I decided it was time to jump in. Friday night I watched Franco Zeffirelli's version of Romeo and Juliet. I feel like I cheated a bit as this wasn't an actual theatrical version, but a film version (there is probably a word for the difference, but I am not sure what it is--or maybe it is all the same whether it is presented in a theater or made especially to be seen in the cinema?), and I noticed that there were chunks of dialogue cut out. I have just started reading the play this weekend as well, but I did follow along in the book loosely while watching the film. By the way, I did greatly enjoy the film even if some it went over my head. I didn't catch everything they said, but I still understood essentially what was happening.
I am trying to find my footing with Shakespeare. I have gotten very good, though slightly conflicting advice, on how to approach him. Do I read first and then watch/listen? Or the reverse? Both ways have been suggested. I have a feeling that it is going to come down to what works best for me, as both ideas sound as they would work well. For Romeo and Juliet I decided to watch first and then read. I have found a book called Studying Shakespeare (a York Handbook) by Martin Stephen at my library. We seem to have an endless amount of books about Shakespeare, plays by Shakespeare, guides on how to study Shakespeare, criticisms of the works of Shakespeare...you get the idea. I have gone up and wandered around once or twice and I am sure I will do so again. I mostly just flip through and read sections that are helpful with what I am thinking about at the moment. This is what Stephen's has to say about how to approach a Shakespeare play:
"It is a bewildering experience to be faced for the first time with a Shakespeare play--especially if it is to be studied for an examination (NOT in my case). It is frequently no less appalling the second or even third time round (should I be worried, but that makes me feel better slightly?). There is the text itself--often difficult, obscure, and so laden with notes as to render it barely decipherable. Then there is the realisation that even a small bookshop will have a shelf full of texts of the play, anywhere between one and five different relatively short 'notes' on the play, longer critical introductions to the play, and a host of other impressive critical works on Shakespeare in general."
"The first thing to try to do is to arrange to see the play. If you cannot see a professional production (I wish!), see an amateur one (I still wish!); if an amateur one is not available, try to hire a video production (do you think he means rent the video?!). In any event, try to see the play before you read it. (Check!)."
"The next stage is to read it."
So now the next problem has presented itself. He suggests not reading any sort of criticism before reading the play, though he does give a thumbs up for reading a summary if you are totally confused (I will keep this in mind). His reasoning, which actually I think is rather sound, is that it is better to form your own opinions of the play first and then read criticism later. He also suggests that after reading a play, you read something else that is related to it next. For example if you read King Lear, you next read another tragedy. First things first, however. Must get through Romeo and Juliet. I am finding things slow going. Do I just read and ignore footnotes, and try and get what meaning out of it I can? Do I read slowly with the help of footnotes and hope it actually makes much more sense than it appears to? Actually, though, I have been using the footnotes and on occasion, I was able to discern the meaning all on my own (not every time though--as a matter of fact--more often than not I didn't know). I hate to think it is going to take me two weeks to read a play that when performed lasts less than three hours.
The public library has this audio dramatization (though I just noticed it is abridged). Perhaps I should read the book slowly, then listen later? Perhaps I am making this harder than it should be? In any case, I will be reading the play, and then watching it again. I have two more versions of it checked out from the library--this BBC version with Sir John Gielgud, and Baz Luhrmann's version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. If nothing else this should give me a good taste of this particular play. And yes, I do intend to continue on. I already have A Midsummer Night's Dream all lined up. Now where was I...scene...