Greetings and well wishes to you my friend! Thank you for following me and taking the time to read this blog. It’s an honor to have you here. Let’s you and I talk about the various ways in which you can jump in and start enjoying Shakespeare.
Oh, you are starting at exciting times. Luckily for you, technology is bringing Shakespeare’s works to life in new and clever ways. Take apps for instance; how wonderful it is to live in a time when the complete works of Shakespeare can appear as if by magic at our fingertips. Sure you can carry a play with you, or download one to your mobile phone or reading tablet, and I recommend you do, but there are two apps that do more than just allow you access to Shakespeare’s world.
The first app is called Shakespeare at Play. While this one does not contain the complete works (at least not yet) it does hold 7 of his more famous works. The beauty and magic of this particular app is that it also contains video content! It is designed to allow viewers to see the play while reading. This is one of the best ways in which a person unfamiliar with Shakespeare can become well acquainted with his patterns of speech. My only complaint is that the players are not always great actors, and do not give stellar performances. Please do not think this is how Shakespeare is presented on the stage; use the live action to assist your understanding of his work.
The second app that everyone, from novices to theater aficionados, should immediately download is the Shakespeare Pro app. Don’t let the name fool you. The reason pro is in the name is because the makers of this app are pros at making everyone feel comfortable with the plays. Each play contains scene breakdowns and notes on the characters (Dramatis Personae). The app has a glossary of terms, portraits (even the forged ones) of Shakespeare, and random quote generator, a study guide on the plays, Elizabethan theaters, statistics and much, much more. I cannot praise this app enough. If you are studying Shakespeare in school or want to learn more about his work and lifetime, this is a must have.
Not everyone is fond of reading. You may be one of these people. Rest assured there is no right or wrong way to enter the world of Shakespeare. Not everyone starts out by reading Shakespeare (though in our next post I will make an argument for it). Many, many people leave a live production of Shakespeare wanting more.
Ahh, but let’s be honest, it is not every day that you have the opportunity to enjoy a live performance. And, it’s not likely that a troop of hungry artists will knock on your door asking if they can perform on your porch (maybe if you own a tavern they might). Again, thanks to technology you can sit down right after reading this and enjoy any number of performances, provided you have a screen and Internet access.
Viewing Shakespeare can be a thrilling way to be introduced to his work, if and only if, the production is worthy of his words. A great actor can breathe life into Shakespeare’s poetry, bombast, and bawdy word play. Seeing a great performance of Shakespeare’s work for the first time is a thrilling event and can leave an audience member wanting more.
Let’s look at some of Shakespeare’s plays that you can enjoy right now.
The Hollow Crown Series
This is must see TV! Thanks to the BBC, there is a series based on Shakespeare’s history plays about the War of the Roses, starting with Richard II, through the three Henrys and ending with Richard III. The production is nothing short of stunning; it is hard to believe the series was made for TV and not the big screen. Admittedly some of the language will be hard to follow for beginners, but stick with it as it is well worth a little confusion from time to time. Tom Hiddleston as Henry V will make you forget that he is now best known as Loki. Richard Whishaw is such an amazing Richard II that I cannot imagine anyone else playing him. The series ends with Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III. If you watch anything based on Shakespeare this is it.
This series is not currently streaming. Check your local library to see if they have the DVDs. Or, do what I did and purchase them through the PBS website.
Much ado about nothing
This one is for the ladies. Any time a woman tells me she can’t get into Shakespeare I ask her to watch Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing. Oh to see him and Emma Thompson’ characters fall in love despite their shared distain of such deep emotion is pure perfection. The play is both hilarious and heartbreaking. The setting is beautiful and ensemble cast is marvelous. How can you say no to young Kenneth Branagh, Keanu Reeves, and Denzel Washington?
And then there is the over the top performance of Michael Keaton as Dogberry.
This can be found on Amazon Prime.
Hamlet is a must for any introduction to Shakespeare. If you can’t see it live, I suggest starting with Mel Gibson in the Zeffirelli film. I really wanted to like David Tennant as Hamlet, but I don’t think he was able to capture the agony and frustration as well as Gibson did. There are several adaptations of Hamlet; Branagh directed himself in one, but this is my personal favorite.
A really fun treat is to find Mystery Science Theater 3000’s riff on an old black and white German adaptation on Hamlet. But don’t let this be your introduction to Shakespeare.
This is offered on several streaming services, including Google Play and iTunes.
As you like it
This is a very fun play (and one that seems to be produced often enough that it should be easy to find locally). Rosalind is a strong female character and is arguably one of Shakespeare’s strongest characters. She takes charge of her circumstance as best she can while trying to navigate her way through the unknown. She is banished to the forest of Arden just as she is coming of age. College students can identify with her plight and marvel at her hesitation to fall for the first man who shows her some interest.
The play contains some of Shakespeare’s most well known quotes included the”7 ages of man” speech. Yes, all the world’s a stage, and in this play Shakespeare shows us how at times we all play different parts. It’s a feel good play that ends as we like it; with love and laughter.
I suggest renting the 1978, BBC adaptation of the play staring a very young Helen Mirren.
This is offered on Amazon
A midsummer’s night dream
I’ve seen good productions and bad productions, but yet even the bad productions can be a life-changing event. This play like no other invites the audience to enter into a fantasy world in which fairies meddle in the affairs of men. Love and lust, we learn can and often overlap. We are forced to ask ourselves if we can really tell the difference between the two.
My favorite is Peter Hall’s 1968 adaptation. You can find it on Amazon.
One of the best things about a live production of AMSND is the ending, when Puck makes the final speech to the audience. I can think of no better ending.
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
Thanks to the magic of technology you can chose to read, study, or watch it performed, all in the comfort of your own home. Exciting times indeed!
Until we meet again friend,