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
Why yes, this is my first (only?) combo post! Two for the price of one and all that.
The Hollow Crown: Wars of the Roses has finally come States-side! PBS aired the first part just before Christmas, which was a mash-up of the first two Henry VI plays. I’ve spent the past weeks reading both plays so I can jump into the mini-series head on. Big hello and how-ya-doing to all my UK pals (and any North American friends with workarounds for streaming the BBC) who saw this over the summer and have practically forgotten all about it by now!
I wasn’t taken with the themes of the Henry VI plays as much as the process of slimming them down for performance. I wondered a lot about what makes history, about facts versus perspective and what parts we decide to remember rather than leave behind. After a year that had the world reeling, it made me consider how I want to treat the history of my 2016.Read More
My choices in what to read are slowly but surely becoming more limited as I am now on my 26th play for this project! I haven’t dabbled too much in Shakespeare’s collaborative efforts, so it felt time to take a peak at a shared work. And I have to say, I was thoroughly unimpressed. The problem with this play is that it lacks any cohesive tone or theme that follows the entire story. The characters don’t have full arcs where the audience witnesses downfall or redemption. I tried my best to separate my knowledge of these historical figures and to just appreciate them as characters within a single story. Unfortunately, this play allows for very little complexity, layering, or humanity in these characters, aside from maybe Katherine. Of this play, I found myself asking, “What is the point of you, Craig?”
Seriously. What is this play even trying to say? It can’t decide what kind of story it is. It's a history play about a narcisstic and volatile king who hardly has a strong political message beside following his whims. It feels exactly as frustrating as the current US presidental election, with particular emphasis on a certain candidate.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
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?:
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 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?:
If I’m being honest, I read it because this was the next DVD that came up in my Netflix queue. So let’s continue on the late romance trend!
Cymbeline is known as the single play that includes all of Shakespeare's greatest hits -- a woman disguised as a man, a villain who incites jealousy without cause, reunion of family members, war. And that's just to name a few. There's a theme that takes over the entire final scene, with more examples than I've ever seen in any other Bard play -- forgiveness. Repentance/forgiveness happens in many other works (Hero forgives Claudio, Othello is devastated by his actions, etc). But in Cymbeline, we see it in spades. Nearly all the characters get into the game of apologizing and showing mercy. Which of course, gets me thinking about forgiveness in our own lives. Is there some secret formula to letting go of past issues and moving on without malice?Read More
Why This Play?:
Oh, y’all. I’ve been so very, very behind. And I have swell excuses. First off, my years-ago brush with the Macbeth curse reared its ugly head in the exact same manner after just writing about the play – I came down with laryngitis a couple of days after that last blog post. Cursed, cursed play! And then here in the States, I hosted our Thanksgiving meal and spent all my free time for a few days refining the menu and prepping dishes. Then we decorated the house for the holidays, and the kids were constantly under my feet, I’m volunteering at the school…the list of excuses that I have for not writing goes on and on. But if I’m honest, I’ve been stalling.
I think the real reason I put off writing about Othello is that it is a very disturbing play. For all my love of horror movies and the gore of other plays, it’s this domestic drama that really scares me. This blog encompasses my own personal view of Shakespeare – how I interpret and relate to the Bard’s works through events/feelings in my own little life. No one wants to think Othello’s themes of jealousy, racism, gender issues, domestic violence, or manipulation are represented in her own life. I’ve been skirting around my thoughts of Desdemona in particular and how she’s the worst-case scenario of what happens when women are viewed as prizes rather than partners. And let’s face it – every woman has been there to some degree.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