|It was either this or Titus Andronicus.|
To read, or not to read…..that is the age old Shakespeare question. I hang out on many Shakespeare forums, and whenever the question comes up about “Which Shakespeare play should I read first?” there’s always somebody quick to jump in with, “They’re not meant to be read, they’re meant to be seen! Go see one!”
You go to a restaurant, you order a dish. You like the dish. Some time later, you are at a different restaurant, and you see that they offer the same dish. You try it. It’s different. It’s the same dish, but it doesn’t taste the same as the first one. Maybe you like it more, maybe less. Maybe they added something that wasn’t in the first one, or left something out that was.
This cycle repeats. The dish becomes a favorite of yours, and you begin to seek it out at every opportunity. You pay attention to the details, you learn whose version you like and whose you do not, and why. You develop a fine sense for what goes into making the best version of this dish.
Do you know what else you could do? You could get the recipe for the dish and make it yourself.
That’s when you get the true appreciation for the dish, because you understand all the parts that went into making it. You can invent your own interpretations because you see what you have to work with. The next time you visit a restaurant and try the dish you understand immediately what they left out, and why, and you have a strong opinion about whether you feel this was the right decision. You explain to your companions why you’re not crazy about this version of the dish, and what the restaurant one town over does that makes it better.
So, there you go, that’s the new analogy I’m going to start using. Do you have to know how to cook a dish yourself before you go to a restaurant? No, of course not. You’re also unlikely to sit down to cook the recipe for every dish you might encounter in a restaurant. On the other hand, maybe there’s a dish you had once and you can never find it again no matter how hard you try. Maybe there’s a dish that your friend raves about and says you must try, but you never see it on the menu. The analogy works both ways. You can’t just stroll into the theatre district and watch whatever Shakespeare play you want, just like you can’t walk into any restaurant and order any dish you want. You’re restricted by the choices available.
My point is that there is a level of appreciation and understanding beyond just going to experience what other people did with the raw ingredients. You can and you should experience them for yourself by getting your hands and your eyes on the text. If you go down that path, you will be infinitely rewarded.