For many, Shakespeare is a great writer – perhaps the greatest. For others, Shakespeare is a literary hurtle they struggle to get over, memories of dull readings in high school or college in language left unexplained and themes left unexamined (or worse, a poor production or adaptation that left the viewer more confused than enthused). No matter where you fall on the spectrum, Shakespeare is one of the most prolifically adapted and inspiring creators of all time. And delving into his work doesn’t have to be dull or monotonous, or even in the language of his time.
We’ve previously shared staff thoughts on our favorite plays, adaptations, how Shakespeare and education work together, and more in honor of the annual Shakespeare Day each April 23. This time, we’re sharing some ways you can explore Shakespeare with a bit of whimsy, adaptive exploration, and historical context.

WP Midsummer Playlist
When we polled our staff last year about which of Shakespeare’s plays/realms they’d most like to inhabit, the response was unanimous and overwhelming: the literal fairytale forests of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. So we curated a playlist to musically inspire mental trips to the enchanted forests outside Athens to share with everyone.

Shakespeare in the Park
Once upon a time, Shakespeare in the Park productions were exclusive to large metropolitan areas like New York, Washington DC, etc. These days, major cities aren’t the only ones putting on Shakespeare productions during fair weather months – some small towns host full on festivals honoring the Bard’s work. Often free, and encouraging of picnics, friends and families can enjoy a show in the open air, the way most of Shakespeare’s works were originally performed (fun fact: The Globe Theatre is an open air theatre – only sections of the stage and seating are partially covered).

Kids Shakespeare Books/Playsets
You’re never too young to engage with stories, and you’re never too old to play with toys. There’s a wealth of Shakespeare inspired books and play sets aimed at younger audiences, from board books about counting, to videos incorporating sonnets, to finger puppet sets for different plays, and so much more, all the world’s a stage for Shakespeare toys (and learning).

Compare/Contrast Adaptations
Sadly, there are many people whose introduction to Shakespeare was Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth in school, reading it first with perhaps a lackluster adaptation following weeks of textual study. But Shakespeare was made to be performed, and over the centuries many have also adapted the stories and characters with updated language, issues, and ideals. So why not host a movie night to compare and contrast ‘traditional’ adaptations with updated ones. The RSC and National Theatre have a wealth of live performances filmed for theatrical release over the last decade, many of which you can also rent or buy to watch at home, and many modern adaptations can be found on streaming services.
Suggestions include:

She’s The Man/Twelfth Night (the 2012 Globe production and the 2017 National Theatre production are worth watching)

10 Things I Hate About You/Taming of the Shrew (and if you want to throw in a musical, Kiss Me, Kate)

West Side Story/Romeo & Juliet (go classic with the 1960s period film, or Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 modern adaptation)

Shakespeare as Pop Culture
Like many hugely popular creators, Shakespeare transcends his own works and has been featured as a character in many historical and fantastical stories such as: Shakespeare in Love, Doctor Who (The Shakespeare Code), The Sandman (a brief show appearance + more featured appearances in comics/Audio drama), and Something Rotten.

However you choose to enjoy Shakespeare, remember that beyond the drudgery of poorly taught texts, and even the deep melodrama of some of his plays, there is always fun to be had with his work. The PLAY is the thing!

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