I saw five plays performed live, two in New York–Twelfth Night and Richard III, each one starring Mark Rylance–and three at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery–Timon of Athens, The Taming of the Shrew, and Romeo & Juliet. They were all amazing. I saw Richard III right after I had read it and Romeo & Juliet, right before.
Reading Shakespeare is easier than I thought, but seeing the plays makes it all come alive in a way that reading or listening doesn’t do for me.
The Comedy of Errors, a farce of mistaken identities, is not one of my favorites, but the plot line enabled me to figure out what was going to happen in Twelfth Night when I saw it on Broadway. It’s a tale of doubles–lost twin sons–and a lost wife, lovely echoes throughout, along with mistaken identities from sons to wives to servants.
Titus Andronicus was full of violence and hard to take actually, surprising me. Reading it, I couldn’t understand what purpose the play could possibly serve. Thank heavens for secondary sources.
The play’s obsessive concern with dismemberment and with severed body parts has a political referent, one made overt and misleadingly benign in the opening scene, when Marcus Andronicus, the tribune, speaking on behalf of “the people of Rome,” invites his brother Titus to become emperor. “And help to set a head on headless Rome.” Marjorie Garber.
Rome is made human and raped–and that’s not the worst of it. Unless you are reading all of Shakespeare’s plays, skip this one.
The Taming of the Shrew was a delight to read and watch, although it contained some disturbing plot lines for a woman in today’s world, that is to say, a feminist. Kate is tamed. Enough said. And yet there’s more. And, from this play comes the famous line: Kiss me, Kate.
And kiss me, Kate. We will be married o’ Sunday.
I will be master of what is mine own.
She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house.
And from Katherine herself,
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
When we saw the play in Montgomery, where I might add it was set in the 1950’s and took place in Hawaii and Alaska, the person who introduced the play was quick to add that in Shakespeare’s time, the word shrew was applied to both males and females, whereas today, it is defined by the OED as “a bad-tempered or aggressively assertive woman.”
Love’s Labor’s Lost I loved. The king bullies three other guys into agreeing to live with him at Navarre for three years and to abstain from seeing any women. During this time, the guys will study. The guys protest. The king responds:
How well he’s read to reason against reading.
But the princess of France is due to arrive at any moment. And she brings with her three lovely ladies. I also enjoyed the 2000 movie of the same name, directed by, and starring, Kenneth Branagh, and available on Netflix.
King John is yet another struggle for the crown of England. If anyone is still with me, I should have made notes. I did underline.
I would have thought un-Shakespeare like:
How much unlooked-for is this expedition.
Play fast and loose with faith?
Believe me, I do not believe thee, man.
France, thou shalt rue this hour within this hour.
Well, keep good quarter and good care tonight.
The day shall not be up so soon as I
To try the fair adventure of tomorrow.
Richard II. Honestly, I don’t remember anything about what happened, but the language here goes deeper than it does in the other plays (Shakespeare becoming a better writer), especially as far as emotion. It’s just beautiful.
Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows
Which shows like grief itself but is not so;
For sorrow’s eyes, glazed with blinding tears,
Divides one thing entire to many objects,
Like perspectives, which rightly gazed upon
Show nothing by confusion, eyed awry
O, call back yesterday, bid time return.
The worst is death, and death will have his day.
I live with bread like you, feel want,
Taste grief, need friends.
My lord, wise men ne’er sit and wail their woes,
But presently prevent the ways to wail.
To fear the foe, since fear oppresseth strength,
Gives in your weakness strength unto your foe,
And so your follies fight against yourself.
How sour sweet music is
When time is broke and no proportion kept.
So is it in the music of men’s lives…
I wasted time, and now doth time waste me
Romeo & Juliet tomorrow…