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The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

A Shakespearean dilemma: To read or not to read

Nora Romman

Shakespeare’s influence in pop culture is difficult to ignore — almost as difficult as reading his plays. While I love Shakespeare, I also understand that an initial difficulty understanding his plays or a general disinterest can cause some students to shy away from his work.

There’s a reason his works are still relevant. His stories, characters and themes are deeply woven into popular culture and continue to resonate with modern audiences.

Students should consider the benefits of engaging with more Shakespeare.

Despite their old age, Shakespeare’s stories are continuously adapted into modern retellings. Popular movies like “West Side Story” (based on “Romeo and Juliet”), “The Lion King” (based on “Hamlet”) and “Ten Things I Hate About You” (based on “The Taming of the Shrew”) both modernize and preserve the timeless themes his plays explore. Many of his plays include topics still relevant to us today, like gender, sexuality and class structures.  

Playwriting and directing junior Hannah Nelson explained her personal love for Shakespeare’s work. 

“There’s just something so distinctly human about every one of the characters, whether it’s in a tragedy or in one of his comedies or histories,” Nelson said. “We can see ourselves in those plays, and he wrote so that many different types of people could enjoy the plays from different classes and different backgrounds. I think that still comes through today, so I think that’s a big reason why (Shakespeare’s works are) so long lasting.”

It’s completely understandable that some students find the plays difficult to read and comprehend. Furthermore, since reading for a class is frustrating enough, some may never consider reading Shakespeare for fun.

Patricia García, an associate professor of instruction in the Department of English, described the aversion to Shakespeare some students have.

“I think the fear (students have) is because we hold Shakespeare on this pedestal,” García said. “There’s something in the play(s) for everyone, so (students shouldn’t) let the language be a barrier by learning how to engage with it.”

Many people mistakenly believe that traditional engagement with Shakespeare requires sitting down and reading. However, because his works are intended to be performed, physically engaging with them can help us better understand his writing. 

“I think anyone can read it and engage in it, and I think that the place to start is seeing the plays,” García said. “Seeing performances, watching performances and trying to do performances on your own is a lot more helpful.”

Visually experiencing Shakespeare can also have a standalone impact on individual audience members. Performance art has the capability to touch individuals in a way that reading sometimes cannot. 

“It’s poetry, it’s meant to be heard out loud,” Nelson said. “Even if you don’t understand every single word that is being said, you can still get the beats of the story … (and) you actually might find some really lovely moments in it that you enjoy … If you don’t love the play or listening to the words, see the story in a ballet or some other medium that perhaps you have a stronger affinity for.”

Regardless of whether you read, watch or perform in a Shakespeare show, active engagement allows us to notice how human experiences today often parallel those shared by individuals in Shakespeare’s time. 

“The stories are really universal,” Nelson said. “We all know what it is to, perhaps like Viola in ‘Twelfth Night,’ want to start a new life, and have safety and fall in love and not know how to communicate that well.” 

Attending a UT-produced and performed production is an excellent way for students to engage with Shakespeare within the University community. Nelson is currently working as stage manager for the upcoming Theatre and Dance production of “Hamlet.” Theatre and Dance is also performing “Romeo y Juliet” in the spring, which is a bilingual and consequently more accessible adaptation of its Shakespearean counterpart. 

While his plays may seem daunting, Shakespearean works are far more accessible than we realize. His themes and characters continue to impact modern artistic projects, and engaging with them will impart unique insight into the timelessness of the human experience.

Lack is a dance and Plan II sophomore from San Angelo, Texas. 

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