It’s one of those topics where there seems to be little or no middle ground: either you dig Shakespeare, or you don’t. Those who don’t can be converted, but I ain’t gonna bother with that here—I just thought I’d riff a bit and let everyone make up their own mind.
Back in college I took several Shakespeare courses: the typical English-course requirement-type class and another titled “Shakespeare in Ashland” which was a hands-on course in which we studied several plays and then went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland to see them performed. It was a totally great class. All the courses were taught by the same professor, who—get this—had been a cop in Los Angeles before getting his degree and becoming a teacher. He was a cool guy, had a totally pragmatic approach to Shakespeare, not the usual “masterpiece of English literature” approach that turns so many off.
Speaking of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you ever get the opportunity to see a play performed there, jump all over it. It will likely be the best production of Shakespeare you will ever see, bar none. There’s simply nothing like the experience of seeing it performed live, and performed well—especially if it’s in the outdoor Elizabethan theater. I’ve been there a bunch of times and seen about half-a-dozen plays (Richard III and Henry IV Part I really stand out in my mind), and I’d go back anytime for more.
And I just checked the 2004 schedule: King Lear (I guarantee this will be awesome), Henry VI (all three parts, a ho-hum set of plays but I bet they do good with them anyway), The Comedy of Errors, and Much Ado About Nothing (another one that will be really good, I’ll bet).