It is Shakespeare Week here at “Ross All Over the Map.”
Last night my wife and I went to The New American Shakespeare Tavern to see a great performance of Twelfth Night with new Atlanta friends. Today I am finishing up the Henriad (Richard II, Henry IV, part one, Henry IV, part two, and Henry V) in preparation for a reading group gathering, and I am beginning to prepare to teach Hamlet to High School juniors this year after not teaching the play for five years or so.
Apparently established and sustained by some of the most talented Shakespeare geeks in the world, The Shakespeare Tavern (founded in 1984) was a revelation to me. Since completing the entire canon (including those where the authorship is in question), they are now near completion of a cycle of performing all the comedies in the order they were written. Next they will stage the tragedies in the order of they were written. First up, Titus Andronicus—complete with liberal doses of blood and gore, I am certain. The Tavern webpage characterizes components of this tragedy of blood this way: “Human sacrifice. Murder. Rape. Mutilation. Cannibalism and suicide.” Get your tickets early!
It has been awhile since I have seen a professional group of actors perform Shakespeare, and last night’s performance reinforced an old understanding in me that a play can only come fully alive when one sees it on stage.
I have not always been the most generous of playgoers. I have been too quick to play critic, to stare through the hyper-analytical microscope. While last night’s production could easily stand up to such scrutiny, I find the act of surrendering to a play more and more attractive. It is far enjoyable to be open to the play put on the stage in front of us, so that we don’t mute its color and diminish its immediacy. When taking the surrendering approach, I find it possible to identify what is authentic about a performance, what is true about it, unclouded by the distraction of seeking first what may be slightly askew or broken.
In reading Shakespeare for a class or reading group, I find the first thing that falls away is the ability to feel the humor which is woven into so many corners of Shakespeare’s canon. I use the word “feel” because though I am able to note something as humorous when I read it, I rarely laugh. Seeing a good production of one of the plays gives us license to laugh without having to name first whether it was situational, dramatic or verbal irony (or some other device likely to show up on the Literature GRE).
As I head into this school year, I will keep in mind that hearing and seeing the lines performed is not simply an add-on to academic study, it is essential.
So it is all Shakespeare all the time around here right now, and I am enjoying it tremendously. …now back to Agincourt!