Monday, May 31, 2010

Last Chance to Vote

Are you ready for the Shakespeare in a Year Challenge? The poll to select the first play closes at midnight tonight, so vote now if you haven't already. Tomorrow, I'll announce the winner, and we'll all begin eagerly devouring the complete works of Shakespeare, one play and poem at a time.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Logistics: The Shakespeare in a Year Challenge

In just a few days, we'll kick off the Shakespeare in a Year Challenge: 38 plays in 52 weeks. Don't forget to vote on the play you want to read first! I'm looking forward to our discussions and debates, and I hope you are, too.

In the meantime, here are a few details about how the process will work:
  • On June 1, I'll announce the winner of the poll, and we'll start reading that play.
  • Each Sunday at noon, I'll post my thoughts on the current play. So, the first post will appear Sunday, June 6. Then, let the discussion begin! I'm hoping we can create a virtual book club, with plenty of debate.
  • Each Sunday, I'll also announce the reading assignment for the following week. We'll move in a very loose chronological order, with lots of deviations when I'm attending one of the plays (or just feel like reading something in particular).
I'm not very good at math, but it seems we have a few spare weeks, so we'll occasionally read some of Shakespeare's poetry or do a "two-week special" for a particularly dense play (e.g., King Lear).

We'll also take a few weeks off here and there when we need a break. I have eleven nieces and nephews and a mother-in-law who refuses to do her own cooking or Christmas shopping, so I guarantee you a break around the holidays.

Any questions? Your mission, before June 1, is to make sure you have copies of the plays and to get your friends involved. The more people who join the Challenge, the better!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Calm Before the Storm

Start your count-down calendars: In just one week, the Shakespeare in a Year Challenge begins. When I think about it, I get a knot in my stomach. It may be excitement, dread or a combination of the two.

What's the best way to prepare for this type of experience? I just finished Bill Bryson's amusing The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way, which of course praises Shakespeare's contributions to the sky. Next up: Bryson's biography of Shakespeare. It's not the first Bard biography I've read, but it's the first that comes complete with graphs, illustrations and glossy pages. I don't yet know whether the contents live up to the package, but I know Bryson's work, and I'm optimistic. Either way, immersing myself in a biography will give me a fresh perspective on the biographical context of the plays.

Do you have recommendations for how to spend our final pre-craziness week? Is there a Bard biography you'd like to recommend? If so, let me know!

In the meantime, don't forget to vote in the poll: Which play shall we read first? At the moment, it's a close race between Comedy of Errors, Midsummer and Titus, with absolutely no love for King John (not at all surprising) or Romeo and Juliet (quite surprising). If you have a strong preference, start campaigning now!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

39 Plays?

Arden has just issued a new play, supposedly by the Bard, called Double Falsehood. It's allegedly an adaptation of Cardenio, a lost Shakespeare play that modern scholars would give their right hands to find. The Millions has a great essay on Double Falsehood and its history, calling it "Cardenio as adapted by Davenant as adapted by Theobald." At the moment, I'm thinking we'll stick to the canonical 38 plays instead. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Top 10 Shakespeare Shake-ups

The Shakespeare in a Year Challenge begins June 1, and I know you're all voting for the first play and eagerly amassing your Shakespeare collection. (Hm, do I actually own Coriolanus?) In the meantime, check out this list from Reelz Channel of the 10 best Shakespeare movie adaptations. I have to admit, I never thought of "Lion King" that way.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Join Me: The Shakespeare in a Year Challenge

William Shakespeare wrote his first play around 1589 -- more than 420 years ago. In the intervening years, humans have invented vaccines, airplanes, Rubik's Cubes and blue jeans, but our human nature, it seems, has remained fundamentally the same. The issues Shakespeare addressed, such as jealousy, inter-generational conflict and the power of love, are the issues we experience in our own modern lives.

My first experience with Shakespeare's plays was in high school, when my freshman-year English teacher walked us through Romeo and Juliet. This was a teacher whose definition of poetry was "The cat / sat / on the mat," so you can imagine how well that went. The next year, we studied Julius Caesar, which seems to be taught in every American high school, mostly because there's no sex in it.

During my junior year, thanks to a teacher named Miss Jenkins, I finally discovered Shakespeare. She walked us through King Lear, and then she took us to see a university production of the play. Seeing the performance helped us break through the complicated, unfamiliar language and connect with the characters -- who, rather unfortunately, end up as dead bodies strewn all over the stage. It was heartbreaking. I was hooked.

In the decade since, I've become what my friends call a Shakespeare groupie. I studied the Bard in college and wrote my senior thesis on his plays. I've visited Shakespeare's grave in Stratford, toured the rebuilt Globe in London, and snickered at tourists at "Juliet's" balcony in Verona. I've seen dozens of Shakespeare productions at theaters like the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Still, there are many plays I've never read, let alone seen. To be fair, nobody reads Coriolanus. The average person has never even heard of it. Let's just be honest.

But I'm going to read it -- and 37 other plays -- in the next 12 months. I hope you'll read them, too. As Harold Bloom wrote in How to Read and Why, "You can read merely to pass the time, or you can read with an overt urgency, but eventually you will read against the clock." Reading all of Shakespeare's plays has long been on the list of things to do before I die, and it's time to cross something off the list.

As we go, I hope we'll uncover new insights and have plenty of lively debates (Romeo and Juliet: stupid or sweet? Falstaff: love him or hate him?). I'll also be posting updates from my travels to Stratford, Ontario; London, England; and many of the Midwest's best Shakespeare experiences.

Officially, the Shakespeare in a Year project begins June 1. In the meantime, add this to your blog reader, sign up for an e-mail subscription, and vote in the poll at right to help us get started. This is going to be a challenge, to both my schedule and my intellect, but it's going to be an incredible journey. Join me.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Coming Soon!

I'm putting the finishing touches on this blog. Look for updates coming soon! In the meantime, vote in that poll on the right for the play you think I should read first.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


The Shakespeare in a Year Challenge:

Comedies and Tragedies
(listed by approximate publication date, based on Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom)

The Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Comedy of Errors
Titus Andronicus
The Taming of the Shrew
Love's Labour's Lost
Romeo and Juliet
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Much Ado About Nothing
Julius Caesar
As You Like It
Twelfth Night
Troilus and Cressida
All's Well That Ends Well
Measure for Measure
King Lear
Antony and Cleopatra
Timon of Athens
The Winter's Tale
The Tempest
The Two Noble Kinsmen

(listed in chronological order)

King John
Richard II
Henry IV, Part I
Henry IV, Part II
Henry V
Henry VI, Part I
Henry VI, Part II
Henry VI, Part III
Richard III
Henry VIII
Edward III (non-canonical)


The sonnets
A Lover's Complaint
Venus and Adonis

The Rape of Lucrece
The Phoenix and the Turtle
A Funeral Elegy