Saturday I rounded up some of my favorite people and saw a performance of Romeo and Juliet in honor of my homeboy William Shakespeare’s 452nd birthday (also, coincidentally, the 400th anniversary of his death).
Shakespeare proved an important milestone in my love of words. I read my first play (Romeo and Juliet, of course) six years after I first came back to the U.S. and forgotten all my English. I’d done lots of reading and was testing at the top of my class for years by then, but Shakespeare proved to be a bit of a brick wall. Like so many fourteen-year-olds, I had no idea what Shakespeare was talking about. Like a fourteen-year-old who had learned English later than all her peers, I wondered if it was me.
But then I was lucky enough to get an absolute Shakespeare fanatic as an English teacher in my junior and senior years of high school. Actually, she was a fanatic of all things words – she dressed up as Beowulf’s mother to teach us about old English and could read Chaucer in the original Middle English. She absolutely brought Shakespeare to life with voices, anecdotes and explanations.
It was magic. What had once seemed like riddles opened up into the rich and lyrical language I so have come to love. Once I “got” it, I couldn’t get enough. I read them all, then read them again in college. I memorized solliloquies galore. (I can do the To Be or Not To Be speech, “Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt,” the prologue from Romeo and Juliet and several others. I am an unapologetic Shakespeare nerd). To this day, I never pass up a chance to see one of his plays performed (although I tend to prefer Macbeth and Othello over the softer stuff). Shakespeare meant a lot of things to me, but one of them was that I could see the best that English had to offer, and not just understand it, but absolutely ride on the wings of it.
I understand Shakespeare is not everyone’s cup of tea. But at the very least, see if you can work in a fabulously Shakespearean insult into your day. The man had an elegant way of telling people where to go. Click here for ideas. (My favorite is #4).