I’m Reading All of Shakespeare In One Year. Maybe.

Running errands with the fam the last weekend of December, I asked if we could stop by my favorite used bookstore.

My son asked, “Why? You didn’t bring any books to sell.” Then his eyes got big and he gasped, “You aren’t going to buy more books, are you?”

Only one..” And then I explained my project, reading all of Shakespeare’s work in one year.

And then his Dad the Dad deadpanned: “Okay. I’ll see if there’s any room at the asylum for you. Tough time of year to get in, but I’ll check.”

That’s pretty much what I thought, too, when I first heard about this business back in December. And some of my fellow Rioters shared my sense of shock and general whoa. “Dude. No one reads all of Shakespeare.”

Dude.

So I put the thought out of my head for a few weeks. Or, I tried to. My friends kept talking about it, reminding me.

The idea of reading all of Shakespeare, all by my lonesome, does not interest me. The value (if there is any objective “value” in this project) doesn’t lie solely in moving my eyes across each line of text. But reading it together with my Facebook buddies, exploring that world with people I care for and respect—that tempted me. I mean, Will wrote mostly for the theater, and theater is a community engagement.

And there is something about the discipline of daily reading, the discipline of biting off small chunks of texts slowly, which is also appealing. Human beings seem to be hardwired for ritual, for marking the days, the passing of the season, the turning of the year. I think of the bujo as a kind of modern iteration of the Book of Hours. If not the same concept at all, the impulse might be similar-ish.

Will I make it through all the work? Probably not.

My theater lighting techie friend Carmen remarked, “I would never make it past Titus Andronicus.”

Dude. I watched the trailer for the 1999 Anthony Hopkins film adaptation, and I see what she means.

Another friend asked, aghast, “Wow! Even the garbage like Two Noble Kinsmen? Some serious stinkers in the mix.”

Yes, the whole shebang.

“Skimming is surely allowed,” I said. And by allowed, she suggested “inevitable.”

But the chances for success were greatly improved by my reading, in the first week of January, Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World—a compassionate, brilliant glimpse into the culture that shaped William Shakespeare. I’m a big picture gal, and the tiny reading chunks, conveniently manageable though they may be, would have driven me to distraction without a framework. But more importantly, Greenblatt’s book gave me a glimpse into a world which is bigger, more specific, than my previous conception of Elizabethan England had been.

For instance, I learned, among many other things, that I am possibly the very last person on the planet to realize that Will wasn’t straight. Or, as the author of a fascinating article concerning the discovery of a painting of the Earl of Southampton put it: “Whatever the truth about Shakespeare’s sexuality, which seems likely, as was the case then as now in the theatre, to have been flexible….”

What! An actor! Sexually flexible!!!

Contact with the enormity of the world, the sometimes hardly-imaginable variety and diversity, is one of the reasons I read at all. Perhaps the primary reason. Delight is right up there near the top of the list as well. And the delight with this project is contagious in our little family. Since January 1, Dad the Dad has asked nearly every day what page I’m on in the Oxford edition. (As of this writing, 24 of 1310.) So will it matter if I don’t finish or skip some? No. But I am pretty excited about the challenge.

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