My husband picked up my copy of Measure for Measure a couple of nights ago. “This isn’t so bad,” he said. “I think I can read this.” He asked me for some advice about how to read the plays, or he should have, which amounts to the same thing, so I am going to tell you what I told him. I also know that many of you readers, literate men and women that you are, have in fact already read many or most or all of the plays, plus seen the movie, and you don’t need to hear what I told him. But bear with me, or I’ll have to write another two sentence post.
Basically, I’d advise against reading Shakespeare at the rate of one page a night, which is how my husband is doing it. He read Emma this way also. As a result, it took him several years to find out that Emma was going to marry Mr. Knightly. What I find amazing about his reading of Emma is that he really didn’t guess that Emma was going to marry Mr. Knightly until she actually did. Every night, I’d say something innocent like, “So honey, who’s Emma going to marry?” And he’d say, “oh, I don’t know. But not that Mr. Knightly guy. She really hates him.”
So that’s my first piece of advice. Try to finish the play quickly enough that you can still remember what happened in the beginning.
This brings me to my second piece of advice, which I know will be a little controversial. It’s this: read a summary of the play before you begin. Yes, this will ruin the ending. But you know what? You probably already know that both Romeo and Juliet die and that things don’t go well for Hamlet. How do you know that? Because they are tragedies. And yes, in fact, they all DO get married at the end of the comedies. It isn’t going to ruin a thing if you figure out ahead of time which couples end up together and maybe some of the more complicated stuff about who gives the gold chain to whom. You’ll be more relaxed as you read because you won’t be trying to figure out the plot. You can expend your energy on thinking about why it is that some people speak in verse and some people don’t and considering what tune those songs in the comedies might have been sung to.
My third — and final — piece of advice has to do with where you should read Shakespeare. In fact, it is my main suggestion this morning. That is because I am about to get on the train, and it just occurred to me:
Read Measure for Measure standing up, while commuting to work. Read it while standing over a young man who should have gotten up and given you a seat, seeing as how you are engaged in heavy intellectual lifting and he is reading Gamer’s Weekly. Actually, he is not reading Gamer’s Weekly. He is staring blankly at you, and not doing a thing.
He is also barely out of high school, and perfectly able to stand up and give you his seat. I know this is retro and not cool, but it has begun to bother me quite a bit when men do not offer to give their seats to the women who are teetering over them trying to keep their balance as the train throws them back and forth. The woman I am thinking of is teetering around because she is carrying a lot of stuff and is also trying to read Shakespeare.
It is not mandatory to give up your seat, but it’s such a nice thing to do, and I have come to the decision, after years and years of commuting, that giving up your seat should be part of every man’s repertoire of charming things to do.
There are good reasons to do this. The main reason is that the reward for giving up your seat to the woman who is trying to read Shakespeare and not kill herself trying to hold a book and a really heavy bag full of the computer she doesn’t get to use to write her novel with because the train is so crowded, is that doing so will cause every woman on the train to look at the seat-giver-upper and smile. And if the man is single, maybe this will include a woman who might otherwise not give him the time of day. If he is married, this will remind him that he once won a woman’s heart by being a good guy and so should say something sweet to his wife when he gets home because her heart is still his.
It is good for men to feel like they’ve been helpful. (Yes, it is good for PEOPLE to feel like this. But as it happens it’s always a guy who’s sitting down reading something stupid or staring into space with his mouth open while I’m standing up trying to maintain my dignity and get in some reading. Okay, sometimes I’m staring into space because I forgot to bring a book. But my thoughts have redeeming value.)
One other thing: Be sure to flip the pages of your edition of Shakespeare at a rate of more than one every twenty minutes. Even if you aren’t reading, flip the pages fast. He won’t notice, probably, but it will make you feel better.
So. That was the fun part. Tomorrow (or as it goes in BlogLily time, in a few days) I’ll get to the profit part.