Flowchart: which Shakespeare play to see

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/09/14/flowchart-which-shakespeare-p.html

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Don’t like Shakespeare? See Vortigern & Rowena!


Odd that simply reading them wasn’t considered an option.

The difference between reading Shakespeare and watching it performed well is the difference between taking a shower and being caught in a thunderstorm.


I literally counted to make sure they were all there.


That’s a long chart.
I’ll wait for the movie.


This reminds me of my English lessons at school. Seeing the RSC perform was far better than a classroom with kids reading from a book.


Yes I recall Shakespeare himself praising stagecraft at the expense of imagination, eking out with one’s mind the spectacle of the vastly fields of France sucking raw Renaissance sausage when compared with the the Globe threter’s cloudcapped towers and other lovely stage properties. Caviar to the groundlings and all that.

And I’ve never waited online in my library for free summer repertory tickets so there.

Or you could say that the difference between reading Shakespeare well and watching is that between an active informed imaginative experience and a passive less informed highculture consumption experience.

And who really gets Shakespeare without having read him? Are all the theater goers somehow versed in ElizJac English already . . . Without having read the same? As Chaucer is so shall Shakespeare be, no?

I would not argue in the least against the idea that reading Shakespeare’s plays, and familiarizing yourself with the dialect of English in which they were written, will contribute enormously to the experience of watching them performed live. But these are plays.

A novel is expanded by your imagination when it is read, as you are given characters, and lush descriptions of landscapes, and glimpses into the characters’ thoughts and emotions. It’s a conversation between you and the author, as the two imaginations entwine to create something new within the mind of the reader.

On the other hand, a play is limited by the imagination of the reader. Other than the barest sketches of setting, all of the information is provided by dialogue. As the endless seminars they kept inflicting on me when I was in helpdesk kept telling me, only 10% of the meaning of any conversation is carried in the words themselves. The rest is tone, facial expression, body language…

I once watched a transformation of “Taming of the Shrew,” looking at the relationship of Petruchio and Katherina through three lenses: the “contempt becomes love” plot as it is usually performed, a “love at first sight” plot where Katherina is only pretending to not be interested in Petruchio, and a “Petruchio beats Katherina into submission” plot where he abuses her until she “admits” she loves him… each ending with the same speech by Katherina announcing her love for her bridegroom, delivered very differently. All three of those interpretations were supported by the text of the original play.

When you watch a play, it’s not just a conversation between you and the author, it’s between you, the author, the director, each individual actor, and the rest of the audience as a whole. It’s not just your own imagination, limiting what you can perceive of the possibilities of the play, but a brand new way of looking at the play through someone else’s eyes.

Plus, if they’re good Shakespearean actors, they won’t deliver the iambic pentameter as buh-BUH, buh-BUH, buh-BUH- buh-BUH, buh-BUHHHH… …buh-BUH, (etc), but deliver it flowingly and naturally, yet without compromising its meter. It’s a trick I can’t quite get, even when reading the Bard.

So yes, I agree that there is value in reading Shakespeare. Showers are, after all, quite pleasant, but they are fully under your own control, and they are limited by that. But if you want to get blown off your feet and soaked in something completely unexpected, there’s nothing like a good thunderstorm.


Aw I was kidding mainly! That and processing some summer repertory experiences from decades ago, ugh. I mean the man wrote for the stage after all.

The flowing rhythm trick I could only have gotten from reading Shakespeare aloud to myself, friends, and later students. I generally don’t like the fluid fast quasi-period speed most actors give to the lines: i prefer the bombastic slower periodic style favored by the nineteenth century, orotund and slightly silly, like Karajan’s tempos.

Such sweet thunderstorm, AMIRITE

Also the comedy can really sing in even a shit performance!


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