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Shakespeare?

Discussion in 'Theatre' started by Polymath257, Oct 27, 2021.

  1. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Think & Care
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    A recent discussion in another thread has pulled me back to a basic inability I have had all of my life: I cannot understand the writings of Shakespeare.

    I have looked up the words, tried reading out loud, tried watching movies, tried watching plays, tried reading silently a slow, I tried listening to the sonnets read by Patrick Stewart. For some reason, no matter what I do I am lost within the first couple of pages of any of Shakespeare's plays and almost immediately in any sonnet.

    I have been in a cycle over the last few decades where I try (once again) to read some play or sonnet, find that I cannot make heads or tales of what is written, give up for another year or so, and repeat.

    What is even more unusual is that I can read Milton with no real problems. I don't know the English of Chaucer, but it doesn't seem too much more opaque than what Shakespeare writes.

    I know some people here are Shakespeare devotees. Does anyone have any suggestions? i have been trying now for at least 40 years with essentially no success. I know I am reasonably intelligent, but for some reason this material is impenetrable to me.

    @Evangelicalhumanist
     
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  2. SomeRandom

    SomeRandom Still learning to be wise
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    Pick up the book Filthy Shakespeare by Pauline Kiernan or Shakespeare’s Speech by the same author.
    Viola!
     
  3. Rival

    Rival Dex Me Gart
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    I have trouble with Shakspeare. I enjoy his writings, but I concur they're not the most straightforward even in Elizabethan English.

    I actually find Chaucer easier and more enjoyable (well, I love him) and he's 200 years earlier. I always have preferred Middle English to Early Modern and find Renaissance stuff to be way too flowery, wordy and just plain odd. I can comfortably enjoy Chaucer, Langland and other ME poets, but EME is something else. I think it's the weird transition, vowel shift, new words being introduced from academia etc.
     
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  4. lewisnotmiller

    lewisnotmiller Grand Hat
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    Modern English Shakespeare Translations | Shakescleare, by LitCharts
     
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  5. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Think & Care
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    And I have read translations. But when I compare to the originals, I cannot see how the translations correspond. Sort of like reading Dante in English translation or in the original.

    And, frankly, I find the translations pretty boring. if that is all there is to Shakespeare, then I am OK letting others have it.
     
  6. lewisnotmiller

    lewisnotmiller Grand Hat
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    That site is useful because the translations and the original are broken down and right next to each other. But yeah, personally I'd skip the whole thing.
     
    #6 lewisnotmiller, Oct 27, 2021
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2021
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  7. rosends

    rosends Well-Known Member

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    Is your goal to understand Shakespeare's particular language or his stories/message?
     
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  8. Evangelicalhumanist

    Evangelicalhumanist "Truth" isn't a thing...
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    Suggestion number 1 -- immediately available and free -- try watching on YouTube the 9 episodes of "Playing Shakespeare" Here is a link to episode 1.

    You will find such great actors as Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Judi Dench, Ben Kingsley (Ghandi), Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Patrick Stewart (Captain Pickard), David Suchet (Poirot) and many others, talking their way through their struggles with understanding.

    It's led by John Barton, one of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and one of it's more famous directors.

    All 9 episodes are really, really worth watching.
     
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  9. Quagmire

    Quagmire Imaginary talking monkey
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    Something to bare in mind is that most of the time Shakespeare is trying to convey emotion rather than information. That's why he relies so heavily on metaphor.

    Compare: "I'm bored"

    with:

    "Now is the winter of our discontent".

    It's more important to feel what his characters are feeling than it is to understand everything they say.
     
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  10. Wu Wei

    Wu Wei ursus senum severiorum and ex-Bisy Backson

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    Problem is that Shakespeare is writing in a language and a way of speaking that was not really used at the time he was writing it. And what you are reading is generally based on a script with stage directions and it just adds to the confusion. He is not easy to understand but just relax and stop trying so hard, don't worry about ever little individual word and it will come. As for the movies, I have always found then easy to follow, but not always understand word for word, but still I can follow and understand what is going on. Admittedly, if you sit there and read or watch many things Shakespeare and try and understand every single word it will drive you nuts and you will never get it.
     
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  11. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Think & Care
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    And, already, when they go over the first part of the Merchant of Venice, I am lost in a few exchanges. I cannot tell you what is going on.

    It's like the language produces a fog that I cannot see my way through.

    I will look at them further.
     
  12. Evangelicalhumanist

    Evangelicalhumanist "Truth" isn't a thing...
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    And you might watch Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf) do the most famous speech from Macbeth, when he hears that his wife has died, and he's about to lose everything. It's fabulous.

