So, my mission to try and understand Shakespeare a little bit more over the summer of 2012 failed. I got distracted and didn’t have the motivation that would have helped keep it going.
Now though, now is a different story. A new year brings new chances. Things have happened personally that have changed me a little as a person. I’m more determined to make a go of things both personally and professionally and willing to do what it takes. But where does Learning Shakespeare come into it all I hear you ask? (If you’re out there that is!)
Well… I’m a member of the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham and have just entered my third year there. Since I started there’s been a few Shakespeare productions which, I’ll be honest, didn’t interest me much. I guess that’s no surprise based on the premise of this blog, but I set this blog up to try and gain an understanding for an important figure. That wasn’t an overnight decision, but something I had thought about a fair bit. So I did show some interest towards some of the productions but wasn’t successful in being cast.
Until now. In March the theatre is producing a production of The Merchant of Venice. I went for an audition not knowing much about the play or it’s themes, but found myself being drawn into the themes and the controversies that surround the play. I’ve been cast as Salanio and really looking forward to starting rehearsals. Whilst I’m doing this I’m also making my directorial debut with the Talking Heads monologue, ‘Soldiering On‘. I’m going to be a busy bee, but hope to keep this blog update with what I’m learning from being in a Shakespeare production. I’m hoping this chance will be able to help me grasp a little understanding on Shakespeare.
The picture is the poster for the show – click on it to go through to the page where you can book tickets…. *nudge nudge*
A quick Google search just told me that the general opinion is that Shakespeare wrote 37 plays. I’m going to give myself a bit of a challenge. I’m giving myself 2 minutes to try to name as many of those plays as I can… I might not do so good.
Before you look at my list, why not give it a try too?
I’ve seen this shared a few times on Twitter and Facebook recently:
Shakespeare obviously played a huge role towards the English language and we clearly owe him a lot – but how come these phrases that Shakespeare wrote without really thinking anything but it providing a line for a play – become so important to us?
Shakespeare is a name you hear from a young age. You don’t know who he is, but you know he’s important and some aspects of his work creep into your being. For years I confused Romeo & Juliet’s balcony scene with Repunzle thinking Romeo climbed up Juliet’s hair – I didn’t know this wasn’t the case until I was actually quite old (well into my late teens) as I had never read or studied R&J – only seen the Baz Lurman film which everyone raves about… but I didn’t feel was all that.
The first Shakespeare I studied was Twelve Night as part of my Year 9 SATs (in England those were/are exams taken at the age of 14 in English, Maths and Science). I loved this play – I understood it and I could tell you all about it. I even remember putting my hand up in class and feeling proud to announce that when a character said breast they meant their heart. Before then I had briefly looked at A Midsummer’s Night Dream focussing on the Mechanicals’ play at the end rather than the play itself – it took me by surprise when studying the play properly years later that it was only a tiny part of the play. Shakespeare pre-GCSEs was a bit of a hotchpotch of ideas depending on what your teacher liked.
When I got to my GCSEs I was looking forward to actually studying a Shakespeare play – what actually happened was that my Media Studies obsessed English teacher decided to only look at Lady Macbeth and our task was to create a new interpretation focusing on her and not bothering to look at the rest of the play. So to this day Macbeth is set on a Glasgow housing estate and Lady Macbeth is some psycho woman. No idea if that’s right or not – but it got me an A for that coursework.
I decided to study English Literature for my A Levels as well as Theatre Studies. For English Literature I studied Hamlet for my AS Levels (the first set of exams) and Othello for my A2 (the second set). The teacher who taught us Hamlet hated the play. She was constantly stressing it was the longest play, constantly slagging off the video we watched of it and constantly putting everyone down when the contributed ideas to discussions. On top of that my grade for my coursework went down after I did all the edits to the draft she suggested – so yeah…. Hamlet? It’s about Denmark and it’s long. That’s all I can say about it really. The teacher who taught Othello though was so passionate that I so wanted to like and enjoy it but just couldn’t. All I really remember is that Iago is a really good character. Luckily it wasn’t all doom and gloom when it came to Shakespeare in Sixth Form. For Theatre Studies we studied A Midsummer’s Night Dream properly and as it was for theatre studies we had to see the production of it at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2004. It was amazing. It told the story clearly, had spectacular visuals and made the whole play accessible.
And I think that’s my problem. When I have to study something I form a dislike. Take Larkin and Keats – two poets that I would like to like and I can see their work and enjoy it – but I’ve studied it to death and seen the aspects that the poets don’t want me to as it takes the enjoyment away. Same with Handmaid’s Tale. A great book but I studied it to death and could never read it without reading into it.
Doing this blog, I will be looking into the plays – but only at the parts I want to know and find out about. I don’t need to know every last tiny detail of irrelevance like I would for an exam, and I hope that will make it more enjoyable for me. Finding out the bits I want to know and not the bits some man in a suit trying to make an exam wants me to know might, just might, make Shakespeare a friend of mine rather than a confusing mess.
Hi, and welcome to Learning Shakespeare. This isn’t a site where you will get the notes you need to pass your latest Shakespeare test paper, or somewhere you’ll learn your lines to your latest Shakespeare play you’re appearing in – nope – this is my own personal challenge.
I don’t intend on learning Shakespeare plays and recite them of the top of my head when asked, my aim is to try and have a more positive relationship with Shakespeare rather than the current one I have. At the moment Shakespeare fills me with dread. I feel as though I should like his works, should know them, should be able to follow his plays if I go see them – but I find them confusing and mind bending. This summer I plan to use the boring moments to try and build a good relationship with Shakespeare.
Shakespeare has a huge role in our culture, and I know I don’t have to like him and I’m not going to force myself to like him – what I want to achieve is an understanding and I hope that by blogging and sharing my thoughts and experiences I may learn both from myself and from others who may take the time to read and comment as I go along.
I’ll post more over time, but in the meantime thanks for reading this far and I hope you’ll join me on this journey.