Friday, May 7, 2021

Shakespeare in a Year?

 

Last year just before COVID hit I wrote this post about a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Folger Shakespeare Theater in Washington, D.C., and all the upcoming Shakespeare plays I was hoping to see 2020. Well, we all know how that's turned out. (Really, I've been extremely fortunate I don't know anyone who's been seriously ill and I'm fully vaccinated as of this week.) Nevertheless I've really missed the theater, and I've tried to fill up some of my time by reading and watching streamed plays and movie adaptations. 

My life in semi-quarantine has recently brought me to Shakespeare. One of my online book groups read Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet, which I loved, and around the same time I signed up for an online class about Shakespeare in context at the Shakespeare Theater Company in DC. We didn't study his works much from a literary aspect, but it inspired me to start reading the plays I'd missed. Which is a LOT -- of the 37 plays commonly attributed to Shakespeare, I'd only read seven. Since I started the class in March I've read five more, bringing me up to a dozen, so I have quite a ways to go. Here's what I've read so far in total:

  • As You Like It
  • Hamlet
  • King Lear
  • Macbeth
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • Measure For Measure
  • A Midsummer Nights' Dream
  • Othello
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • The Tempest
  • Twelfth Night
  • The Winter's Tale
It then occurred to me that I could possibly finish all the plays in a whole year, maybe even by the end of 2021! (I'd also like to go back and reread all the plays we read in college, but probably not until after I've finished the whole list). Right now I'm trying to alternate comedies and tragedies -- I'm a bit intimidated by the histories and will probably do those last, in chronological order by monarch. 

All the plays are available for audio download through my library in various editions. I really like the Arkangel Audiobook series, which has full cast recordings with amazing actors, mostly from the Royal Shakespeare Company. I've been alternating listening to the audio versions with reading the plays online and in print, often with the help of No Fear Shakespeare. 

David Mitchell as William Shakespeare. The cast includes Gemma Whelan and Rob Rouse.


Just for fun I've been watching Upstart Crow on Britbox -- if you haven't heard of it, it's hilarious, starring David Mitchell as Shakespeare. It's by the same creator as Blackadder and there are lots of in-jokes about Shakespeare and they satirize current events as well. 

And I'm also hoping to make a trip to the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia! They're already started their summer series -- two of the plays are indoors (socially distant) at their recreated Blackfriars Playhouse, and there's also an outdoor production of Macbeth. It's about a two to three hour drive from my home in suburban DC, so I could easily go in a weekend!

Bloggers, which Shakespeare plays are your favorites? And do you have any favorite stage or screen adaptations? 

22 comments:

  1. I like Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing the best, I think, but it's a good question. Sometimes it depends on whether you read the play under a good teacher. I did not like my 6th grade teacher but he said something when we were reading R&J which I never forgot - that an actor has to decide whether to try out for Romeo and play the lead or be Mercutio to try to steal the show. I doubt it was an original thought but I still find it interesting (and memorable, many years later). He also showed us how to cite and that was valuable to instill at that age too.

    I didn't know about the American Shakespeare Center but I am intrigued. I've always intended to go to the Shaw Festival at Niagara but never got around to actually doing it, although I could drive.

    I hadn't thought of getting plays on CD at the library but it's a good idea. Right now I am listening to a new Nora Roberts so could use something more substantial next.

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    1. I've only see the Kenneth Branagh adaptation of Much Ado but I loved it! I definitely want to read it soon. I love that comment about Mercutio -- I remember he was my favorite character in the 1968 R&J. I'm super impressed that you read Shakespeare in 6th grade -- we were supposed to read it in 9th grade English and my teacher was terrible so we just watched the movie! (Same with Great Gatsby).

      I grew up in Michigan just a few hours from the Stratford festival in Ontario, I'm very sorry now that I never went. There's also a very funny Canadian TV series modeled on the Stratford festival called Slings and Arrows. I didn't know about the Shaw festival! I wonder how hard it would be to a combined trip?

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  2. I have been getting into Shakespeare on and off for years. My local library has a set of DVDs of some televised BBC productions from the 1980s, and I have watched a few of them. Macbeth and The Winter's Tale are personal favourites of mine.

    I have also watched Upstart Crow, and I think it is hilarious. I also discovered that there was a stage version of it in London before the pandemic. I would have loved to have seen that.

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    1. An online friend had tickets for the stage version and it was cancelled! I would love to see it also. I think David Mitchell is really funny and he's very good as Shakespeare.

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  3. My favorites are the histories! I love Richard III (a tragedy really, I think) and Henry V. But I also love A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado, and The Taming of the shrew. :-)

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    1. Ooh I haven't seen any histories yet, except the Branagh version of Henry V. And that was a LONG time ago!

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  4. After 10+ years of ushering at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, I have a really hard time picking a favorite production. Two that stand out were an all-male Romeo and Juliet that included the best Juliet I've ever seen (he didn't ham it up at all) and a stunning King Lear with Stacy Keach. My favorite productions on film are probably the Branagh Much Ado and the David Tennant Hamlet.