     
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  13. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Think & Care
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    I cannot even tell what the movies are saying after the first couple of minutes. It really is like it is in another language. I can pick up the emotions of the actors, but not the relevance of the words to what they do.
     
  14. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Think & Care
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    I am so lost. This makes no sense at all to me.
     
  15. Evangelicalhumanist

    Evangelicalhumanist "Truth" isn't a thing...
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    Well, what's happening in the opening lines of Merchant? (It's the play I tell everybody who wants to get into Shakespeare to start with.)

    Why, nothing really important at all. Think of a movie, in the opening scene, some characters come on and say some things -- you have no idea what it's about yet -- you have a whole movie to watch for that. So why not wait for it?

    So Antonio (who is, in fact, the Merchant) has been chatting with some friends and we come upon them when he is saying something like, "well, I really don't know what's getting me down." (In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.)

    His friends, being friends, try to help him out. He has a bunch of ships at sea -- big risk at the time, and his fortunes depend on it. And he tells them "no, that's not it." So they make the suggestion that he is "in love." And this may well be true. Shakespeare may well have meant for us to understand -- as we find out as the play goes on -- that Antonio really is in love with Bassanio, who he risks his very life for.

    Want to see more of that? Al Pacino's version is quite brilliant -- again free.
     
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  16. Evangelicalhumanist

    Evangelicalhumanist "Truth" isn't a thing...
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    Hey, by the way -- if you, or anybody else, really wants to learn something about Shakespeare, I will do my very best in this thread. I've just marked it to follow. I love teaching this stuff -- and I can promise you that I have, over the course of my life, made some real converts.

    There is much beauty here. (And as @ADigitalArtist mentioned in another thread, some pretty funky stuff, too.)

    I've never tried teaching online, but heck, I'm only 73, I can try something new! :p
     
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  17. Suave

    Suave Simulated character

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    Back in my school days, I used to read Cliff notes in order to quickly get the gist of some literary masterpieces. Cliff notes on Hamlet, to be or not to be, that is the question.

     
  18. blü 2

    blü 2 Well-Known Member
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    Chaucer wrote in Middle English, where you can generally follow the grammar but the vocabulary will continually require footnotes.

    Shakespeare writes in Early Modern English ─ his grammar is reasonably straightforward if you're alert to the odd subjunctive, and modern editions regularize the spelling, so is the problem that you find it hard to get a continuous run without tripping over the vocabulary?

    Can you give me an example of the sort of thing that's not clicking?

    (Milton (1608-1674) is a couple of generations of Modern English later than Shakespeare (1564-1616).)
     
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  19. Evangelicalhumanist

    Evangelicalhumanist "Truth" isn't a thing...
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    You have to listen first -- notes later (if at all).
     
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  20. stvdv

    stvdv Veteran Member

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    5. "What's in a name? That which we call a rose
    By any other word would smell as sweet..."
    -Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II


    That's simple. Understanding this I understand Shakespeare AND I understand that knowing grammar is not that important after all (esp. in the end).

    It's like the Hindu lesson Bhaja Govindam...Mudha Mate of Adi Shankara
    Taking pity on him, Adi Shankara went up to the scholar and advised him not to waste his time on grammar at his age but to turn his mind to God in worship and adoration, which would only save him from this vicious cycle of life and death. The hymn "Bhaja Govindam" is said to have been composed on this occasion.

    I'm almost 60 now. When I read something I can't grasp, I reason:
    a) Do I really need this?
    b) Does it really help me in the end?
    c) Why is it so important for me to 'get it'?


    1. "To be, or not to be: that is the question:"
    This puts all other knowledge in perspective

    I tried for ca. 7 years to STUDY almost daily an ancient Hindu Scripture (1 of the 4 my Master told His students that were most important). I just didn't get it and could not let it go. Luckily after ca. 7 years my Master (Sai Baba) came into my dream, and explained it in Swedish. I'm Dutch and Swedish is like Chinese to me (both I don't understand). And He told me I could throw away all books, except this one

    AND afterwards I could read in ca. 2 weeks the whole 700 pages of this ancient Hindu Scripture

    I learned a lot from all of this. Mainly "what is really important in life? I need not know and understand everything, just That which I need in my final moment"

    But if you still wish to 'get it' then I wish you all the best. Shakespeare is quite spiritual, so IMO it's not a waste of time at all.
    @stvdvRF
     
    #20 stvdv, Oct 27, 2021
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2021
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