Thursday, November 10, 2005

Shakespeare: I Still Just Don't Get It

I got only two C’s in college: in Tennis and in Shakespeare. The tennis is understandable because I never excelled in anything athletic but golf! But I’ve always been good at anything to do with English literature. I faithfully read all the plays, but there were so many words and phrases with footnotes that they just never seemed terribly understandable. Even today when I see Shakespeare in the theater, I pick up the story more from the acting than from the spoken lines. In college if it hadn’t been for Cliff’s Notes, my grade might have been even lower.

The reading selection for one of my book clubs this month was Othello, led by a high school English teacher. I thought to myself, “I’ll bet now that I’m older this Shakespeare will read a lot more easily. I must just not have studied it correctly in my youth.” But guess what? I started to read Othello (actually using my multiply used anthology from college) and the same glaze came over my eyes. This time I didn’t need to purchase Cliff’s notes. There is a preponderance of crib sheets on the Internet. So I went to “class” knowing the characters and the plot, but still stymied by the text.

The teacher, John, showed us a clip from a performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was marvelous, with Anthony Hopkins playing the swarthy dark Othello. I found myself watching their actions, their gestures, their body language instead of processing their words. John made several very astute comments:
– Black people are of marginal color in the play.
– Othello moves through various animal images (starting with “an old black ram tupping your white ewe”).
– Othello knows he can’t be loved.
– Sin originates in the inability to love yourself.

WOW! In a million years I couldn’t have come up with this analysis. Maybe before I die I will finally learn how to delve into one of Shakespeare’s plays and come out with more than just a headache, but I have recently proved that I still just don’t get it!

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