I firmly believe in exposing my kids to theatre. And testing the waters with a little free Shakespeare? Culture + my personal interests + FREE = yes please. It’s not Shakespeare in the Park season, but there is a group in my region that tours slimmed-down, hour-long versions of Shakespeare ( with a 5 person cast, no less!) each fall/winter around local libraries and community centers. [The world would be a better place if everyone had access to this.] I’ve certainly dragged my daughter to her fair share of theatre, including the Bard. This month, I tried an experiment that had failure written all over it: I invited my kid’s Daisy Scout troop to attend as well. That’s right – 12 first-graders, many with parents and siblings in tow, actually took me up on this event. I was utterly surprised to find that this simple outing would push me out of my safety zone, just by sharing an interest with some casual acquaintances. As a result, I feel like I'm the one who ended up in the fun-land that is Illyria.Read More
Right now, the first months of 2017, is the strangest time in politics and government that I have ever witnessed. I know, I know. I already did a Trump comparison of a Shakespeare play. I promise this isn’t going to focus on a specific person in power…more the idea of power itself.
The Merchant of Venice is a love story, a friendship story. But it’s equally a tale of power, prejudice, commerce (both monetary and emotional), and negotiation. The plot hinges on laws and how to interpret them. Oppressed Shylock tries to use the law to his advantage and fails. As many laws are up for reinterpretation or change here in the States under a new administration, I wondered how fair Venice’s laws were to its people. What happens when the law doesn’t exactly protect or serve the citizens? What are we supposed to do then (i.e. now)?Read More
Oh, I have such a love/hate relationship with this work (as do many others long before me). It was the first ever Shakespearean play in which I performed, back in my senior year of high school. It inspired a classic, hilarious teen movie (to which I heavily related because I was 17 when it came out). I’ve seen some great performances of this play. Part of my love centers on the heightened theatricality of this play – more so than most, the text is determined by how it’s interpreted by a director and actors.
But the straight text, taken without the nuance and emotive direction of seeing it performed, is so troubling. Modern audiences grapple with Petruchio's treatment of his new wife and of Kate's reasons for transformation. Many attempt to explain why Kate is a shrew at the beginning. I think this is a thoroughly modern issue -- since the 20th century, people have been preoccupied with examining past events to explain current behavior. But where do we draw the line between learning from our pasts and being mired down in them?Read More
Why This Play?:
I wanted to try something new for this reading. First, some backstory: about 10 years ago, I was living in Los Angeles and my parents were out in Scottsdale, AZ. It’s a roughly 6-hour drive between the two cities, so I would road trip out on occasion to visit them. During that period, I amassed a number of audio books on CD to help pass the solo drive. One I picked up on the cheap happened to be the Arkangel dramatic reading of Love’s Labour’s Lost. I listened to it once on a desert drive, tucked it away in my car, and promptly forgot about it for a decade. [I solemnly swear I’ve cleaned out my car multiple times in that decade, I just always kept hold of it in case I had another long solo drive.] I stumbled upon it again in recent months, and I’ve been saving it for this blog post.
For this reading, I unearthed my old 2007 Macbook, popped in the CD, and followed along with my written copy. What a fantastic way for the language in this one to come alive! LLL is infamous for being heavy on the Elizabethan wordplay, and this really helped with my understanding far more than footnotes could. I may have to dig up more of these at my local library! This play is about what happens when four men desist their contact with women, but women happen into their lives anyway. There’s a stupid, cliché adage that love only comes when you cease to look for it. The thing is... that's actually what happened that led me to my husband.Read More
Why This Play?:
I consulted the list of plays I have to finish reading to complete the canon. I lifted my index finger. I waved it around in circles over the list, my other hand held over my eyes. I pushed said finger down to the page. I saw that I was to read Troilus and Cressida. I rejoiced that I was to tackle a play that I had never read nor seen. I dig getting to dive into the unknown.
