Project Shakespeare continues. I hope I won't be boring you too much with a bunch of Shakespeare posts--so much of this is new to me, but may not be to you--so please bear with me. I have to say I am finding reading about this period and Shakespeare's works really fascinating. I have yet to actually start reading Romeo and Juliet (don't worry--it's coming). I am reading what I consider background material first. If I am going to "do" Shakespeare, I figure I might as well go the whole nine yards!
The nice thing about working in a library, particularly an academic library, is having access to lots of documentaries about Shakespeare and his age, as well as multiple performances of his plays. You may or may not know that public institutions pay a rather exorbitant amount of money for audio visual materials (the sorts of things people don't generally buy or have in their personal collections). As I work in the acquisitions department of my library I order lots of materials that often cost more than one of my paychecks! One of the companies I order from is Films Media Group, which has an extensive catalog of educational audio visual materials and we own quite a few of their excellent videos and DVDs about Shakespeare. So far I have watched "In the Steps of William Shakespeare: London", which is a sort of mini travelogue of all the places in London associated with the playwright. Did you know he came to London at the age of 20 (already married and had children)? That performances at the Globe Theater were held in the middle of the day and that the theater itself had no roof. Any aspect of the play that dealt with darkness or was weather related had to come across only from the spoken words (and I have read one of the themes in Romeo and Juliet is darkness v. light). And did you know that thanks to Shakespeare not paying his taxes on his lodgings, we now have a good record of where and when he lived in London? Apparently not paying your lodging taxes was rather common, so don't think poor Shakespeare was a criminal.
I have also watched Shakespeare and the Globe, which was narrated by this British professor at the University of California in Berkley in the 80s (with matching 80s suit and glasses--he was a little bit dated, and it was a bit like a college lecture, but still very informative). He discussed The Globe Theater in depth as well as the staging of Shakespeare's plays. I also have good old PBSs In Search of Shakespeare just waiting for me. This is a four-part series about the author, which looks quite good.
I am still working on the essay by Marjorie Garber from her book, Shakespeare After All. She really seems to know her stuff. I broke down and ordered the book as it looks to be such a good guide to the plays. She discusses them in detail--talking about the major themes, quoting lines from the plays and associating them to his other works. I photocopied the essay on Romeo and Juliet and have been marking it up, but the introductory biographical essays on Shakespeare looked good as well. I thought I might as well just buy the book and get it over with rather than continue copying the essays! And since my current reading is ALL over the place these days, I pulled out Frank Kermode's The Age of Shakespeare as well. The first chapter is about the Reformation and the succession problems.
And just so you don't think I am completely ignoring the play, I have dipped into it as I am itching to get going on reading it. The language/word meanings is what I am afraid of stumbling over. The first page alone--some words I don't know:
carry coals--endure insults
colliers--coal carriers were regarded as dirty and of evil repute
collar--hangman's noose (with pun on 'colliers and cholar')
moved--to anger (with pun on next line)
stand--stand one's ground
take the wall--take the cleaner side of the walk nearest the wall
the weakest...wall--a proverb expressing the idea that the weakest are always forced to give way
thrust to the wall--with bawdy suggestion
between...men--between the males of one household and the males of another household; the women would not fight
what sense--whatever meaning
Okay this is one page! Okay, granted I think some of these words/phrases I could have inferred the meanings of just by reading the dialog. His language seems so rich in meanings--not the same meanings that the words might have today. But that's okay. Even if I don't understand everything--it all sounds darn good when spoken aloud! And thanks to everyone who gave suggestions on reading his plays! I'd like to read the play, watch it, and then go back and read it again. We'll see how it goes anyway.