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Should Shakespeare be read?

 
lowercase baba
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In another thread, Campbell posted this:

Campbell Ritchie wrote:Music is supposed to be listened to not watched.


This reminded my of my belief that we teach Shakespeare wrong. He wrote plays, which should be SEEN, not READ.

I was a theatre major in college. I read a LOT of plays. It is very difficult to do, and not really something your average person knows how to do. If I had my way, we'd stop forcing kids to read his works, and have them go see live productions.

I'm curious what any literature majors (or really anyone) think of my opinion...
 
Marshal
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I hated reading Shakespeare. But in one class, we went to see a live performance of Macbeth and I was transfixed and enthralled.
 
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I have had to read Shakespeare in the last few weeks:
Much Ado About Nothing
Comedy of Errors
Henry VIII
the SCOTTISH PLAY
etc. … because I happen to chair the Play Selection Committee for the local amateur theatre company. You are right, Fred. Reading Shakespeare in class (as my wife and I both did when we were at school) is a good way to kill the whole thing. Seeing it performed however brings it to life, so yes, people should go and see a decent performance.

We are performing the SCOTTISH PLAY in the week for the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's death (Wed‑Sat around 23rd April 2016) but it may be a bit far you to travel to watch.
 
Campbell Ritchie
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A few minustes ago, I wrote: … 450th anniversary …

Sorry, that should read 400th.
 
fred rosenberger
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You're allowed to call it Macbeth when you are not in a theatre.
 
Campbell Ritchie
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Of course Shakespeare can only truly be experienced in the original Klingon.
 
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author and jackaroo
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Ryan McGuire wrote:Of course Shakespeare can only truly be experienced in the original Klingon.





 
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Speaking of "Shakespeare" and "original", there's a recent movement towards performing Shakespeare's plays in their original (English!) pronunciation. See Original Pronunciation for details about that.

Any of you theatre majors have an opinion about that? I don't know anything about it myself and I expect that viewing one of the Youtube videos which no doubt exist to illustrate the concept would be helpful, but I haven't done that.
 
Campbell Ritchie
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Something odd about the pronunciation in the YouTube readings. Th (θ) as in thin not as in this sounds a bit like S and terminal r is not pronounced. It is not normal to pronounce terminal r in modern English English, but would that be correct for 16th century Warwickshire?

I am not sure about it. That might be an additional burden on the performers who already have to struggle with 4‑century‑old vocabulary. Don't know.
 
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Ryan McGuire wrote:Of course Shakespeare can only truly be experienced in the original Klingon.


Geeks. I laughed so hard when it was first released in the theatre. Not sure anyone else caught the irony/humour.

And I agree, Shakespeare is meant to be seen/heard and not read.

Regards
Robert
 
fred rosenberger
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Paul Clapham wrote:Speaking of "Shakespeare" and "original", there's a recent movement towards performing Shakespeare's plays in their original (English!) pronunciation. See Original Pronunciation for details about that.

Any of you theatre majors have an opinion about that?


As one of the very few theatre majors here, I think that is a dumb idea. Plays are meant to be performed in the vernacular of the audience. If the audience can't understand it, what's the point?

 
Bear Bibeault
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fred rosenberger wrote:If the audience can't understand it, what's the point?


Opera!
 
fred rosenberger
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Bear Bibeault wrote:Opera!


Disclosure - I hate opera.

But...

An opera is as much about the music as the story, if not more so. There are many, many songs I listen to that I like, where I don't know the words - even songs in English. I hear the voice singing, but to me, it's more of an additional instrument enhancing the song, not necessarily the primary focus. Just like you don't focus on the bass-line, or the snare drum, it is a part of the whole.

Further, many operas are translated into other languages for the audience to understand. Most of the people I've met who think it should only be sung in the original language are snobs who feel they are somehow better than everyone else, because they appreciate the piece in the original Italian (or whatever).

I am not accusing you of this, I'm just talking about my experience having worked for Opera Theare of St. Louis.
 
Bear Bibeault
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fred rosenberger wrote:
Disclosure - I hate opera.


Actually, same here. Around the same time I was enthralled by Macbeth, I also saw the opera Manon. I was bored to tears. All I can remember is wanting to scream at the stage "Just put her out of her misery, man!"

But...

An opera is as much about the music as the story, if not more so. There are many, many songs I listen to that I like, where I don't know the words


I completely understand this. Many people may not realize this (or may disagree) but some of the most interesting music is scores to, of all things, anime. And of course, very little of it is in English. When I'm listening to songs whose words I cannot understand, I hear the voices simply as instruments. Some of it is stimulating, some of it energizing, and some hauntingly beautiful.
 
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And to paraphrase Clint Eastwood: "If you need to sing, sing; don't dance."
 
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Robert D. Smith wrote: Not sure anyone else caught the irony/humour.


That will be me.

Campbell Ritchie wrote:Seeing it performed however brings it to life, so yes, people should go and see a decent performance.


The latter part is equally important as the former. I mean I have not seen any English plays but in general.
There are a couple of plays in my mother tongue which could be wine or water based on who is performing.
 
Campbell Ritchie
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I know of pieces of music which can be wine, water or vinegar depending on who is performing
 
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fred rosenberger wrote:
Further, many operas are translated into other languages for the audience to understand. Most of the people I've met who think it should only be sung in the original language are snobs who feel they are somehow better than everyone else, because they appreciate the piece in the original Italian (or whatever).



