I like Shakespeare. Okay, I know. Who doesn’t? That’s on up there with “Pain hurts” for non-controversial statements. I’ll see a performance whenever I get the chance. I do watch the movies, but I like it better when I can actually see a play.
Up until I was in my early twenties, though, I read the plays, and while I enjoyed them okay, it wasn’t that big a thing. Read ’em in school. Sure, sure, the teachers were competent. They got the students to read them aloud, at least.
I read Romeo and Juliet as a freshman in High School, same as about 90% of people educated in America.1 But when we read Romeo and Juliet; we read an expurgated version with the (mildly) dirty bits taken out. Nope, I’m serious, we did. Go Stafford School board… I didn’t learn Shakespeare was often rather saucy until much later. Yeah, I thought Romeo and Juliet was kind of a cool story. Wasn’t as cool as The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, which we read after that, but it wasn’t as mind-bogglingly dull a Great
I didn’t wind up touching Shakespeare again until I was a senior. We read Macbeth. I was in love. I even put aside some new Heinlein stuff I was reading to finish it, then re-read it. Loved, loved, loved it.3
But that was the sum total of any Shakespeare I experienced until I was in my early twenties. I got a volume of the Bard’s plays for my 20th birthday and read a few. But I admit I didn’t get much into them.
Then, when I was twenty-two or so, my in-laws invited my husband and me to a Shakespeare in the Park event in DC at the Folger outdoor theater to see The Merry Wives of Windsor. My husband and I wanted to see it at least in part because an actor who’d appeared in a Star Trek movie was playing Sir John Falstaff.
Now, the connection between Shakespeare and Star Trek has been discussed once or twice4, so I’m not going to get too heavily into it other than to speculate that it’s probable that many people my age got into The Bard at least in part due to its influence.
But going to see a live performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor gave me a much better perspective on Shakespeare in general. Reading the plays is okay, and the movies are often good. But to really enjoy it, you need to see a good live performance. Now, a Luddite, I’m not. Technology is awesome and all, but there’s something about Shakespeare plays that just needs a stage, and it’s the way I prefer to experience The Bard’s work.
1And like some 90% of them studied it side by side with West Side Story.
2 Other than being very fond of A Christmas Carol, I’m just not that into Dickens.
3 Yes, Throne of Blood is my favorite Kurosawa film, too.
4After all, you’ve never experienced Shakespeare until you’ve heard it in the original Klingon.