Allie at A Literary Odyssey decided that January would be the perfect month to celebrate Shakespeare. I can never resist an opportunity to read more of his work and discuss him, so obviously I joined in. I read one tragedy and one comedy, a perfect balance of his work. I have now read 19 of his plays and never miss an opportunity to see them performed live.
My favorite comedies are Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest. Favorite tragedies include Hamlet, King Lear and histories are Richard III and Henry V. I’d say the comedies are a great place to start if you’re new to Shakespeare, because his humor and clever streams of dialogue tend to be in full force in those.
As You Like It
by William Shakespeare
As You Like It follows Rosalind, the daughter of a Duke, as she escapes persecution in her Uncle’s court with her cousin Celia. They take refuge in the forest, waiting for a time when Rosalind’s father gains power. Before leaving however, she has just enough time to fall in love with Orlando, who fortunately ends up in the same forest.
I loved this one; it reminded me so much of The Tempest. There are two brothers who, just like in The Tempest, are both Dukes. Their daughters are central to the plot, falling in love for the first time, just as Miranda does in The Tempest.
The play includes so many of Shakespeare’s finest elements. There are women pretending to be men, women falling in love with those “men” and men confiding their love to those “men” without knowing who they really are. Confused? Don’t be, it’s all good fun.
In one section a young man goes on and on about how he’s in love. He tells the older man who is his companion that there’s no way he could possibly understand, because he’s so old. I love how Shakespeare often pokes fun at the naïveté of the young. They believe no one has ever gone through what I’m going through right now.
The play also includes the famous “All the world’s a stage” passage. I love reading one of his plays for the first time and stumbling upon one of those wonderful lines. It’s always a treat. I read this just after finishing Othello and it complemented the tragedy so well. It provided the comedic balance, cross dressing, falling in love, and mistaken identities that I craved after reading such a downer.
***One other bonus from this play, there is a character named Oliver! We named our puppy Oliver last year because of all the great literary references (and he just looked like an Ollie), but I didn’t even realize that it was the name of one of Shakespeare’s characters as well.
“Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak.”
by William Shakespeare
Othello, a moor from Africa, is a well-loved and respected Venetian nobleman. After the beautiful Desdemona falls in love with him, the two wed in secret. Their blissful existence is thrown into chaos as Iago, Othello's personal attendant, begins to plant doubts of Desdemona’s faithfulness in Othello’s mind.
Iago is one of the most conniving and depraved characters I’ve ever read. His cold calculating nature is sociopathic. He feels that Othello has slighted him and sets his mind to destroying his life. He moves each pawn to further his plan, all the while maintaining his alleged devotion to Othello and poisoning his thoughts with rumors of jealousy. He does it in such a calm, unbothered way that it’s all the more disturbing.
The worst part of the whole things is that Othello is in the thralls of newly-wedded happiness. He and his wife Desdemona are so incredibly in love and then he acts as the tool for his own destruction. He is manipulated by someone else, but no one truly forces his hand. He allows himself to be persuaded to believe that worst about his wife and causes his own downfall by his lack of faith and trust.
I loved the character of Emilia. She’s Iago’s wife, but she’s also Desdemona’s hand maid. She asks as a conscience for the players, holding them accountable when they have committed a wrong. She stands up for her lady’s honor when others doubt it.
Othello pulls no punches when it comes to the issues it touches on. It deals with marital abuse, racism, trust, jealousy and more. It gives readers a lot to chew on and would be a great book to discuss. I’ve never seen this one performed live, but I’m sure it would be incredibly powerful.
As I mentioned in another Shakespeare post I’d highly recommend The Riverside Shakespeare if you are looking for a definitive edition with lots of extra info.
Also, I recently found a great book to introduce kids to the world of Shakespeare. It’s called William Shakespeare & the Globe by Aliki. It’s so much fun!