life

Dear old Shakespeare

A month ago I walked into the library in search of a thin book. I was reading How Proust Can Change Your Life (which started promising but was turning out to be pretty unrewarding) and I needed some refreshment.

I said I wanted something thin. To be precise, I wanted something thin and English. So, after taking every title on the shelves in consideration, I ended up with Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew

While sitting on a bench in a tiny park, leafing through this small, old volume I became conscious of a wish to go back to all his plays. I remember we read King Lear in our last year of elementary school. I was overwhelmed and enchanted in spite of the fact I didn’t (of course) understood it completely. Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet were required high-school reading but I discovered and loved the comedies more. I thought them cleverly structured and enjoyed their crowdedness. 

There is an anecdote I will keep in my memory for as long as I live. We were at the English class, the first year of high-school, working on our small assignments while the professor went around the classroom assisting one or the other or giving suggestions. Suddenly we all became conscious of a noise coming from the first row. A friend was turning the pages of a dictionary in a wild and desperate manner, looking rather lost. When the professor approached him asking what the problem was he said he couldn’t find what Shakespeare means anywhere! ‘What does it mean? There is no such word in the dictionary!’, begged he, all confusion and distress… We had such a hearty laugh.. (not at his lack of knowledge, but at the state he was brought to searching for this mysterious word)

Some years later, at the University, Hamlet and King Lear were on the schedule again, along with The Tempest, Henry V, and Midsummer Night’s Dream. There was a thrill and a certain kind of excited fear of digging deeper into them (‘Would I be up to it?’) but History of Drama was taught by one of the most captivating and outstanding professors at the University, in cooperation with a delightfully dry-humored and sarcastic assistant, so every lecture was nothing less than gratifying.

I feel the time is ripe for getting back to Shakespeare. It could be different – I might find something new, something that speaks to who I am now. And the enjoyment would prove to be of a slightly different quality, I think – more profound and more appreciative. Maybe I should go for it…

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13 thoughts on “Dear old Shakespeare

  1. “I didn’t (of course) understood it completely”

    No-one ever understands Shakespeare completely. Even the most seasoned Shakespearean returns to these plays after years of acquaintance, and sees them from new perspectives. But it doesn’t matter: simpy to immerse oneself in these works is glorious.

    I try to read a Shakespeare play every month. “Twelfth Night” and “Antony and Cleopatra” are my personal favourites, butthere are at least a dozen others that i could just as easily pick as favourites. And another 20 or so more that I just couldn’t do without!

  2. Oh, dear.. It is a clumsy sentence and it’s now making me blush with embarrassment!
    What I meant was I didn’t completely understood what we’ve been taught about it.
    (just as I failed (and still am failing) to understand how Grenouille, from Süskind’s Perfume, resembles Michael Kohlhaas – the problem’s been bothering me for the last six years)

    Anthony and Cleopatra I have never read, but Twelfth Night was one of the most loved ones and I am really, really looking forward to reading it again.
    Many plays faded from my memory. So much so that I can hardly remember the plots. I’m resolved to fix this.

  3. No, it’s not a clumsy sentence at all! – No reason to blush!

    Niels Bohr once famously said about quantum mechanics “If you think you understand it, you probably don’t”. I feel the same way about much literature. No matter how well acquainted you may be with these works, they always deliver that bit more at the next reading!

    All the best, Himadri

  4. Yes you should go for it, I think Shakepeare writes in such a way that allows everybody to pick facets and themes out of his works, unlike other books that tend todo this to a certain extent, his works just seem so much more masterful and focused yet diffuse enough to always allow varying interpretations. If anybody will appreciate his works it is going to be you my friend.

    1. Imagine courses of Earth Literature for extraterrestrials somewhere in the Universe.. They would begin with Homer and then they would make a huge leap to Shakespeare and then what.. I cannot think of anyone else of their stature, although, truth be told, there are many that came as close as possible..

  5. That is a good point, as I was reading your comment, I started to think of other writers but they aren’t quite on a par with those titans. I am now thinking of Little Grey aliens sitting at desks learning stuff which is novel as in the films they always appear standing up, it makes me wonder if they have knees and also why I think about things too much!

  6. I think you would love the two volumes of Signature Shakespeare that I found at the recent book sale. Beautiful hardcovers of Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet, with delicate paper-cut illustrations. Truly a thing of beauty. They look something like this (http://www.amazon.com/Much-About-Nothing-Signature-Shakespeare/dp/1402794584/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1418237412&sr=1-3&keywords=shakespeare+sterling+signature).
    I confess I am not much of a Shakespeare reader, but I think these beautiful volumes are going to inspire and motivate much! ;)

  7. I keep promising myself that one day I will get around to reading the lesser known plays – just need to work my way towards that since I know some of them can be a bit challenging.

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