April is the poet’s month. It provides them with inspiration: everything from Wordsworth’s daffodils to Chaucer’s shoures soote, his sweet showers. (In college I took a course on Chaucer. We even had to take a language lab in it to be able to pronounce the Middle English properly. That course was a pip. But I digress!)
April is also the month when lots of good people were born: my husband, my sister, the Queen who will be 88, and William Shakespeare. We celebrate his 450th birthday next Wednesday, the 23rd. Time to brush up your Shakespeare, as Cole Porter said in Kiss Me Kate.*
Shakespeare: poet and playwright, contributor of many new words and idioms to our language, and bane of the existence of high school students. I’m not going to go on and on about the lists of his plays, poems and sonnets, there are lists of those universally available, or the everyday language we owe to him – and we would hardly be able to express ourselves these days without him. I am going to moan about reading his plays in high school. Aaaaarg!
I’m hoping that high school students these days are introduced to Shakespeare live: stage plays, movies, TV, on line. Back in the late 50’s, reading his plays was, for me, a chore. To this day I have a hard time reading a play, so hard that I don’t read them at all. What gets to me? It’s the names of the characters that get me – see this from MIT’s Complete Works of William Shakespeare, a great source for the written word.
THE TRAGEDY OF HAMLET, PRINCE OF DENMARK ACT I
SCENE I. Elsinore. A platform before the castle.
FRANCISCO at his post. Enter to him BERNARDO
Those BERNARDOs and FRANCUSCOs stop me, and I get involved in who is saying what. My eye just can’t breeze past the names. If I were watching the play I’d have a visual of Bernardo and Francisco. Bernardo or Francisco would not name their name and then speak their line. Am I making myself clear? Of course it would be chaos for the actors learning a play if their character’s names were not given. Whose line is it anyway? (?) Anyway.
The plays we had to read in high school were Julius Caesar and Macbeth - not the most interesting to high school students. Why didn’t they choose A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Taming of the Shrew? Perhaps something really powerful like King Lear. How ‘bout The Tempest? How ‘bout any of the many Shakespeare plays I’ve seen since then? I remember a seeing Henry V, with the opposing sides, the French and the English, done up in silver and blue, wearing football helmets decorated with wicker baskets. Now that would interest the students: Henry V done as a football game. Yes, I do hope they make Shakespeare a visual these days.