Saturday, May 4, 2013

Immersed in Shakespeare


Last week I participated in a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream with a local homeschool drama group. I didn't have a very big part. In fact, by my calculations, my character of Philostrate, the Athenian "Master of Revels", literally had the least stage time of any character in the play. But I found, at the end of my experience, that although I had not been able to perform very much, I had gained something great anyway. I came to appreciate the beauty of Shakespeare like never before.

I'd read some of his plays for school last year, and thought I'd pretty much understood them (Shakespeare is not half as incomprehensible as people usually make him out to be). But I wasn't crazy about him. His poetry never thrilled me, as, say, Romantic poetry did. So I never bothered returning to it. I'd followed the plots; I'd figured out the language with the side-by-side notes. What else was there to appreciate?

A lot, as it turned out. During rehearsals for A Midsummer Night's Dream, I spent most of my time watching my fellow actors on stage. Our director did an excellent job of working through the language with us so that we could not only understand but also really care about what our characters were saying. I enjoyed performing the few lines I had. I enjoyed watching the black-and-white script come to life on stage in a rich and varied story. And, at last, I enjoyed hearing the poetry. After being "immersed", so to speak, in Shakespeare, for three months of rehearsal, I found to my surprise that listening to the same lines I'd heard week in and week out wasn't tedious or boring; it was fresher than ever. It felt as if I had broken into a new depth of Shakespeare--or he had broken into a new depth of me. The dialogues and monologues, exchanges and soliloquies, were no longer passages of fancy and quaint English to be analyzed, translated, and put away. They meant something. They sparkled with life, intelligence, humor, depth. For the first time, I began to grasp Shakespeare's genius.


Part of the credit goes, of course, to my wonderful director and fellow actors, several of whom are far more familiar with Shakespeare than I. Thanks to them and their talents, I'm now eager to take a better and more appreciative look at his many plays and poems. I'm hoping to go see a professional Shakespeare performance next month for my birthday. And I'm looking forward to a lifetime love of this great poet. Many, many thanks to all!