Lessons from a Year with William Shakespeare

Complete works of William Shakespeare As I write this blog, I’m finishing the first half of my effort to read all of William Shakespeare by his 450th anniversary. At this point, I can’t help but interview myself about what (if anything) I’ve learned and gained in the process. Here are my top thoughts on the experience:

1) I’m grateful I grew up using (and still use) the King James version (KJV) of the Bible. The KJV was produced in Shakespeare’s time using similar language. Being very familiar with the KJV has made reading Shakespeare much easier. I remember one of my kids once saying she was the only one in her high school English class who understood Shakespearean language (because she was the only one who read the KJV). There may be more accurate translations of the bible, and there may be bibles that are easier to read, but there is an elegance in the KJV that doesn’t come through in any other edition. And that elegance is great preparation for reading William Shakespeare.

2) Reading is not the same as watching. I have found it beneficial to watch productions of the plays I’m reading or just finished. The emotion doesn’t necessarily come through as much in reading as in watching it play out before your eyes, but in reading you get all the dialogue and can consider it more carefully. Reading and watching Shakespeare are mutually enhancing. I suspect acting in or directing a production of a Shakespeare play would add an even deeper understanding. (But I have no plans to take up acting.)

3) It is far more work than I anticipated. Fitting it into life has required dedication and consistency. You have to read William Shakespeare when you’re alert. It is tough trying to read it just before going to sleep in the evening.

4) Reading the plays is getting easier. I’m finding it doesn’t take as much concentration now to follow the play as it did in earlier plays. (Although it may be that the histories I’m reading now are just easier to follow than the comedies which I read early on.)

5) I have a greater respect for the combination of Shakespeare’s output and his wisdom. He wrote nearly 40 plays in 25 years. And he wrote them well, full of wonderful prose and poetry and enduring wisdom. Others have met his output, but fallen short of his craft.

6) I can’t imagine now that I’ll ever finish William Shakespeare. I’ll have read all his plays by the end by his next birthday a year from now, but I suspect I’ll be reading and watching him for years to come.

7) I generally can’t excited about many of the fool and clown characters, but two notable exceptions are Falstaff and Autolycus from “The Winter’s Tale.” I’ve discovered I like the dark comedies far more than the lighter ones, and I don’t like fairies and spirits.

I’d celebrate the half-way point further, but I don’t have time–I’ve got to get back to reading.

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