How to Read Epics and Plays


Image result for shakespeare quotes on life
Image found on Google. Opening line of Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare


Peeps! Imma blow your mind.

Shakespeare wrote plays. What!? I know right!?

But let’s rewind and get some culture education, both modern and from the past.

When highschoolers and adults alike hear the name Shakespear, Homer or Beowulf what do they (or you) think about? How hard it is to read, how long it will take, and wondering if you will die of boredom. You buy a book, small print and skim the volume. But why? Because we’re doing it wrong.

In ancient days, in the times of Greeks and Romans, there was no paper to spare for stories. So, people passed on their stories and poems by word of mouth. These poems were adapted or taken straight into the form of a play and often times these stories were told/performed during celebrations.

Shakespeare wrote his plays, yes, but they were acted out for an audience to see, so we miss certain nuances that the audience of a Shakespeare play would have gotten, and laughed or cried about.

And Beowulf is a poem that will fit in this category of narration as well.

I have read Beowulf, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, Beowulf, Twlefth Night, and The Taming of the Shrew. Four out of five, I have listened to on audio, or read aloud to myself. I have seen the twelfth night. And it was delightful. Except for the Aeneid. The Aeneid was stinking boring. But I’ll explain why in a book review on Monday.

But the Odyssey, and Beowulf, which had been hitherto unreadable (even for me), were enjoyable because I absorbed them in the way they were made. They were made to be told, not read.

The Taming of the Shrew is one of the plays that you have to see in order to get certain ideas or nuances. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it (even though it is my favorite of the two Shakespeare I’ve read). But I took a class on it and it was delightful. The teacher had seen it and read it so many times and could let us in on certain insights she had found. And so, there’s a cheat sheet in many shakespeare books telling you the context of words or phrases, but not quotes the proper stage directions or attitudes of the characters.

Beowulf, I read aloud to myself. It was so much fun. I read it in one night like that, and honestly, the characterization was the best part of reading it.

To sum it all up: These stories were made to be heard, not read.

But what about other poems epics and sagas? Welp, you’re going to have to use your own judgment for that. Personally, I found that Date’s Inferno was enjoyable to read, and I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much as reading it. Remember:

  1. It matters what type of translation you get when reading poems that were originally in other languages. It would help if the translation offered the context of the culture of the day in which it was written.
  2. 2. Was the poem intended to be read aloud? Was it originally a play? Both of these questions have an effect on whether the book will nice to listen to or not.
  3. You have an opinion and if you don’t like listening to a certain book, and prefer to read it, more power to you! And if you don’t like a book, again your opinion.               ( Again, I hate the Aeneiun) Just try it before you knock it.


Image result for parting is such sweet sorrow
Image found on Google. One of these days I’m going to have to do a Shakespeare Commonplace book post… Line from Romeo and Juliet. 



One thought on “How to Read Epics and Plays

  1. Great post! I work in theatre and part of what our theatre does is we will abridge the popular Shakespeare plays (like Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth) and then take these performances to high schools for students. The theatre does this to make these works more accessable to the students who have to study them in school. Some of these students have never/and will never again see a live perormance, but the schools love these performances because they get to experience the play the way it was meant to be shared.

    I agree that if someone can’t see a live performance (either a play or live reading) then an audio book would be a great way to experience a lot of these classical works. Thank you for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

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