I’d like to start off by wishing you all a healthy, happy Ides of March!
This day of back-stabbing was memorialized in Julius Caesar, and thinking about it has inspired me to consider the significance of “watching your back.” Today, I’d like to look at Shakespeare in light of another kind of looking back: re-viewing. I use the word re-viewing as opposed to re-reading or re-watching because with Shakespeare’s plays and today’s new media, it’s never so limited as to exclude one or the other.
With April 23 fast approaching, most Shakespearean theatre companies will begin their 2011 season on the day we honour Shakespeare’s (not to mention my own) birthday. Shakespeare’s Globe in London is starting with an oldie but a goodie: Hamlet. My first reaction was, of course: Dammit! Why can’t I be there to take part in this celebration?? But my next was: Has the English theatre crowd not gotten enough Hamlet of late? There have been at least three extremely well advertised, not to mention well-reviewed mainstream productions in the past two years, which makes me wonder: how is the public not getting tired of watching the same thing over and over? Don’t these people want some variety?
In Jewish biblical scholarship, the more you re-read a text, the more you learn. Each and every year, synagogues around the world go through the same text, chapter by chapter; every year, congregations celebrate the text’s completion, and every year they return to the beginning of these hand-crafted scrolls. They read the same old stories, but endeavour to find new lessons in the mix; can we not say the same about bardolatry, the cult driven by Shakespeare devotees? I cannot tell you how many times in the past two years I’ve gone to Starbucks, Titus Andronicus in one hand, notebook and pen in the other – I find new gems every time. And, of course, I cannot participate in my sixth, seventh, or eighth re-viewing of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet without getting chills from the intensity of the fast-paced prologue, whether I’m blogging about it, or watching it for the sake of having a good ol’ cathartic cleanse.
And what is this blog, if not my effort to get you, my dear Reader, excited about Shakespeare? I recognize that some of you come to this blog not as fans, but as those who were seriously turned off by the yearly Shakespeare unit in high school. But you know what? That was then and this is now! My role is to expose the inherent awesomeness of Shakespeare’s plots, characters, and most of all, words, encouraging you to return to those texts, go see another production, realize the inherent truths that still exist today as they had existed for this actor/poet/playwright 400 years ago.
And who knows? Whether you loved Shakespeare in high school or hated it, there is no shame in going back to a play and realizing how far you’ve come – one of my most-trusted professors sees this as one of the greatest virtues of re-reading, and I think it’s necessary to take joy in the new discoveries we make about texts written so long ago! And if you aren’t searching for those universal truths, it’s just as much fun to go back to these plays and understand their countless, underlying dirty jokes!
So instead of letting the blog stop here, I want you to keep it going! Tell me: do you re-view Shakespeare’s plays? What pulls you back to the same ones again? Must you read from the same edition and keep notes in the margins, or are you content with scrolling through a Shakespeare App? Do you read certain plays at certain times of the year, perhaps a ritual before going to see a live production? Will you only watch productions featuring theatre “Greats” like Laurence Olivier, or do you prefer the fresh perspective of local talent?
Let’s get a conversation going and discuss our Shakespeare re-viewing experiences!