Shrew) was quite content on her own. While this was not necessarily unheard of during Shakespeare’s time, it certainly was, much like today, uncommon for a woman to be content with her own company and council. But he even created Beatrice from Much Ado about nothing and she is one heck of a tough, sassy kind of gal! Shakespeare knew the deal. Men can be fools over women and money and power and the women…well, they gotta get it done on their own…ok, like I said, at least in the comedies. Once you get to the tragedies you get an awful lot of chicks dying for their men and that certainly is a tragedy.

For me, the key to falling in love with Shakespeare was learning how to read him. In the end I figured out that I understand it best when I read it aloud, which is hardly surprising since they are plays, they were meant to be spoken. If you catch me reading and muttering under my breath as I do, chances are you have found me with some Shakespeare and I am just trying to sort out a bit of word order. But for me, it’s totally worth it.


Jodi said...

I haven't read Shakespeare in a long time, but I do remember enjoying what I did read.

Chris said...

I feel like a Shakespeare wimp when I say this, but in general I have a hard time reading plays. I do, however, like reading Shakespeare, but only after I've seen the play (or the movie :->).

Which reminds me, today is St. Crispin's day:

Wikipedia St. Crispin's Day Entry

I love Branaugh's Henry V...

ren said...

oooh, don't tell anyone but i have never seen branaugh's version of henry v. because i am laaaaaazy. (but i have read shakespeare's version!). man that movie has a bunch of dudes i like in it to. i should be less laaaazy.