Shakespeare and I have enjoyed a long and happy relationship during my life. Spending much of my primary education at a school that required students to read a play every year guaranteed plenty of exposure to his work, and an obsession with words guaranteed an instant attraction. While reading Julius Casear in seventh grade may have been a bit dull, most of my experiences with Shakespeare have been positive.
I love to read Shakespeare, but I love to see it performed even more. Films can be brilliant and delightful (example: the 1993 version of Much Ado About Nothing with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh) but there's nothing like seeing it live.
Tonight I am going to a local theater to see Richard III, a play I have never read, seen in film, or seen performed. Naturally, I am very excited. I also thought it would be interesting to recount the times that I have seen Shakespeare performed.
The first Shakespeare play I ever saw performed was Romeo and Juliet. As in many, many other high schools, all the freshman at my high school read this and then went to Atlanta's excellent Shakespeare Tavern to see the play. While I'm not much of a fan of Romeo and Juliet these days (too much melodrama), the performance we saw was brilliant. Even setting aside the authentic decor and Cornish pasties, the production astounded me. A particularly notable feature of the production was the formidable Mercutio, who brought the audience to tears of laughter until his untimely death.
When my dad and I took our amazing trip to Chicago, we saw King Lear at the Chicago Shakespeare Tavern on Navy Pier. We were in the balcony, where we could look down and observe all the action (not only the play itself, but also the beggars in period dress wandering the aisles before the play began) and all the horrible betrayal. For those who haven't read it, King Lear is a pretty grim play. Even so, it mesmerized me so much that I cried at the end (and I'm not usually one to cry at plays or movies). This theater was modern, but more peninsula shaped, so the action was surrounded on three sides by the audience. I remember being amazed at the scene when it rained as well, for there was not only rain, but the stage itself re-assembled to form a cliff.
Four years ago from last summer, I was in Belgium staying with family friends. One of the cultural events I enjoyed during those weeks was a performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor held at the grounds of a 13th century castle. Not only was the performance at a castle, but it was also free and held in the round outside. There were scenes set up all around the audience, who sat on the ground or in lawn chairs. At each scene change, we had to re-orientate our seats to face the action again. Unlike King Lear, the Merry Wives is a rollicking comedy, with no eyes being gouged out or hangings, so it was one cheery laugh all around.
The next Shakespeare play I saw was more obscure one, Love's Labours Lost. This performance was also outside, on the lawn of an old house in Roswell. The cast was composed of both actors from a professional troop and high school students, some of whom I already knew. While this play has fallen into relative obscurity, I cannot guess, because it has some of the best witty banter I've ever heard.
One of the (many) things that drew me to Davidson was the residency with the Royal Shakespeare Company. How can I resist the idea of a British acting troupe (and the most prestigious, at that) spending a month on campus and providing brilliant plays? During my freshman year, they came to campus and performed three plays, two of which were from Shakespeare: The Winter's Tale and Pericles. Because the RSC can't leave well enough alone (only joking, as these performances were incredible), both productions were done in promenade, where the audience is also on stage and interacts with the cast. This is slightly terrifying but thrilling at the same time. I prefered The Winter's Tale (not only because of the bear) but because of Kate Fleetwood's brilliant performance as Hermione (she was most recently seen as Lady Macbeth in Patrick Stewart's Macbeth).
Now, after tonight, I will have another review to write for Richard III. But six plays so far isn't too shabby.