I started the project of reading the works of Shakespeare in late June, 2012, as a whim, really. I thought one of two things would come of it. Either I would peter out after a half dozen plays or I would take years to get through them all. I was not prepared to become so engrossed, so enchanted, so possessed that I would read every play at least once and watch every production I could lay my hands on by mid-September. It was a magical way to spend the summer, more refreshing and mind-changing than a long vacation.
Now I feel rather bereft. Such an immersion in this mind that we call Shakespeare made me feel like I had spent the summer with a grandfather I didn’t know I had. This wise old guy who made me laugh and cry with his stories and who comforted my existential angst.
I retained my love of some of the plays I had read in college: Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III, Hamlet, Macbeth, The Tempest. I added to my list: The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Measure for Measure, Henry VI parts one, two, and three, Henry V, Othello, King Lear, The Winter’s Tale.
I became fond of minor characters:
Jack Cade in Henry VI part two
Sir Anthony Aguecheek in Twelfth Night
Mistress Quickly in The Merry Wives of Windsor
Lucio in Measure for Measure
Philip (the Bastard) Faulconbridge in King John
Hotspur in Henry IV part one
Capulet (Juliet’s father) in Romeo and Juliet
Emilia in Othello
Paulina in The Winter’s Tale
I loved characters that I don’t think I was meant to love:
Edmund in King Lear
Joan de Pucelle in Henry VI part one
Thersites in Troilus and Cressida
I hated characters I don’t think I was meant to hate:
Isabella in Measure for Measure,
Falstaff in Henry IV parts one and two
I loved Dogberry and Bottom and all the fools: Touchstone (As You Like It), Feste (Twelfth Night), Lear’s Fool who is called “fool” by everyone in the play and “Lear’s fool” by people who write about the play.
For three months I lived at the beginning of the 17th century. I got used to Shakespeare’s language and vocabulary, and to cadences as slow as the Elizabethan pace of life. It was hard to read other writing. I said “How now?” to my friends and went around my house thinking “Good, my lord.”
I closed the book on The Tempest, and came back to present time unwillingly. School started, my studio rumbled back into operation (www.elenalouiserichmond.com), and did you know there was an election going on? It’s October. The cold and the dark are encroaching, and after my summer of Shakespeare, I feel like I’ve gotten on the freeway before I was quite awake.
During such an agitating election campaign it’s comforting to think that 400 years ago people behaved the same way as they do now and for the same reasons. Four hundred years of “gaudy, blabbing and remorseful days have crept into the bosom of the sea” (Henry VI, Part two) since Shakespeare lived, and Western Civ is still here.
I still have 154 Shakespeare sonnets to look forward to!