Here I am, fashionably late to celebrate Shakespeare Day. The Bard of Avon would be turning 450 years old this year! His legacy is undeniable: not only he contributed around 1,700 new words to the English language, but he also left us with a vast production of poems and plays, that are, till this day, current and alive.
I started reading Shakespeare at a young age. Looking for something to read, I came to find this book that portrayed a young man, with a deep, lost-in-thought look, holding a cranium in his hand. Hamlet captured my imagination and ignited my love for theater.
Don’t tell anyone but when I was twelve I wanted to be a boy. I also wanted to be an actor. The only chance I’d have to be Hamlet on a play would be if I were a boy. I didn’t want to be Ofelia or Gertrude. But I would have to settle, if I ever got to be in the play.
How I wished I could be Othello, but I even more enjoyed Iago’s twisted and evil ways. Of course, I was a girl, so I would have to be Desdemona. I loved Romeo’s ways with words and all the action and swordfights with his cousin Mercutio. I loathed Paris and despised the fact he treated Juliet as if they were already married. Yes, I wanted to be a Montague, but I knew I would have to be a Capulet.
But then I came to find Lady Macbeth’s ambition and cruelty to be frightening yet fascinating. I also met Titania and I admired her strength to stand up to her husband and her principles. Not everything was lost: these strong-willed women made me want to be a girl again. But it was the mischievous Puck who stole my laughs and made my mind fly away. So it turned out, I would have to be a fairy.
Did I understand all the old fashioned language and new words that were in front of me? I doubt it. I had to make recurrent trips to the dictionary to find words like garish and contumely. I still don’t know what they mean. But that didn’t deter me from being a fan of “Billy” Shakespeare’s works. How many hours I spent memorizing the lines of the philosophical “To be or not to be”; how many days I spent learning by heart the infamous words of Lady Macbeth’s monologue. How many hours of delight and wisdom were brought to me by this man who was born some centuries ago!
I still read his plays, and every time I do I find something new. In my opinion, he captured our human condition and put all of our deepest foibles and greatest virtues in paper. It is inevitable to feel emotions through his words: to grieve, to love, to loath, to despise, and to fear. That is where his greatness rests. He was without doubt a master of words.
Not too long ago I found a “kid version” of Romeo and Juliet. It was a beautiful book, hardcover, fun illustrations, and child-friendly fonts. I thought I would buy it for my kids. Then I thought that I had read Romeo and Juliet’s “real” version around my kids’ age. Would it be beneficial for them to read a simplified version of a classic book? Would they want to read the “real” book later in life, if they already knew its plot and characters? Why was I able to read, understand and love Shakespeare at 10 or 12? Why wouldn’t my children?
So I put the book down, and found me a new copy of Hamlet. I’m sure that stern-looking, introspective young man holding a cranium on the cover will find a way to talk to my kids.
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