Shakesfear proves fixable in light of new realization

Reading always has been, and always will be, one of my favorite pastimes. It keeps me feeling smart, and more importantly, it keeps me sane.

I tend to wax and wane with my favorite authors, but my No. 1 pick for the past few years – at least among modern authors – has been Jodi Picoult.

This fall break, however, I decided to delve into something a little more historic – Shakespeare.

We all read a little Shakespeare in high school – some “Romeo and Juliet” here, some “Hamlet” there. And many college students read his work too – it’s a part of the learning experience that few have been able to avoid.

He and I have always had a love/hate relationship. Love in that I love to read him, and hate in that I hate reading him for class. I thrive on deadlines for virtually everything in life, except reading Shakespeare. There’s something about his language that makes me want to take my time, no matter how engrossed I may be in the story.

Therefore, when I signed up for the single-credit class that would take me to the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Va. over break, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into. On one hand, I really love reading Shakespeare. On the other hand, I had a deadline for the two plays I was reading before we left. And I was the only person reading them – it was unavoidable.

As it turns out, I had no problem reading the plays – partly because one of them wasn’t actually Shakespeare, it was “The Lion in Winter” by James Goldman, a precursor to Shakespeare’s “King John.” The other one was “Cymbeline,” which I quickly fell in love with. Reading these made me increasingly excited to see them in action.

And that’s when the realization started seeping in.

Shakespeare was not meant to be read in English classes with stubborn professors who force their students to slave over iambic pentameter. His plays weren’t supposed to be read tediously by college students around the world. They were meant to be performed.

And in Staunton, performed they were. I can honestly say that there are few vacations I’ve enjoyed as much as that one. And I can probably say with accuracy that I have never seen a performance better than those I saw at the Blackfriars, and this is including the eight plays and musicals I’ve seen on Broadway.

One troupe of 12 actors perform five different plays – four by Shakespeare – in an authentic Shakespearean setting for the playhouse’s Fall season. The plays rotate, making it possible for students – like those from Gannon University who went on this trip – to see all five in four days. That’s a lot of lines to read, let alone remember, understand and perform.

And these actors did it with pure grace.

I don’t think I’ll ever read Shakespeare in the same way again. Visualization is the ticket I’ve been missing all these years, and I plan on making up for lost time. From now on, I’ll read with the performance in mind, and I’ll harbor more respect for the actors and directors who can pull off a truly good performance.

We all know Shakespeare isn’t easy to read, but it’s got to be even harder to perform. So next time you have to read him for a literature class, just be thankful you’re not doing it on stage.



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