Project Shakespeare Epilogue - monday 2010-05-31 2305 last modified 2010-06-02 1416
Categories: Daily Grind
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Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, Othello, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice. The collected works of Shakespeare, much larger than the high school syllabus listed above, makes for a formidable print volume. Happily, it can be condensed into the solid state guts of a device that fits in your hand. A project that began half a decade ago with the purchase of said print collection and sat untouched for most of the middle four years finally concluded this past weekend with the electronic Measure for Measure. More than two-thirds of the plays were taken up in the past half year. You could read all of them in that time; I slowed down near the end.

Reading all of Shakespeare in a row highlights some interesting recurring themes. Female protagonists engaging in salvific, clandestine transvestism, virginity and innocence and life maintained by a witty tongue, embodiments of verbal comic brilliance in fools, inexplicably motivated jackassery to all and sundry in villains, mistaken infidelity leading to destructive jealousy, and just deserts arrived at by labyrinthine plots, contravening normal expectations of death or loss by neat, incontestable proof. Some of these plays are utterly incomprehensible without contextual assistance (Merry Wives of Windsor could actually be monkeys on a typewriter for all the late sixteenth century urban patois employed - a Ye Olde Urban Dictionary would be useful), some undeservedly sit in the shadows of their more popular peers.

I've feared the history plays, especially having read some of them earlier out of sequence. Richard III stands much better in place, at the end of a tetralogy, instead of on its own, no matter its brilliance. Both the Henry / Richard tetralogies, with a brief history of British royalty in hand, are engrossing page turners, and the other individual histories are similar. They're not intimidating once started, quite the contrary.

A Winter's Tale and Pericles ended up amongst my favorites. We have a tendency to defer to specialists and authorities. It would be a shame for Shakespeare to seem like it couldn't sit on the shelf with modern forms of comedy, drama, and tragedy. His work need not sit and molder under guard as genius only understood by other literary, academic geniuses. I don't fully understand his genius. I still find his writing engaging, even with everything going against him: a stage form I never particularly cared for (Shakespeare is usually better read than watched), going on half a millennia old, on topics and people I normally have no interest in, frequently dropping into French, Latin, or Italian, coming from a culture I don't genetically share. Maybe there's some of his genius: his lewd, lurid, pedestrian appeal remains for the groundling in all of us.

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