I know several people who have confessed to me, privately, that they feel stupid when they read Shakespeare. They feel like an idiot.
They think that reading Shakespeare requires extra work and study -- and that the only people who really understand Shakespeare are teachers or scholars.
They watch the occasional Shakespeare movie adaptation, and they know that Romeo and Juliet is a tragic love story, but that's about all they know. Oh, and many of them had to memorize a Sonnet in school once, but now they've forgotten it.
When they read my versions of the plays, they can't believe how entertaining the plays really are. They understand the plays immediately.
I felt the same way for many years. I thought I was just not smart enough to understand Shakespeare. But then by accident I started to see Shakespeare differently.
Did you know that Shakespeare's audience -- the people who went to see his plays when they were first performed 400 years ago -- understood his plays perfectly?
Did you know that his audience was filled with some of the poorest people in London, people who could not read or write?
Did you know that other people in the same audience were some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in London?
I'm sure you know that Shakespeare's plays were performed for the Queen herself from time to time.
He wrote his plays for ALL of them. He entertained ALL of them.
So, are my friends less intelligent than poor and illiterate Elizabethans?
That makes no sense.
Shakespeare's entire audience understood his plays because they were written for them in their historical context.
The plays were not written for us. We don't live in Elizabethan London.
If we traveled back in time to Shakespeare's day, and performed an episode of Modern Family or Doctor Who in front of an Elizabethan audience -- they wouldn't understand any of it.
So, how did I solve the plays?
I studied the Elizabethan period, and I learned about what was happening in London before and during Shakespeare's life. Shakespeare was writing his plays in a time of great religious, political and social upheaval. He was writing his plays for Queen Elizabeth -- whose reign is known for it repression but also for it's advances -- especially as far as the arts are concerned.
You may have learned much of this in school. What I have done is put you right in that world -- so you can see what Shakespeare was going through.
With that knowledge of Shakespeare's life and times, I read Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice several times -- over and over again.
What I tried to do is to imagine that I was in that audience -- of wealthy nobles and groundlings -- and tried to understand what they would have found funny, sad, or exciting. The more I understood the audience, the more I could understand the plays themselves.
There are clues in the plays. The best example is at the end of Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be?" speech. When he sees Ophelia enter the stage, Hamlet says "Soft you now! The fair Ophelia!"
"Soft you now!" means hush, be quiet.
Is he telling himself to be quiet? That doesn't make sense.
He must be telling the audience to be quiet.
What would they be saying to him during his speech, in which he is considering suicide?
Maybe they are telling him: don't give up, don't kill yourself, fight back!
That makes a lot more sense, and I have found many places where Shakespeare gets the audience involved with the play.
More than anything else, it is with this idea that I "solved" these plays. By understanding the historical context I could understand his audience, and therefore the meaning of the plays became clear.
It may come as a surprise to you that Shakespeare was ruthlessly entertaining. His plays are very bawdy, funny, and political. I guarantee that you have never read Shakespeare like this before.
I am excited to present these new versions to you, and I am convinced that as soon as you start reading them, you will agree that they have never been so easy to understand, and they are more entertaining than you thought.
If you don't believe me, you can read them for yourself, and feel free to write a review. I leave it up to you to judge. The proof is in the writing.
By the way, I recommend you read Hamlet first, then Richard III, and then The Merchant of Venice.
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