Friday, June 20, 2014
A Midsummer Night's Dream Revisited
RHYS BOWEN: Tomorrow night will be midsummer night and I found myself thinking of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s always been one of my favorite Shakespeare plays—one of the comedies I actually found funny.
We had to study one Shakespeare play each trimester at my school. We had to read them in class and I remember how painful it was to sit and listen classmates struggling with language we just didn’t understand. The comedies were worst. At least with the tragedies we knew that someone would get stabbed or poisoned in the end.
We could appreciate Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet. But those comedies. What was funny about them?
It wasn’t until I was working in BBC drama and a friend was stage manager for the Royal Shakespeare Company that I was backstage at a Shakespeare comedy AND the audience was laughing out loud. Roaring with laughter. Because the actors understood what they were saying, all the clever play on words and naughty double entendres. Obviously our straight laced school mistresses either didn’t understand it themselves or didn’t want us to understand.
So I’m wondering, Reds, were there any books you hated in school and came to love and appreciate later in life? Or were there any subjects you couldn’t stand in school that later became passions for you? I didn’t like history the way it was taught, all dates and battles. But now I make my living writing about it, taking readers to historical periods. Maybe if they’d given me historical fiction to read, I’d have been a history buff back then. So fess up, Reds…
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: They MADE me read Ethan Frome in High School. I cannot tell you how much I hated it. Later in lIfe, I fell in love with Edith Wharton, and the romance with her continues. It was just wrong place, wrong time.
Our Town was also wrong place wrong time. I thought it was RIDICULOUS, stupid and sappy. Now I cannot even think about it without crying. Dickens, too. who I now love, but we all shared the Cliffs Notes about Nicholas Nickelby.
I always loved Shakespeare, from moment one, even though they started with Julius Caesar, which is a silly one to get kids to like.
And you are so right about teaching history, Rhys. It's a STORY, a great story, with compelling characters and fascinating motivations and incredible action and outcomes. If they would only teach it that way.
HALLIE EPHRON: Believe it or not, my first attempt to read an Agatha Christie novel ended in abject failure. Summer of high school, I had not a clue why my mother loved her books. Later, of course, we connected in a serious way.
And for my 16th birthday my mother gave me a copy of Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own" and I could not see at all what she was going on about. It was several decades before I got back to it and, listening to it as a book on tape, I loved it. Then I waded into Mrs. Dalloway... I had to read it out loud to myself in order to stick with it. Dense prose. Serpentine sentences.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Why do they start kids on Julius Caesar, I ask you? At least teenagers could understand Romeo and Juliet! I don't remember reading a single thing in high school English that I liked. Hated The Old Man and Sea. Hated Gatsby (although I read Tender is the Night on my own and did like that one.) HATED Of Mice and Men. Hated The Grapes of Wrath. If I hadn't been a voracious reader before high school, I would never have read another book.
What have I come back to? Read/reread many Dickens novels while researching In a Dark House--loved them. Rediscovered Hemingway when I ran across A Moveable Feast a few years ago, although I still can't bring myself to reread The Old Man and the Sea. Fell madly in love with Shakespeare when I saw Ken Brannagh's version of Henry V (muhltiple times...)
So, should I give Edith Wharton a try?
HANK: Definitely, Debs! Try CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY. I loved it! And HOUSE OF MIRTH. Which is way too sad, but fabulous.
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Debs, DEFINITELY give Edith Wharton a try! I can't remember any books I didn't like in high school or college — but that's good, right? Oh, wait — James Joyce's ULYSSES. Never really figured that one out... LOVED Shakespeare because the first play I read in school read was MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. So funny! I remember the TV show Moonlighting was popular at the time and I pictured Cybil Shephard and Bruce Willis as Beatrice and Benedick.
RHYS: So do share, everyone... have you ever come to love a book or play you once hated?