The Shakespeare Challenge
William Shakespeare had a birthday this past week. He has one every year, in fact. April 23 is the day we meager humans have chosen to celebrate the ever-illuminated Bard. It is generally agreed that he was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon either on this day, or an adjacent day, most likely. But for all intents and purposes, April 23 is it. Why don’t we know for sure? Records are spotty, I guess, and he wasn’t that much of a literary God back when he was fresh out of the womb. We do know he was baptized in Holy Trinity Church on April 26. Over time, we have used this information to deduce/guesstimate he was born three days prior to that wetting.
Do they call baptisms a “wetting"?” Surely, someone must have referred to it as such, somewhere along the way? It’s not sacrilege. It’s what happens!
At any rate, today is April 25. We are in the span between Shakespeare’s birthday and his Wetting Day, and I miss him. It‘s been too many years to count since I’ve read him. Back when I was employed as an editor at Weekly Reader, we would print at least one Shakespeare play a year in READ magazine. Since then, I’m afraid I’ve quite fallen off his turnip wagon. Not only that, but there are a number of his works that are considered crucial literary canon for anyone calling himself a Shakespeare aficionado! And I have yet to read them.
Ahem. I’ve never called myself a Shakespeare aficionado. But I do love him. And I’ve neglected him now for far too long.
In his lifetime, William Shakespeare penned 37 plays. I won’t admit to how many I’ve consumed and how many have escaped me. Instead, I will set out on a quest to read each and every one, once and for all. Easy peasy Shakespeare squeasy.
How To Read Shakespeare Well (Enough)
Look, I don’t know if I’m actually going to accomplish this or not. I’ve admittedly got quite a lot of other stuff on my proverbial plate. Like anyone else, I am an eater of food and a sleeper of dreams. I am a father, a writer, a circus clown, a daredevil, a thief, a bodega owner, a gourmet chef for animal royalty, a puppet master, a learned pianist in her majesty’s secret orchestra, and an amateur star gazer. Between all these pursuits and endeavors, I (quite tragically) have very little time to read. When I do, I try to absorb what enthuses me. I generally enjoy narrative fiction — plots that go above and beyond themselves searching for well-disguised human truths. I imagine I will be sacrificing some such contemporary stories for this crazed, self-imposed 16th (and early 17th) century challenge. But honestly, life is short. If I don’t do this now, then when?
I won’t attempt to lay out any timeline. I’ll read when I can and occassionally bloggy my progress. Ideally, I’d like to write a separate review for each play but we’ll see how it goes. That sounds, even to me, like a laborious effort. If I can read and report on how the effort is going once a month, I’ll be happy.
I suppose I should also just take them one by one and in alphabetical order for structure’s sake. Damnit, did I just lay out the timeline I literally just rallied against? That’s fine. Order and structure is what makes the world go round, right? Besides, who’s going to call me out on it if I don’t deliver on this monthly pseudo-promise? Banquo’s ghost? He’s got better things to do. He’s off somewhere consuming the complete works of Christopher Marlowe.
Macbeth Is My Macfav
Of the plays I have read, Macbeth is my favorite. I can’t wait to read it again. Where does it fall on the list? M? That’s gotta be up top somewhere, right? Eh.
Out of 37 plays, Macbeth falls on his sword at 19. It doesn’t get more “in the middle” than that. So according to my flippant timeline, I should be reading “the Scottish play” approximately 19 months from now. That’s, er, hold on… calendar math… carry the one… November of 2020. Anything else happening then? No? Super. I look forward to it with bated breaths and eyes of newts and toes of frogs and so forth.
The Plan’s The Thing!
All's Well That Ends Well ~ Acts I, II, III ~ Acts IV, V, Reveal
Antony and Cleopatra ~ Acts I, II, III ~ Acts IV, V, REVEAL
As You Like It ~ Acts I, II, III ~ Acts IV, V, Reveal
Comedy of Errors ~ Acts I, II, III ~ Acts IV, V, Reveal
Coriolanus ~ September, 26, 30
Up next: Cymbeline ~ October 28, 30
Henry IV, Part I (December)
Henry IV, Part II (January 2020)
Henry V (February 2020)
Henry VI, Part I (March 2020)
Henry VI, Part II (April 2020)
Henry VI, Part III (May 2020)
Henry VIII (June 2020)
Julius Caesar (July 2020)
King John (August 2020)
King Lear (September 2020)
Love's Labour's Lost (October 2020)
Macbeth (November 2020)
Measure for Measure (December 2020)
Merchant of Venice (January 2021)
Merry Wives of Windsor (February 2021)
Midsummer Night's Dream (March 2021)
Much Ado about Nothing (April 2021)
Othello (May 2021)
Pericles (June 2021)
Richard II (July 2021)
Richard III (August 2021)
Romeo and Juliet (September 2021)
Taming of the Shrew (October 2021)
Tempest (November 2021)
Timon of Athens (December 2021)
Titus Andronicus (January 2022)
Troilus and Cressida (February 2022)
Twelfth Night (March 2022)
Two Gentlemen of Verona (April 2022)
Winter's Tale (May 2022)
Wow. That’s a lotta Henrys. And a lotta months! Three years and one month to be precise! Holy cow. OK, I can’t look at like that. You just did! It’ll be fine. I can do it. Maybe probably. That’s a decent reading schedule but maybe I’ll combine one or two plays per bloggy. Or not. I don’t know! Chaos reigns!
The Reason And The Madness
I am, by no means, a wise man. That’s all right. I know my limitations. In so knowing them, I recognize this won’t be an easy undertaking; the chances I’m setting myself up for derailment and disappointment are high. But on the off chance that I read even one Shakespeare play that I haven’t already, can’t that be reason enough? In my mind, Shakespeare was, is, and always will be one of the greatest (if not the greatest) writers of all time. Surely one can learn in spades by studying his prose, his language, his characters, their interactions, and stories. Whether a history, tragedy, or comedy, the lessons are all there, just ripe for the plucking. So fetch me my plucking stick, Yorick!
Yessir, right away sir.
Is that relevant? It’s been awhile since I’ve read Hamlet but I’m pretty sure Yorick’s but a skull in the ground. We’ll fact check that come this next November.
Verily! If you can see yourself to that point, sir.
Don’t besmirch yourself, Yorick. You make yourself a very grave man.
That’s a Mercutio reference! Wrong play, jackass!
Right. I’ve got some work to do. What’s up first? All’s Well That Ends Well. What an ironically perfect, reverse-apropos tale!
Come hell or high waters, we’ll see what comes… in late May.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sing it, Shakespeare!
If you would like to read along with me but don’t have a Shakespeare compilation, all of his plays are free on the Internets.
Click here to visit MIT’s full and free Shakespeare library. Alternatively, there are numerous inexpensive options available on Amazon.
Please join me in my first endeavor: a reading of All’s Well That Ends Well. My intent, as of now, is to give a SPOILER FILLED review on Thursday, May 30.
To the theatre!