Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

When I started my #ShakeTheStacks challenge, I have to admit, I was most looking forward to rereading the plays I already knew and love, chief among them, Romeo and Juliet. The play is one of, if not the, most well known of all the Shakespeare plays, and is certainly one of the first people are introduced to.

The story of two teenagers from feuding families who fall in love and make a bunch ill advised decisions that eventually lead to their deaths (thats not a spoiler, its in the prologue, I double checked). The story seems almost cliche, because even if you’ve never read or seen Romeo and Juliet you’re familiar with its components even on the most basic of levels. This is the play responsible for some incredibly famous lines; “parting is such sweet sorrow” and “a plague a both your houses”. Even with all of that, hundreds of years of quoting and adapting and parodying, Romeo and Juliet is profoundly emotional and resonant.

I loved reading this play. I loved saying the words out loud (sometimes acting to myself alone in my bedroom, in the interest of full disclosure). The poetry is vibrant and raw, many of the speeches are begging to be said aloud. The way the speeches and characters are crafted show that Shakespeare too was fascinated by these declarations of love and loyalty and rage and vengeance. The most palpable energy in this play is fear, the unknown. Shakespeare taps into this over and over again as the play unravels. What comes next? Romeo and Juliet reads like a thriller even when the reader (or watcher) knows what comes next.

The characters in this play are all so well written from the Lady Capulet to Paris to Mercutio and even the Prince. Each are unique with strong points of view on their world, they’re never confused for one another. This is the first play in my #ShakeTheStacks challenge where I can say thats true. They have their own speaking patterns, and their own thoughts on life and love. They are also all (except a serving man here or there), crucial to the progress of the play.

My most favorite character is Juliet. She is the moral center of this play. She drives the action and is our guide through Acts 2-4. She constantly asks the question “what is right here?”. She delivers fantastic speeches and grapples with a variety of emotions, allowing the reader (or audience) to see her evolution and her resolve. My favorite of all her monologues comes in Act III, Scene 2: “Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband?” (if you’ve never encountered this text, I suggest you check it out).

I so loved rereading this play. While it isn’t totally faithful to the play, the Romeo + Juliet film by Baz Luhrmann is so good. Claire Danes is an explosive Juliet, and Leonardo DiCaprio is perfect as our aloof and emotional Romeo. And for the most part, the movie stays true to the text, though it does omit a lot. If you have the time read the play and then watch the movie. Neither disappoints.

Next month for #ShakeTheStacks, I’ll be reading The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised ed. edition (February 1, 2000)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Romeo and Juliet on Amazon

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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.

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

For the month of December, my Shakespeare read for The #ShakeTheStacks Challenge was, Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s first attempt at a tragedy.

Titus Andronicus is a revenge play centered around Titus Andronicus, a Roman General, who is locked in a cycle of personal revenges with Tamora, Queen of the Goths. The play is bloody and brutal, to the point that the first scene includes a handful of murders, one of which is Titus killing his own son. Shakespeare was not going for subtle with this play.

By far the most interesting part of Titus Andronicus centers on the character of Lavinia, Titus’ daughter. I don’t want to give too much away, but the scenes involving Lavinia, are some of the most fantastic scenes. She does not speak, instead the men around her speak at her and for her, and are given a voice when she is not. They must interpret her thoughts and her pain, and it is excruciating to read.While I’m not sure what Shakespeare was sayingabout women in his own time, Lavinia struck a chord with me now, at the end of 2018. I kept thinking of an essay, by Lacy M. Johnson, called “Speak Truth to Power” (which can be found in her amazing book of essays, The Reckonings).

Aaron, the Moor, is another fascinating character to read in modern times. He is Black and is a complete and total villain. He is given little in the way of redemption, and reaffirms his own villainy until the end of the play. I think so much about how this role would have been seen throughout history, this angry, violent, remorseless Black man as the epitome of evil. What kind of actor plays Aaron? Is he a brute? Is he cerebral? Is he ever played by a charming man? Or a light skinned Black man? Or is he always a stereotype of the angry dark Black man? How does this role evolve over time? I could reflect on Aaron (and Lavinia) and how the character functions in this play for a long time.

Titus Andronicus is shockingly easy to understand. While the character’s names are hard to remember, the text itself is accessible (for Shakespeare) in a way previous plays have not been. Its simple really, a play predicated on revenge. The ending of the play is too short, the fallout is too quick. I think thats partially because this is Shakespeare’s first tragedy. I know he gets better at elongating the pain and suffering at the end of his plays.

I really enjoyed Titus Andronicus more than I thought I would. It touches on mercy and justice in a way that I was not expecting, and gave me a lot to think about when it comes to Blackness and the representation of women on stage.


In case you’re reading along with me for The #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, I wanted to give you a heads up to what I’ll be reading in 2019. You don’t have to read along in the same order as me, and you can feel free to join me for one or all. However you decide to do it, my plan is below.


  • Paperback: 107 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Australia; Pelican Shakespeare edition (January 1, 2000)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Titus Andronicus on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

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.

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.

 

Othello by William Shakespeare

AF5A379C-606C-48A1-AF83-92754A187CF9I have to admit up front, I am a total Shakespeare nerd. I love his plays and I actually enjoy reading the verse. I also feel that these stories are plays, and should be heard and seen. However, for an upcoming episode of The Stacks, we are discussing New Boy by Tracy Chevalier, which is a retelling of Othello, so I thought I should brush up on the original text.

Here is an introduction to Othello if you’re not familiar with this great tragedy.

In Othello, Shakespeare creates powerful drama from a marriage between the exotic Moor Othello and the Venetian lady Desdemona that begins with elopement and mutual devotion and ends with jealous rage and death. Shakespeare builds many differences into his hero and heroine, including race, age, and cultural background. Yet most readers and audiences believe the couple’s strong love would overcome these differences were it not for Iago, who sets out to destroy Othello. Iago’s false insinuations about Desdemona’s infidelity draw Othello into his schemes, and Desdemona is subjected to Othello’s horrifying verbal and physical assaults.

I find Othello to be one of Shakespeare’s most relatable and easy to read plays. The story is very straight forward, there are not a lot of characters or subplots, even the language is relatively simple (for a Shakespeare play). If you’re a little intimidated by reading Shakespeare, this is a great place to start.

What makes Shakespeare masterful is how he was able to weave together so many themes and ideas into a short play. In Othello we are looking at the themes of, fear of the outsider, entitlement, sexism, love, trust, truth, rage, racism, and jealousy, and thats just to name a few. Shakespeare employs his characters to engage in debate over these issues, weather it be a conversation about jealousy, or a monologue on faithfulness. He uses the words to speak directly to the audience and drive home his points. You’re being asked to think as you read (or watch).

One of the things that stuck out to me upon re-reading Othello, is just how current the story feels. Iago might as well be the “Trump Supporter” we have heard so much about in the last few years. The white man who feels he is owed some standing in the world, and can not handle life not being what he thinks he is entitled to. He is racist, misogynistic, and thinks if he didn’t earn it he can just take it. His reality doesn’t meet his expectations of where he thinks his life should be, so he acts out instead. He throws the whole tragedy in motion, because of his fragile ego.

The last two acts of this play are fantastic. They move at the perfect speed and deliver a gut-wrenching finale. Each scene tops the one before, until you’re left with a feeling of what just happened here, and a pile of dead bodies, a staple of a Shakespearean tragedy.

If you’ve never read this play, I think its worth a read. If you read it years ago, it might be time for a re-read. It is that good. Its short and powerful. It is current. I would love to hear from you, so add your comments below.

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group (July 3, 2001)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Othello on Amazon

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