When I saw the PBS advertisement for Richard II, I passed right over it. However the ad stayed with me and I got to thinking about Shakespeare as a writer. He died nearly 500 years ago. Why are we still reading his work? I'll be honest: the language in his plays throws me.
I recently watched the movie Green for Danger and, while somewhat interesting from an historical viewpoint, it was so stilted, it was laughable - right down to the women who don't know how to do anything but scream. What makes 500-year old stuff better than 50-year old work? I decided to watch PBS and find out.
The language still sounds foreign but with this adaptation it didn't matter. Superb performances and real settings made the play understandable. I was caught up in the palace intrigue, the political jockeying, the emotional and physical struggles of the characters.
I finally saw Shakespeare's incredible craft. In this production, his plotting, his pacing, and his character development could be easily seen. The dialogue was tight; no wasted words. Now I understand why actors work so hard to master these roles. If they can convey Shakespeare successfully, they can do anything; whether that means portraying John of Gaunt or a star ship captain.
Why am I praising this television series so highly? Because it demonstrates that, over the expanse of time, Shakespeare still communicates and he does it extremely well. I watched and understood the struggles of King Richard II and his court. I rooted for Henry and cringed when the bad guys were beheaded. The English language may have changed but the basics of telling a good story have not.
Shakespeare wrote to sell tickets; not to be studied in literature class. He was popular in his time and remains so in ours because he was so successful in capturing the human condition. We may not like Richard but we understand him. Perhaps we would not actually take poison but we remember how it felt to be young and in love. Shakespeare told stories about being human and his writing is a mirror in which we see ourselves. Few writers have accomplished that so successfully. I have no doubt that were he writing today, we would all happily pay to watch movies made from his screenplays.
I don't expect everyone to become fans of Shakespeare's plays but, if you have a chance, give this series a try. Enjoy the drama and the performances and give the Bard credit. He is one of the best to ever put pen to paper and now I have a better understanding as to why. He is a great communicator.