The Play’s The Thing

My future daughter-in-law is visiting while she and my son make wedding plans and try to find an apartment. In between their running to and from appointments, she finds time to do her Shakespeare homework for school. She showed me her five-pound Complete Shakespeare that she lugged out with her from Michigan and I pulled out my beat up five-pound copy to compare. Mine has definitely seen better days.

Makes me think back to my young days when I first saw Romeo and Juliet, the Zeffirelli version. I was twelve. My friends and I sat through multiple showings because we were trying to see Romeo’s butt when he got out of bed. I was scandalized that he would really be naked under those sheets. But unlike my friends, that movie ushered me into a lifelong love of Shakespeare. I bought the paperback version of Romeo and Juliet and quoted the balcony scene for weeks. After that, I read all the comedies and several of the histories. I’ve never been a big fan of the tragedies, with one exception. Hamlet is my all time favorite play, with Cyrano de Bergerac a close second, even if it’s not one of the Bard’s.

Hamlet is perfect. He’s the perfect character and the play is perfect in construction. When my son was in middle school, he wanted to enter a school talent contest. He was thinking of quoting a poem, but I upped the ante and pulled out Hamlet’s soliloquy. Once we worked our way through it so he understood what was going on, he tore it up on stage. He said it better than anyone I’ve heard, and yes that’s Mom talking, but also a true Hamlet fan talking. I’ll pass on discussing my own lame version of Ophelia that I played at a Shakespeare festival. The poor girl suffered enough.

There’s just something wonderful about the wit and language of these plays, and sonnets. I find a lot of performances insufferably cute or horribly pretentious. So much so that I’m afraid to spend the money to see them. Best really to sit quietly and read them while the scenes play out in your head, try as you might to think of someone else besides Gweneth Paltrow playing Portia or Helena.

Shakespeare was the Michelangelo of wordsmithing. I almost wish he had also written prose. His language sweeps from coarse to sublime effortlessly. If novels more popular in his time, he would have, no doubt, written classics, though I suppose that he had a real love for the stage. It’s just amazing that the greatness of his writing continues to carry on. Just goes to show that excellence lives long after mediocre is forgotten.

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