Shake a Speare at your library
It’s almost time for Shakespeare’s birthday, and the Backstage Theatre, with its hilarious “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” playing through mid-April, and the Denver Center’s production of “Othello” (playing through April) are prime moments of celebration. There is no place better to prepare yourself to enjoy Shakespeare than the Summit County Libraries, a gold mine of Shakespeare. For the young or perhaps slightly reluctant, there are some fine retellings – such as “Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare,” (reference number J 822.33 NES), with a copy in each of the three branches. We have graphic novels of some of the plays – the “Macbeth” is particularly good. Then there are some dual-language versions of the major plays: Shakespeare’s words on one page and a modern version on the facing page. For those who need some convincing, there’s the very persuasive DVD “Why Shakespeare?” which features testimonies and performances by Tom Hanks, William Shatner, Michael York, Martin Sheen and a host of other professionals and amateurs. Why Shakespeare? Well, as with all great literature, Shakespeare’s plays are all about the most important matters: God or sex or death – and often all three at the same time. For another, to read Shakespeare – to become practiced at reading Shakespeare – is a sure-fire way to develop your own powers of speech and writing.Oh, I know, Elizabethan English is not that easy to read. Then there’s the fact that Shakespeare virtually invented the language he uses – whole paragraphs of imaginative neologisms that capture emotion and thought as no other writer before or since has succeeded in doing. As for those “thees” and “thous,” there’s no need to be intimidated. If you’ve studied almost any foreign language, you know they have two kinds of pronouns: formal and informal. Shortly after Shakespeare’s time, except for Quakers, we dropped that distinction in English.A short primer: “Thee” is the formal “You” – as the object of a verb or preposition. “Thou” is the formal “You” as well, but as a subject of a verb. “I tell thee, thou art a villain.” “I tell you, you are a villain.” “Thy” is the possessive: “thy book/your book.” If the word following begins with a vowel, “thy” becomes “thine” – “thine eye/your eye” – for easier pronunciation.The libraries have collections of the complete plays, fine individual editions of the most famous ones and various collections of speeches and scenes. There are well-done DVDs of “Hamlet” (both the classic Laurence Olivier production and the more recent one with Kenneth Branagh); “Othello” (including a PBS production and another with Lawrence Fishbourne); “Macbeth” (a much honored production with Ian McKellen and Judy Dench); and “Julius Caesar,” “Romeo and Juliet” and others. Do yourself a favor: Read Shakespeare. As the song from “Kiss Me Kate” says: “Brush up your Shakespeare. Start quoting him now.”
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