Greetings, readers, and welcome to the first of this month’s special Shakespeare Muses! August is officially ‘We Love Shakespeare’ month here at Nerd Cactus in celebration of our Good Time Bestie Vacay to Stratford, Canada. (What? Where else would two denizens of the tropical south go? We’ve already got the beaches.)
Also, this is totally what popped into my head when I typed Good Time Bestie Vacay:
But onward. The specials this month will include not Boozy Books, but Boozy Plays, specifically the three we’ll be seeing up at the Stratford Festival: Hamlet, Love’s Labours Lost, and The Taming of the Shrew. Also, Shakespeare Saturday will feature recommendations of some of our favorite performances of the Bard’s plays (filmed versions, obviously) or updated versions of those plays. Sunday will stay Silly, but that silliness will be channeled into giggle-inducing Shakespeare fun. And Monday, aka today, will include our thoughts on Shakespeare, his plays, and the world in which he worked. No worries that you’ll get a lengthy dissertation on Elizabethan England; I’ll keep my historian in check as much as possible. The week we’re in Canada will detail our adventures and our experiences seeing the Bard! Live! (I AM SO EXCITED. FEEL THE EXCITEMENT IN THIS ALL CAPS SENTENCE!)
But for today…a brief explanation of why I like the Bard so much.
See…I was not born to love Shakespeare. My mother, the Brit-Lit-major-turned-English-teacher actually doesn’t like him that much. She is very much a Chaucerian and loves the etymological challenge of translating the older English into something modern. Also, while she learned English as a child, it is not her first language: Turkish is. And this means that the cadence of English, though she is absolutely fluent in it (and better than pretty much all of us), is slightly foreign to her; she has a horrible time understanding English spoken in another accent. Combine this with the linguistic challenge that is Shakespeare’s language and my mom is left without the joy of seeing the Bard come to life.
Also…did I mention she’s an English teacher? I can only assume nothing would make a person hate something like having to teach it over and over to Middle Schoolers. Because Middle Schoolers are awful. There’s no escaping it, folks; when you were twelve, you were an awful human being. And people like my mom were forced to teach you Shakespeare. So, really, I can’t fault her for not liking him much. Without the ability to enjoy Shakespeare’s plays the way they’re meant to be enjoyed–live, and electric with the shared energy of the performance–my mother was left with nothing but awful. So was I never brought up to like Shakespeare.
But I did. I loved the power of his words, even if I couldn’t understand them half the time. (I was young; cut me some slack.) I loved the way they sounded when I heard them spoken, even if I didn’t realize what exactly I was hearing. My parents made sure I was exposed to him, after all, even if we were a Chaucer household. (We were also, for the record, definitely an Austen household; I credit my love of Jane wholly and completely to my mother.) As I began writing–my earliest memory of completing something of my own was when I was eight, but that’s just writing it down–I found the sound of Shakespeare beguiling. I wanted to write words that sounded good when they were read aloud, even if what I was writing would most likely be read silently. I wanted my stories to be musical.
It was never the fact that Hamlet manages to capture grief so perfectly, or Macbeth the pathos of ambition and guilt; I, to this day, cannot stand Romeo and Juliet as characters (or the fact that people think that play is romantic), but damned if “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun,” doesn’t sound beautiful and feel wonderful on the tongue. Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar inspired a love of the historical Marc Antony that continues to this day and, yes, I am aware the real Antony probably wasn’t that adroit. He rather bungled that whole Second Triumvirate/ruler of Eastern Rome thing, didn’t he? I can’t even blame Cleopatra…as much as I want to. (Another great play, by the way…and one that doesn’t involve ANY vomit.)
I know a lot of people like the themes, or the ridiculous number of sex jokes. So do I. Nothing made me feel like I’d entered the hallowed halls of adulthood like finally realizing just how pervy Shakespeare really was. It was like being allowed to join a secret insiders’ club of real Shakespeare fans who winked at one another whenever sweetmeats or dying (in a certain context, of course…I seriously doubt Juliet was talking about orgasm as she stabbed herself with Romeo’s…oh, you know what? Dammit, Shakespeare, even their suicide was filthy!) came up. Wink wink…oh yeah, Shakespeare’s only for elitists…we’re all so high falutin’ and fancy. “By my life, this is my lady’s hand these be her very C’s, her U’s and her T’s and thus makes she her great P’s,” is totally just about how Maria writes her letters. Yup. Oh, Willy Shakes and your toilet humor.
I love all of this. But the reason I love Shakespeare is because he’s such a damn good writer. He knew how to put words together that sounded beautiful and painted vivid images. They played witty (and sometimes somewhat juvenile) games, and invented insults that would still win a ‘yo momma’ street battle today (he also invented the ‘yo momma’ joke). And they told stories that have lasted centuries without losing any of their relevance. Human stories for a very human audience; an audience that never really changes, even if the trappings never stay the same.
And I’m a writer. How can I not not love the Grand Poobah of beautiful words? (Note: Grand Poobah is not Shakespeare; it’s Gilbert and Sullivan. The Mikado, to be precise.)
Thus ends our first Monday Muse Super Shakespeare Spectacular! Tune in on Friday when I’ll pair Hamlet with some booze. No worries, no poison involved.
See you then!