What I love about this play: I adore the way it springs to life in performance. It feels rather dead on the page – all those 400-year-old literary in-jokes are tedious when we no longer recognize their thrust – but on the stage it’s absolutely charming. I’ve loved all three of the live performances I’ve seen.
And it has Berowne, the first of a series of witty rebels. (As much as I love Shakespearean comedy, so many of the young men lack character. The women don’t; Lysander and Demetrius, for example, are more or less interchangeable, while Hermia and Helena are not. But a handful of them have real personality and force – and it’s with Berowne’s skeptical question, “What is the end of study? let me know” that this character type is born.)
As with so many of the comedies, the tonal play gets me every time. We start with four young men trying to become SERIOUS SCHOLARS, YO (and swearing impossible oaths just to prove how very very Serious then are), but almost immediately they get drawn back into a courtly culture that seems entirely frivolous – a world of wordplay and wit, masks and love-tokens and entertainments. And then, suddenly, real grief intrudes; the world takes on weight and substance, and they recognize that maybe, cherishing those moments of youth and love and frivolity while you can is the wiser choice after all – for winter, as it does in the songs at the end of the play, will get the last word.
Favorite memory: Finding myself in Exeter last summer on just the right weekend to catch a free student performance, staged at different locations in a public park. For some reason, both of the undergraduate productions I’ve seen were really good – I guess because the play is not so well-known as to be intimidating, and because the young protagonists are so much like bright students at every college in the world, with their exuberance and wit and their silly but heartfealt earnestness. And it is a play that’s meant for outdoor staging; the scene where all the guys are eavesdropping on each other works so much better when they have actual trees to hide in.