Saturday, September 02, 2006

Big questions

Last weekend I found myself in a discussion about whether you should be introduced to Shakespeare by reading or watching the play[1].

(So far Night of the Hats has generally kept away from the subjects of what I sometimes call Big Questions (politics, religion etc.) as there are hundreds of websites giving informed and/or interesting commentary on these topics[2], and you aren't here for that anyway I'd have thought. I will occasionally talk about art here as, if this blog is about anything[3], it's about the creative process. One of the reasons these are big questions is that they don't have simple answers. I'll be trying to put both sides of the argument here, but as I was on one side, my grasp of the other side may be incomplete. Bear with me)

As I was saying, I found myself discussing with Claire[4] about whether you should be introduced to Shakespeare by reading or watching the play. Now I think it should be the play as they were written as plays to be seen; the language is a bit opaque, but you can pick up on the meaning by watching the action; the rhythm of the blank verse (and other verse) comes out when you read it; and, of course, as my Mum comes from Stratford and we would visit often when my Nan lived there, I saw half a dozen Shakespeare plays before I ever sat down to read one, and if it's good enough for me, I don't see why everyone else shouldn't do it that way.

Claire's points, which as I noted above I may be distorting, were that you should read it first as:

1. It was written first before it was acted;
2. The opacity of the language is reduced by reading, re-reading and looking things up;
3. You pick up more of the structure and design by reading which is hidden when performed.

(It may be worth noting that Claire works as a photographer, while if I have a preferred form of expression, it's the written word).

Well, noone was convinced before my brother arrived with the cheese platter. But since then I watched Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Now I could have sworn that I'd seen it before, and thought I'd read it at school. But it turns out I hadn't. And it was a bit opaque. And I couldn't tell if it had been abridged. And I was about half a second behind on the jokes. And this is supposed to be accessible, sexy Shakespeare.

So maybe there's something to reading it first after all.

[1] For a variety of reasons we didn't touch on the option of introduction by acting in the play, which is sort of reading-while-figuring-out-how-to-act.
[2] There's at least 10,000 more that aren't interesting or informed, and that's just the ones I've looked at recently.
[3] Which it isn't.
[4] Not that Claire. This is a friend of my brother (the dream-obitury-genius brother from a few posts back).

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