I somehow managed to avoid Shakespeare both as a grad and undergrad – not intentionally to be sure, it’s just that whenever I wanted to take a Shakespeare class it was always themed along the lines of ‘Shakespeare’s Vegan Heroes’ or ‘(Dis)Gendered Conflict in the Late Comedies’ or ‘Shakespeare and Math.’ You get the picture. I read an article a while back in Slate claiming that Shakespeare’s language was too archaic to be easily approachable and that his status as our central literary figure was over. That he was the domain of scholars only. That too many words had changed meaning for anyone else to read him with pleasure. I’m trying to do my reading with only moderate appeal to literary sources.
So…here I am avoiding finishing a book review on grunge and I thought I’d begin with every litterateur’s eternal side project of reading all the plays with All’s Well That Ends Well. I’m starting there just because I have a paperback copy. It’s from Oxford Press and HEAVILY footnoted.
And you know what, I’m needing those footnotes. The relentless sexual punning, for example, would have been otherwise mostly lost on me. That said, All’s Well probably wasn’t the best play to start with. Obviously I’m not the ‘average’ reader but it’s hard to imagine even a smart college kid getting much traction on the play. Why they call it a ‘problem’ comedy I guess. It has some amusing characters but it doesn’t have the universal humor of Midsummer – that leads to its revival on every summer stage – or the Marx Brothers slapstick of The Comedy of Errors. It also doesn’t have the magnificent soliloquies and drama of the great tragedies. I’m halfway through act III and still struggling for full immersion. I guess the way I’m trying to look at, the way it makes the most sense to me, is to see it as Shakespeare asking himself – ‘What would the result be if a fairy tale love story happened in the ‘real’ world?’ Where the prince is a snobbish, callow prick and we can’t understand why the girl would want him in the first place.