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Booking through Thursday: Shakespeare

I came across this question while going through old posts on Booking Through Thursday:

Okay, show of hands … who has read Shakespeare OUTSIDE of school required reading? Do you watch the plays? How about movies? Do you love him? Think he’s overrated?

While the subject is now closed, I thought it was a rather good blogging prompt, so here is my reply:

I have only read a couple of Shakespeare's plays outside of school: Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream. I suppose that as an English major I should feel ashamed that I didn't read any of his plays at university, but since my focus was linguistic, not literary, I make no excuses.

In any case, I prefer to see plays performed, either on stage or as films. I know the stories of most of the comedies and tragedies, thanks to Tales from Shakespeare and a similar, albeit better written, book by Helgi Hálfdanarson, the man who also translated all the plays into Icelandic.

I try to see every Shakespeare play that is staged here in Iceland, meaning of course I am more used to hearing them performed in Icelandic than in English. I did read the English version of Macbeth after I saw the play performed in Icelandic. So far I have caught Hamlet, A Midsummer Night's Dream (school play, the choice of which I am sure was influenced by the popularity of the movie Dead Poets Society), Romeo and Juliet (the controversial acrobatics version by Vesturport) and Macbeth.

I gave King Lear a miss, however, since I find that story so incredibly depressing that I'd rather stick needles in my eyes and ears than watch it or any version of it. Finally, I will mention - but not count - an experimental version of Othello I saw a few years ago, titled Óþelló-Desdemóna og Jagó, since it was an interpretation of the story in which the only character who spoke was Iago (Othello expressed himself in dance and Desdemona through sign language).

As for Shakespeare movies I have seen: 
  • The 1948 Olivier version of Hamlet, which I found to be stagy but good.
  • A so-so black-and-white Romeo and Juliet with actors old enough to be the parents of Shakespeare's originals.
  • Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing and Love's Labour's Lost. I re-watch the former on occasion, but didn't like the latter much.
  • The Burton and Taylor Taming of the Shrew, which I enjoyed. I also saw an enjoyable made-for-TV modern version of that story, starring Shirley Henderson and Rufus Sewell. Unfortunately I missed the rest of that series, which also included Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night's Dream. (Kiss Me Kate is great, but doesn't leave in a whole lot of Shakespeare's text, any more than the aforementioned TV adaptation).
  • Twelfth Night, the one starring Helena Bonham-Carter, Imogen Stubbs and Toby Stephens as  the people caught in the love triangle, plus a host of other great British actors. This is my favourite Shakespeare movie and I re-watch it every now and then.


Kay G. said…
I am the ghost of Shakespeare, get back to writing your blog!

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