Unabridged: Shakespeare in The Stacks with Ayanna Thompson (Episode 3)

We’re back with another installment of The Stacks Pack exclusive show, The Stacks: Unabridged. Today we are finally talking all things Shakespeare with scholar, author, and dramaturg, Ayanna Thompson. Ayanna’s work focuses on Shakespeare, race, and performance, and she is the author of many books including Blackface and Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America. She shares with us why some plays are her favorite to teach but not to see, which adaptations are particularly good, and the Shakespeare plays she thinks we should be teaching. We also talk about Traci’s favorites after her 37 month read through of all of Shakespeare’s plays.

*This episode is exclusive to members of The Stacks Pack on patreon. To join this community, get inside access to the show, and listen now, click the link below.


Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. You can also find what we talked about on Amazon.

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The Shakespeare Challenge — #ShakeTheStacks

EF56F06F-1235-4BBF-ACDD-4FF5EBA340BFLast month I read Othello for the first time in years. I read it to refresh myself on the story in order to discuss Tracy Chevalier’s adaptation New Boy. I was a little nervous to go back to reading Shakespeare, it had been years since I had opened a play by The Bard, despite having studied his work extensively in college. I was shocked at how enjoyable it was, and how rich the text is. The work felt relevant and touches on issues we’re currently discussing as a society. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed his plays, and how exciting it was to read them again.

So I decided that I’m going to commit to reading one Shakespeare play a month for the next 36 months (since I already read Othello). Some of them will be re-reads for me, and there are about 12 I’ve never read. I think it’ll be fun, plus then I can say, I’ve read every Shakespeare play. Who doesn’t love a little literary bragging. Its a long term goal,  and I won’t be done until 2021, which I also like.

I’m calling this challenge #ShakeTheStacks and I would love to have company on this journey weather you want to read the full 37, or just read the handful that are on your list.

I know folks can be intimidated by Shakespeare, myself included. So here are my suggestions on how to make reading Shakespeare a successful endeavor.

  1. Relax. The stuff is complex and thats what makes it everlasting. So if you miss something or don’t quite understand it, thats OK. Keep going, Shakespeare’s characters repeat themselves a lot.
  2. Play the part. These are plays, which means they’re meant to be heard aloud. If you get stuck, try saying the words out loud.
  3. Get into the groove. The verse is written in iambic pentameter, and it is there to help you. Allow yourself to fall into rhythm when you’re reading. Thats Shakespeare’s way of guiding you through, and keeping you on track.
  4. Get good notes. Try to find translations that have notes that make sense to you. I love the Pelican Shakespeare. The notes help but aren’t so long they get in the way.
  5. Read the ending first. Well not actually, but if you do better when you know the plot, go ahead and read a synopsis, so you can really indulge in the language and poetry instead of sifting for clues. Generally if the play is a comedy it will end in a wedding and the tragedies end in death.
  6. Trust yourself. You’re not dumb, and you do understand it. Take the pressure off. Think about how many times you’ve seen a play or movie and missed something, or gotten confused as to what was going on. It happens to us all the time. Don’t let the idea of Shakespeare freak you out.
  7. Enjoy. The whole point is to read something and enjoy it. If you’re not into the play move on. Or better yet, watch a the movie, or listen to a staged reading. Find a way to enjoy the Bard, this isn’t punishment.

Now I just have to figure out which order to read these plays. Do I got with chronological? Alphabetical? By genre? Or mood read? What do you think?

If you’re joining me make sure to tag any posts with #ShakeTheStacks, this way we can keep track of all our Shakespearian progress.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.