Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Shakespeare, kick-in-the-rear...

My first exposure to Shakespeare was as a little kid in Piscataway, when we used to chant "Shake spear, kick in the rear!". Not that any of us had a clue what that meant.

Then there were the two plays I had to read in different English classes in high school. Those were awful experiences. My freshman year we had to read Romeo & Juliet, which maybe it's a great play, but let's face it, even though 13 year old boys like I was were all lusting after the girls, but we had zero interest in romance...

My sophomore year we had to read Julius Caesar, which with violence and bloodshed had an appealing sound to it. But reading it in class was just a terrible. We sat in rows and each person read a line then it moved on to the next. We had students from the drama club who read their parts with great skill and emotion and we had kids who struggled to sound out big, complex words, like "there" and "Cay, Cay, Cay-E, Cay-E-Sar". And me, I'm a lousy performer so I'd spend the whole time nervously counting students and counting lines to try and figure out which was going to be mine so I could memorize it quickly and get through it as absolutely fast as possible, then panic whenever someone shortly before me would end up reading two lines instead of one, throwing off the count.

By the end of those I never wanted to read or see Shakespeare again in my life, and associated Shakespeare with fear, panic, embarrassment and boredom.

After I started my career in Portland, in the early 90's though, my mother bought season tickets to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Portland, which every year included five or six plays from various authors and one Shakespeare comedy. Those comedies ended up being hilarious and were the ones I looked forward to every year.

Since then I've planned to read a comedy, but never got around to it till a few months ago when I picked up The Comedy of Errors.

I've seen the play performed and thought it was a whole lot of fun, as well as a few movies with similar plots. Unfortunately, once I got into reading it, it was awfully boring. And I realized that by itself there's not much, it really needs performers to bring it to life. I was left quite disappointed.

For quite some time I've read lots of books or seen movies that refer to other Shakespeare plays, mainly dramas, Hamlet, Macbeth (like Scotland, PA that is a modern retelling of it) and others and they've become more interesting. But I think the one that affected me the most was Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson in which one of the characters narrates, to us readers, about how he studied one play in which you can see the fortunes of two characters one going up and one going down, crossing like a big X right in the middle.

So not knowing them very well, I picked up Hamlet, which is one of the names I'm most familiar with. I was disappointed that it was Macbeth that had the witches I wanted to read about, but I can read that later. Unlike A Comedy of Errors, it turns out Hamlet has a good plot, good story and good characters.

Hamlet was a good story to read, and stood on its own without performers.

Now I'm looking forward to reading some more. Definitely I see Macbeth when I next get to a bookstore that has it, and I should dig out Blue Mars and try to find which one Robinson refers to (Richard something or other?).

No comments:

Post a Comment