Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Getting Into Shakespeare: Part 1

Movies are our Friends

Have you ever tried to read Shakespeare, and found yourself bored or bogged down? Or did you spend so much time looking up words that you lost the train of the story? Fear not! This weekly series (I think it'll be 4 parts or so) is all about how Shakespeare CAN work for you.

First, an introduction. Hi there, I’m Emma, and my sister, Shakespeare girl, has invited me to be a guest contributor here. I have the best intentions to try to read through Shakespeare with her, but of course, “I know not what the success will be.” I’m an occasional poetry blogger.

Enough of me. Back to Shakespeare.

Getting into Shakespeare is easier if you have a buddy who’d like to dive in with you. Just like any play or movie, it’s more fun with two (or more). How else will you endlessly repeat all the lines from your favorite scenes? (Shakespeare girl: “I would I had bestowed that time in the tongues that I have in fencing, dancing and bear-baiting.” Emma: “O, had I but followed the arts!” All: ”Hahahaha!”). HOWEVER, even if you’re going alone, don’t worry. People have done it. And they didn’t even have whatshallshakespearesay.blogspot.com to help them. Amazing.

Now, a fact. Although the point of Shakespeare girl’s blog is to read through all of Shakespeare in one year, the truth is that many of us think that we might have trouble getting through even one play in a year.

Take heart! Shakespeare didn’t intend for his plays to become known as great works of written “literature,” so that everyone would have to read an incomprehensible bit of Elizabethan drama in high school or college. I personally disagree that Shakespeare is incomprehensible - it’s been understood for hundreds of years by millions of people - but some of my friends have been put off from reading his works because, for whatever reason, they didn’t understand it in English class. Tragic, right?

What’s often ignored is that Shakespeare wrote his plays to be WATCHED. HEARD. Experienced! And this is the basis of our first suggestion for those who find Shakespeare hard to get into: WATCH IT FIRST. Get one of the well-known movie versions of Shakespeare’s plays from your local library - depending on your mood, try maybe Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing (Romantic comedy. Excellent, but includes a little - ridiculously unnecessary - nudity, so keep the fastforward button handy) or Henry V (history! action! battle scenes!), Trevor Nunn’s Twelfth Night (this romance is probably my favorite), or Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (psychological drama/tragedy - seriously, if you want to watch Hamlet, start with the Zeffirelli one. It’s just the best straight-up version to give you an understanding of the action of the play).

Remember, movie stars are not just fun to watch - their communication/interpretation abilities are why they’re famous, so taking advantage of their skills can really help us along in our quest to understand the Bard. Although English teachers often have a lot to offer, originally, Shakespeare’s works were meant to be interpreted by great actors and directors. So, there is NO SHAME in watching the movie before reading the play!!!!!

(Yes, that is Keanau Reeves, 3rd from left above. As Much Ado About Nothing's self-described "plain-dealing villain" he definitely needs some cheering up).

I’ll tell you right now that when you watch Shakespeare, you may not understand every single word. But you should be able to understand what’s going on. And when you see the scenes being acted out, it makes it easier to realize that Shakespeare is funny and lively and insightful. He creates characters that almost seem to breathe in their realness. He helps us understand ourselves and other people better, and can teach us to be more thankful, empathetic, and loving.

Up next week... Getting Into Shakespeare: Reviewers are our Friends

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