Reading Shakespeare

William-Shakespeare-007After what looked like yet another failed resolution, I’m making way with Shakespeare. In February I mapped out a plan: read one play a month, have all plays read by the end of 2015.

The excellent advice of my literature-loving sister-in-law—read through the entire play in one sitting—eliminated bedtime reading. I would fall asleep before I got through Act 2. The Big Gulp approach made sense to me. Who ever went to a play to watch Act 1 with a notice to come back to Act 2 next Friday?

I pulled out an old trick from my treadmill-reading days: read along with an audio version. The printed words help you listen and the audio helps you focus on the reading. The actors’ inflections grease the rails of comprehension. I could pause the audio to read a footnote, but not get dragged down too much in details.

After this epiphany, since November I’ve read/listened to The Tempest, Love’s Labor Lost, and Twelfth Night. My local library has about a dozen Shakespeare plays on CD; my internet library, using Overdrive, has them all. Even the sonnets. As the kids would say: Booyah!



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.


All’s Well That Ends Well
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors √
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


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


Antony and Cleopatra
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.