Today is the first day of the new school year in the UK so in this discussion post, I would love to know what you think of someone considered to be the best writer of all time (and the bane of many and English student’s life), the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.
Also want to give a quick shout out to Pages Unbound who gave me the idea for this post on their list of discussion prompts.
I think for most people their first encounter with Shakespeare would’ve been in school and I will be honest for the most part of my time at school I never really enjoyed Shakespeare. The plays I remember studying during my high school years were Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Othello.
I think for most school age children the language can be very metaphorical and hard to follow which creates a huge barrier to understanding what is happening.
I also remember my teachers seemed to have an obsession with the 1996 Romeo and Juliet film that starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes which as a separate note I did always find confusing – the characters all had guns and cars and were in gangs yet spoke Shakespearean English? Or when Clare Danes says the famous “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” line five minutes after Mercutio appears in drag miming to Young Hearts Run Free? It was directed by Baz Luhrmann though and as you’ll see from my The Great Gatsby movie review I’m not a massive fan of his style of directing.
Then when we did Othello we watched the 1995 version starring Laurence Fishbourne and Kenneth Branagh which did at least keep the original setting but was still quite dry and boring.
I think when my opinion did start to change and I began to at least have some appreciation for him was when I was a bit older and I did Hamlet in sixth form. This was for English Literature so part of the course wasn’t just about reading the play but was also about studying the background of when it was written and why and I think that side of it made it far more interesting.
For example, Shakespeare had to set Hamlet in Denmark as it opens with Hamlet’s father the king being killed and imagining the monarchy dead at the time he was alive was an act of treason which carried the death penalty. There was also his influences from older texts, such as a 12th century book called, Historia Danica, written by a Danish historian, Saxo Grammaticus as well as the play Ur-Hamlet, a lost play believed to have been written a decade before Hamlet by Thomas Kyd which contained similar plot devices and characters (interesting also to wonder if this play had been more popular would it have meant Thomas Kyd would be the name we remember as much as Shakespeare?).
Also (as seems to be the case with every Shakespeare play I studied), we watched a performance of it, though this time it was a BBC adaptation which starred David Tennant and was actually pretty good (I was also a massive fan of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor in Doctor Who so that probably helped).
Although I did find parts of this course tricky (in particular the exam at the end was called a “closed book” exam, meaning we couldn’t have the book with us and I had to memorise quotes from it which was quite simply a pain and an annoyance) but learning about the context of when the plays were written definitely helps give more insight into them.
Then there is of course Shakespeare the poet. I don’t really remember doing as many of his poems as his plays – the only one which sticks in my head is Sonnet 130 (you can read it here) which really subverts the expectation of a love poem. It starts with him stating “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;” which is the polar opposite to his famous Sonnet 18 where he asks his lover “Shall I compare thee to a warm summer’s day”. I do remember this sonnet does have a more realistic depiction of love that even though Shakespeare’s love has faults he admits “and yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare, as any she belied with false compare.” meaning even with her faults she still is someone he loves and he loves her more than any man who tried to win her heart with false comparisons which in a strange way I do find more romantic. Maybe just me!
Anyway I would love to know your thoughts about Shakespeare, did you study him and whether you liked doing his plays or not? I would also love to know if there are nay other authors you would like me to share my thoughts about.