Everybody knows him and everybody has read him. But how many people like him?Shakespeare is considered the great English playwright. So many of our allusions and everyday quotes come from Shakespeare. References from plays like “Hamlet,” “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet” continually appear in our lives. Try as we might, we cannot shake off Shakespeare. He is everywhere.
I take my “Introduction to Shakespeare” books with me and read them wherever I happen to be. I have been amazed by the number of people who, when they find out what I am reading, say “Whew … Shakespeare … wow!” Shakespeare, guys, is not a chore. He’s a fun guy with fun characters and raunchy jokes, who keeps you on your feet. And at the same time, he explores some interesting issues: gender roles, love, heredity, marriage, modern society and suicide, to name a few.
But most people are already turned off to Shakespeare by the time they reach college. The problem is, they were required to study his works in high school or even in middle school. At that age, students are not really able to get that much out of Shakespeare. Instead, they struggle through his works and learn that he is difficult and dense and just too much work.
Instead of seeing him perform live, where they can really get the most of his works, they see Shakespeare’s works performed on one of the endless movies that never do him justice.
One of my favorite movies in high school was “Ten Things I Hate About You.” When I discovered that it was loosely based on “Taming of the Shrew,” I had to go check out the book.
Reading Shakespeare on my own was a very rewarding experience. Instead of reading every footnote like I had in the past, I only read them when necessary. And there was one major difference between it and the books we had read in high school – it was a comedy.
Shakespeare’s comedies are far more accessible than his tragedies or historical plays. They are lighthearted, have fewer characters that are easier to keep apart, have less backstory to wrestle with and are frequently much shorter than his other plays.
All of which goes to say, Shakespeare doesn’t have to suck. Sure he might take some getting used to. The language might throw you off at first and he might be hard to get into.
But he is worth it.
In the end, the plays are very enjoyable for their own sake. They are funny, clever, interesting and moving.
And from a social perspective, you are missing a lot if you have no or limited exposure to Shakespeare. If you ignore him completely, there are times you may feel out of the loop.
I encourage you to try reading Shakespeare again. Or visit him at the theater.
Shakespeare was meant to be performed and viewed live. If you don’t get the language of the plays when you read them, seeing them performed will help to illuminate their meanings. Shakespeare on stage is fast-moving, action-packed and very frequently, fun.
If you haven’t read Shakespeare since high school, I recommend you give him another chance. Believe me, he’s worth it.
Opinion editor Stephanie Weaver is an English, philosophy and French major from Westwood, Kan.