Shakespeare in a Year: March

In March I have read the following Shakespeare works:

  • Richard III
  • The Comedy of Errors
  • Venus and Adonis

Going forward, I’m tweaking my commitment a bit. At the beginning I said I intended to read all of Shakespeare’s works this year. However, especially when it comes to the plays, I don’t think reading is necessarily the best course of action. Shakespeare wrote his plays for performance, not for publication. If possible, I’ll have a copy of the text handy as I’m watching the play, but if all I can do is watch a performance of a play, I’m counting it. That said, I did read everything listed above in this post.

Richard III

This is the first of the “hits” that I’ve read as part of this project. And as I mentioned in last month’s summary, Henry VI, Part 3 sets up both this play and its protagonist. Indeed, some adaptations have included scenes from the previous play or at least some representation of its events, as we can’t assume that modern audiences already know this information.

The play begins with Richard alone on stage uttering the famous lines, “Now is the winter of our discontent / made glorious summer by this son of York,” referring to his brother, King Edward IV, having defeated the rival Lancaster family, at least for the time being. He goes on to announce that he is there to cause chaos and chew gum, and he’s all out of gum.

Throughout the play he schemes to have his rivals picked off one by one until he becomes king himself. But as king, he becomes increasingly paranoid and mistreats even some who have been consistently loyal to him. Eventually Richard is defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field by the forces of the Earl of Richmond, who becomes King Henry VII, later grandfather to Queen Elizabeth I. This marks the end of the Plantagenet dynasty and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty.

I know I mentioned the possibility of a deep dive on this play, but it didn’t come together. Although I found a lot of interesting material in the play and its characters, I also found pretty much anything I would have had to say has been said better by other people. And that’s not me being hard on myself. I’m capable of finding angles on a story that haven’t been done to death; that just didn’t happen here.

I’m not going to get into the details of how Shakespeare’s Richard differed from the historical king, but if you’re interested, there’s a docudrama playing in some theatres called The Lost King about scholars’ search for Richard III’s remains, which falsified some commonly held beliefs about both Richard’s physical condition when he was alive and what happened to his body after his death.

The Comedy of Errors

Some scholars believe that this was Shakespeare’s first play. It was definitely the play that convinced me to prioritize performance over reading. While I had a copy of the play handy during my viewing, if that had been all I’d had, I would have missed a lot of what this play has to offer.

For one thing, it’s difficult to convey physical comedy on the page. This is even more true with Shakespeare, who tended to limit his stage directions to the bare minimum information needed so his actors understood what to do. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to find performances of this play.

Venus and Adonis

Venus and Adonis is one of the two narrative poems Shakespeare wrote when the theaters were closed due to a plague outbreak. The other one will be discussed in next month’s roundup. The poem is loosely inspired by Roman mythology and follows the love goddess Venus’s attempts to seduce the famed hunter Adonis.

A good modern title for this poem might be He’s Just Not That Into You. Venus frankly acts kind of desperate in her increasingly brazen attempts to gain Adonis’s affections, and he simply isn’t having it. He’s all about the hunt. But Venus is persistent, and finally Adonis gives in to her momentarily in the hopes that she’ll be satisfied and go away. But things turn tragic when Adonis insists on going on another hunt the following morning.

It struck me as a gender-flipped version of a common occurrence in Greco-Roman mythology, where a deity takes interest in a human and things end badly for said human. For example, you have the stories of Pan and Syrinx or Apollo and Daphne, just to name a couple. Some of the lines in the poem are really beautiful, but it felt a bit like Fatal Attraction: Roman Edition, which I’m not sure Shakespeare was going for.

April preview

Now that I’m not attaching myself to the written text as closely, I hope to pick up the pace a bit. In April I plan to get through at least the following works:

  • Titus Andronicus
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • The Rape of Lucrece
  • The Two Gentlemen of Verona

We have another narrative poem in The Rape of Lucrece (content warning, etc.). The same patron who commissioned Venus and Adonis also commissioned this one. We also have another “hit” in The Taming of the Shrew and possibly Shakespeare’s worst play in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Then again, I saw one ranker put it above both The Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet, so it pays to remember that this stuff is always subjective.

What is your least favorite Shakespeare play? Let’s talk about it in the comments!





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