Monday, July 02, 2012

I Hate Shakespeare

A few years back (2008, specifically) I posted the question Why Do You Hate Shakespeare? What Do You Hate About Shakespeare? with the intent that people googling for related subjects would possibly land there, offer up their thoughts, and start a conversation where perhaps we could turn some folks around.   That post still gets traffic and comments.

Sometimes it's fun though to revisit the archives and get some new opinions.

I don't expect that most of my regular readers hate Shakespeare, obviously, otherwise they're going to be ridiculously frustrated reading a blog like this one.  But surely many of us have had conversation with someone offline who has launched into the "I hate Shakespeare because...." diatribe.  Feel free to share such stories.

2 comments:

Katie said...

Ah, yeah, I get this a lot :P No one my age-at least, no one I know personally-likes Shakespeare much because they think it's too "old-fashioned" and whatnot. So I get some pretty strange looks when I tell them I like Shakespeare. -_-

Eric Jean said...

I'm not sure how old you are Katie, but I'm 33 and I get plenty of strange looks to when I talk about Shakespeare. Even when I talk about it with my fellow MA English students.

I certainly understand those who commented that they felt most Shakespeare-lovers are snooty, uptight and condescending - I've met my share of those people and no matter how much I love Shakespeare, I don't like them either. And, speaking as a student and teaching assistant, I think that universities and colleges are largely responsible for the Aura of Arrogance +4 that surrounds Shakespeare. I like to remind my students that this stuff was meant as entertainment. I thought it was ironic that one commenter opposed Family Guy and Shakespeare. In at least one important way they seem the same to me: they both rely heavily on allusions and external references to tell their stories. If you didn't know what Who's the Boss or TJ Hooker was the joke falls flat. If you don't learn who Dido and Aeneas, or Troilus and Cressida are, then it makes sense that you won't get the inside 'joke' about Jessica and Lorenzo's relationship in act V of the Merchant of Venice. Part of both the fun and purpose behind doing Shakespeare is learning about a set of cultural conventions different from, but intimately connected to our own.

When I relate something back to a line in Coriolanus or King Lear, I'm not trying to show off or lord it over people or imply that I'm smarter than other people or whatever. I'm just shring my excitement and enthusiasm about something I love and have spent years studying. Really. I just love the stuff so much that I memorize it in my spare time and read it over and over again the way people memorize sports stats or lines from their favourite movies. I don't think less of people because they don't like Shakespeare. Instead, I feel like I love this so much that I want other people to have the chance to come to know it like I do.

But the responses to the original post speak volumes not about Shakespeare's works themselves but about the (often justifiable) resentment many people have at having been force-fed Shakespeare by indifferent or ill-equipped teachers passing on their own Shakespeare resentments to a new generation of students. We need to provide students with a real answer to the question of "Why?" as opposed to just saying "because you have to."

I make it my mission to offer people the opportunity to see the beauty and value of Shakespeare. I think that most of the difficulty of Shakespeare comes from our own pre-conceived notions of how difficult it should be vs. how difficult it actually is. Once you remove Shakespeare from the sort of intimidation that goes along with school work - when you're allowed to get it wrong and trying to have fun is the important thing - I've found most people pick up on Shakespeare pretty quickly, even if they never develop the same connection I feel to his works.

About 2 years ago, my friend Daniel and I started meeting once a week to read an act of a play aloud. It started out just the two of us but we recruited several other people who were not interested in Shakespeare at all and/or who had no 'training' in Shakespeare. Over the course of a play or two even some of the people who used to stumble through the language have become very fluent at both reading and understanding the Elizabethan English.

(We've recently started recording a podcast of it at BardBrawl.com if you're interested.)