The Bard's Meme--from Sheila
What was your first introduction to William Shakespeare? Was it love or hate?
If we want to get technical, my first official exposure was in seventh grade--Mrs. H. liked to have the class memorize poems. (What a throwback, huh? And she was a lay teacher!) I didn't know at the time I was memorizing Shakespeare, but I think for as long as my memory works, I will be able to recite Sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"). I would go on to use it in college to audition for Oliver!--first, with my normal "MidAtlantic" accent, then with a formal British accent, and then with a sort of street-British accent. I landed three roles.
As for the plays, my high school admission test scores landed me in Honors English, and I was envious that the "regular" English classes got to read Twelfth Night. Mr. D. started our class on The Merchant of Venice, and if we had not read it aloud, I don't think I would have understood it at all. Maybe not hate, but certainly panic.
Which Shakespeare plays have you been required to read?
Let's see. . . 9th grade was The Merchant of Venice. And Measure for Measure? I know I read that somewhere in high school, because I did not understand the ending. After that, things get really blurry, because I think I read Hamlet in 11th grade--I fell in love with it sometime before senior year--and then I took a Shakespeare class in 12th grade, and after that I took at least two courses in college (I practically minored in Shakespeare). Definitely in 12th grade we read Hamlet (I had to act out a scene where the girl who threatened to beat me up played Hamlet and I played Ophelia--"I was the more deceived"), Romeo & Juliet, Taming of the Shrew, Othello, Midsummer Night's Dream, MacBeth.
How's this for accuracy--I'm pulling out my Complete Works "textbook" to see where I scribbled notes in college: Richard III, Merchant of Venice (again), Henry IV Part One, Henry IV Part Two, Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Hamlet (love it!), Troilus & Cressida, All's Well That Ends Well, Othello (again!), Measure for Measure (aha!), King Lear, MacBeth (again), Antony & Cleopatra, The Tempest.
Hmmm, I also had a flashback to where I was trying to study for a Shakespeare exam and was getting secondhand smoke (the special kind) from the dudes next door--and then the bathroom ceiling started leaking because the upstairs dude's toilet overflowed. I honestly don't know how I passed that exam.
Do you think Shakespeare is important? Do you feel you are a “better” person for having read the bard?
"Important" is not exactly the word I'd use. I know there are arguments about whether he really authored all the plays, whether he was a closet Catholic, whether he should be classified as a Dead White Guy--but yeah, I do think he has been a tremendous influence on not just literature but also language, drama, philosophy. . . and on a personal note, Hamlet affected me deeply as a depressed teen. I also have recollections of times I connected with my dad (a hard person to have a relationship with) looking up Shakespeare quotes in Bartlett's. I think I'm a "better" person for having read his works in that my mind and my soul have expanded as a direct result. I'm going to be a bit dogmatic and say that reading Shakespeare can make a person more well-rounded.
Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play?
I have a personal attachment to Hamlet, and a sentimental attachment to Twelfth Night. And Henry IV makes me think of my one professor Dr. C.'s amusement with Falstaff and his love of "sherry sack." She was the English Department's Chair, and people seemed afraid of her, but watching her smile as she held up an "authentic" bottle of sack someone gave her made her perfectly human to me.
How do you feel about contemporary takes on Shakespeare? Adaptations of Shakespeare’s works with a more modern feel? (For example, the new line of Manga Shakespeare graphic novels, or novels like Something Rotten, Something Wicked, Enter Three Witches, Ophelia, etc.) Do you have a favorite you’d recommend?
I don't have a problem with it at all, if it works, and there's none of that "This is the only way people can relate to it" tripe. It's just a different take on a play, and that is often done no matter who the author is. As for recommendations, I have always loved "10 Things I Hate About You," and--while I don't recall much of it--I thought "Romeo Must Die" was pretty good when I saw it in the theater. I know there's a WWII-set adaptation of Richard III, and I've always been curious as to what it was like. I have to say I didn't care much for the updated Hamlet one where he was a filmmaker. It was rather flat.
What’s your favorite movie version of a Shakespeare play?
Wow, that's hard to choose. One that I thought was really done well was The Merchant of Venice. I felt it was very spirited and true to the play.
That was a fun meme to do! One of the things I had wanted to do in 2008 was see Shakespeare performed live again (after the fun I'd had rounding up Younger Sister and her friends to go see a local production of Twelfth Night in 2007), and while I didn't get to do that, at least I got the chance to talk Shakespeare! Thanks, Sheila, and thanks, Ted.