Sunday, May 20, 2007

Shakespeare Epiphanies

Ok, simple question.  When did you "get" it?  Hopefully you know what I'm talking about. Most of us were forced to read Shakespeare in school.  Very few probably saw it as a life changing moment.  We were too busy trying to flip back and forth to the glossary because we were going to be quizzed on every single word.  Not to mention the rote memorization. 

I'm talking about the moment where Shakespeare clicked for you, and suddenly it went from being this strange Elizabethan code that you kinda sorta thought you got to, "Wow, there are *people* under these words, I understand what they're saying to each other and...it's beautiful."  Know what I mean?  I thought of this question while reading Rosenbaum's Shakespeare Wars.  Very early (I think I'm on page 8) he talks about teaching the sonnets and getting to Sonnet 45, trying to explain the line "These present-absent with swift motion slide" and actually feeling like he personally knew what it was like to be in two existences at once, himself and outside himself, sliding back and forth between the two.  I'm doing a lousy job of explaining it the way he did, go read his book.

I can tell you mine, though it's not quite on a par with Rosenbaum's.  I was in college, doing a paper on Hamlet (specifically, the role of insanity as a defense mechanism).  I'd hit the line "Thrift Horatio, thrift!  The thricebaked meats did coldly furnish forth the wedding tables."  I was talking to a friend and I said, "Wait...was that a joke?  Did I understand that right?  Did Hamlet just tell Horatio that his mom got remarried in a hurry so that they could use the leftovers from the funeral?"  And suddenly there it was.  Hamlet went from being this masterpiece that I would never be privy to, to...a kid that lost his dad.  There's a person in there.

Make sense?  Somebody else's turn.

8 comments:

Saphira said...

Mine is nothing quite so interesting, but it was still the moment that changed it all. I was in ninth grade, and caught the beginning of Twelfth Night on PBS one Sunday afternoon, as part of The Shakespeare Hour with Walter Matthau. I'd seen Felicity Kendal before, so that gave the proceedings an added sense of familiarity, but mostly, I was just completely taken in by the story.

I'm sure there's plenty I didn't get--and probably plenty I still don't--but a Shakespeare fan was born that Sunday afternoon, and I've been reading and watching ever since. (It was a year or so later that I requested A.L. Rowse's The Annotated Shakespeare, leaving my mother to explain at the checkout that the monstrous book was for her teenaged daughter.)

Ann said...

I took Shakespeare one semester in college, and I could paraphrase everything into plain US English, but I didn't get the interweaving of meanings and how it all made a tapestry, until I was reading Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey books, and in one of them (Busman's Honeymoon I think), the characters played games with Shakespeare quotes. That hooked me.

I listen to Shakespeare much better than I read him, which is the reverse of my usual knack.

Alan K.Farrar said...

Perhaps I'm lucky to have been Educated in a not so good state school in England - with teachers who really cared about Shakespeare but knew they couldn't just say this is good so you must read it.
We had a bunch of drama students from the local college come do some workshops on Macbeth with us - putting him on trial, and things like that. Really got you arguing about the issues. That hooked me.
Then we did some performances and that landed me.

Mags said...

Honestly? First time I read Romeo and Juliet in ninth grade--the first time I read Shakespeare. I fell madly in love with the language, the cadence and flow. Can't abide the story of R&J now, go figure, but I still love the language.

Anonymous said...

I had a great drama teacher in high school who had us memorize one of his sonnets. He went through it very slowly, making sure we understood it. In that process I began to understand the flow of the language, and the meaning. I still can remember the one he taught us. It is the one that begins 'When to the sessions of sweet silent thought/I summon up remembrance of things past'

A fantastic sonnet!

Duane said...

That's sonnet 30. Interesting choice! Glad to see that everybody didn't just do variations on 18.

raymond pert said...

Othello turned the tide for me. I was stunned by the characterization of Iago. I'd never experienced the portrayal of a mind at work that way. From then on, for the last thirty years I've been enthralled and have been sharing my passion in the college classroom for twenty-five years now.

Duane said...

I remember my Othello lessons in high school as being very...all over the place? How we'd be quizzed on the textual explanation of Iago's hatred (he was passed up for promotion) and the racial undertones, all the while with the teacher trying to explain to us how we're not just talking hatred, here, we're talking about something more akin to the personification of evil and how he really doesn't need a reason. I don't recall really getting the point.