Fine Arts Column: Shakespeare for the non-Shakespearean


Good old Shakespeare. I’m sure that for most of you his name brings up memories of high school English classes. For some, those weren’t the greatest of memories. Although I have fallen in love with his works since I began my drama studies here at Franciscan, I too had quarrels with him in my grade school years. Everyone always portrayed him as this extremely sophisticated, high-class, above-everyone’s-heads type of dude. But that is simply not true. Allow me to bring you non-Shakespearean folk into his world with a clearer view, such as was done for me in my freshman year of college.

Let me start off by saying that although Shakespeare’s works get greatly satirized, he is indeed a genius. I’m not going into all the crazy debates about whether he’s Catholic, if he actually wrote those plays and sonnets, etc. No, I just want to clear up some things about the stereotype he has been made out to be (as well as the stereotype made for those who act out his works).

This weird phenomenon that Shakespeare’s works must be acted in the most pompous and elegant manner imaginable is something we’ve all grown up knowing. But what if I told you that that’s not how it’s supposed to be? Here’s an even crazier thought for some (including myself before college): Shakespeare is actually completely relatable in today’s world, and the way he has his characters speak is totally down to earth.

The thing about reading or watching his plays is that no one speaks that type of English anymore, so of course it can sound ridiculous! This means that the job of the actor is that much more challenging in that we must make this old English sound understandable to the average modern-day person. As an actress, I greatly appreciate this challenge.

Additionally, in Shakespeare’s time, his language was not considered super high-class. His writings – mainly the comedies – were vulgar and raunchy. Thus, everyone loved them! Sound similar to a lot of audiences today?

Let it be noted that reading plays can be difficult in general. Why? Because plays aren’t meant to be read, but watched! I’m in my junior year and I still find myself (even after reading at least 100 plays in the past few years) unable to fully comprehend my readings at times. So I would encourage more people to go and actually watch Shakespeare plays that you read in high school or college. The more you put yourself into those situations, the more you’ll find just how understandable his writings are. Shakespeare, like any great writer today, used the language he had to the best of his ability and used it for the audience he had. He was able to create plays that appealed to the poor groundlings at the foot of the stage as well as the nobility.

Take it from someone who despised Shakespeare simply because she was too stubborn to try to understand it…he’s good. Really good. The first play of his I ever read was Much Ado About Nothing, and I had to read the “No Fear Shakespeare” version a few times in addition in order to get it. (Maybe I’m just slow.) But guess what? Now I have the immense privilege of being in said show this semester for Franciscan University’s mainstage production. It’s funny! It’s sad! It’s relatable on so many levels in today’s world. Seriously, give it a shot! I’m sure you’ll see posters soon, don’t miss it.

Whether you are a Shakespearean buff or not, he’s well worth the viewing. If I can understand it, so can you.