To Read or Not to Read [Shakespeare]

It’s Month Five of 2014 and I’m still clawing my way through my Reading Resolutions. That’s right—I haven’t quit yet! As a result, I’m pretty sure this is the longest I’ve ever followed through with resolutions I’ve made. Hooray! Anyway, this month I tackle reconciling my past. Sounds scintillating, right? Here’s a recap for those of you just joining us, or those of you who may not remember them all (I have to look them up constantly, and it’s my list after all):

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past (see below)
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

This will surprise no one who had to suffer through countless English classes with me in school, but I’ve never held a fondness for Shakespeare. It’s true, and this knowledge cuts through the heart of my English-major boss. However, as she is responsible for buying the Dewey 800s (Shakespeare’s home) I’ve discovered some of the more unique Shakespeare related titles she has ordered. Because of this, I’m learning to love Mr. William and think you will, too.

bricks

Who doesn’t love LEGO? I grew up playing more with LEGOs than I did Barbies. Luckily, the authors of the Brick Shakespeare series know how to hook the LEGO generation (but please don’t call them hookers). One book covers the comedies, and one covers the tragedies. I’ve always consider them all tragedies because I tragically could not get into anything The Bard composed. These books changed everything! Each scene is adorably illustrated with LEGO pieces and the dialogue is typed verbatim. So, sadly, you do still have to do a bit of translation. But in the end it’s totally worth it. Watch Shakespeare’s words written hundreds of years ago come to life with children’s toys! The next generation has a shot at loving and understanding Shakespeare, thanks to these brilliant books.

reducedTouted by the New York Times as “intellectual vaudeville” The Reduced Shakespeare Company performed the longest-running comedy in London with “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).” RSC’s two managing partners, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, then wrote a book on the topic. Reduced Shakespeare: The Complete Guide for the Attention-Impared [Abridged] is told in an engaging style sure to grab anyone’s attention. Not only are each of The Bard’s works broken down and summarized in plain English, there’s also a healthy dose of humor sprinkled on top. And, to make this truly educational and thought-provoking, the authors have included essay questions at the end of each piece. Consider the following essay questions:

Was one of your siblings considered the family’s “problem child?” Did they get this label simply because they were not as funny as they should have been? (Triolus and Cressida)

In this play a baby is abandoned on the shores of Bohemia, a country with no coastline. Make up some smart-ass essay question about the “genius” of Shakespeare’s knowledge of geography and then answer it. (The Winter’s Tale)

There are also an assortment of pop quizzes scattered throughout to keep you on your (mental) toes:

Pop Quiz, Hotshot: Which famous sexual come-on originated in “Venus and Adonis?”
A. “Let’s get it on.”
B. “I’ll smother thee with kisses.”
C. “I’m your Venus, I’m your fire / What’s your desire?”
D. “Shake it like a Polaroid picture.”
(Answer: B)

insultedShakespeareThese books are all about making stuff that was written many hundreds of years ago relevant to today’s idiot children like me. If I still haven’t hooked you, this next title will do the trick. Shakespeare Insult Generator, compiled and introduced by Barry Kraft, has been all over the interwebs this publishing season. In fact, I’ve kind of been hoping to see it in a future Quarterly shipment from Book Riot. But I digress. I consider this book to not only be required reading for everyone struggling with Shakespeare, but I’d like to see it have a permanent home on every English major’s desk (do you hear that, boss lady?). This ingenious spiral-bound book dares you to “put dullards and miscreants in their place.” You can mix and match three horizontal pages at a time to create one of over 150,000 combinations of Shakespearian insults. Flip each word over and you’ll get the definition so you can be duly informed of just what you’re calling someone.

So don’t be a hater. Join me in welcoming The Bard into your life. With the right tools at your side, you can prepare to become a Shakespearian scholar at your next dinner party. It’s like I always say: wow them with whimsy.

Live, but Not in Person

There is always something slightly dangerous and exciting about watching a live performance. First of all there is the rather perverse thrill you get contemplating the possibility that something could go terribly wrong: a flubbed line or a note off-key perhaps. On the more positive side, performances seem to have more impact when they take place just a few yards away. It is an experience that just can’t be captured when viewed on a television set in the comfort of your own home.

Admittedly, though, there are some big drawbacks. Live performances can be a pain in the butt to get to. Scheduling times, dates, and places are not only annoying but can sometimes be downright impossible to coordinate. Live performances also can’t be stored and played again for your convenience. Finally, price can also be a significant obstacle: a concert ticket is way more expensive than a DVD rental after all.

Luckily I’ve recently stumbled upon a happy compromise: Broadcasts of live performances. The performances are live, for the most part, and broadcast to a theater near you. Here are few upcoming examples.

RiffTrax Live: Starship Troopers
starshiptrooperssideThe concept is simple. Some films deserve to be heckled. Average hecklers aren’t very creative though (“This movie sucks!” gets old pretty fast) so it is best to leave it to the experts. The RiffTrax team, with their Mystery Science Theater 3000 credentials, is more than up to the task and on August 15th you can watch them take down Starship Troopers in real-time. If you haven’t heard of Starship Troopers, the library (wisely perhaps) does not have the film but does own the book, you are in for an experience.  The plot is easily summed up as, literally, a bug hunt. Somewhere Bill Paxton is smiling.

If you would like to see something considered a little more cultured you are in luck. This fall the National Theatre will be presenting several live broadcasts of plays via their National Theatre Live project. We are lucky to have several locations in the area that will be participating, including SIFF. Here are three plays that look especially interesting:

macbeth

Macbeth with Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston
I don’t really need to sell you on this one do I? Even if you aren’t a big Shakespeare fan, this play has enough murder, madness and existential despair to keep you on the edge of your seat.  And that Lady Macbeth, oh my. This production has been receiving outstanding reviews and is performed in a deconsecrated Manchester church to add to the ominous ambiance. Branagh is known for many roles but his recent turn in the BBC version of Wallander is excellent. Kingston is a seasoned actress who is more recently known for her work on Dr. Who.

othello

Othello with Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear
More Shakespeare I know, but Othello has always been a favorite. I mean really, what the heck is Iago’s problem? I still don’t know for sure, but trying to figure out why he is so hell-bent on destroying his former comrade-in-arms is half the fun. Instead of 16th century Venice, this production is set in modern-day London and has been receiving rave reviews. Both Lester and Kinnear have done work you may be familiar with, and are veteran stage actors that should not disappoint.

Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller
FrankensteinsideThis play adaptation, by Nick Dear, of Mary Shelley’s classic book is not currently on stage (it was originally performed in 2011) but will be shown again this fall as an ‘encore’ performance. In addition to positive reviews, this production has an interesting hook: the two lead actors alternate between the roles of Dr. Frankenstein and his creation every other performance. Add to this the fact that Danny Boyle is the director and it becomes a production that is hard to resist. Interestingly, both actors are currently involved in television reboots of the Sherlock Holmes character: Sherlock in the UK  for Cumberbatch and Elementary in the US for Miller.

So don’t let the inconveniences of mere time and space prevent you from enjoying a live performance. Now if someone would just invent a transporter or a TARDIS.

Richard