I think in some cases it's because they don't want to be distracted by how silly the lyrics are once they can understand them :).
 
Matthew Brown
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I'd agree that it's much better to see a play than to read it. But to study it, aren't you going to have to read it anyway? Unless you can get a recording and play it over and over again. There's no way I'd be able to write the sort of essay I'd expect to have to write on a single viewing. And I suspect many schools do take children to see productions (when they are available - you are constrained by what is playing in the local area unless a filmed version is available). But maybe the balance can be improved.

In the spirit of the Klingon version above, have a look at this: http://watch.terminatorthesecond.com/. I'd love to see a real production of that!
 
fred rosenberger
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Matthew Brown wrote:I'd agree that it's much better to see a play than to read it. But to study it, aren't you going to have to read it anyway?


Well that's just it...Why do we have high school kids study it? do you hand them the sheet music to a Beethoven piece and expect them to be able to analyze it? Or do you PLAY it for them, over and over if need be, so they can hear it?

Yes, there are people who can do it. It is a skill that can be learned, but you have to learn it. Just handing the text to someone isn't fair. It took me years of practice (hmm...just like learning to program) to be any good at reading a play and being able to 'see' it in my mind.

 
Campbell Ritchie
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Better than playing it to them would be to get them to play it for themselves. Or for a play/opera/whatever, to perform it themselves. You learn a piece much better by performing it.

But that may be infeasible with the time and people available.
 
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Shakespeare plays definitely need to be seen, one way or another. I've not seen many on-stage as I don't live near that kind of theatre. But I have seen some good TV productions and films of Shakespeare over the years. The BBC did a season of the history plays recently, as well as some gripping TV productions of Hamlet (David Tennant) and Macbeth (Patrick Stewart). I've seen some good versions of "Richard III" on TV/film, which always seems relevant (especially now his bones have been found and people are busy revising the Tudor view of him). And I seem to be one of the minority who enjoyed the film of "The Tempest" with Helen Mirren as Prospero, while Al Pacino's take on "The Merchant Of Venice" was interesting too. Of course, I can happily watch pretty much anything with Al Pacino in it at least once (except "Devil's Advocate" which was always crap).

True, the film/TV productions are often abridged. But if you can't find (or create) a stage production, then at least the film version can help students get to grips with the plays - even a 20 year old film is going to be more fun than wading through the printed text from a cold start (based on my dismal experience in the late 1970s of grinding through "Richard II" for week after week). Once students have a handle on the broad themes and characters, it is going to be much easier to dig into the details and nuances of the text.

As for opera, I generally feel it's an advantage not to understand the text, as it's usually so banal. Just enjoy the music, folks!
 
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My PBS station has been broadcasting the series "Shakespeare Uncovered." The station also has the full length PBS versions of the plays mentioned in this thread online so they can be streamed. I am watching the Uncovered episodes and then finding the full version of the plays the episode discusses and watching them.
 
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It should be seen and with original accents, which is a new trend. A lot is missed otherwise. For example hour sounded like whore and ripe sounded like rape as it still does. Read, it's "From hour to hour we ripe and ripe and hour to hour we rot and rot". And thereby hangs a tale

But it's also intereting to read in modern English. I wouldn't try to read it in Elisabethen English.


 
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I never knew you could get modern English versions of Shakespeare to read. I have only seen Elizabethan English versions. But you should make sure to get marginal notes to explain the words which have changed their meaning.
 
Guillermo Ishi
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^There might be more authoritative modern English versions but there's No Fear Shakespeare.
http://nfs.sparknotes.com/
 
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Reading a book is not just about reading. It's about turning on your imagination and getting far, far away with it. This is what makes our wifes asking if we are still alive, after one hour spent in a toilet.

Shakespeare is great to read if you open your imagination. That's a lot better than a theater IMO (but probably I just never was in a good theater).
 
Campbell Ritchie
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Shakespeare didn't write books. He wrote plays and poems.
 
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Oops, my face just turned red. Shame on me, you are right.

Still, his plays and poems are casted into books. Reading them is nice.
 
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Reading them is only worthwhile as preparation for performing the plays
 
Andrew Polansky
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The play performance would need to be done really, really good to make me think like that. Unfortunately I wasn't in the best theater when I saw Macbeth, thus maybe my opinion is like that.

In fact I could go again to a theater, this time to a good one, to try change my mind, but sadly there are no Shakespeare plays in the plans.
 
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One of the worst things about reading Shakespeare is that if it's authentically typeset, the spelling is all over the place.

Back then English typesetters tended to get their fonts from Continental foundries, notably Germany and Italy. Neither of those languages had a "thorn", so that letter ended up being set with a "y" (as in "ye country Inne", pronounced "THe country Inn" - unless you're really old and still pronounce the terminal "e"). Likewise the frequency of usage for different letters in German and Italian isn't the same as the famous English "etaoinshrdlu". So if you came up short on "u"s, you shoved in a "v" or vice versa, and I's and J's were also at risk.

Hmm. Can I type a "thorn" in the Ranch? I'm on a big save þe þorn kick!
 
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In India, You can not pass some universities' M.A english exams without reading Shakespeare.
 
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