I’ve teased in the past about a recent project in which I’m involved. Well, we opened two weekends ago. I’ve spent the last few months rehearsing a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I’ve loved to act since I was a young child, and I’ve been doing Shakespeare since I started in a local theater school’s company over 20 years ago, but I hadn’t had a chance to perform the Bard since returning to the stage two years ago after graduate school.
My first Shakespeare role was Ferdinand in The Tempest and it rather set the tone for many of my Shakespearean roles. I’ve played as many male characters as female ones. And that’s the beauty of Shakespeare: he creates characters that often transcend stereotypes and categories despite drawing on familiar tropes of comedy and tragedy. And I just love getting into these characters.
The language is what frightens some people when they think of Shakespeare, but the language is what I love. His words are his canvas and he paints beautiful pictures, both with the word meanings and with the sounds of the words themselves. My most recent role is that of Feste and he dallies nicely with words. It was a challenge to memorize some of his more mouthful pieces, but so, so fun to deliver them. He talks circles around most of the characters in the show (with the exception of the other two characters I’ve played in Twelfth Night in the past: Maria and Olivia).
But the language of Shakespeare truly has to be heard to be appreciated. Reading the text on the page has little of the same appeal. A colleague of mine commented that he’s decided to try to read his way through Shakespeare’s complete works, to which I responded with a grimace. That sounds like truly grim work. But a Shakespeare club? Get together a group of friends to read scenes from Shakespeare as a way of getting through the works? Fantastic! I suggested he at the very least look up films of the various plays that have had films made of them. So you don’t get much of the histories, but the more popular tragedies and comedies have some representation.
Above all, I think that most people take Shakespeare too seriously. He’s fun. He’s a playwright who chose to insert knee-slappingly funny bits into some of his most serious plays, often at the most intense points in the main action. He did this because he wasn’t catering to the enjoyers of high art, but the enjoyers of entertainment. Shakespeare is a reminder that sometimes in the darkest times, laughter is necessary. Sometimes you need the drunken porter or the nostalgic gravedigger to break up the intensity of life. Take the laughs as they come and let them temper the tragedy just a bit.
I’d love to hear anyone else’s views on Shakespeare, acted or read. And who wants to start a Shakespeare club?