This weekend I checked out a copy of The Hollow Crown DVD from my local library. I am by no means a Shakespearean scholar, and I am pretty sure I still haven’t read all of his plays, much less his sonnets. Yet there is still something timeless about his work that has a certain appeal to me as a reader. This set of movies, performing some of the major historical plays that Shakespeare wrote, has been something that crossed my radar nearly a year ago when I saw a trailer for it. So I was very excited to check out this DVD. But then something concerning happened.
The librarian looked at it and said, “I thought this looked interesting, but don’t you think the language might be a little difficult?”
Of all the professions out there, I would not expect that sort of comment to come from two: English majors and librarians. After all, Shakespeare’s language is not very different from what we speak and write today. The real problem people have with Shakespeare, I fear, is that they don’t like to read words they don’t fully understand. It challenges them to increase their literacy and reading skill and so they spend their time diving into romance novels, New York Times bestsellers, and YA fiction. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with those or the people who read them.
But there is something wrong with avoiding classic works, such as Shakespeare, because they are a little challenging. There are many benefits to reading outside of your comfort zone, at least on occasion. So instead of lamenting the direction I fear our nation is heading in terms of literacy, I thought I should do something to combat it instead.
Today is the first day of August. I propose that we take two weeks (August 15) to select a play of Shakespeare’s to read together and then come back on September 19th to discuss it. That will give us all more than a month to read the play, which is more than sufficient time to get through even the longest of his works.
So here is step one: I’ve created a list with some of the major works of Shakespeare. Vote for one, and only one, option, by leaving a comment. If things are neck-and-neck between only two or three of them, I may do a second vote around the 12th of August to narrow it down.
So I beckon you to join me and let’s commit to read a Shakespearian play together and discuss it. Let’s step outside of our literary comfort zone for a few weeks and give the Bard a chance to let his wordsmith abilities shine.
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Andrea Lundgren said:
Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, or The Merchant of Venice (they just did a mock appeal for Shylock, with justices from all over the world, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which adds another layer to discuss to that complicated piece).
I think we don’t read Shakespeare because it can be really hard to find what a word means. Even some of the annotated versions don’t explain enough, and the words we don’t know rarely show up in a common dictionary, since they are considered “antiquated” and not worth an entry (And then, we don’t like to admit we don’t know something, so we don’t like asking other people).
But I’d be happy to be Shakespeare researcher for this project. I have multiple versions of these plays and many resources, and I studied him extensively in college. While not an expert, I’m generally more adept at deciphering passages than most. 🙂
David Wiley said:
I believe that even without knowing absolutely every word, there is usually enough context to get the thrust of the idea being said. I think you are right, though…people don’t like to admit they don’t know something and are often too lazy to try and figure it out. Which is what I fear because where does that line get drawn? I just read Les Miserables which, while a very enjoyable read, is quite a slow and challenging text. The culture and society even in Austen is different than today and would require some work on behalf of the reader to truly understand the nuances in those books. What I don’t want to see is more and more people reading just the modern, contemporary works and letting the classics fall into obscurity. There is so much excellent literature that was written before our time that it would be a shame to see it collect dust.
I have a fairly good annotated Shakespeare myself that I picked up last year and can’t wait to dive into. 🙂
Andrea Lundgren said:
Sounds like fun! I look forward to learning which play we’re to read. 🙂
You know my vote😉
Macbeth gets mine…
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my vote, though I would go with any of the comdies. So far I’ve only read his tragedies, which is kind of a shame.