Monday, July 1, 2013

The Shakespeare Project: Why I'm not inviting Will to dinner

I'm 33 weeks preggo tomorrow, which is rather unbelievable to me.  I never really thought I'd get this far, to be honest.  

Trying to read lots of books on my Amazon wishlist.  After reading Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare a few months ago, I decided it was shameful that I hadn't read any Shakespeare since college.  So I've been catching up, reading a play every week or two.  And here's what's challenging: I really don't like him all that much.  Oh, I can see the beauty in his writing, and the wordplay in the comedies is amazing.  I can appreciate why he's so special.  But Donald Trump is special too; doesn't mean I want to have dinner with him.  

So what I do is rent the BBC productions of the plays (they do the full script - no editing down for time) from Amazon Instant Video - generally a $1.99 rental for a week.  Then I get a kindle edition of the play with good notes.  I watch the film while reading the play on my tablet at the same time.  Then the next day I also pull up a Librivox recording to listen while reading and see what I notice that's different - they do free public domain e-audiobooks, and are tolerable for being free.  It's all done by volunteers, so I shouldn't be judgmental since they're doing something awesome, but some of the parts are really challenging - like a female Benedick or a Lear with a Southern accent.  Anyway, I go through the play again just listening.  

And I've decided something:  I like knowing Shakespeare, but only so that I can make conversation about him and feel like I've joined the world of People who Know Shakespeare.  But I don't actually much like the plays themselves.  Taming of the Shrew made me want to puke.  Merchant of Venice made me want to cry for poor Shylock.  Watching King Lear descend into madness while his daughters plotted was just depressing.  

I wonder how much of this Shakespeare actually believed.  I've read a lot about how he hated the idea of marriage since he was forced into it when he got an older Anne Hathaway preggo when he was still a teenager.  And he went off to London and sort of abandoned her.  So I don't think he really appreciated the idea of marriage much.

And he certainly seems to pander to the antisemitism of the time.  Benedick is debating whether or not he should or shouldn't love Beatrice, talking about her charms, and the most brilliant conclusion he can come to is, "If I do not love her, I am a Jew."  Really?  And then there's Shylock.  The man loses everything, is forced to convert to Christianity, his daughter is applauded for running away and taking so much of his money and jewelry, and at the end it's the Christians who are supposed to look magnanimous and forgiving.  For the time period, I suppose they were.  But for someone as forward thinking as Shakespeare was supposed to be, I'd expect better.  I've heard some people say that he was holding a mirror up and making a commentary, but I don't really buy that.  If so, then Jessica would have had some kind of comeuppance.  Somebody would have felt guilty about something.  But nope, they just drag him off to be baptized.  

This hypocrisy bugs the crap out of me, especially because Shakespeare was supposedly a Catholic who had to cover up his religious leanings.  Surely he could have some more empathy for others of a different religion.  But nope, Shylock gets baptized and loses his livelihood and daughter anyway. 

I'm going to keep reading Shakespeare simply because of the language and the words, but I'm going to quit thinking too much about the plot.  Different era, different kind of man, and I don't have to like him to appreciate him.  It sure would be nice if I could, though.  

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