Zestful Blog Post #273
I often find myself, when talking to groups about writing, giving a particular piece of advice, and I’d like to mention it here:
If you read and well digest nothing of Shakespeare but the three main tragedies—Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth—you will have all you really need of the Bard. This of course is arguable. There are Shakespeare scholars who would consider what I just said blasphemy. Isn’t blasphemy a good old word? Aye, ’tis.
[my college-days editions, with crayoned prices…bastards always overcharged...]
You can argue for Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, and the popular comedies like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night. You can argue for any of his plays; I mean, the guy was a genius with words and stories. Personally, I find his comedies to be kind of tiresome, with all the mistaken identities and blind misunderstandings. They’re like lots of operas in that way, but without the great songs.
I’m talking about a hack that will educate you pretty damn well as to what Shakespeare was all about, and that will give you a solid grounding in what are considered by many to be his top three plays—as in most influential, most popular, most highly regarded by scholars and dramatists. So many cultural references come from those three tragedies I couldn’t even begin to do them justice. But off the top of my head:
“To be or not to be…” Hamlet
“Nothing will come of nothing…” Lear
“Out, damned spot! out, I say.” Macbeth
Ideally, you’ll read and study these plays via annotated versions, which will tell you things like what the hell a ‘chameleon’s dish’ is and what it’s supposed to mean. Right, that’s from Hamlet. Chameleons were thought to live on air, and thus there might be a pun on ‘heir’, involving a possible implication by Hamlet that he might not be entirely satisfied with the promise of succession to the throne. But others differ. You can start to see why Shakespeare is as heavily studied and interpreted and argued over as the Talmud, which makes it an endless source of interest. You can read and reread these plays and notice and learn new things every time. Then you can go to a Shakespeare festival and have the time of your life. Apart from that personal enrichment, whenever you’re in company talking about literature and the Bard comes up, you’ll have a good grounding and be able to contribute.
Part of my admiration for Shakespeare is his economy. He packs so much plot, character arc, and action into so few pages! My annotated copy of Hamlet is only 172 pages long! Lear is even shorter at 147! Macbeth shorter still at 100!
Now, I call this a fast hack, which is a relative term. Compared with skimming a couple of copies of People in the dentist’s waiting room, reading three Shakespeare plays is slow. But compared with reading all or most of his plays, reading these three is fast.
And there ya go. Are you a Shakespeare devotee? Tell us about your experiences with the work of the great Bard. To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.
Before I go, I want to give a shout-out to pal and Zestful Blog follower and commenter Ona Marae, whose debut novel, Gum for Gracie, is available!
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