I started a new reading while on a mini-vacation with some old girlfriends. I rarely take time away from my family. And I wanted to travel light. So my Folger paperback copy of the sonnets got to accompany me. It was a lovely break from the plays. I decided to read them as a singular work (realizing full well that may not have been how they were intended to be read), and I’m writing about them as such. It seemed a bit easier than 154 individual mini-posts for each sonnet (even my nerdy self doesn’t want to read that). Besides, it makes for a juicy narrative! These sonnets have now been my companions throughout the end of autumn, which seems oddly fitting. Nights are getting longer as the poems get darker. And it helped me work through a problem that's been nagging me for weeks.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?:
Here we are, tackling one of the most important and recognized works in the history of the English language. Nothing to be intimidated by, right? I first read Hamlet when I was 15 years old, in my 10th grade Honors English class. My teacher, Mr. Birrer, either had high expectations of his class and/or he just really loved getting to teach this play. That same year, I saw Branagh’s movie (unabridged text; hold on to your hats!) in the theatre. I think an early introduction to the work really mitigated some of the trepidation I probably would have felt if I had first explored this play in college. I got the chance to really enjoy it from a plot/characterization standpoint before I had developed my finely honed, pretentious, English major critical thinking skills. I could just absorb the story for what it essentially is: a punk kid, depressed about his messed-up family situation, argues with himself on how to change his circumstances.
I was very pleased to see a free, 1-hour long production of Hamlet a couple of weeks ago at my local library. There’s something refreshing about seeing such a dense work (Shakespeare’s longest) stripped to its essence. It brought to mind my long-ago first reaction to the play – that many teenagers could identify with this confused, angry, sad protagonist, who’s been let down by some of the people he loved most. I like most to imagine a youthful Hamlet, because I think he struggles with his own capability in making adult decisions. This guy has a difficult time choosing a course of action and actually pursuing it. Hamlet as the ultimate stereotype of a hipster philosophy student. What makes this guy so relatable and famous for so long? Because like him, at some point, we’ve all been our own worst enemy.Read More
Why This Play?:
I just saw a very interesting production of Lear this past weekend at California Shakespeare Festival. I was so excited to see one of the most intense, densest plays I’d ever studied, just to see how that level of drama would be staged (and I’m always curious to see what text gets cut along the way). Plus, literature-challenged Hubs decided to join me!
The Tragedy of King Lear would best bear the subtitle “How Not to Be a Family, in Every Possible Way”. We see here examples on how not to parent, how not to act towards a spouse, how not to treat your siblings, and how not to carry out filial duty. Generational power struggles abound! And when is it ever a bad time to dive headfirst into an insanely dark tragedy that studies the cruelties of man as determined through free will rather than a pre-destined course?Read More
Why This Play?:
Mostly, it was just time for another history play. I know I’ve been going at these plays in no real order thus far…and that’s probably going to continue. There are sure to be 0.43 readers out there who are rolling their eyes that I didn’t do Richard II prior to this play. I don’t really have any defense – my week’s selection is either based around available performances (ahem, my Netflix queue) or mere whim. While I know the basics of the War of Roses that make up 8 of the history plays, I’m also trying to write posts that would help make sense of it for someone new to the plays who had zero background knowledge (hi, Hubs!!). I promise in the case of true sequels (i.e. the Henry plays), I will not read them out of order. Probably, maybe.
Certainly the first part of Henry IV is a play about growing up. There’s Hal, messing around and acting the fool, mentored by the ultimate drunken Peter Pan. Even at the beginning of the play, Hal admits to himself that this time has to be short lived. He knows that he will eventually take up his royal obligation, and he even states of his time in the tavern: “If all the year were playing holidays,/To sport would be as tedious as to work” (I.ii.201-202). And good Lord, doesn’t every one of us know that from experience?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
Why This Play?:
Behold, the play that everyone studied in high school except for yours truly (my lone wolf teacher pressed Hamlet upon us instead). For the life of me, I had trouble seeing why this one is so prevalent among tenth grade English classes. Most kids have studied Romeo and Juliet the year before – how about switching in one of the comedies instead of Caesar? I mean, let’s grant the youth of America a respite from the suicide motif. Perhaps teachers spin this play as a cautionary tale against hanging with the wrong crowd? Not being wrongly influenced by dumbass friends? I searched the Internet for teaching guides on this play, and found my hypothesis to be pretty spot on. Julius Caesar, warning kids of the dangers of peer pressure for decades. Don’t let your friends talk you into killing a potential tyrant, kids – you may end up causing a civil war and killing yourself over it!Read More