Richard III and William Shakespeare: Alive and Understood

 

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“Now is the winter of our discontent,” “A horse! A horse! My Kingdom for a horse!” Recognize these lines? Perhaps they call to mind sitting in the back of second period English class back in the 10th grade, maybe trying to hang onto every word spoken by a professor in a large auditorium, maybe even, you heard these lines in the news (after all, the speaker – though represented fictionally here – was quite recently discovered under a parking lot, having that been his resting place for close to 630 years).

Yep, I am of course, talking about Richard III. Though for many of us, Richard (and indeed, many other of Shakespeare’s characters) live on in the classroom, I recently had the pleasure of seeing a live performance of the play itself. Though not in its 15th century glory, it was set in the early 1960s and stuck true to the Bard’s play while giving a unique spin on a play about the Duke of Gloucester’s murderous villainy that has been performed for hundreds of years. It was truly an eye-opening experience to see a Shakespeare play finally performed live, as I had always fallen into the trap of just reading the plays, listening to them on audio book, or even watching a film adaptation – none of which truly does any Shakespeare play justice.

Though many people claim to not ever be able to understand Shakespeare’s language, it truly needs to be seen performed, not recorded orally, visually, or, well, by printed words in a book. You need to be in the presence of the performers, hear the inflection, the rise and fall of their speech, experience their emotions firsthand, in order to fully understand a Shakespeare play. My college professor that taught my Shakespeare class always had blustered at us that we couldn’t understand the art of Shakespeare if we were just reading it or (in his case) being plain lazy by pulling it up on Netflix, writing an essay about what we watched, and all the while claiming the fact that we have “seen” one of William Shakespeare’s plays. And he’s right – that’s not Shakespeare and that’s not a play.

The story, the characters, the language – it all just makes perfect sense when you see it live! I don’t think I’ve ever been more of an advocate then experiencing an piece of art in its intended context (i.e. don’t read about the film, watch the film; don’t watch the film adaptation, read the book; don’t look at a picture of the piece of art, view the art firsthand; don’t read the play, go out and see it performed) then now. Art, and in this case writing and theatre, has an intended purpose by its creator and it does the work an injustice to not experience it firsthand. To create art, you must first seek it, and what you will find will be the inspiration – the true art.

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