Today’s the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death and there are a bunch of great pieces celebrating Shakespeare’s legacy. From NPR’s look into the role food played in his works to the New Yorker’s piece on its writers’ meaningful encounters reading Shakespeare, there is still a lot to be said about this man’s works and ideas. Here’s my close encounter with Shakespeare and how I got hooked.
I remember how frustrating reading Shakespeare was in high school, that I had to keep telling myself I wasn’t cheating if I just look at the “modern” translation on Sparknotes, and not the “study guide.” No matter how well the rewording went, even then I knew something essential was lost and it only left me more confused. Fast-forward to college, decidedly an English major, I was excited to read some real Shakespeare, without the kiddy translation, but with an understanding of the real language. My over confidence and expectations about what an English major does actually helped me read Shakespeare in a more meaningful way. I was totally embracing the idea, the challenge, to read through the iambic lines, sift through the metaphors, and laugh at the malapropisms of the grave digger.
And maybe it was because Romeo & Juliet was no longer just a romance story, but a tapestry of rhythmic and constructive words woven together to show me a story. What became more captivating than the story grew from the language – yes, the very words! – that I felt Shakespeare smeared all over my brain. They were inescapable once you read King Lear, Macbeth, or The Tempest, lodged into each nook of my brain. I started memorizing my favorite passages, “Life is but a walking shadow,” and reciting them in my shower. Sonnets, soliloquies, and even single lines (“The lady protests too much, methinks”) came from my mouth like song lyrics.
And from this moment I also realized the ubiquitous influence of his lines in our modern culture. For instance, that Jimmy Neutron cartoon I had watched as a kid had put on a whole episode on Macbeth, the same lines I had memorized in college highlighted on the show! Even the Spanish sitcoms I occasionally watched with mom had allusions to the bard’s work.
Shakespeare came late into my life. Before 9th grade I had never heard of this name; let alone what this name represented. I missed all the marks and allusions embedded in the pop culture I consumed. Still to this day, I have not attended a live performance of any play; though, YouTube certainly helps me catch a vicarious glance into the thundering boom of King Lear, or the anguished eyes of Juliet for her Romeo. Shakespeare is not done with me, and I am not done with him. I will continue to seek him, maybe attending a play this year; and he will keep astounding me with his words and reversals, his themes and meanings.