Well, Hello Will Shakespeare

For more than a decade I’ve been thinking, I really want to read through all of Shakespeare’s works. It’s like the idea that someday all my photos will be in scrapbooks. Happy thought. Inspired by my sister-in-law who recently read a whole slough slew of Shakespeare, and suspecting that it would be like cleaning a cupboard—it feels so good that I want to keep going—I plunged into The Comedy of Errors. More on that, later. But it was true: drinking the language was drinking a Caramel Macchiato.  I had to read sections more than once to tease out the meaning, but that was offset by laugh out loud lines and the satisfaction of fitting words.

How many plays did the bard write? Thirty-seven. I’ve read eleven, but I’d like to read through them all fresh again. If I averaged one play a month, I’d hit pay dirt by the end of 2015. I want to read the poems too, but that’s another thing.

Although I own a Complete Works of Shakespeare, I find it annoying. It is formatted in two columns and whenever there isn’t quite enough room at the end of the line the leftover is printed on the line above it. You can get the complete works on Kindle for $1.99, but I don’t want to read from the Kindle. I want an edition with footnotes on the same page, a running synopsis, explanatory notes. I want to converse with Shakespeare via pencil marks in the margin. I want a book for a student. I have a few student editions: Cambridge University Press, Oxford, Modern Library. I’m using my Paperbackswap credits and looking for $0.01 Amazon deals to fill in the gaps.

I’m going to try to read each play in one sitting, with a short intermission if needed. If I saw the play, I would sit through the all the acts in one performance.

Comedies

All’s Well That Ends Well
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors √
Cymbeline
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Measure for Measure
The Merry Wives of Windsor
The Merchant of Venice  √
A Midsummer Night’s Dream √
Much Ado About Nothing
Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Taming of the Shrew √
The Tempest √
Troilus and Cressida
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
Winter’s Tale

Histories

Henry IV, part 1 √
Henry IV, part 2
Henry V  √
Henry VI, part 1
Henry VI, part 2
Henry VI, part 3
Henry VIII
King John
Richard II
Richard III

Tragedies

Antony and Cleopatra
Coriolanus
Hamlet  √
Julius Caesar  √
King Lear
Macbeth √
Othello √
Romeo and Juliet √
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus

In The Comedy of Errors two sets of identical twins converge at Ephesus. They were separated in a shipwreck, and both twins share the same names. The man [Antipholus] and his slave [Dromio] (from Syracuse) are searching for their lost brothers [Antipholus] and his slave [Dromio] (from Ephesus). You can imagine the confusion.

Early in the play these Antipholus-S speaks poignant words of one on an impossible quest:

I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop…

When Antipholus-S finds his supposed slave, Dromio-E, hasn’t fulfilled the commands he gave him, he begins to beat him. Dromio-E is astonished!

What mean you, sir? For God’s sake hold your hands.
Nay, an you will not, sir, I’ll take my heels.

I find this word play (hold, hands, take, heels) charming. Shakespeare’s rhythms also delight me. Saying the next sentence ten times would not quench the joy it brings.

Dromio, thou Dromio, thou snail, thou slug, thou sot.

When her supposed husband is acting cold and distant, Adriana has some poignant lines. When her sister shushes her, Adriana exposes the discrepancy in how we view trouble, depending on who owns it:

A wretched soul, bruised with adversity,
We bid be quiet when we hear it cry.
But were we burdened with like weight of pain,
As much or more we should ourselves complain.

This is a comedy, which means there is a happy ending. Everything is sorted out and brothers—two sets—are reunited with much embracing and feasting.

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11 thoughts on “Well, Hello Will Shakespeare

  1.  What a fantastic goal for yourself! I took an acting Shakespeare class in college (I was a theater major) and we got to watch a terrific series starring members of the Royal Shakespeare Company – Ian McKellan, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi – wonderful stuff. My freshman year in community college I had the pleasure of playing Adriana in The Comedy of Errors – definitely my favorite role ever.

  2. Carol, you bring back memories of very long-ago school days at my all-girls school in London, where , presided over by our wonderful English Lit. teacher, we would read Shakespeare as a class.  Some were assigned to portray the characters with words only (no-one left her desk) while others simply listened, following the script in silence.  I loved to be one of those who read the parts aloud — to this day I can’t read Shakespeare in silence.  (Not that I’ve read any for a very long time.)  The crowning glory was sometimes a field trip to The Old Vic Theater to watch the play come alive on stage.   Bliss!  

  3. While I suspect that for some reading lots of Shakespeare would bear similarities to a slough, I think the word you want is slew. ;^)I’d love to find someone to read Shakespeare aloud with. Come visit me! ;^)

  4. I want to read all Shakespeare’s works too but I wish I can read them as a class. I know I tend to miss some subtext, symbolism, and other stuff like that when I’m just by myself any other book. 

  5. Immediately upon reading the first paragraph of your post, I thought, “Me, too! What a wonderful project!” But hopeinbrazil’s goal is probably more feasible – especially if I can get my husband interested. Still, you are inspiring…one page of Shakespeare is so much more satisfying than any Starbucks drink I’ve experienced.

  6. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: February 23, 2013 | Semicolon

  7. Pingback: Reading Shakespeare | A Living Pencil

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