Shakespeare Book Club

My mother-in-law, Laura, with whom I stay when I’m up here working, is part of a Shakespeare Book Club. Like any other book club, they get together every three weeks or so to discuss the selection at hand, but instead of Cormac McCarthy or Jonathan Franzen, they are always reading Shakespeare. I’ve always enjoyed coming to the meetings when I’m in town; the folks involved are all incredibly smart, astute, and close readers, and it’s so much fun to come at the plays from a different perspective. None of them are actors, indeed, none of them are more involved in the theatre than as patrons. They are artists and professors and geologists and therapists and administrative assistants and their insight into the plays is always different than mine — which, obviously holds up in reverse, as well. I think they like having me around to hear how an actor would approach the material, and generally we read a passage or six, so when I’m there, they like to hear me speak the verse (and don’t get me wrong: the verse, I like to speak it.) I like to hear them talk about bigger thematic elements and the moral implications of character actions, and all kinds of judgments we, as actors don’t get to make. Plus, as my wife will tell you, there’s nothing I like more than a feisty debate, and we can get into them at Shakespeare Book Club.

The only problem is this: the group meets Sunday mornings. At 7:30. In the morning. AM. On Sunday.

As an actor, my natural inclination is to be asleep on Sunday morning at 7:30. As a human my natural inclination is to be asleep on Sunday morning at 7:30. But, I enjoy the discussions so much that if there’s a meeting and I’m in town, I make it a point to roll out of bed at 7:29 and hustle down. (I’m lucky that Laura hosts quite often.)

So this morning we discussed 2 Henry IV. Nine years or so ago, I played Pistol, and had a grand time… I was so glad today to revisit the play with this different perspective. I won’t get into it here, for those of you who are following along with Milwaukee Shakespeare’s Rebel and King Series and haven’t gotten to the plot of 2 Henry IV, yet, but suffice it to say that, once again, Shakespeare the playwright does not let us down. Moments that seemed at first glance to be cut and dried were, upon examination found to be extremely complex. Specific relationships and motivations are so very human in these plays, but still, greater literary themes are woven like a fine web of gossamer, glittering and gorgeous, encompassing all the action.

What’s so lovely about Shakespeare book club is that I never tire of reading these plays. I always learn something, about the play, about myself, about humanity. Even at 7:30 Sunday morning.


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