Psst… I have a secret… I HATE SHAKESPEARE…Posted: Thursday 18 June 2015
Said my 15 year old self.
No, that’s a lie. I didn’t really “hate” him; I just didn’t “get” him and what he was harping on about. When I was in high school, I had some great English and Drama teachers. I remember studying Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear probably even a Sonnet or two. English was even one of my favorite subjects in school. But Shakespeare? Nope. Nadda. No deal. The groans and sighs from the students as his plays were being handed out in class were almost unanimous. Being a bit of an English nerd, I didn’t mind too much. I remember liking the stories but the actual language itself remained a big fat mystery. Shakespeare was something old and outdated that young people (like myself back then) had no use for and were being forced to learn…
So how did I get from thinking I hated Shakespeare to working for one of Australia’s leading theatre companies touring Shakespeare to schools?
I went to a school where most of the kids were from homes that had English as a second language or languages other than English. Most of these kids were also first or second generation Australians with parents who had migrated from another country. Shakespeare’s works were not something many of us grew up with around the house. And furthermore at my school, Sports was the Arts and English’s biggest competitor; and it often dominated with our attention and appreciation.
So I left Shakespeare as a boring,incomprehensible old fart with my signed/graffitied school uniforms, old textbooks and letters on colourful Morning Glory stationary (which is like a Japanese Typo) as I farewelled high school.
Until I went to university. Here, I studied Shakespeare from an acting perspective. Not having to approach it as a compulsory English text, I realized that I had forgotten something so simple yet so essential. I had forgotten to play.
I always loved playing when I was a kid. What kid doesn’t? And actors are constantly playing- we ‘re imagining, role playing, “acting”. Our “textbooks” are even called “plays”!
This is what I ignored when studying Shakespeare in English class. My sense of play. Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be enjoyed and performed, not just read sitting down but feeling it in your body and allowing your sense of play to discover what else the words could mean. Also looking up every complex and important word I didn’t understand in a dictionary specifically for Shakespeare (even those words you think you might know as their meaning may have changed from Shakespeare’s time to now) helped enrich my understanding of what these characters were saying. Once I did all this work and research, I then let it go. So now, when hearing the lines again, the musicality and richness of the words washed over me.
Even now, I am always feeling a small sense of pride and excitement when I discover something new about the lines. A new possible thought behind them which in turn can bring a new delivery to them, a new meaning. And trust me, I am still learning and still have so much to learn. You then start to realize that his stories are not so different to those contemporary novels we read today. There’s a reason why his works are being made and remade and re-imagined. They still speak to us today because his characters feel and express emotions we still have today: love, jealousy, betrayal, lust, anger, revenge, alienation.
Plus Shakespeare’s legacy can be seen all around us. He has had such a huge influence on our language. Shakespeare invented close to 1700 words (give or take); Words such as
assassination, aerial, bedroom, bump, countless, excitement, gossip, lacklustre, quarrelsome and watchdog. Phrases such as: “A fool’s paradise”, “a sorry sight”, “all that glitters is not gold”, “fight fire with fire” ,“fair play” and “send him packing”.
Working for Bell has made me look back on this journey I’ve had and renewed my appreciation for the Bard. My struggle with understanding Shakespeare in school is a huge reason why I love this job. I get to bring Shakespeare to schools across the country; allowing students to engage and access his work in a fun and entertaining way.
Isn’t it amazing how language can be your friend or your foe. It can add to feelings of inferiority, alienation, resentment if we can’t find a way in; and on the other hand, make us feel confident, open and proud when we do. The more we understand the language we are dealing with, the more we appreciate and open ourselves to feelings of achievement and wonder. Kind of like when you order something in another language for the first time successfully.
Lucky for us Shakespeare isn’t another language. It’s literally English. Just remember to have fun and play. Do your research and you’ll master it.
That’s what I would say to my 15 year old self if I could. And also to stop spending so much money on those adorably cute stationary pads with the animals on them. Your friends you see everyday in class don’t need hand written letters telling them you’ll see them at school tomorrow Alice.
Spend it on something more important. Like gelato. Which I will do right now. Thanks Alice. You’re welcome Alice. (Insert fist bump)
— Team Ariel