Bring on the drama

As others are haunted about not reading enough women,or enough YA, or enough world literature, I frequently torture myself over how little I read that is not prose (among many, many other things, of course). It’s bad enough the way I read fiction at the expense of nonfiction, the share of the universe of excellent essays and criticism I neglect, but the amount of space in my reading life accorded to poetry and, especially, drama, is pretty pathetic.

I’ve gotten somewhat better in the poetry side of things, and on the nonfiction side as well, though these are both things I find difficult to blog about so you often miss them here. It’s something I’d like to rectify. But to even things out in the drama department (and initially inspired, truth be told, by a Netflix marathon of Kenneth Branagh on recent weekend, along with other similar influences), I recently decided I would finally get around to reading all of Shakespeare’s plays (and finally Ocford Word’s Classics has editions that are actually attractive)–in my own sweet time, of course–as well as get into some Jacobean drama.

The most notable experience of reading the play was noticing how very many lines have become common references or clichés. It’s not just “mine eyes dazzle!”; I basically felt like I knew somewhere between a third and half the play. This is not to denigrate reading it in any way–quite the opposite. It was an enlightening experience, as well as entertaining.

The funny thing is, just as with poetry, and with short stories if I’ve stayed away from them a long time, I was also quickly noticing how much I enjoy reading in the form and wondering why I don’t do more of it. I’ll get to Shakespeare separately, as King Lear certainly deserves its own post, but if you’ve got any Jacobean suggestions I’m all ears.

7 comments to Bring on the drama

  • Oh yes yes. I will restrain myself, and just mention the essential John Webster (The Duchess of Malfi, The White Devil), whose plays are crazy and The Atheist’s Tragedy and The Revenger’s Tragedy by Cyril Tourneur (or maybe Middleton wrote the latter), which is crazy, and you can cap the run with John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, which is completely insane, the exhausted and decadent end of a tradition.

    I have a strong taste for revenge tragedies, that is a fact. Any of these would make for good readalong opportunities, I casually mention for no reason.

    I could recommend some plays that are not revenge tragedies, too. Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle is full of surprises.

  • For what it’s worth, the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia, stages many of the plays Tom mentioned, and they regularly send their productions out on nationwide tours. I don’t know if Chicago is a regular stop for them, but keep an eye out. (Their Knight of the Burning Pestle is a hoot!)

  • Everything Tom says!! Yes, yes. Absolutely do not skip either ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore or The Knight of the Burning Pestle.

    Some more obscure options that are wonderful too: Bussy D’Ambois by George Chapman (a gory, bloody tragedy!); A Woman Killed with Kindness by Thomas Heywood; Women Beware Women by Thomas Middleton; Christ don’t forget the Ben Jonson comedies (esp. Bartholomew Fair!!). I’d better stop now, before I frighten you. :)

  • Bartholomew Fair was a shock. It is unlike any other play Jonson wrote, unlike anything any of his contemporaries wrote. Five acts of energy and life spilled onto the stage. Thrilling.

  • I guilt myself over not reading “better works” all the time, but I have gotten more into reading classic literature in the last few years, probably thanks to college. I think I became a little snootified during my matriculation. :) I’m okay with that, though. I don’t like to judge people based on what they choose to read, but any time I read something like, say, 50 Shades of Grey, I say I’m reading it out of academic curiosity. And, honestly, that was why I decided to read it, at least in part. I like reading controversial books and looking at them critically. It’s just my English major’s eye. I think the important part to focus on when choosing new books to read is intention. I also tell myself that I will never read all the books I want to read in life, but that I WILL read all the books I’m meant to. That trust brings me solace.

  • Mitch Heimbigner

    lovely discussion on great post, I’m happy that you’ve become more ‘poetry’ :D

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