And it’s an intriguing play. I’m surprised it’s not performed more. It’s technically listed as a comedy under the folio, and academics later dubbed it one of the “problem plays.” I think that’s what makes it feel so modern. We have here a tale about the idiocy of war. We have a tale of inconstant women (whose fate and circumstances are solely decided by men). And we have some surprisingly fun, witty banter. Then, an ending that has no resolution at all. It’s all over the place, and there isn’t really a clear message aside from this: trust no one because people lie and/or change their minds, and war is crazy. Is this right? Should we take this Troilus and Cressida as a cautionary tale that the rug can be pulled out from us at any moment?Read More
I love a good romp in the woods. It’s still, in today’s world, an ideal we hold: escape to the wilderness to get away from it all. Shakespeare already explored this idea in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where the lovers of Athens escape from the oppressive court to wild fairyland to find their romantic happiness. While reading AYLI, I was on vacation far away from my busy California home, visiting my parents in the mountains of North Carolina (hiking Pisgah National Forest, visiting Sierra Nevada’s Brewery, and taking in all the fresh, green quiet of early spring). We slowed down and got away from work and schedules. Focused less on rules and more on fun. We all need rejuvenating periods like this to reflect, assess, and just blow of steam. But everyone gets back to reality at some point – even Rosalind will leave the forest and return to court. So, spiritually speaking, how does one balance a courtly life of duty with a frivolous forest life?Read More
Why This Play?:
I am chugging along on this project – this marks my 17th completed play in 6 months thus far. Not quite the pace I originally hoped of 39 plays + poems done in a year (because, you know, life) so time to step it up! I realized, just in the plays alone, remaining on my to-read list are 3 romances, 4 tragedies, 7 histories, and 9 comedies. Well, on to a comedy then! Measure for Measure won the selection as polled by my 2 Twitter followers.
And boy, did I discover something special with this play! This is juicy and feels like cutting-edge satire even after 400 years. We have characters who believe and live by their morality (Isabella), and we have characters who bend their morals to suit their actions (Claudio, Angelo…basically any character who offers an excuse as to why they engage in behavior that they know is not in accordance with the law). The vast majority of us fall into the latter category in our daily lives. Whether we break laws (speeding through traffic?) or go against our religious/moral ones (adultery?), what makes us still maintain that moral guidance even when we don’t exactly put it into practice?Read More
Why This Play?:
Half my life ago, I was a teenager on her first trip to Europe. My English teachers took a group of students on a two-week literary tour of Ireland and the UK. In many ways (e.g. my pop culture preferences), I’ve been trying for 17 years to chase the magic of that trip. On the southern border of Scotland, I purchased a huge, pale pink, perfect cashmere sweater. Ever since, it’s served as my personal security blanket, and is one of my prized (if battered) possessions. It’s warm, filled with great memories, and always there when I need it.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my literary equivalent of that sweater. It’s the first Shakespeare I ever read, back in my dreamy, very bookish twelve-year-old days (eh, what's changed?). The play that always makes me still kinda-sorta believe in fairies. It’s the last play in which I performed…although hopefully that is not forever the case. This is the play I read in the winter when I’m dreaming of warm days and long hikes in the woods. It’s not necessarily my favorite in all of Shakespeare, but reading or seeing it is always like greeting an old friend.Read More
Why This Play?:
Two reasons. 1) After both the Henry IV plays, it was nice to round out the Falstaff saga. Now I can dust my hands of the man! 2) My MOOC on Shakespeare was diving into this play last week, so it all aligned nicely.
Merry Wives is a wholly underestimated work. It doesn’t receive enough credit for the trope of “strong females” when Shakespeare’s heroines are discussed and analyzed in literary criticism and lectures. This is also the play that is the most…well, normal, in its premise. The one that’s most similar to the lives of Shakespeare’s actual audience in the London theatres (as opposed to royal viewers at court). No royalty, no wars, no Italy, no murder, no magic. Just married folks in a quiet English town, ready to throw down the nasty varlet who arrives to upheave their steady lives for his own gain.
Plenty of critics call it boring, but The Merry Wives of Windsor may just give the stamp of approval on being content with a simple life. Does that really have to be so boring?Read More
Why This Play?:
Time and again, this play makes an appearance when I need to shake up my life. Seriously, it magically worms its way onto my path, gives me a kick in the ass, and points me onto the proper bend in the road I didn’t previously notice. Much Ado’s characters, its humor and love, its theme of redemption/forgiveness in the face of darkness always manages to pull me out of a funk; to kick my ass into gear again.Read More