To me, Shakespeare is a bit of a touchy subject in the theatre industry and that’s for one reason, either you love it or you hate it. It’s the one genre that I believe to be the most challenging in terms of language. When you have challenging language, then understanding the plot and topics discussed becomes a challenge as well. It’s like a chain. If you don’t understand it from the start, it makes things hard later on and people tend to give up on it. Regardless of all of this, I believe Shakespeare is important in the sense that it’s where true theatre started. William Shakespeare is a name everyone knows regardless of if you enjoy his work or not. He is a classic playwright that kind of served as a basis for theatre and helped build it up.
Shakespeare is known for writing mostly comedies and tragedies as most of you all know. The issues and storylines discussed in these plays are unbelievably raw and to the point and are totally intriguing. Many high schools or colleges do at least one Shakespeare play every few years and I like that. I think it’s important to expose students to plays that are a bit more challenging than they’re used to. Of course. it’s not easy reading these plays but then think about the people who act in those plays. When acting, you have to understand your character inside and out and not only that, but you need to completely know everything going on around you as well. So to understand the script is one thing, but then to take it to that next level in terms of acting in a Shakespeare play is a whole other animal. How about memorizing the lines? That’s one of the hardest things actors have said they had to get through. It is such heightened language that it’s almost like learning a foreign language. Shakespeare is tough and that’s what I think I love about it the most. Many people argue that it’s very mechanical and predictable and doesn’t leave any room for creative decisions and visions when it comes to directing, but I think you can do plenty with it because of that basis it serves as and it gives you these wonderful subjects to do that with. The challenge is understanding. Once you have that then you have room to play with it.
On a quick side note, I find the No Fear Shakespeare books to be extremely helpful and not in any way cheating, as long as you read BOTH texts. If you don’t do that then there is no point. Do I think people use it as an easy way out? Yes. I think it makes it a lot easier for people to read a very basic, dry text. I understand some people are completely content with only reading the translated pages, but you’re not getting the full effect of Shakespeare if you don’t read the original text and language in my opinion. What I do is read the translated text first and then I study the original text and slowly translate and that’s how I learn what each word and sentence means. It’s actually very simple, just time consuming. You can’t actually read No Fear Shakespeare like a regular book. It’s like a study session and should take some time. Once you know what everything means, or you have a good grasp on it, then you can probably read through the original script with less of a problem and at a faster pace.
In many people’s eyes, William Shakespeare is considered the top and most impressionable playwright and poet in the English language. I would say that’s about right. To me, it’s not a genre (I consider it its own genre) I would want to do over and over again or ONLY do it and nothing else. I treat it more like you kind of have to do it, you SHOULD do it as an experience because it is such a classic area of theatre, and you’ll learn from doing it. I wouldn’t want to do intense amounts of Shakespeare because it is just that intense. I work mostly behind the scenes and even on the other side of the table, it’s intense. I just feel like you kind of need to have it on your resume so you can say “yes, I’ve done it.” It’s a must-have, but I also find it fulfilling because I’m open to the language and subject matters. I’m interested in it.
If people walked into a Shakespeare play with more of an open mind, their experience would be so much better. That goes for working on it, being in it and also being an audience member. I think people should be alert and maybe try to figure out what is meant by certain words, sentences or scenes within the plays. Try to say to yourself, “I wonder what he means here?” or “Maybe he means this.” There is an immense amount of exploration and discovery in his plays and the experience can be really satisfying. It’s a mental thing. I think people have warmed up to it immensely, but as for other people, I think it’s taking that first step and actually experiencing the work and not just going off of other people’s (rather narrow-minded) opinions. It’s hard stuff, but it’s fascinating and as thespians, we should be embracing it.