Reading Shakespeare

February 26, 2010 at 10:51 pm (Asides, Romeo and Juliet) (, , , , , )

I’m reading Shakespeare tonight! Just wanted to share some thoughts about it.

I really enjoy the language of Shakespeare. I know that it’s a barrier to a lot of people… the Elizabethan English turns them off from even making the attempt. For me, there is a real beauty to the words themselves and the rhythms and rhymes. It has been a very long time (over 20 years) since I’ve read Shakespeare, and I am enjoying it a lot.

If you have never taken the time to read Shakespeare for enjoyment (I know most people have to do it for a class somewhere along the line, but that’s different), I really recommend it. Plays are short. They’re meant to be performed in a couple hours, and although it takes me longer than that to read through one, it’s still shorter than a modern novel. So, there’s really not much time commitment involved in reading a single play.

I started with Romeo and Juliet, because it’s one of the most well-known plays. See my Reading Order for more information… the archived blog post there: “An Overview of Shakespeare’s Work and a Few Words of Advice for the New Reader” is really interesting and makes a lot of sense to me about progressing through the plays in a sensible way.

So, R&J may be a good place to start because the basic story is familiar. That said, it’s not necessarily the easiest play to read. I blame Mercutio. He is such a nut. If you knew him in real life, he’d be one of those people you shake your head at. You can just see Romeo and Benvolio grimacing at this guy’s dirty jokes. His incessant punning is a little mind-numbing, and I tire myself out reading the footnotes to figure out his silly double entendres. Really, my advice to a new reader might be to “yada, yada” through Mercutio. He’s funny and witty and all, but I think the rest of the play is much easier to read.

Anyway, as for reading Shakespeare in general… I like to read through a play once to get the lay of the land, a feel for the story line, and read through the footnotes to get the basics down. Then I read the play a second time for enjoyment… listening to the language and noticing the ins and outs of themes and characters that maybe were not evident on first reading.

I’m not saying I’ll read through all the plays twice now, but it is how I like to read Shakespeare’s work… twice in quick succession. That way, on the second read-through, I don’t need to look at the footnotes again, interrupting the rhythm and flow of the words. Because they’re plays, and relatively brief, it’s really not that big a time commitment to read them twice (and the second time goes faster since I can skip the footnotes).

Shoot, I recently read The Terror for my book club, and THAT was a time commitment! Shakespeare offers a lot of bang for your reading buck, I believe. That’s part of my love of these works. Each play is a little gem… everything—plots, themes, character development—is  accomplished succinctly (and poetically!).

So, I’m reading Romeo and Juliet tonight. And enjoying it. And as I read, I’m thinking about plans for this blog. I do not have a grand plan… I just want to read the plays and get to know them. I want to watch film adaptations as I’ve been doing the last couple weeks. And I’d like to go see some live performances when I can.

But what will I blog about as I read the plays? I think first I’ll post a quick and dirty summary of each play, so that people who are unfamiliar with the story lines can still follow my blog. Maybe my summaries will encourage people to read the actual plays? I hope so.

Then, I’ll just write about whatever strikes me in the play I’m reading. With Romeo and Juliet, I think I will probably talk about various characters, the annoying punning of Mercutio, the instant and complete switch in Romeo’s love interest from Rosaline to Juliet. We’ll see what else I feel like writing about.

I welcome any suggestions and discussion… I definitely want to immerse myself in each play. I want to take as long as I feel like with each play and return to it when I feel like. I have no goal other than to read through all the plays, share what I learn here, and talk about it with you!

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