Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Still Lovin' the Bard

My blog Lovin' the Bard has been the most popular personal blog I've ever written, per getting tweeted by a very influential friend in the theater world and then getting re-tweeted by about half-a-dozen high school drama teachers.

A followup to that blog: for the last 12 months, I've been trying not to buy any books - I'm reading only what's already on my bookshelves. It's both to save money and to remind me that books are meant to be read, not stuck on shelves for years and years only as ornaments. And given how much I still have to read - either because I never read this or that book, or because I want to re-read this or that - it looks like I could go another 12 months.

The last four things I've read have been Shakespeare plays. First, I read A Midsummer Night's Dream, which I first saw in the magical 1935 movie production when I was probably 14, and then as live theater at Hartford Stage in 1988, in a magical production no one who saw it will ever forget. I love the play so much I can quote from it - but as I'd never read it, I thought it would be a good first choice. It was a very satisfying read.

Next, I read Twelfth Night, which, as I mentioned in that previous and very popular blog , was the first live Shakespeare I ever saw, in a production at the University of Evansville. I saw it again in 1987, in a production in London, directed by a young and up-and-coming director called Kenneth Branagh, with original music by Paul McCartney. Don't ask me which production was better - they were both exceptional.

Then I read Taming of the Shrew. Which I did not enjoy nearly so much as the Zeffirelli's movie, though reading it provided a lot of food for thought (and the discovery that it's a play within a play - I had no idea!).

Last night, I finished The Merchant of Venice. I wondered if, without the benefit of seeing it ever or having lots of footnotes explaining this or that or having a teacher guiding me, I would understand it, let alone enjoy it. It turned out to be the best read so far. The story is magnificent. Portia is an absolutely delicious role. And I came away with a very sympathetic view of Shylock. I think the play is both a reflection of the time regarding how British Christians viewed Jews, but I also think Shakespeare was being critical of their treatment - that's what the words say to me. YMMV. It breaks my heart to know shortly after Kristallnacht in 1938, this masterpiece was broadcast as anti-Semitic propaganda on German radio.

What's next? Either King Lear or The Tempest.

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