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To be, or not to be

I remember writing about the Shakespeare reading group that I organized in the office early this  year. Isang Shakespeare play kada buwan. We took a pact to read and discuss it every last Friday of the month until the middle of the year.

Well, we’re done will all six selected plays. Na-discuss din namin lahat. Pinag-usapan, dine-construct, iniyakan (ung iba). Our main objective for the group was to read and study Shakespeare plays and see if there are treasures that are waiting to be dug. Kadalasan kasi, dahil sa language na ginamit n’ya, hindi na natin binabasa. In the 21st century, Shakespeare’s language is starting to become his own funeral.

Shakespeare, apparently, still has surprises for the 21st century reader. Yan ang napatunayan namin sa bawat pagkakataon na magkikita ang grupo namin. Maliit lang ang group. Anim na miyembro, ‘ung iba, hindi pa nakaka-habol sa ibang mga discussions. Pero OK lang. Nakumpleto namin ang anim na hinahabol namin bago matapos ang June. Nabasa namin ang lima….napanood ang isa.

Eto ang mga katibayan:

The Midsummer Night’s Dream discussion opened the year for our group. It was a night of asking if we were in love, or just dreaming. Is love just a passing fancy? – an overnight affair, only destined to lose it glitter when the morning comes? One of us said yes. There is no such thing as love; only responsibility. In the middle of the discusion, most of us were open-mouthed. Was Shakespeare telling us that love is only an illusion? A dream that we tend to forget when we wake up? We tried to have a sense of normalcy, in medias res. We redeemed ourselves after too much deconstruction of the text. We said ‘no.’ Shakespeare wants us to believe that love is like a dream: perfect, though unclear. It is up to us to live it and savor its price when the sun rises in the morning.

Unang usapan pa lang, naguluhan na kami. Pero chicka lang. Tuloy ang ligaya.

A Midsummer Night's Dream Discussion (January 2012)

Last season, PETA produced a Filipino translation of Shakespeare’s King Lear. ‘Di namin ito pinalampas. As some Shakespeare scholars would say: “Shakespeare is ought to be seen…not read”. The experience was ecstatic. Seeing an all-male cast (reminiscent of the Elizabethan theater) do a Filipino adaptation of the play mesmerized us to bits.

We discussed the story and the adaptation after the show. Questions on loyalty, love for family versus love for self were brought up. Is parental love so blind, that it goes beyond reason and logic? Is it (parental affection) equivalent to insanity?

Again, we were surprised at how Shakespeare presents love in his texts. All the while we thought that he became great because of his romantic themes on erotic and platonic love. How wrong we were.

PETA's Haring Lear (February, 2012)

February was a time of the Power Play. Macbeth was the first tragedy that we read and discussed, as per Jary’s suggestion. I was hesitant to read a tragic story during the month of hearts but, boy-oh-boy (!), it was quite a read! Its story about the lust for power and the glorification of greed, glued me to my seat, that I read the entire play in just 2 straight hours.

What’s interesting about the discussion, was the focus on Lady Macbeth. She was the main antagonist of the play, the epitome of evil during the first few acts and the representation of unwashable guilt in the final chapters. Were women so stereotyped during the Elizabethan period, that even Shakespeare played with Lady Macbeth’s role and posed her as the symbol of hatred, lust and greed? Is erotic love so blind, that we can lose our morals for the sake of satisfying our loved ones? Yan ang mga natanong namin noon. Yes it was a blood-bath of a discussion, but we washed ourselves before we went home that night, just so the evidence wouldn’t show.

Macbeth's Powerplay (February, 2012)

I made it a point to avoid Romeo and Juliet as a selected text for the group. Dahil sa lahat ng mga nagawa ni Shakespeare, ito na ata ang may pinakamaraming movie versions, play productions, at citations. Ito na ang pinakasikat. As much as possible, we’d rather have other plays from Bard’s unexplored shelves. But it was Michi’s turn to facilitate last March and he chose the play for the simple reason that despite its popularity, he never had the chance to read, nor see any of its adaptations.

