Watching vs Reading Shakespeare

I have a love-hate relationship with Shakespeare. I enjoy watching his plays (bar a certain amateur production, where they attempted to ‘modernise’ Macbeth, failed miserably, and I’m still left with screaming flashbacks), but reading them? Initially, not so riveting. I have finally – a month and a half too late – got round to reading Othello, and once I’m used to the whole iambic pentameter thing, it’s bearable fabulous.

Still, I’ve seen three Shakespeare plays this summer (King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Richard III), and read… half of one. Nearly half. The problem is, I need some kind of trigger to actually get involved in the Bard. The panic-inducing thought of ‘oh GOD I have less than month until school’ isn’t the most motivational. However, actually seeing a production is.

That was my excuse, anyway.

It was after seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Laurence Boswell, as usual, was a genius) that I finally managed to put two hands on the cover and open Othello. Seeing how someone else handled the text gently re-introduced me to the intensive world of Shakespeare, and made me think that, actually, reading Othello could be rather fun.

The difference between watching and reading plays is vast; namely, as an audience, you are powerless, but as reader/director/entire bleeding cast, you are unconsciously forced to make decisions about  setting and movement and God knows what else, which is tiring. Or is it just me who does this? I’ve already figured out that I’d want Andrew Scott as Iago, and how I’d stage it and costume and lights – it’s like an entire production in my brain.

A production that would end with me running away with Andrew Scott and him whispering sweet nothings in his delicious accent.

Yes, with watching Shakespeare, some of the hard work is taken out. Supposedly, the audience gets to relax and enjoy the show. Unless the director decides that they want to screw with your mind – then you’ll end up being unable to see the show through your tears. But with reading, you get your dream cast, your dream budget, and the prospect of imagining Scott/Tom Hiddleston/Eddie Redmayne/Aidan Turner/any attractive actor topless.

And nothing, nothing could beat that.

Your thoughts on reading vs watching Shakespeare? Do you even like Shakespeare? Drop me a line!

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16 thoughts on “Watching vs Reading Shakespeare

  1. As far as Shakespeare goes: yes.
    As far as all of the named actors go: YES!
    Which is immature of me and suggests a potentially worrying preference for topless men over culture, but who cares. I now desperately want to direct a play and put all my favourite people in it. Is there any chance of it happening? Probably not. Does that stop me wanting it to happen? No.

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    1. In the past three plays I’ve seen, at least two male members of the cast took their tops off – not that I’m complaining, of course. Lysander and Demetrius were especially delectable. Your play could happen – if a musical about the founding fathers of America can become a Tony winning smash hit, you could very well be directing Redmayne et al!

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  2. I do think that Shakespeare should be watched rather than read, but I still do enjoy reading them. I like having the text to myself (if that makes sense) because I can read the words at my own pace (usually out loud, and in different voices…does that make me weird?) which helps me understand the intricacies of the language a lot better.
    On a different note: I’m going to see 1984 in the theatre next week and I’m super excited! Just wanted to share that with you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah I’m excited on your behalf! 1984 is honestly the best play I’ve seen thus far; Icke and Macmillan are geniuses, and ah! it’s just incredible. I’d love to hear your thoughts once you’ve seen it! (Hang on, you are seeing the one in the West End, right?)

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  3. YES to imagining Aidan Turner in Shakespeare, in any role at all actually…For me I love to watch it in performance, where it really comes alive, but I agree that not every performance is a hit, and it can be very frustrating when you just aren’t feeling the director’s/actors’ interpretation. I have seen some of the best Shakespeare I’ve ever seen recently though (namely Hamlet at RSC in particular), which was mind-blowingly amazing and opened my mind to parts and themes in the play I don’t think I every would have got just from reading it at home!

    (Love your blog by the way!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah thank you so much! I’ve not had the fortune to see Hamlet (or anything at the RSC, for that matter!), but I recently saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream (incredible; very Brook-esque) in Bath, and although I’ve never read it, when I do I feel that I shall forever picture this production. Thanks for your comment!

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    1. That’s true; in some of the productions I’ve seen, I’ve found that either the delivery of the language is poor, or I’m so distracted by everything else on stage that the language goes straight over my head. Thanks for your comment!

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  4. This is such a good post! As someone who is an avid reader of Shakespeare and who has also studied and played on stage, I reckon you’ve nailed a great approach to reading and viewing. I’m reading The Tempest at the moment have Ian McKellen as Prospero, Jennifer Lawrence as Ariel and Tom Hiddleston as Ferdinand. Totally using their voices and imagining them on stage and in a movie.

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    1. Thank you so much! I agree, I can totally imagine Ian McKellen especially in The Tempest. I’m currently reading / rehearsing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I’m spending too long imagining my dream cast… Thank you for your comment!

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