Shakespeare, Attempting

I recently finished reading The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D Schmidt. It’s not the sort of book that I usually read (which was one reason why I picked it up in the first place, actually – I like to stretch myself sometimes), but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. It made me think of my parents, who grew up in that era and have shared their memories of that turbulent time with my sister and me – and my dad loved Shakespeare in high school, and my mom’s always been crazy for English. So it ended up having a very familiar and comfortable feel, and I most of all appreciated that it ended on a hopeful note, unlike so many of the YA books set in that era. It acknowledged the hardships, but didn’t let them control the protagonist – in fact, much of the theme woven through was how he learned how to use those very hardships to forge his own fate. Good stuff.

And, to get more to the point of this post, it inspired me to give Shakespeare another try. Because my dad loves it so, every few years I go to read another play, and if I’m lucky I get through one, and then my eyes glaze over partway through the second. I would really, most of all, like to take a class on Shakespeare (never got to that one in college – maybe someday, when I go back), to have others help me discover the themes and hidden notes, but for now, I’ll just give it another go on my own.

I asked for recommendations on Facebook and Twitter yesterday, and the overwhelming vote was in favor of one of the comedies, with the Taming of the Shrew coming up over and over again (Hamlet was mentioned a couple times, too, but I think I’d like to start with something a little lighter). So I’m going to give that a go. My usual method for reading these? Find an outline online, or even the Cliff Notes, and read that first. That way, I can soak in the language and pick up the subtleties better when reading the play itself, because I’m not as distracted by also trying to figure out the plot.

So that’s my plan. Hopefully I’ll be able to get through more than just one this fall and winter, and maybe even develop a richer appreciation for Shakespeare – because right now, I must confess, I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s overrated. Heresy, I know!

Are you a fan of Shakespeare? If so, which is your favorite play? Are there famous books, plays, or writers that you secretly (or not-so-secretly) think are overrated? What’s on your reading list for fall?

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7 thoughts on “Shakespeare, Attempting

  1. I think part of the trick is to remember that these are PLAYS, not novels. You might get more enjoyment out of them hearing them read aloud, if not just plain seeing them performed.Our honors track English courses in high school included a whole semester of Shakespearean Tragedies (actually, my school was big on Shakespeare– we did a lot of it throughout the rest of the time as well). It was taught by this wonderful woman, still one of the best teachers I have ever had, who was so ENTHUSIASTIC about the stories that it was catching. She'd give us these, well, booktalks I guess to prep us for each play before we read it, and make them sound so exciting that we were SURE they couldn't get any better, and then the next one WOULD be better! She was an amazing teacher, and is probably responsible for me thinking I like Shakespeare actually more than I really do!But no, our gifted teacher (I mean Teacher of Gifted-Enrichment, I'm not simply describing the other teacher I was just talking about) had us take parts of a comedy each year for a reader's theater sort of thing, and like I said on Twitter I have always been especially fond of Midsummer Night's Dream JUST because I got to be Titania, which I thought was awfully astute of my teacher to realize that that was the part quiet shy me actually WANTED TO BEGIN WITH. Also I like Much Ado About Nothing. I like the movie version with Emma Thompson just because I like Emma Thompson.

  2. "Hamlet" is a coarse and barbarous play . . . One might think the work is a product of a drunken savages imagination." – Voltaire "Shakespear is a drunken savage with some imagination whose plays please only in London and Canada" – VoltaireRead more here:^)

  3. Rockinlibrarian – I would LOVE to see Shakespeare performed, or even join in performing it myself. Since that's not much of an option right here, or right now, I'll settle for reading :-) (Oh, and I love Emma Thompson, too.)Carl – Ah yes, those barbaric Canadians and Londoners! ;-)Kirsten – I will definitely be keeping everyone here on the blog updated on my Shakespearean journey!

  4. You certainly should try to see the Emma Thompson film…there are several other actors in it you might recognise. Also, try Helena Bonham Carter's version of Twelfth Night (she really is so pretty as well as gifted). Seeing it performed makes all the difference. Did you get a chance to watch the Reduced Shakespeare company tape when I loaned it to you last year? It gives a good taste of Hamlet, anyways, with slightly less melancholy.Those darn Canadians and Londoners! Because London never really "got" Shakespeare….

  5. I haven't seen HBC's Twelfth Night. I actually think I watched Much Ado About Nothing, but it was ages ago and all I really remember from it is Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves and the fake horses. And I remember thinking "this is the most pointless thing ever" – which is, of course, its very point, but I think I was too young to really appreciate it!So I will have to give it another go.And, sadly, I never got a chance to watch the Reduced Shakespeare tape – access to the VCR was quite limited at the old place, given that Carl's study was in one corner of the living room, and the only thing the littles ever really want to watch during the day, when he's at work, is Beatrix Potter or Curious George!

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