Falling in Love with Shakespeare

I grew up on Shakespeare. My first of his plays was As You Like It, and I still remember watching Audrey pick her feet and eat a raw onion onstage (not necessarily in that order). A few years later I was struck with the resemblance of one of the walk-ons in a history play to a girl I stood near in choir. Then there was the night that the tip of a soldier’s spear came off in the heat of battle and swung wildly from its mooring. Another time a tree fell over. And–best of all to my decidedly immature mind–was a performance in which someone crawled from the wings into the scene just to see whether he would be noticed. He was. When I think of these random memories what strikes me is that I don’t remember the words of the plays at all. Not any of them.

Fast forward fifteen years. My fiancĂ©e is directing A Winter’s Tale, so I check a cassette tape (yes, I’m dating myself) out of the library and listen to John Gielgud and others recreate the story. I am mesmerized by the sounds–the rhyming, the rhythm, the cadence, the imagery, the humor, the pathos, the pure magic of Shakespeare! I find myself memorizing large portions of the uncut play before rehearsals even start. I attend rehearsals and give cues to the cast when lines are dropped (much to my fiancee’s chagrin). On opening night I am on the edge of my seat, biting my lip to keep from mouthing the lines. “Too hot, too hot,” I intone with Leontes. “Let him that makes but trifles of his eyes first hand me,” I threaten with brave Paulina. I smile when Florizel says, “I bless the time when my good falcon made its flight across thy father’s ground.” And there are tears in my eyes as the virtuous queen announces, “You precious winners all!” I have since seen A Winter’s Tale at least eight more times and am thrilled anew with each “What’s gone and what’s past help must be past grief.”

So what does this have to do with you, dear Theatregoer? Merely this, far from breeding contempt, familiarity with Shakespeare breeds delight. Study the plays. Read synopses and articles and reviews. View clips and watch movie versions. Compare different actors’ interpretations. You will not tire of these timeless tales. You will fall in love with them.

What was your first Shakespeare play? What stands out in your memory about it?

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6 Responses to “Falling in Love with Shakespeare”

  • Dan Olinger Says:

    OK, I’ll confess to a moment of confusion when you mentioned your fiancee and then commented that you’re dating yourself. Took me a minute to figure that one out.

  • Yorick Says:

    Glad to see you’re paying attention! A good editor would’ve had me change that, huh?

  • Lori R Says:

    I’m pretty sure that my first experience with live Shakespeare came in the fall of 1989. I came to BJU (from Pennsylvania) to visit campus as a high school sophomore, and had a ticket to see Richard III.

    Even though I barely grasped the plot of the play or the meaning of the lines, I was hooked. Most of my Shakespeare education had to wait until I came to college, but I quickly learned to look forward to every spring & fall production.

    Nothing made me more happy as a teacher now (high school English) than the spring of 2007, when my small high school mounted a production of Hamlet that our audiences loved. The students walked away for a deep love of that masterpiece. I remember one public school football jock (a friend of one of our actors) running up to me afterward and saying, “Mrs Ramey, I have no idea what just happened, but that was AWESOME.” He’s come to every one of our plays since then.

    Yessss. We’ve hooked another one! :)

  • Yorick Says:

    That’s great! Indeed “the play ‘s the thing” for hooking kids on good literature.

  • Emily Says:

    I’m pretty sure that my first experience with live Shakespeare came in the fall of 1989. I came to BJU (from Pennsylvania) to visit campus as a high school sophomore, and had a ticket to see Richard III.

    Even though I barely grasped the plot of the play or the meaning of the lines, I was hooked. Most of my Shakespeare education had to wait until I came to college, but I quickly learned to look forward to every spring & fall production.

    Nothing made me more happy as a teacher now (high school English) than the spring of 2007, when my small high school mounted a production of Hamlet that our audiences loved. The students walked away for a deep love of that masterpiece. I remember one public school football jock (a friend of one of our actors) running up to me afterward and saying, “Mrs Ramey, I have no idea what just happened, but that was AWESOME.” He’s come to every one of our plays since then.

    Yessss. We’ve hooked another one! :)

  • Donna Says:

    I distinctly remember my first experience with Shakespeare.

    It was in November of 2007; my sister and I had come up to Bob Jones for Opportunity Days and received free tickets to “Much Ado About Nothing”. I sat in the right side of the balcony and didn’t understand and can remember very little of the dialogue except for “Benedict the married man”, but I do remember the action of the play. It was excellent!

    I think that experience is what made me want to know more about Shakespeare. Since then I have read over half a dozen plays and seen at least as many performances- some more than once! I especially enjoy watching the documentaries in the Classic Players’ archives (over and over and over again).

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