Reading Shakespeare

For the first time since I began weekly posts I have missed a Monday. During the preceding weekend, I thought from time to time, as I do most weeks, about what the next post might be. Often this has led to the piece being written ahead of time and sitting quietly on my computer waiting for Monday morning to be inserted into a new wordpress page.

This past weekend was no different, except that no idea presented itself and other things occupied my mind and I forgot about blog posting. Until this Tuesday morning.  Then my friend Sylvia arrived to read Shakespeare and I had my topic.

Sylvia, ready to read Act 5 of Cymbeline

Sylvia, ready to read Act 5 of Cymbeline

Dennis Abrams runs a blog dedicated to the reading of all of Shakespeare’s plays in the order in which they were written. (This order is disputed, but he settled on a version that he thought logical.) The first post was in June 2011, the last will be some time in 2014. This morning Sylvia and I finished Cymbeline and there are four more plays to go. DA posts two or three times a week and encourages comments. His posts are scholarly, with long sections from a range of literary critics, and many references to youtube clips from film and stage productions of the plays. Find the blog at

I started reading at the beginning, with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I don’t remember exactly when Sylvia expressed an interest in joining in and we decided it would be more fun to read the plays out loud together, but it wasn’t far down the list. We don’t take roles, we take turns at reading – one speech for her, the next for me and so on. And we read, we don’t on the whole try to act. Most of our meetings are mid-week, alternating at each other’s homes.

An excellent aspect of reading plays this way is having someone to talk to when a line doesn’t make sense, or you’ve lost the thread of the plot or can’t remember the significance of a particular character – or even whose side they are on. And it’s great fun recognising known phrases (so many of these) and Shakespeare’s genius with language.

I’ve discovered well-known plays I don’t like so much (e.g. A Midsummer Night’s Dream), confirmed some favourites (e.g. Macbeth) and found some new favourites in plays I’d never met before (e.g The Life and Death of King John).

The book I bought about 1956.

The “complete works” I bought about 1956.

The book I read from is one I have had since school-days. I remember I bought it myself, probably with money given on my birthday, when I was about fourteen, intending then to read all the plays, having “done” The Merchant of Venice in my first year at secondary school. Almost six decades later I’m nearly there.

Footnote: This is my 100th post.


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