Sunday, July 19, 2009

Once more into the breach!

I made it my goal a few summers ago to read at least one Shakespeare play every summer that I haven't read before. Obviously, I know some of his plays back and forth, but I really want to have a better grasp on his entire body of work. I'll admit, reading Shakespeare is a bit of a chore. I usually don't realize how much I like a particular play until weeks after when I find myself constantly thinking about it. In other words, it's usually better to have read Shakespeare than to read Shakespeare. It's also much better to actually see a dramatic performance of his plays, which makes sense considering that's what the author intended for them in the first place.

When I first made this decision two summers ago, I went with Richard III. I chose that one because I was given some free tickets by a coworker to see it at CalShakes. This play has one of Shakespeare's most compelling lead characters BUT ... so... many... supporting... characters... hurting... head. That was a bit of a bear to get through, but it was well worth it - especially when I saw it performed live. Richard III is like Macbeth but without the conscience. He does all sorts of evil stuff and never feels a bit bad about it, and yet he's so compelling in his maliciousness that the audience can't turn away.

Last year, I went with King Lear. I went with that one simply because I've wanted to for some time. That one was quite a bear to read as well. It has a great setup, but Lear is a difficult character to follow at times. He basically goes off his rocker, and when you're already struggling with Shakespeare's language, it's hard to figure out when he's insane and when he's in his right mind. Also, there's the problem of there not really being a good movie version of which I know. I rented one of those BBC produced versions with Ian Holm. He was great, but basically those productions are filmed stage productions - so they don't really work as a film or as a live performance. Anyway, the funny thing about this one was that months later when I was trying to explain it to somebody, I found myself getting all excited about it. Also, when a friend of mine who loves it was talking about it, I started to realize a little bit more how brilliant it is. I guess I'll have to revisit that one some day.

This year I went with Henry V. I chose this because I have Kenneth Branagh's film on DVD. Actually, I've had it for years. Before I was an English teacher, I had bought it and tried to watch it. I didn't know what the hell was going on, so I said that I'd watch it again some day. That day never seemed to come (until today, but more on that in a minute).

So, I needed a reason to finally watch that movie. Compared to Richard III and King Lear, this one was a breeze. The plot is really straight-forward and compelling. I suppose it helps that I remember a bit from Henry IV, Part II which I read in college. In that one, Prince "Hal" is a bit of a partier, but he's starting to get away from his wild ways. With Henry V, he lives up to his potential by successfully defeating the French and uniting it with England. (It's his son's fault that it didn't last.) I'm not sure that I'll be dwelling on this one as much. Sure, there are some great moments, but only time will tell if it gives me something to think about.

Watching the movie definitely added to my appreciation for the play. There were some bits that I didn't quite catch when I read it that came across in the film. (I'm thinking of when Henry's friend is executed for stealing from a church.) I thought that I would just watch half of it today and the other half tomorrow, but I only paused it long enough to feed my dog.

Another thing that I liked was that they inserted a bit from Henry IV, Part 2 into the movie. At least, I'm assuming that's where it was from - it had Falstaff in it. Considering that Falstaff is mentioned in this play and that he was so important to Henry in his youth, that was a good call to make. My only complaint is that I didn't always like Branagh in the role. I think that it was his first Shakespeare movie, and he certainly got a lot better by the time he played Hamlet.

So, any recommendations for next summer? I'm thinking of going even easier on myself and reading a comedy. I already know Much Ado About Nothing, The Merchant of Venice, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. I hear Twelfth Night is fun.


Anonymous said...

Romeo and Juliet!

- Spencer

P.S. I know you appreciate this.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Romeo and Juliet? Never heard of it.

Ben said...

I think there might be a movie version of "Romeo & Juliet" you could watch. Let me check on it and get back to you.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Sounds boring.

Alice is not my Name said...

Twelfth Night is fun! Though I've only seen the play, I haven't actually read it. It's a hoot.

Read that, then watch "She's the Man" a ver ver hilarious adaptation.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

That might just be the one.