It’s all good?

Did Shakespeare ever write anything bad? I realize it’s strictly an opinion question, but one I think is interesting. Several times recently I’ve run into people with this idea of reading everything Shakespeare wrote. Having done it once upon a time, it never really dawned on me that this is not a common thing. But, having done it, I still find myself gravitating toward the more well known plays. Give me Macbeth over Timon of Athens any day, King Lear over Pericles Prince of Tyre.

How about you? Have you already read them all? Do you plan to? Do you think that some are just not nearly good enough to even worry about? Or has Shakespeare attained such godlike status that, even if you don’t like it or understand it, you’ll still find yourself digging for the beauty that must be there and is just temporarily eluding you?

There’s something to be said for reading them all, just for the experience. You may, after all, find some particular gem in The Two Noble Kinsmen that personally works for you. More power to you. I encourage you to give it a shot, and I’ll at least attempt to discuss them with you if you want. I freely admit that even thought I’ve read them all I’m not intimately familiar with most.

I expect that you are reading them for pleasure, not for profit. I’m worried for people walking into the complete works thinking “They are all as good as Hamlet, and if I don’t ‘get’ one, it must be my fault.” Not necessarily true, and don’t let yourself be turned off or confused by Shakespeare by thinking that.

4 thoughts on “It’s all good?

  1. I’ve not read them all, but I plan to do so. I remember being very discouraged about prejudical commentary on the subject of Titus. I was disheartened at the idea that WS could have written something so universally accepted as bad drama. Then I joined a discussion group and found someone who rescued me from the ideas that I’d inherited. When I finally read the play, it was within it’s proper historical context. It made perfect sense as a comedic send up of the horror drama of the day. If my eyes hadn’t been opened by wiser people, then my reading may have taken place while I was ignorant of the larger issues.

  2. It’s interesting that you mention the ‘bills paid’ issue. The reason that the word MacBeth is not to be spoken has to do with just such a thing. When a company was in dire financial straits they would trot out the Scottish Play in order to try and save themselves. It drew a big house. But that also usually meant that you’d have to act the part without getting paid just to bring the books back into the black. Sometimes it actually worked. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Titus had worked that way. It’s important also to note that the metaphor in the play would be more recognizable to the audience of it’s own time. Many of the groundlings for WS’s horror genre would have been groundlings for Marlowe as well.

  3. Titus as a comedic sendup of the horror drama? Really? I have to say I’ve more than once referred to it as “Friday the 13th” style, hinting strongly that it was the sort of thing that you could write to make sure the bills keep getting paid.

    Then I read Marjorie Garber’s “Shakespeare After All” where she goes into lengthy detail about Titus as a political metaphor, what with all the decapitation supposedly representing the country without a powerful ruler, etc etc etc ..

    I can’t say I finished Garber’s book, with analyses like that. Made me fall asleep.

  4. Over in Shakespeare High we have something called The Bard Factor. It’s a way of comparing quantity of Shakespearean experience. One assigns points based on different levels of experience. It includes reading the plays, studying the plays, seeing them staged, seeing them on film or participating in a production. The goal of the Bard Factor is to encourage students to extend their experience and to expand their exposure to the plays. Someone who reads, views, studies or acts (includes directing/staging, etc) can end up with a lifetime Bard Factor of 570.

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