Very few of my friends understand my love of the works of Shakespeare.
They’re not even interested in my explanations. I suspect they prefer to believe that I’m slightly crazy, or that I’m some kind of intellectual snob who talks about Shakespeare because I think it makes me look smart… or something like that.
It seems to me, those friends of mine must have had very poor English teachers at school.
The language is so beautiful. Shakespeare’s works express powerful ideas with clarity and passion. They provoke thought. They inspire discussion and debate. They touch on issues of the heart, the soul, and the human experience in ways that anyone can understand.
The ideas that are the foundations of Shakespeare’s works are still so relevant today. Which of us living in the 21st century do not understand anger, love, jealousy, greed, fear, insecurity, loneliness, or wishing that life were different than the way it is? Which of us cannot learn from seeing someone else handle their situation the wrong way?
When I teach one of Shakespeare’s texts in my classes, the key question I always bring my students to answer is, what does it mean? What message is Shakespeare delivering here? How would the Elizabethan audience understand it? How, and why, is that different than the way we understand it in the 21st century?
Engaging in interpretation of a text like Othello, Macbeth or Henry IV part I is less intimidating than it seems. It doesn’t take a teenager long to work out that Iago is not only jealous but also both manipulative and vindictive. They have an instinctive understanding of the ways in which Hal displeased Harry, but also of the ways in which Harry must have frustrated and discouraged Hal. Young men are quick to work out that any modern girl whose attitude resembles that of Lady Macbeth is, in all likelihood, not the girl for them.
It’s all about common human experiences and what lessons can be drawn from the actions and misfortunes of others. The art of interpretation is discerning what the lessons are and how they should be understood. This can only be achieved if the text is known well, and thought about, and discussed, and debated, and challenged with different perspectives.
That’s what we do in my classes on Shakespeare.
Happy birthday, Will.
I still love you.