Miii wrote a blog post today about appreciating Shakespeare. As she’s an English teacher and all, I wasn’t really surprised that she wrote about Will. She ended the post with a question:
HOW can I appreciate Shakespeare?
Ahaha. I bet a hundred gazzillion students are asking that as I write.
I know I’ll sound like a geek when I’ll say this, but I love Shakespeare’s work. I’m not as addicted to it now than I was before, but I’m still fond of Will’s plays. (Of his sonnets, though, not so much…I never did get poems.)
There was a phase in grade school when I was so addicted to Romeo and Juliet. I had to type the infamous Act II Scene II (a.k.a. the balcony scene) for a school project then, and it so sparked my interest — bookworm that I was — that I read the whole play later. My love for Master Shakespeare’s plays returned in high school, when (again) they became part of our subject matter. I was assigned to do a book report on The Tempest.
But, I digress.
Let’s go back to the original question: How to appreciate Shakespeare?
My answer: Watch movies based on his plays.
I’m sure it’s not THE answer, but that’s what helped me. Yes, I was already interested, but what fanned my curiosity was the imagery I get from films and other adaptations.
To be honest, the first adaptation I stumbled upon (actually, Sara stumbled upon it and shared it with me) was MacHiei. It’s a Yuu Yuu Hakusho fanfiction that dealt with how the characters of the anime will do if they act out MacBeth. It was hilarious, and went down in my personal history as the funniest fanfic ever.
After that, I tried to read the real MacBeth, but because I was too reminded of MacHiei (thus destroying the tragedy aspect of it all) I eventually paused and hunted for a movie adaptation. Atom lent me his copy of Men of Respect. It’s a pretty good take on the play, setting it in the midst of mafia wars and such.
My favorite Shakespeare play, though, is Twelfth Night, Or What You Will. It’s the only Shakespearean play that I read and enjoyed without the help of a movie. BUT when I watched the adaptation of the play in the mid-90s (with Helena Bonham Carter in it as Olivia), it helped even more! It’s done SO well! It’s set in the 19th century, but the treatment is sort of modern, so it doesn’t come as stiff. As for a more recent adaptation, there’s She’s the Man starring Amanda Bynes.
There are a dozen more — err…even hundreds, maybe? — film adaptations of Will’s plays, if ever you’re interested. Here are the ones I’ve watched/plan to watch.
Shakespeare in Love is a really good movie, and I think it’ll get you to appreciate him a bit more. It adds to his humanity, I guess, and removes that mushy-poetry-geek-in-poofy-pants mentality of him, and replaces it with a hanyaaaan-so-romantic-and-cool-bishie image. Still in poofy pants, yes, but, whatever.
10 Things I Hate About You is based on Taming of the Shrew. Same plot and similar developments, the setting is a high school in the States. Stars Julia Stiles, Larisa Oleynik, and Heath Ledger. Julia Stiles stars in another film based on a Shakespeare play: the 2000 adaptation of Hamlet, with Ethan Hawke this time.
Stage Beauty (Claire Danes, Billy Crudup) will make you appreciate Othello, methinks. (The shounen ai parts kind of creeped me out a bit, though.) It’s not an adaptation, really, but the story revolves around theater actors, and the play of focus is Othello. There’s a film adaptation of the same play starring Lawrence Fishburne as the noir, and it was hauntingly good.
Of course, I think most movie-goers know about Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet, starring Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. There’s a new anime currently running in Japan entitled RomeoxJuliet. It’s loosely based on the play, and the plot’s a bit different, but if it’ll strike your interest in Shakespeare, then great.
Al Pacino acted in the 2004 film adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. I haven’t watched it, though. But I’m sure Al Pacino does an awesome job, as he always does.
There’s a Midsummer Night’s Dream movie in 2000 (or was it ’99?) with a pretty star-studded cast. Michelle Pfeiffer, Kevin Kline, Rupert Everett, Calista Flockhart, and Stanley Tucci, to name a few. Haven’t watched that, either. Feh.
Speaking of star-studded casting, there’s an adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing by Kenneth Branagh (with Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington,
Keanu Reeves, Kate Beckinsale, and…other people) . It’s nothing super spectacular, but at least it gives you a bit of visuals for when you read the play. And there were moments that cracked me up, too. Emma Thompson does comedy well. (And I’ve always loved sparring couples. Haha!) Kate Beckinsale’s Hero was…err… too whiny for me, though. Pretty, yes, but a bit of a crybaby.
Kenneth Branagh has done a LOT of Will’s plays, taking part in the film as a director and as an actor. Love’s Labour’s Lost kinda sucked, though… Then again, the play itself wasn’t spectacular, either. His adaptation of As You Like It (based in 19th centry Japan! Lol) got favorable reviews, but I have yet to watch it. Hmmm I wonder how Kevin Kleine does his Jacques. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Mukya~!
In all honesty, even though I love Will’s plays, I have yet to completely overcome the language barrier. I can manage, yes, but I still need movies and online summaries to help me for the first reading.
So, in summary: How to appreciate Will’s work? Get some visualization down. Movies help. If movies aren’t your thing, then go watch a play. If that’s not your thing, either, then get someone to tell you the story before reading. And even if you don’t actually read the play…
Well, at least you know Shakespeare. ^_^