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I am somewhere in the middle of reading every Shakespeare play. Over the years I have seen and read a few; the tragedies mostly, and some were obligations for school, such as Othello, which was incredibly risky material to give adolescent boys. It contains some of Shakespeare’s most ribald imagery.

Reading all the Shakespeare plays is probably not in the same category as cooking every one of Julia Child’s recipes, but it still has some merit.

Going through a series can be enjoyable. Over a weekend I watched about six-seven Ingmar Bergman films from the early ‘60s to his last film in 2003. When you systematically go through a person’s work you see the same tricks again and again played in different ways. With Bergman there is a solid family or relationship bond where people know each well and it seems stolid. Then, in the second act, one person will tell another how much she or he resents and hates the other, and has done so for years and they have been a poison in their lives. This accusation plays out until the other person is emotionally wrecked and then catharsis occurs. It’s what Bergman does over and over.

Shakespeare’s schtick, if it can be called that, is more varied. A deeper note will be made on this in a later blog when I am done. So far, though, I can make the following comments: Measure for Measure is like Undercover Boss; Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 is two plays that don’t blend and is repetitive with too many fat jokes; Henry VIII is not really about him but his broken first marriage which resulted in Elizabeth I which everyone in England happy; King John is unfairly overlooked and contains some strong speeches; As You Like It and Love’s Labour’s Lost are too long and the inverted joke is overused. The plotting is also banal. Othello and Macbeth are fabulous in unity of action, character and language. Coriolanus is awesome and very violent; The Merchant Of Venice is difficult for the antisemitism though Portia has some of the best lines Shakespeare wrote, certainly for a female character.

If a movie producer thinks someone systematically reading all of Shakespeare’s plays is a good premise for a film: very art-house, metro, but using one of the plays in parallel would make the project better, let me finish all the plays and get back to you on the best choice. I mean, some of them have been done too often and others are violent and racist. The rating system really complicates everything.

If that’s no good maybe I can cook all the food in Shakespeare’s plays, even though its mostly capon and sack, not very healthy. Let me think this idea over…

Guy Cranswick
27 April 2012