The Importance of Reading Comprehension - Shakespeare Edition
Back in my heyday, I was blessed to be the editor of a literary magazine for middle and high school students. That periodical was called READ and it was one of many excellent products that came out of a time-honored, educational publishing company known as Weekly Reader. Though it has been, unbelievably, seven years since Weekly Reader disbanded, I still try to harbor many lessons I both learned and taught. One such lesson had to do with reading comprehension.
Get The Most Bang For Your Read
What’s the point in reading if you aren’t enjoying it? And how can you enjoy a story if you aren’t understanding it? This isn’t a trick question. Fictions — well-written fictions, anyway — are created with the intention of pleasing the reader with an interesting tale. If you are struggling to grasp what is being conveyed on the page, then maybe you’re just not into the work. It’s OK, you can move on. There’s never been more stories in the world to sink your teeth into, except for now… and now… and now. Well you get it, more words and more stories keep piling on to our collective artisphere. Don’t waste your time reading a bad one.
But what happens if you’re at the end of a story and you suddenly realize you’ve misread the entire thing? Does that happen? Surely not. How could you get through an entire book or <ahem> play without knowing what’s really going on?
Stop your procrastinating tease and hit me with your failure.
If you haven’t heard, I’m in the midst of a three-year project that has me tackling a new Shakespeare play each month. Currently, I am reading Comedy of Errors. Or rather, I have recently completed my reading of Comedy of Errors. That is a more accurate, error-free sentence.
Here we have a play that is (duh) a comedy. Is it necessarily “ha-ha funny?” Maybe, if you read it right. Me? I couldn’t have read the thing more wrong.
Luckily, it is Shakespeare’s shortest play coming in at an approachable 1,786 lines. Of those 1,786 lines, I probably read more than 1,500 of them under the assumption that the main character was going mad and quite possibly living two different lives, unbeknownst to himself. What the play is really about is much less heady. It is (I have now learned) a play about two sets of twin brothers, separated at birth, and discovering their respective twins in adulthood, unbeknownst to themselves. If that’s not enough of a head scratcher of a plot for you, imagine reading through it and not picking up on the fact that whenever Antipholus has a line, he is either referred to as ANTIPHOLUS OF SYRACUSE or ANTIPHOLUS OF ESPHEUS. Hence, two separate characters to keep track of. Not only that but there are also two DROMIOs, also from Syracuse and Espheus.
Reading comprehension, folks. It’s important.
I could make excuses and scream, “It’s not my fault! It was too confusing! I thought Syracuse and Espheus were, like, different titles the characters wore at different times!” or some such. But that’s a) a silly thing to think and b) not anything I ever considered while reading. So it would be a lie. I don’t appreciate liars or lying.
The truth is much simpler than all that. I just wasn’t paying attention. Only near the last half of Act V did I realize that there was much more at play here. I’d missed, essentially, the entire point of the story Shakespeare was trying to tell and all because I couldn’t focus my comprehension on the separate character names. To my own credit, for what it’s worth (if anything), perhaps this was a commonplace error — one that could have been made by any idiot first picking up the story and trying to appreciate a story that was not there. I thought Antipholus was mad, bonkers, insane. In fact, all the other characters in the play thought the same of him. Even his wife. There were times when he would not remember things that had literally just happened to him in a previous scene. I thought that very peculiar. But alas, the answer was very plain and probably very humorous to read, if you knew what the hell you were reading: that there were two Antipholuses being mistaken for each other. In addition, I imagine there were two Dromios being mistaken for each other. But how was I supposed to know any of that?
Reading comprehension, folks. It’s important.
My Foolish Pride
Rather than go back and redo my real-time reading experience, I am going to leave the bloggys as they are. They tell the tale of a highly imperfect reader grasping at plots that aren’t there. These two bloggys will be posted next week. Feel free to laugh at me openly as I attempt to make any sense of a seemingly nonsensical play. I missed all the points, all the humor, all the edgy puns and for what? All for a lack of comprehending. This egregious error is my own and I should own it. If nothing else, I imagine it will make for some good, self-ribbing comedy.
But honestly, how can two sets of twins separated at birth both be named Antipholus and Dromio? Furthermore, what are the chances those two boys would go off into the world and know each other? I don’t get it. I’ll have to do some serious plot research before composing the “Reveal” section of the bloggy. That’s how this little project of mine works. I read the plays cold, with zero help from the Internets. Then, when I’ve come to the end, I go down the rabbit-hole and read up on all things synopsis/analysis. Up until now, I’ve scored maybe 75% on my own nonexistent Shakespeare comprehension scale. But after this debacle, I’m sure I’ll have to knock myself down to at least 30.
Good times though!
See you next week with my literary flaws tattooed on my hands.