My favorite Shakespeare troupe, the KL Shakespeare Players, bring back their delightful Shakespeare Demystified series to penangpac starting this Thursday evening. I’ve caught many of their fun renditions over the years, and I’m sure this one will be up to the challenge of presenting the Bard’s MacBETH in relevant and understandable ways for the modern audience. So anyone in town should definitely make it a point to come support their endeavor. It is, in fact, how Shakespeare is supposed to be experienced – on the stage.
Way back in the day, I was an undergraduate English major. I had the massive Riverside Shakespeare edition which has enough bulk and heft for a government legislative bill. I lugged that thing around, I read all my assigned plays, I discussed them in class, I wrote a billion papers (slight exaggeration) on Shakespeare, and I received a less than satisfactory grade, leaving the class with an under-appreciation for Shakespeare’s bulk of plays.
And it seems to me that most English classes, whether high school or college, still miss the point with Shakespeare. They expect 21st century students to read turn of the 17th century English prose and poetry. I’m sorry, reading Shakespeare is boring, especially if you don’t understand it.
Shakespeare was written for the stage. It is meant to be spoken. Reading drama is an exercise similar to listening to the television. A major part of the experience is missing and along with that comes the flirtations with boredom and the sheer terror of writing a coherent paper that doesn’t rely on Spark Notes.
But if you give a student a character, have them research that character, have them think through motivations and objectives by using action and expression and interpretation, Shakespeare universal human themes will emerge in new and exciting ways.
We tend to approach Shakespeare in an academic manner. We should approach Shakespeare, even in our English classes, as an exercise in the performing arts. Allow the action to teach. Allow the action to frame the meaning of the words.
Stop reading Shakespeare and go watch it (or perform it yourself) instead.
I’ll see you at penangpac later this week.