Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Shakespeare beginning

I can't pinpoint what it is exactly, but I love Shakespeare. The poetry? Yup! The plays? Want! The mystery of the man? Yeah sure, pile that on.

I can remember the moment that I fell in love with Shakespeare's plays.* I was in my high school English class and we were reading Romeo and Juliet. It was my first time reading Shakespeare, although I knew the basics of the story because who doesn't? Plus Baz Lurhman's movie had come out a few years earlier. But actually reading the stuff? I was not having this Shakespeare guy. I could not for the life of me understand what was going on. I have always been a reader and I had tackled difficult literature before (I had read The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the 7th grade, even if I didn't understand anything), but this was a different world. I thought I could handle Shakespeare, no problem. And then I couldn't. I could read the words, even understand several of them, but I couldn't make heads or tails of what was actually happening. I decided Shakespeare really wasn't for me. And then there was the speech.

For the most part we were reading the play for homework and then coming into class to discuss it. I'm sure we read a few scenes together, but the only one I remember is Juliet's speech from IV.iii.2565-2610 where she is about to drink the potion Friar Lawrence has given her to make it look like she's dead.** Maybe it caught my attention because the teacher read it and she actually understands the text, instead of one of the students doing it. Maybe it's because this speech isn't a romantic one but instead has Juliet talk about bashing her brains in with the bones of her relatives.*** Whatever it was, I quit seeing this as outdated text with unrelatable characters. This was a vulnerable and scared girl trying to be brave. I was having so much trouble getting past the language and the period references, but this speech cut right through all of that. Yes, the text can be hard to read and there are a lot of words that aren't used anymore or are completely different now, but once you get past all of that the emotion beneath is real and universal.

I was lucky that after that class I had other teachers as enthusiastic about Shakespeare as my frosh teacher. (And I had her again my senior year, which was sweet). Plus my high school had a Shakespeare class, to continue my obsession.

*Or at least I have a memory of a single moment. Whether I actually came out of class with a new world view, or whether that's just a romanticized notion is up for debate. Debate being, this is probably BS and I'm sure while I fondly remember this now, at the time it was just another day.

**Does anyone know if this speech has a pithy name, like Hamlet's "What a piece of work is man" speech? That would make it way easier to describe.

***All the romantic stuff wasn't resonating with me because I was an obnoxious, cynical child. I'm lucky to have grown out of that and now I'm an obnoxious, cynical adult. Ahh, maturity.