You shouldn’t be.
Yes, William Shakespeare wrote his plays in the 1500s making the language a bit dated and awkward for today’s reader, but when his plays are performed live, most of the awkwardness slips away. Through good acting and direction as well as careful intonation, today’s performances of Shakespeare’s plays entertain and engage as they have for centuries. It’s true. You don’t have to be an English major or theatre geek to enjoy a contemporary Shakespeare performance.
In fact, Shakespeare is known for universal themes and his knack for story-telling. Live stage plays were the YouTube and Netflix of the 1500s!
“He was not of an age, but for all time.” -Ben Jonson
Shakespeare For The Rest of Us
But, you don’t have to take my word for it (I was an English major after all) – the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company of Boston has made it their mission to bring Shakespeare to the people – for free – in a way that makes his works a little, well, less scary.
Since 1996, the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company has presented professional productions of Shakespeare to Boston audiences during the summer months when local theatre companies are on hiatus from their regular seasons. Now in its 17th season, Shakespeare on the Common has become an annual Boston tradition.
This year, from July 6-28, they are presenting The Two Gentlemen of Verona, a comedy and one of Shakespeare’s earliest works. The production is set in the time of Rat-Pack Las Vegas (“What happens in Milan, stays in Milan…”), complete with an orchestra and musical numbers such as Sinatra’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin. Many of the songs are performed live by the main characters and it is a pleasant surprise to see a Shakespearian actor break into song. I highly recommend you attend and, if you can afford to, make a donation to help support the free performance that isn’t free to produce.
I attended The Two Gentlemen of Verona last week, on a warm evening that threatened rain, with my oldest son (also an English major). We settled into some lawn chairs on the Boston Common and readied ourselves for our experience. Shakespeare’s plays require your complete attention, a full belly, and a good chunk of time – but it’s worth it!
Guide For Improving Your Enjoyment of Shakespeare
Read my tips below to ensure that you get the most out of your next Shakespearian play. To make your understanding and enjoyment of Shakespeare complete, you’ll need the following:
- A synopsis – Fortunately, you can quickly get the gist of the story from the playbill.
- Time – The plays are long so you need to be prepared!
- Patience – (see above)
- Snacks and water – (see above)
- Focus – No cell phones or other distractions!
- Concentration – (see above)
- A friend or two – to experience it with you. It helps to compare notes at intermission!
- An open mind – this won’t be like anything else, so leave your expectations behind.
And, Don’t be afraid to laugh – out loud!
If you are fully prepared, I promise Shakespeare won’t be scary – and you’ll probably enjoy it!