Reading Shakespeare for pleasure…

What is this reading for pleasure thing I am referring to? Sorry, dear teacher reader, but this year I am in a non-school based teaching role and you know what that means?! It means no marking! It means no working on the weekends or after work. It means… reading for pleasure without any guilt! I’m not writing this post to rub in the fact that I have time (glorious, luxurious, precious, not taking it for granted, time) to read for pleasure, I’m writing it as a reminder and a record for myself that I HAVE TIME TO READ FOR PLEASURE!! I’m not going to waste this absolute privilege – I’m going to do what I did as a child, pre-teen and pregnant-with-my-first-child adult: I’m going to read everything I can.

So far this year that has included reading my first Murakami book ever (now that I know what magical realism is, thanks HSC marking, I figured I should read some) – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Super weird but cool. I’ve also read an entire textbook (Teaching Language in Context) on writing – from cover to cover. Yes, it’s related to work but I also read it in my free time because I loved it. Recently (as in over the last four weeks) I read the Wolf Hall trilogy which is brilliant but I’m sure everyone knows that already. Prior to these reads, I’d been busily using my spare time to finish writing my latest book (it’s called On Teaching – content matches the title, surprisingly) and binge watching all the TV series people reference on social media – Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Office, Parks & Rec, and New Girl. Yes, I’ve managed to watch four entire television series in the first half of the year. Insanity.

Anyway, now that I’ve moved on from my book writing and my Netflix binging, I’m going to hunker down and focus on reading. There are so many ‘classics’ that I’ve not read; mostly the books I’ve read (adult fiction books, I mean) are those which have been set for the HSC – either because I have taught the book or I’ve had to write about it for my HSC Excel study guides. I’m really keen to be able to tick more books off when I read those lists of Top 100 literary texts of all time. Anyway, that brings me to the title of this post – reading Shakespeare for pleasure! I’ve decided to start my reading with the big gun, Shakespeare. Last year my beautiful mentees gifted me a copy of Shakespeare’s collected works (see photo below) and I’ve decided to read it from cover to cover! The only Shakespeare I have read is, again, the plays and sonnets that I have had to teach or write about. I’ve never sat down and read Shakespeare for pleasure in the way you sit down to read a novel. Why? I’m not sure. I no longer find the language difficult, after having taught his plays for so many years, so I suppose it’s just not feeling like I had the time. Having just finished the Wolf Hall trilogy, I feel like staying in that era and that mode – not to mention the fact that last year I read a fantastic biography on Shakespeare (Genius by Jonathan Bate) and one on John Donne (by John Stubbs) which just made me super enjoy reading about that time in England.

I started reading it yesterday, and am loving it. I thought I might just document my reading here on my blog. Why? I don’t know but I think mostly it’s because I miss writing – plus I miss talking about literature which I guess is what I did on a daily basis for 16 years up until this year. The Complete Works opens with letters from Heminge and Condell – the guys who put together the First Folio (1623) – to their benefactors and to the reader of the folio. It’s just sweet to think these were real live human beings who knew and loved the real live William Shakespeare. Then there are a couple of obituaries to Shakespeare – again, just sweet and humanising the man who wrote these remarkable plays and poems. Then there is Ben Jonson’s poem ‘To the memory of my beloved, the author, Master William Shakespeare and what he hath left us’ which is just, urgh, it actually is heart-wrenching! I cried as a read it, and look, it’s probably a lot to do with me having just finished Wolf Hall and being pretty tender – I just imagine Jonson so clearly as a real man thanks to Mantel’s incredible portrayal of life in this time (well, 100 years earlier but whatever, same place and stuff). I must admit that I’d never read Jonson’s poem about Shakespeare on his death and it was cool to see those two famous phrases ‘soul of the age’ and ‘He was not of an age, but for all time’ in context. Actually, the former quote is even better in full (which I don’t think many people know): Soul of the age, The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage, My Shakespeare, rise!

The Complete Works is set out in chronological order, so the first play I’m reading is Henry VI, Part 1. It’s funny, because I usually teach Henry IV: Part 1 to year 12, and this play opens with the death of Henry V, who I know as Hal, obviously, and the characters refer to him as this brave, fighter king. There are references to my beloved Falstaff being a coward and hated – clearly he has abandoned his post again and it’s led to some sort of defeat in France. There is also Richard III popping up but in the early guise of Richard Plantagenet – he just gets given back his title of Duke of York, and we get the scene where the War of the Roses begins – they literally pluck the roses in the garden and use them to show their sides! Cool! I used to teach Richard III, so this is so interesting! Oh course, I don’t know the timeline or the family tree well enough to say these are the same characters but I think they are, I’ll find out soon. Finally, I was absolutely surprised but delighted to discover that Joan of Arc is in this play! For real! Shakespeare’s first play has Joan of Arc as a character?! And she’s a badass too! Incredible.

So, that’s where I am at so far. I think I’ll keep writing about my reading of Shakespeare for pleasure. Hope I don’t bore you!

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