So, I am definitely someone who loves traditions. I love familiarity and I enjoy having different things to look forward to throughout the year. You might recall my Hobbit-fest tradition. In my book, An Adult-ish Toolkit, I have an entire chapter about the importance of celebrating birthdays. And I put a lot of thought into the planning of holidays and other milestone events.
One of my favorite traditions that I have adopted in the last few years is the declaration of Shakespeare Month during April. William Shakespeare’s baptismal date and the date that he died were both in April, and so it seems an appropriate month to honor him. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve had a love for Shakespeare most of my life, and I never get tired of the stories that he brought to us.
Over the years, I have also acquired quite a number of Shakespeare adaptations on DVD, and so I really just needed an excuse to make time for them, otherwise I might never get around to watching some of the longer or darker plays in my collection. I think it’s important to revisit works like this pretty frequently, which can be hard to do unless you live in an area that has enough art and theater happening that you can catch real stage productions on a regular basis. But even if you are lucky enough to have regular access to live productions, many of the filmed versions have a lot to offer, as well.
Each year, when selecting what to watch (there are too many options to get through all of them), I try to choose the plays that I am least familiar with or the productions that I haven’t watched in a long time. This means that A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, and David Tennant’s Hamlet are usually off the lineup, because I love those so much that I don’t need an excuse to watch them. It also means that occasionally (like this year) I force myself to sit through all FOUR HOURS of Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (not one of my top recommendations).
I think the most satisfying production I watched this year was O, the modern adaptation of Othello starring Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, and Julia Stiles. We actually got a double dose of Othello this year, starting with the 1995 production starring Laurence Fishburne. Watching a “truer” production first, however, just made me appreciate how exquisite the production of O was. The scenes were beautifully adapted, and the motivations of the characters stayed remarkably faithful to the original play while actually making a great deal more sense in the modern setting. The issues of race, betrayal, and jealousy that Shakespeare wrote of in the setting of Medieval Venice are even more relevant now in the setting of a modern, Southern prep school. There is a reason that Shakespeare is taught in high school, even if it is rarely taught well; the stories and characters and emotions are fundamentals of human nature and experience, and they are true in every setting and in every time period. Iago’s hatred and Othello’s jealousy can be understood and recognized by every generation (although Desdemona’s purity is, sadly, becoming less intelligible to our culture).
I think that one of the keys to appreciating Shakespeare’s plays is finding a production that you really fall in love with. I never liked Hamlet until I saw David Tennant’s. I never liked Macbeth until the 2015 production with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. The Hollow Crown series that the BBC did a few years ago finally won me over for a lot of the History plays. So, if you think that you don’t like Shakespeare, there is a good chance that you just haven’t yet seen the right production of any given play.
If it has been a while since you have even attempted to sit through a Shakespeare play, I highly recommend giving the Bard another chance. If you only ever read the plays because you were forced to do so for a grade, then I definitely recommend checking out a live production or a recent filmed version. These plays are meant to be performed, not read like a novel, and you need to see them in order to really understand what is going on.
Do you have a favorite play or a certain production that really resonated? Let me know!
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