When you have Folger's Shakespeare Library, you don't even need a ducat to enjoy some of the finest works of English literature. William Shakespeare really was a fantastic playwright, especially given the adaptability of his works. I am currently taking a mini-course about exploring "Hamlet" in depth, and several assignments included watching various film versions of "Hamlet" and seeing the different decisions the directors make when creating these films. Each interpretation of "Hamlet," including a very modern adaptation starring Ethan Hawke in New York City, offers new insight and interpretation of Shakespeare that enhances my understanding of the play. The more I parse the centuries-old lines, the more I notice just what I want to do with Shakespeare when I have enough free time — read.
The first time I have come into contact with Shakespeare was in the fourth grade when my talented and gifted class assigned readings of an abridged version of "Romeo and Juliet." We had to memorize lines to later act out in a play that would be staged in front of the entire student body. I took pride in being Lord Capulet and giving Juliet a scolding befitting her defiance in front of hundreds of people. Although I haven't touched upon Shakespeare until my freshman year of high school, I still fondly remembered Shakespeare and the magic of his plays uniting everyone together.
I finally was able to revisit Shakespeare in high school when my class read "Julius Caesar." That play was definitely a fun one to read, albeit not one of my favorites and arguably not the most memorable one. I am grateful that I finally learned where the infamous phrase "Et tu, Brute?" came from.
In my sophomore year of high school, my European literature class read "The Merchant of Venice," which was and still is my favorite Shakespearean play. I loved the near-tragedy nature of the play and how it shifted to comedy at the end. I covered this in an earlier article, but what I loved most about this play was that it made me feel very sympathetic to Jewish people who lived in Venice and had to face unnecessary antisemitism. Shylock's "Hath not a Jew" speech made me tear up when I first read it, and really helped put into perspective how Jews must have felt, even though Shakespeare himself was not Jewish. After exploring Venice myself and seeing the ghetto, I felt extremely bad for whoever had to live in these horrible conditions and rebuked those who kept oppressing them.
After sophomore year, I hadn't touched Shakespeare until my senior year. That was when I truly fell in love with Shakespeare. We read "Hamlet" (part of the reason I am taking the mini-course now is that I want to further my understanding of the play). Aside from the obvious tragedy, I did find many instances of humor that breathed new life into the play, such as when Hamlet keeps sarcastically speaking to Polonius, especially when Polonius himself has a high self-opinion and is too senile to fully understand what Hamlet is saying.
As much as Hamlet himself is a sarcastic graduate student from Wittenberg, he himself is outmatched by the gravedigger in Act 5, when he is ironically unable to fully understand what the gravedigger is speaking to him. The question of whether his madness is real or feigned, and the steps he took "to be" and make Claudius "not to be," as well as the way he was initially stirred to revenge by a ghost that may or may not be his father's spirit, make the play fascinating and joyous to read. I truly love Shakespeare for all that I've been exposed to. I want to read "King Lear" next, and I know that it will be a hell of a good play to read.
If you haven't already, give yourself some time, pick up a nice book written by Shakespeare, and sit down for hours just immersed in the intricate plot lines that make these works of English literature masterpieces.