Why Shakespeare is actually really great.

Published January 3, 2014 by Britt

 

Most teenagers my age like to hate on Shakespeare because they think he’s boring. And I’ll admit, his tragedies suck. I was forced to read Julius Caesar for English last year and it was awful. I hated Julius Caesar with a passion. And so help me god, if you like to say your love life is like Romeo and Juliet, I’m judging you. Why? I like lists, have a list.

I don’t care that this is Leonardo DiCaprio. I don’t care if he’s suave. I don’t care how romanticized this play is. STOP.

WHY ROMEO AND JULIET SUCKS AND WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER COMPARE YOURSELVES TO THEM:

  • THEY ARE 13.
  • It lasted a WEEK. Yes, they met, got married, had sex, and killed themselves in a WEEK
  • So, you know that famous balcony scene? “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” (wherefore means why, not where) It was actually really offensive to the Capulet family. Romeo scaled the walls that had been built by Capulet to protect his daughter and her virginity. You shouldn’t do that. It also could make her not a decent bride for Paris if anyone saw them together and thought they were screwing (Please see Much Ado About Nothing).
  • PARIS WAS A DECENT GUY. He was wealthy, he was great to Juliet, he was going to treat her well, and he had status. Perfect guy. Romeo, not so much.
  • Romeo moved on pretty quickly from Rosaline, who just wanted to be a nun, did he not?
  • This relationship ended with 6 people dead. That’s more than The Great Gatsby.

Anyhoo, rant over. His tragedies are boring. And not really tragedies, according to Aristotle. The Greeks were the people who really got theatre going, and Aristotle created three rules for a tragedy, also called the Classical Unities.

  1. The unity of action: a play should have one main action that it follows, with no or few subplots.
  2. The unity of place: a play should cover a single physical space and should not attempt to compress geography, nor should the stage represent more than one place.
  3. The unity of time: the action in a play should take place over no more than 24 hours.

Romeo and Juliet… doesn’t really meet any of those rules.

His comedies, however, are really great.

Now, one thing my theatre teacher taught me was in order to better understand Shakespeare, you need to take it out of the iambic pentameter. So, this:

BEATRICE

He set up his bills here in Messina and challenged
Cupid at the flight; and my uncle’s fool, reading
the challenge, subscribed for Cupid, and challenged
him at the bird-bolt. I pray you, how many hath he
killed and eaten in these wars? But how many hath
he killed? for indeed I promised to eat all of his killing.

Becomes this:

BEATRICE

He set up his bills here in Messina and challenged Cupid at the flight; and my uncle’s fool, reading the challenge, subscribed for Cupid, and challenged him at the bird-bolt. I pray you, how many hath he killed and eaten in these wars? But how many hath he killed? For indeed I promised to eat all of his killing.

I also think you need to watch it if you want to get it too. I hadn’t read A Midsummer Night’s Dream and never really knew what the hype was about, and reading a play sometimes you can’t really understand what’s happening until you watch it. Then my theatre teacher had us watch it in class, and it was funny as heck. There was a girl fight that looked remarkably similar to a girl fight in the modern world.

Things got a bit muddy.

It then turned into a mudwrestling match. Those are fun to watch. But it was the “You’re prettier and it’s your fault and stop stealing my man you b*tch” type thing. And then there are all the great insults.

LYSANDER
   Away, you Ethiope!

LYSANDER
   Hang off, thou cat, thou burr! vile thing, let loose,
   Or I will shake thee from me like a serpent!

LYSANDER
                      Thy love! out, tawny Tartar, out!
   Out, loathed med’cine! hated potion, hence!

HERMIA
   O me! you juggler! you canker-blossom!
   You thief of love! what, have you come by night
   And stolen my love’s heart from him?

HELENA
                                                               Fine, i’faith!
   Have you no modesty, no maiden shame,
   No touch of bashfulness? What, will you tear
   Impatient answers from my gentle tongue?
   Fie, fie! you counterfeit, you puppet, you!

LYSANDER
                                 Get you gone, you dwarf;
   You minimus, of hindering knot-grass made;
   You bead, you acorn.

Those are in order of the scene, but they’re just the great insults. I use acorn and canker-blossom in my head daily. It’s way better than any of those generators.

Thou infectious, fly-bitten, hugger-mugger!

Another favorite quote, from Much Ado About Nothing:

DOGBERRY

Dost thou not suspect my place? dost thou not
suspect my years? O that he were here to write me
down an ass! But, masters, remember that I am an
ass; though it be not written down, yet forget not
that I am an ass. No, thou villain, thou art full of
piety, as shall be proved upon thee by good witness.
I am a wise fellow, and, which is more, an officer,
and, which is more, a householder, and, which is
more, as pretty a piece of flesh as any is in
Messina, and one that knows the law, go to; and a
rich fellow enough, go to; and a fellow that hath
had losses, and one that hath two gowns and every
thing handsome about him. Bring him away. O that
I had been writ down an ass!

Fun fact: Apparently the play Macbeth is cursed. You can’t say that in a theatre at all or else you have to do some form of cleansing ritual to get the curse out. Fun ones include: turning three times, spitting over one’s left shoulder, swearing, or reciting a line from another of Shakespeare’s plays. Popular lines for this purpose include, “Angels and ministers of grace defend us” (Hamlet 1.IV), “If we shadows have offended” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream 5.ii), and “Fair thoughts and happy hours attend on you” (The Merchant of Venice, 3.IV). A more elaborate cleansing ritual involves leaving the theatre, spinning around and brushing oneself off, and saying “Macbeth” three times before entering again. Some production groups insist that the offender may not reenter the theater until he is invited to do so, therefore making it easy to punish frequent offenders by leaving them outside. (Thanks, Wikipedia.)

So, back to topic. His comedies are great. Appreciate those. The tragedies are stupid. Don’t cry about Romeo and Juliet. Even if Leonardo DiCaprio does deserve the Oscar. And remember, Shakespeare got where he did because he started out poor and lived in the country with people with a crass sense of humor. He gets people. It’s part of why he’s famous today because people can relate to the characters, even if they’re talking in old language that can be tricky to understand. He’s really a pretty chill dude.

“Yea, I am.”

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