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Shakespeare in the Park

Posted by Bethanny Lawson on September 1, 2015 at 9:50 PM

Thor:“You have no idea what you're dealing with.”

Iron Man: “Uh, Shakespeare in the park? Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?”

     Did you understand that reference? It's one of my favorite lines from The Avengers, partly because it's a really good line, and partly because it's tied to a bit of personal experience.

     My first experience with Shakespeare in the park was a few years ago when the Stone Soup Shakespeare company came to my town and performed “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Once a year they come and perform a Shakespeare play at Twin Lakes Park. This year they performed the comedy “Much Ado About Nothing.” It seemed like a great excuse to write about Shakespeare.

     Stone Soup Shakespeare always puts on an energizing and engaging performance, so it's still a surprise to me that the audience is relatively small. Why is that? My guess is that people don't understand, appreciate, or particularly enjoy Shakespeare. Of course it is difficult to enjoy something you don't understand. William Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of 54,000 words, compared to the average American's working vocabulary of a mere 3,000 words. Watching a Shakespeare performance for many people may be similar to watching a movie in French and they don't speak French.

     However, once you do understand the language, it's a thrill to watch. The wit and humor of Shakespeare mingled with his grasp on real life problems transcends the barriers of time and the deterioration of our common language. There are ways to learn to truly appreciate Shakespeare and understand the value of his work. Keep in mind that Shakespeare is not something only to be enjoyed by people of a certain status or education. Shakespeare did not write for the elite. He wrote for everyone, from royalty to the lowly, poorest masses.

     You may wonder why you should care about Shakespeare. Is it worth the effort? There are several reasons you should open your mind to Shakespeare even if you are not a love-at-first sight kind of fan. After all, I wasn't.

     Shakespeare dealt with real, timeless issues. Love, friendship, and vengeance are running themes throughout his works, along with more weighty issues such as racism and domestic violence in Othello and justice and mercy in The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare never shied away from controversy or favored being politically correct. In our day and age he may seem crude and disrespectful in certain aspects, especially in his practical jokes, but truth still rings from his words. comments, “Like everything else in the globalized 21st century, [Shakespeare} has been made 'safe for consumption' when nothing could be further from the truth. Shakespeare's plays are full of [off color humor], brutal violence, and political intrigue that would make Scooter Libby blush.”

     But isn't that the real world? Life isn't about sunshine and butterflies all the time, and Shakespeare isn't afraid to address the real world, although at the same time he points us to the beauty that does exist in our world.

     Tying into his ability to deal with such issues, Shakespeare's characters are fallible and real. They're not all that different from us. They're easy to relate to and root for or against. Even kings are depicted truthfully as having flaws and weaknesses. The characters deal with death, betrayal, jealousy, and hatred. Sometimes the audience is even tempted to justify the wrong actions of a character. Shakespeare takes people to the core of sensitive issues with characters whose shoes we can easily step into.

     Shakespeare also gave voice to a marginalized society. In a time when women weren't even allowed to perform on stage, Shakespeare refused to keep his female characters on the sidelines. They were often a critical part of the plot, going so far as to out-wit and trick the men to their own delight and the good of all. Take for example Portia, from The Merchant of Venice, who fooled everyone into thinking she was a man to save the life of her husband's best friend, a feat the men could not do without her help. Shakespeare was a very forward thinker who gave everyone a voice in his works.

     Shakespeare's works are extremely satisfying. He possessed a brilliant command of humor and wit and could use it subtly as well as by obvious means.

Gratiano: “Can no prayers pierce thee?”

Shylock: “No, none that thou hast wit enough to make.”

(The Merchant of Venice)

     Comebacks slide off the tongue with a pleasing tartness that easily silences people, and Shakespeare always completes his plays with final lines that tie up loose ends in a complete package.

Puck: “If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended—that you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream.”

(A Midsummer Night's Dream)

     He summarizes things in such a lavish and accurate way that we cannot help but be left with a feeling of deep satisfaction.

     If you're ready to give Shakespeare a second chance, “Much Ado About Nothing” would be a great place to start. It's a lighthearted comedy about two pairs of lovers: one pair who seem to hate each other and claim love can never be for them; the other is a happy couple destined for the altar. There is also a trouble maker who meddles with the affairs of the others and confuses the truth.

     Tom Hiddleston, famous for his role as Loki in Thor and The Avengers, claims “Much Ado About Nothing” is his favorite Shakespeare play because “it's the most beautiful, warm, redemptive, compassionate play that he ever wrote... it just leaves people with a very, very happy feeling in their heart.” That is the beauty of Shakespeare's comedies. We get a good laugh while being given a hopeful message about love and second chances. Maybe love where you least expect it. Shakespeare's work is human, relatable, and enjoyable. Shakespeare can also delve deeply into the darkness of this world, but not in this play. “Much Ado About Nothing” is perhaps Shakespeare's most lighthearted work.

     I hope I have left you without excuse. Why not give Shakespeare a try? Perhaps you can warm up to it like Tony Stark was able to appreciate Thor after he got past first impressions.

Categories: Redeeming the Arts

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