Surprisingly, Romeo and Juliet was one of our best reads! Oo, sikat siya. Kilala siya ng halos lahat na kilala si Shakespeare. But now we know what made this play so great. I remember reading it during the holy week in Resorts World. I was alone in Starbucks, crying and laughing, and crying again. I kept on texting Michi (who was also vacationing then) thanking him for selecting the play for us.

The discussion was even livelier, and lovelier. Kita n’yo naman, kung ga’no akong ka-fresh! Though it’s true that we already know what the story is all about and how it will end, we ended up unraveling new surprises in the text. Tunay ngang isa ito sa mga bantog na gawa ni William!

Romeo and Juliet All Over Again (April, 2012)

May was for Much Ado About Nothing. It was Emcie’s turn to facilitate, and she chose a witty and romantic play about unrequited love and forbidden desires. Also, the play tackled the effects of jealousy and gossip in a circle or community. What made this discussion amazing was that, though we were only three at the time of the discussion, it was still as lively and as in-depth as the previous meetings. Pagod pa rin akong nakauwi.

Much Ado About Nothing Discussion (May, 2012)

Last month was Lei’s chance to turn us all into shrews. For June, she gave us a funny story with a brow-raising plot in the form of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. What made this discussion so special was the presence of two invited friends: Peter Sandico and Amabelle Vicencio. May mga bagong members na kami. Lei posed questions that tickled our naughty minds. What makes a woman a shrew? Can a violent, assuming woman turn into an acceptable lady and a submissive wife overnight? Was Shakespeare into the idea that wives must fully submit to their husbands?

Taming of the Shrew (June, 2012)

Many were saying that we are geeks and weirdos when we brought this challenge to ourselves. We think otherwise. And sabi ko nga, hindi kami nagpapaka-pedantic. Hindi kami nagpapaka-bibo. Readers kami. Bibo ang lahat ng mga readers, kaya bibo na kami. We did this to challenge ourselves by reading a collection of literary treasures consciously ignored for the kind of form that it has.

We are fortunate to have done it and made it to the finish line. It was the commitment that made us continue reading one play each month, and passion made it all happen.

Reading brings us to new heights (alam na natin lahat yan), but talking about it makes all the difference!

Thus the end of our affair. The final act, like a Shakespearean play, closes this chapter with much applause and wish we could do it all over again. We read, we learned, and then we live.


This July, we will start reading our most favorite book. Since I’m to facilitate the next discussion, I have selected one of my best reads for 2012 – Carmen Navarro Pedrosa’s THE RISE AND FALL OF IMELDA MARCOS. A look at the life of former First Lady Imelda Marcos; her rise to fame, her journey to Malacanang and her final flight with the first Family to Hawaii in 1986.

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Carmen Navarro Pedrosa's THE RISE AND FALL OF IMELDA MARCOS (1987)

I got this book from an online bookstore in FB. I remember buying it for only Php 120. A second-hand copy, I never gave it much thought and cued it among my reading back logs. I started reading it when Bong and I went to Boracay last May. I never thought that it would glue me through its pages, and not notice the almost 8-hour trip from Iloilo to Caticlan. Such a surprising historical treat for a 120-peso-book!

Our discussion is scheduled on Friday, the 20th. We have invited other readers and interested parties outside our original Shakespeare group. Surprisingly, most of the feedback that I got from the readers were positive, saying that the book is so unputdownable. That’s the thing with Imelda, she’s irresistible; wickedly irresistible. You’ll love her story, and hate her character at the same time.

I will write something about the discussion as soon as we’re done. Also, I will have a chance to meet with the author on Tuesday. Jary, Emcie and I will interview her in Alabang, to help me with my research about the work and its author.

Our book club experience has never been this exciting!!!

Tags : a midsummer night's dreambook clubbookscarmen navarro pedrosalifescoopliteraturemacbethmuch ado about nothingrandomromeo and julietshakespearethe rise and fall of imelda marcosthe taming of the shrew
Orly S. Agawin

The author Orly S. Agawin

Orly has been writing for The Jellicle Blog since 2008. He is a training and development consultant by day and an art enthusiast by night. He lives in Parañaque with his mom.

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