Much Ado About Shakespeare

Did you realize that as you were indulging in your weekly fix of Fox's Empire that you were really hooked on a modernized adaptation of King Lear? Or that Disney's The Lion King is essentially a retelling of Hamlet? Don't even get me started on the number of films that are rooted in Romeo and Juliet. It's amazing that Shakespeare's works from centuries ago still have such relevance for us today. But such is the way of true art. It transcends time.

2016 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. It's perhaps somewhat macabre to pay such close attention to a death (birthdays are more joyous), but in the case of Shakespeare, it's worth it. His plays, and their themes, continue to influence us.

In January, the American Shakespeare Center will be holding Shakespeare Weekend at The Alden in McLean, Va. It will be presenting Julius Caesar on Friday, Jan. 22, and The Life of King Henry V on Saturday, Jan. 23.

On Jan. 21, experts from ASC, Shakespeare Theatre Company and the Folger Shakespeare Library will be at The Alden to give ticket holders some tips about how to get the most out of the plays.

Cass Morris with ASC and Hannah Hessel Ratner with STC shared this advice:

1. Go ahead and read a synopsis, CliffsNotes or Wiki entry ahead of time. These plays have been done for hundreds of years -- there are no spoilers! Understanding the basic plot will help you enjoy the acting and emotion of the presentation, as Shakespeare intended.

2. If you didn't like Shakespeare in high school, don't worry. His work was never really meant to be read as a book; it was written for the stage. Seeing it as intended will change your perspective.

3. Don't be discouraged in the first 10 minutes if it feels like you are listening to a different language. In fact, Shakespeare made up words that even people of his era didn't understand. It takes time to acclimate your ears to the language; the actors will work with you. By the time the real action starts, you will be up to speed.

4. ASC recreates the theater experience the way Shakespeare's audiences would have enjoyed it, with the lights on ("universal lighting"). Audience members are encouraged to sit on stage and, at times, even interact with the performers. And get there early. Just as in Shakespeare's time, before the show the cast sings and plays contemporary music related to the play, such as songs by Lady Gaga and Weezer.

5. Feel free to let your mind run wild as to how the plays relate to modern events and media. See how many Shakespearean spinoffs come to mind.

Most of all, have fun and remember ... all's well that ends well.