Last year, I participated in the “Happy Birthday Shakespeare” Blog Project (www.happybirthdayshakespeare.com) and gave a brief rundown of the view and history of birthdays in Shakespeare’s day. While that was incredibly interesting, for a Shakespeare and history nerd like me anyway, this year the project would like us to focus more on what Shakespeare has meant to us.
When I was 11, a babysitter brought over a copy of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet. Technically, I knew I was a little young to be watching something like that, but I watched it anyway—steadfastly leaving during especially violent or sexual scenes like a good girl. However, I immediately became obsessed with both the story and Shakespeare. This event was followed closely by a Jr. High play where my minute character spoke some lines from Macbeth’s “Tomorrow” speech backwards. Because of my interest, I immediate set about learning the actual speech both backwards and forwards. Then I read the play. Then I read some sonnets. By this point, my mother had noticed my interest and, in her motherly wisdom, took me to see Twelfth Night at Nashville Shakespeare’s Shakespeare in the Park. We’ve been every year since—I even drove 12 hours just to be home for Labor Day weekend this past summer as to not miss the show with her. Their production of The Tempest is still a vivid memory—I loved it so much that I memorize the epilogue for fun. To this day, it is still my favorite play.
That interest/obsession has never faded. In fact, it’s grown. My freshman year of high school, I was the only one who understood Romeo & Juliet well enough to argue with the teacher in a way that she appreciated. My senior year, I was on the edge of my seat for each day’s discussion of both Hamlet and Macbeth despite the fact that I had seen and read the plays several times. One of my favorite professors in undergrad actually barred me from writing anymore Shakespeare-themed papers because I had written so many for her.
For me, Shakespeare’s works embody everything that I love about Literature. Within his plays, he knits imagination, folk mythology, history, drama, comedy, wit, wisdom, and much more. I can spend hours breaking down scenes by line—always finding something new or interesting. His rhymes and meter fall naturally off the tongue becoming a musical background to the words and images he invokes. My favorite lines from his plays still give me goosebumps every time I read them. When I’m troubled, I can always find something in Shakespeare that speaks to what I cannot express properly myself. Personal or public tragedy? Shakespeare. A need for a good laugh? Shakespeare.
Shakespeare was one of my first “grown-up” literary loves, and he will always remain dear to my heart. He led me to my current educational path in Literature and Education. My dream is to teach students to love and appreciate him like I do. He will always be my man, Willy Shakes. Happy Birthday, Willy.
Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own,
Which is most faint. Now, ’tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell,
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free. (The Tempest, 5. Epilogue).