    I've been to the American Shakespeare Center, but not for Shakespeare. It was a production of Sense and Sensibility, and it was a lot of fun.

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    1. If they take volunteer ushers I would definitely sign up when they reopen, and at the Folger also! I didn't know about the David Tennant Hamlet so I'll look for it.

      I saw a production of S&S at William & Mary back in 2019, I think it was the Kate Hamill adaptation and it was wonderful.

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  5. What a great project! After reading Antony Sher's memoirs about playing in Lear and Henry IV (Year of the King and Year of the Fat Knight), I found I could watch those Royal Shakespeare Company productions through digitaltheatre.com and I really enjoyed them. They have lots more Shakespeare as well and I may do another binge at some point (I don't want to pay for an ongoing subscription, but if I watch several plays in a month it's worth it).

    The Shakespeare play I know the best is Twelfth Night because I've seen it about a dozen times and had a walk-on part in high school. I also love A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest (my husband played Ariel in that one which brings fond memories).

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    1. I'll have to look for digitaltheater.com, thanks! The Stratford Festival also has some streaming events on YouTube, last week I saw Twelfth Night with Brian Dennehy which was fabulous. They usually only stream for 36 hours but they're free. This week is Macbeth which starts Thursday May 13 at 7 p.m. EDT.

      Here's a link if anyone is interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRNA6MGwXUY

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  6. What a fun idea! I set myself the less reasonable target of reading them all in a summer (which we were asked to, at university) and managed most of the tragedies and comedies, but still have read none of the histories and have only seen one, Richard III. Much Ado remains my favourite, so would recommend that!

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    1. I love Much Ado, I think it's the funniest of the plays I've read and seen so far (though I also loved Merry Wives). I found an all-Black production that aired on PBS Great Performances that I can watch online through my cable company, so I'll try to watch that one soon. The only one of the histories I've seen so far is the 1990s Henry V but I do want to read/watch them in order.

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  7. Good for you! I read Shakespeare end-to-end about 10 or more years ago, and loved the experience. I do like the history plays and particularly like HIV, part 1 as well as Henry V, RII and RII, and Antony and Cleopatra. That said, I am a big fan of the comedies and love Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, and the absolute craziness of Comedy of Errors.

    Make sure you watch The Hollow Crown when you're ready to tackle the War of the Roses plays--so incredibly well done.

    I would love to watch Upstart Crow - I guess getting BritBox is in my future :)

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    1. I'm really enjoying Upstart Crow, it's so fun to see how they incorporate each play into the fictional Shakespeare's life. I particularly love Mark Heap as his nemesis Greene, he's so different from the postman he played in Lark Rise to Candleford!

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  8. Awesome! I will appreciate and applaud you from afar. I do think listening a Shakespeare comedy might be fun.

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    1. So far the comedies are my favorites, though The Winter's Tale and Measure for Measure are hardly what I'd call funny! I do remember liking Othello when I was in college, but I suspect I'd find it very problematic right now, with the racism and domestic violence. Yikes.

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  9. Fun project. I've almost read them all at least once. (Pericles, anyone?)

    Don't pass on the histories. I think Richard II is underrated & can't get enough love, and Henry IV & V have Falstaff! (As for Henry VI, well...)

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    1. I haven't read any of the histories and I'm rather intimidated by them! I did enjoy Falstaff in Merry Wives, so I know he's a fun character. Henry V is one of the plays on this summer at the American Shakespeare Center so I think I'm going to go see it.

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  10. The Merchant of Venice is one of my favs - it's also probably the one I've seen the most productions of over the years - including an amazing visit to the new Globe in London 15 yrs ago.

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    1. I would love to see Shakespeare at the Globe! I've done the tour but wasn't able to get a ticket for a live production. I'm really hoping to go back to the UK someday do a Shakespeare-themed trip, I'd see a play at the Globe and also visit Stratford. Someday!

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  11. I find Shakespeare difficult to read, though when it is performed, I find I comprehend a lot more from context. I’ve seen A Midsummer’s Night Dream performed on stage and really enjoyed that and I liked the file Much Ado About Nothing with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, but they were the best actors in it, I thought. When they spoke, it seemed natural. I also watched The Tempest on YouTube a few years ago with Roddy McDowell and Richard Burton after reading the play because I wanted to go on and read Margaret Atwood’s Hag Seed…which I haven’t done yet!

    I loved Blackadder and will definitely check out Upstart Crow! Thanks for the tip.

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    1. I am finding it fairly difficult to just read straight through, I much prefer audio though sometimes it's tricky as I often confuse the voices. I've had really good luck watching streamed recorded performances. The Stratford (Ontario) festival have been showing free performances every week so I'm trying to watch those, I may have to just buy a subscription.

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