This week, I decided to read my first Shakespeare plays since high school, as literary preparation for what I’m hoping will be a visit to a couple of historical sights this summer. Richard III was the plan, but then Wikipedia said it made frequent references to Henry VI parts 1-3, so now I’m reading four plays about medieval kings.
When I say, “Now I’m reading,” what I actually mean is that I read five pages from the biography of Shakespeare during the introduction to this play about a king.
This is my first taste of Shakespeare in five years. Sure, I’ve watched webseries and seen one or two community plays, but this is the first play I’m reading on my own. It’s the first time I’m reading Shakespeare without a teacher explaining historical context or analyzing the meaning of the sonnets. It’s the first time I’m going in without a clue of where I’m going or what’s happening.
English was my favorite class in high school, and I think I took my teachers for granted. Sure, I loved the books. I loved reading, and I loved learning. But I don’t think I realized how much I needed everything explained until this moment. (If any of my former teachers are reading this, thank you, because you’re probably the reason why I like Shakespeare.)
All I know about Henry VI is that he was a king who came before Henry VIII. I assume that Richard III lived after Henry VI. Wikipedia said that he was connected to the princes locked in the Tower of London, whose supposed cell I visited in 2013.
And that’s all I know.
I’m excited to revisit Shakespeare. I’m excited to learn [fictionalized accounts of] history through rhythm and rhyme. I don’t remember when the last time was that I read something written before 1700, so it will be fun relearning this style of English speaking/writing. Honestly, I think it’s going to be hard, so I’m excited* to actually use the footnotes and criticisms that the publishers helpfully publish in their “authoritative texts.”
All this is to say that I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with Shakespeare, and I have a better appreciation for how my school teachers presented the historical and cultural context of his plays to us kids. My goal is to read four plays over the next month. We’ll see how far I get.
*Hopefully reading Shakespeare will remind me of better adjectives and feelings than “excited,” because I’m getting repetitive in my feelings and words about my feelings