Hello, everybody, and welcome back to Quote, Unquote!
Today I have a controversial topic. Well, it’s not terribly controversial, but in the literary world it can be. In my circles it definitely is.
What’s that topic, you may ask?
I love Shakespeare’s works. It was part of our curriculum last year, and I thought it was going to be awful at first, but I ended up a total Shakespeare fangirl. And I know a lot of people don’t really like Shakespeare or don’t even know how to like Shakespeare, but that’s what I want to fix in this post.
Now, my sister is going to be reading this and immediately rushing to the comments section going “SHAKESPEARE DIDN’T EXIST, AND IF HE DID, HE PROBABLY DIDN’T WRITE HIS PLAYS.” Yes, there is a large group of people who believe that very thing. My sister happens to be one of them. That’s a part of the controversy, but not the part I’m going to be covering today.
So here are some reasons you probably hate Shakespeare, and here are some ways around it.
why you should read Shakespeare
You might be thinking, “Okay, Liesl, you’re right, I do hate Shakespeare. I never liked it, and I don’t see why I should like it.” Why would you want to read Shakespeare if you hated it?
To that, I would encourage you to go back and reread a post I wrote a little while ago titled “four reasons to read the classics“. You can absorb so much from reading old literature. Long-ago language, customs, humor, and ways of life that have been all but forgotten can come alive in classic novels, stories, and plays.
Besides, Shakespeare is just plain fun. It can take a little while to learn how to understand it, but once you’ve picked up the slang that was used back then, you can figure out just how funny and inappropriate (scandalous, I know!) the renowned playwright actually was. I mean, one-liners like “I do desire we may be better strangers” (As You Like It, act 3, scene 2) don’t age. Toss that one out next time your friend is being particularly annoying.
I hope that I have sufficiently convinced you to at least give Shakespeare a chance. Now we’re going to dive into…
why you probably hate it
you never watched it
Shakespeare wrote plays. He did not write novels. And Shakespeare was never meant to be just read–no script was.
Any Shakespeare you have been exposed to has probably been in the form of words on a page. This isn’t the way the playwright intended it. You’re meant to be watching the characters slowly go mad or fall in love or die extremely dramatically.
And, honestly, wouldn’t you much rather be doing that? It’s way more fun (and quite a bit easier) to be able to pick up on what’s going on through the characters’ actions when you don’t understand all the ye olde English.
Also, each production puts their own unique spin on it. No two performances of the same script are going to be exactly the same. Some may even alter the script–my class watched a few performances where they cut out entire scenes to make it flow more smoothly. Every production brings something new to the table.
you were forced to read it
Shakespeare is the staple of every high school English class, most often Romeo and Juliet. And there’s nothing I personally hate more than being forced to read–it seems to suck all the fun out of it for me.
Now, there’s not much either of us can do about having been forced to read it in the past. But what if you wanted to? What if you picked up that copy of Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth from ninth grade English and dusted it off?
Reading (or watching, as we discussed) something that you’ve already read (however grudgingly) has benefits. You’ll at least be familiar with the story, having probably thoroughly dissected it for a grade, even if you don’t remember much. You might even be able to go back and find some old notes, or something that your teacher said might come back to you.
Plus, if you read it for school, chances are many other schools in the country have as well. You can look up example essays, study guides, plot summaries, and so much more. There will be a wealth of knowledge on the more common plays. All you have to do is ask–or Google, rather.
you don’t understand it
I get it. Language has changed a lot since the early seventeenth century. It’s hard to work your way through all of the “by my troth”s and the “prithee”s. You’re reading English, technically speaking, but it doesn’t feel like English.
This is where I’ve stumbled with Shakespeare versus a lot of other old texts. Last year I read Beowulf for school, and even though it was ancient, I could understand it because it had been translated into modern English. With Shakespeare, it’s already in English, so there’s no need for it to be translated, and English speakers can read them in their original forms–which is extremely difficult for anyone who doesn’t understand 1600s-speak.
There are tools to get around this. SparkNotes has something called No Fear Shakespeare where you can read the original text side-by-side with modern English. They’re available in print format–you might be able to find a few at your library–or you can pay for a membership to read it online. Or, if you’re cheap like me, you could find a free alternative like Shakescleare by LitCharts. This one is only available online, but it’s helpfully color-coded and quite easy to understand. It definitely takes a lot of the effort out of reading Shakespeare.
you never discussed it with anyone
I can confirm that watching and studying old, seemingly boring plays gets a lot more fun when you’re having heated debates about them. I often found myself defending my opinion about why Hamlet didn’t really love Ophelia quite…passionately in class. Our Shakespeare discussions were probably one of my favorite things about my junior year.
Find a play to watch with a few friends, and then have a discussion. Pick something controversial. A lot of Shakespeare is still relevant today–it’s pretty easy to tie in current events to the plotlines of this play or that one. I guarantee you that Shakespeare will be more fun when you’re arguing with your friends about the dumb things that Shakespeare characters did.
I hope that by now you’ve been persuaded to give Shakespeare a chance (or a second chance). If you need a springboard to get back into his plays, here’s a good article outlining the best plays for beginners.
And I can’t just leave without linking my absolute favorite performance of Shakespeare: Hamlet by Bob Jones University. Hamlet is my favorite play, and this performance absolutely does it justice. Give it a go, if you’re so inclined.
And with that, I shall exit, hopefully not pursued by a bear. Do you enjoy Shakespeare? Why or why not? Let me know.
Thank you so much for reading, and I will see you next Wednesday!