[FoRK] Shakespeare

Chris Olds < cco at dydax.com > on > Sun Jun 11 15:24:06 PDT 2006

Joe Barrera wrote:
> Hey! So you're a big Shakespeare fan.
> How would you convince someone that
> Shakespeare is worth another look even
> if they currently don't think that
> Shakespeare does it for them?
Ideally, I'd be able to take them to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival [1] 
and show off the full variety of Shakespeare, done really well.  If 
that's not possible, then I'd find good modern-language movies of 
several plays; perhaps starting with the comedies, since they will seem 
familiar (because, of course, TV sit-coms have reused their ideas so 
many times).
Taming of the Shrew [2] is a good start (the link is to the 1967 
Burton/Taylor version).  If the person in question has seen "10 things I 
hate about you", so much the better.   The Comedy of Errors is also 
great fun (slapstick wasn't invented yesterday).  After that, Romeo & 
Juliet is a good romantic action piece, Hamlet is perhaps the canonical 
ghost story (and pulls out all the stops in many ways - 
play-within-a-play, kidnapping, murder - what's *not* to like?!??).
I think that Shakespeare makes more sense to people if they can relate 
the plays to movie genres - the histories are deadly dull to read (some 
more than others), but when they are played well, they show their true 
colors - action/adventure at it's finest.  The comedies show off themes 
that have been used over and over in movies and TV, just as Shakespeare 
ripped off his predecessors (albeit so well that they are now somewhat 
obscured).  The dramas again show the basic themes we know so well, but 
they are still worth seeing in that form.
Ian McKellen's 1995 Richard III [3] shows how changing the setting 
doesn't always require changing the words (although Adam may disagree 
with me, and I'm sure he thinks that Leonardo DiCaprio & Claire Danes' 
Romeo & Juliet [4] was crap, even though they used the original dialogue).

I feel fortunate that I went to Ashland the summers I was 14 & 15, and 
saw a lot of plays.  We read most of them before going, which I think 
helped me to understand them, but isn't a requirement.  If you didn't 
have that advantage, there are many very good productions being done all 
the time; I don't know how available they are, but PBS has done a number 
of great productions over the past few years; there was an 
extreme-minimalist version of Lear that I found very moving, and an 
Othello I found gripping too.  If you have a local Shakespeare company, 
see what they're doing this year, pick one play, and go see it (yes, I 
make my kids try each new food we come across too).

Why is Shakespeare important?  Partly because I can't name an English 
playwright between Shakespeare's time and Oscar Wilde - that's a long 
shadow.  I don't think that there were fundamentally new ideas in 
playwriting until after WWI, and more so after WWII (n.b., I am not a 
scholar, so don't go berserk if I'm off-base); whether that's good or 
bad, if you don't know something about Shakespeare, you're missing a 
huge chunk of the cultural context of the English-speaking world (and 
beyond, to a lesser degree - his themes translate well, as does most 
deep commentary on the human condition).


[1] http://www.osfashland.org/
[2] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061407/
[3] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114279/
[4] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117509/

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