My One Exception to the 'I Don't Like Shakespeare' Rule

I have to admit the cardinal sin of all book lovers: I don't really love Shakespeare.

I can appreciate his work -- even love some of his sonnets -- but I don't seek out Shakespearean plays when choosing what to read in my free time. I think it has something to do with how much time must be spent on translation of what the words mean, making it harder to do what English nerds do best: read into the deeper meaning of the text. It's ironic that I complain about the work in "translating" Shakespeare plays because I have literally translated plays from Spanish to English and enjoyed it. I've read The Odyssey and all its convolutions, and my most favorite book is Their Eyes Were Watching God, which is filled with an unfamiliar vernacular.

But why do I shy away from Shakespeare? Even as a lover of words and a writer by craft, I don't love the way that his stories play out. Shakespearean female characters seemed somewhat Manic Pixie Dream Girl-like, which becomes frustrating. Of course, there's exceptions to this rule in characters like Portia from Merchant of Venice or even Lady Macbeth, but there's a whole lot of Juliets to contrast the strong women. Granted, it wasn't just our friend Will that hadn't heard the call of gender equality in the 14th century, but I still don't completely understand why I should give him a hall pass.

I expressed this to an English teacher and even with her love of Shakespeare, she asked me something that stuck: "If you wouldn't read a modern writer because of blatant misogyny, why pardon Shakespeare?" I had a hard time wrapping my head around this idea because I am a total believer in reading things that make you angry and you disagree with. But I still couldn't get past the way I come to despise some of these characters, both men and women.

Since I'm still in high school, I still get my fair share of Shakespeare readings and drudge through them as I patiently wait to be fed books that are more my speed. But I made an exception to my "no Shakespeare as pleasure reading" rule to read Love's Labour's Lost. If you're not familiar with this one, don't worry -- the most of it that I had heard was of the early 2000s musical version with with the same name. The general plot of the play is that Ferdinand, the King of Navarre, has told all of his friends that they all must swear off women for three years in favor of studying. In a Shakespearean-style absurd turn of fate, a beautiful princess and her group of dashing ladies comes to meet with Ferdinand during his love sabbatical. This, along with many other things, causes antics and hormone driven secrets to come out when all of the royals turn to lovers.

The unlikely ending to the comedy has made readers deem one of Shakespeare's "lesser works," but the play itself is so outrageously applicable to modern life, especially in the context of being a teenager. The idea that different character's love is "lost in translation" is used frequently by Shakespeare, like in Romeo and Juliet. Love's Labour's Lost seems to lack the absurdity that other plays do in handling this theme. The story is clever and punny and filled with things that genuinely made me laugh out loud.

Along with all of that, Love's Labour's Lost has, in my opinion, by far the best inappropriate humor of all the Shakespeare plays. The men tend to call their nether regions their "hearts" throughout the story, and there is a line where one of the men says that his lady "came on his heart." The jokes are more tongue-in-cheek than in the other Elizabethan works I've read. The play caused me, a person who is ultimately pretty shameless, to blush at how raunchy some parts of it are. I've been told my whole life that Shakespeare was considered relatively low brow in his time, but I just couldn't latch onto this idea. Though it's not uncommon to see the same vulgar humor in his other plays, this one seems less outdated and more easily accessible from its hot and heavy sense of humor.

The play itself also triumphs a multitude of strong women. I don't want to spoil it, but the play ends in a turn of events where the princess must turn into the queen, and she take her leadership responsibility wholeheartedly. The women ultimately become the ones doing the work thought of as masculine, including plotting and thinking, whereas the men end up as lovesick, which is usually a feminine trait. The women have these boys wrapped around their finger like Regina George: forcing them to run errands and wait on them hand and foot. These girls relish in this found sense of power, but never directly give themselves up for marriage to men. They play the game with strict control throughout their time at the castle and successfully lure the men in.

I also seemed to identify with the way the play asks what post-adolescent, pre-adulthood love means. There is something so universal about feeling like your feelings are "lost in translation" and that this same love has so many, if not too many, barriers to cross. It's the idea that is so applicable to millennials, but also is a feeling we all have experienced as we come of age. Whether your words get jumbled in a text message or something less modern, there is still a feeling that teenage love is defined by its missed connections. The capital T Truth is that most of the time you feel as a teenager that you are only beginning to understand what it means to love, but also that you've also already figured it all out. Love's Labour's Lost gets down to this idea of feeling that you are ready to understand, but not actually being ready to truly get what it all means.

I was overjoyed to hear that Austin-based filmmakers Jennifer Sturley and Jake O'Hare had decided to turn Love's Labour's Lost into a film (without cheesy musical numbers a la early 2000s musical). The film takes Shakespeare's original text and turns it on its head by setting it on a modern day boarding school campus. All of the same antics of the play go down, with the addition of whole lot of of weed and unsupervised, hormone crazy teenagers. The movie is set to start shooting early July, and I am ecstatic to see where it ends up. If you're interested in checking out more about this adaptation, check out their Facebook and Indiegogo with their truly clever plea for donations.

And even further than that, the original Love's Labour's Lost is seriously worth reading. Unlike Macbeth and Taming of the Shrew, don't just pretend like you actually read this one and read the SparkNotes. I will tell you as a recovering Shakespeare refuser, it's worth your time.