A friend asked me this question, and I thought I would blog about it to get my thoughts out, and to see if anyone reading has some input:
For an adult whose only experiences with Shakespeare were in high-school (and not good), but who wants to get into it and start reading the plays, where should she start? What plays are the most accessible, the least frightening for someone who was given rather ham-handed interpretations of Julius Caesar and Hamlet more than a decade ago?
My first response to her is that, really, if she wants to get into it, she should go see some shows if at all possible. Shakespeare is meant to be seen more than read, and I think she’ll like it better, follow the plot better, understand the language better if she’s hearing and seeing what’s going on.
But, barring that — My inclination is to tell her to go to the comedies. While they definitely have their own challenges — a lot more 16th/17th-century slang, for one thing — I think they’re also less intimidating. I’m definitely going to suggest Midsummer — it’s a play that kids’ companies go to for a reason. The plot is pretty straightforward, the ideas are simple and fun, the language is beautiful but not too convoluted. I’m also inclined to suggest Much Ado, but personal preference may be influencing me there. I also feel like the earliest comedies, Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Comedy of Errors, might be a good starting place — sure, those plays have their flaws, but the comparative simplicity might work well for conquering someone’s fears of Shakespeare being too dense or too complicated. The regular meter in those plays might also help her get over the idea that iambic pentameter is a scary thing.
Any other suggestions? What do you think are the most accessible plays for an apprehensive adult?