Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare

Once again -- and this is going to become a familiar refrain -- I'm involved in the theater. Only this time, I'm (probably) not on stage.

A common comment from friends and acquaintances who attended Twelfth Night was that we did a great job with the production, but they wished that the language could have been modernized. Certainly, Shakespeare's words were easier to understand in performance than in writing... but they felt it lost (or they missed) something because of the language's antiquity.

For people who struggle with Shakespearean English, these books are great dual-language editions. They're the texts we use with the children who will be performing A Midsummer Night's Dream in May. But -- and this is a big but -- the kiddos don't perform the "modern" English version. They perform it Shakespearean-style.

And there's not much more impressive than a little kid reading, understanding, and then performing a piece of Shakespearean dialogue.

I completely understand those people who say that Shakespeare, even on stage, is sometimes difficult to understand. Heck, I agree with them. But anything literary -- and I'm including film and television here -- is most rewarding for everyone involved when it takes a little extra concentration and a little extra effort to comprehend it. When it rewards the reader or viewer for paying attention earlier on, whether it was three acts or three hundred pages or thirteen episodes ago. When it doesn't assume the lowest common denominator.

And to anyone who finds Shakespeare incomprehensible -- I've done it before, and I'll do it again -- I point at these amazing students and say, "They can do it."


  1. That's one of my favorite plays. It's going to be interesting to see young children doing it.

    Shakespeare can be hard to understand, both in the way the words are put together and some of the words themselves. There's a lot of words that have just fallen out of use or were plain made-up. People better be paying attention or they're gonna stumble, and when you do understand it all, don't you feel just the tiniest bit more superior?

  2. It's funny to me that you've been getting so involved with Shakespeare in your adult life. You use to hate him!

  3. Yeah, yeah. I know I did. I think it was one part not having Shakespeare properly presented in school, one part rebelliousness against the canon, and one part misreading the now-infamous Tolkienian take on the Bard. All three have now changed!

  4. To be honest, I hated a lot of prescribed readings from school. James Joyce was little more than a moronic rambler, as far as I was concerned at 16. But I encountered Joyce again one spring in college, perusing my roommate's bookshelves in search of something to read--other than what was assigned and due for class. The impact was as tremendous as it was unmistakable. Joyce was brilliant after all! So perhaps it is that good books, like good medicine, never go down well when prescribed, but oh how we rejoice in their restorative qualities. (And in the case of contemporary young men, I'm sure Shakespeare gains in his share of brilliance primarily when his writing exposes them to plenty of young women in tight corsets and descending necklines.)