We all know the stock answer. Drama is written to be performed, so Shakespeare is best studied through live performances. Very true. Just think about it in modern terms. Who reads screenplays for fun? (Where would you find a screenplay for that matter?)
But the reasons to see Shakespeare live go beyond playwright’s original intent. Seeing Shakespeare in person will open up a whole level of understanding, appreciation, and even delight that mere reading can never achieve.
Costumes & Scenery
Maybe this is an expressly feminine concern, but I adore the costumes of live drama. Clothing is a part of culture and history, so being exposed to the theatrical costumes offers another layer of subconscious learning.
When you read a play, you don’t know what the characters look like for the most part. But in live drama, the different roles are made clearer through the use of elaborate costuming.You can tell immediately who is female or male, who is rich or poor, who is young or old.
As the characters move about among the props and scenery, the plot is made clear in ways that reading never illustrate.
Putting it Together
The Elizabethan language of Shakespeare is far more accessible when offered in the context of gestures, intonation, and props. You may not exactly know what a basket-hilt stale juggler is, but when you see the words delivered onstage with animated eyes and voice, you know immediately that it is a hilarious insult.
When I took my daughter to her first live Shakespeare play in 2012–Romeo and Juliet– I was amazed that she comprehended everything. She had no problem following the action or dialogue. Granted, she was familiar with the story through the frequent reading of children’s versions, picture books, and even animated videos. But those retellings leave out much of the original language and humor.
The whole experience of costumes, scenery, gestures, props, animated intonation, and an audience full of delighted spectators created the perfect setting for a young learner to effortlessly absorb Shakespeare.
Yes, paying $50 for tickets to the theater is a far cry from downloading a free public domain copy of The Tempest. But the experience is incomparable. Let’s admit it, Elizabethan English is challenging to understand. If I had offered Emma a copy of The Tempest on her Kindle, she would have balked at reading through it all. But paying that high price for theater tickets means we can enjoy Shakespeare almost through osmosis rather than through labored reading.
And the bonus? A couple of delightful hours spent in the theater count for homeschool language arts for the day.
I am looking forward to the hot summer’s being over so that we can see outdoor drama again at The Tennessee Shakespeare Company.
When was the last time you saw a performance live? And when will the next one be? Is it an expense you are willing to sacrifice for?