If I chance to talk a little wild, forgive me … (from King Henry VIII)
I forgive you William Shakespeare, and I love you for it too, for I’ve often felt a little wild, talked a little wild, written a little wild, been a little wild.
Oh, but it wasn’t always so that I loved you (or the idea of you). There was a time when I just didn’t get you, dear William. I’d hear your name reverently fall from trembling lips and I’d shrug. I’d attempt to read your plays, and attempt is a generous word to use, and I’d put down the play and roll my eyes. I’d even watch adaptations of your plays with their modern themes and I’d change the channel.
Why, really, folks, Mr. Shakespeare mostly ragged on my ragged nerves with all the whilsts and whatnot.
But then, maybe seventeen, eighteen, or so years ago, before my move back to my mountain-birth-roots in and through and among the Appalachian Mountains, old mountain woman I am, was, and always will be (even when I lived in the swampylands of South Louisiana), I took a Shakespeare class at Louisiana State University. Um, not because I really wanted to learn about Shakespeare, but because it was taught by Barbara Gray, a professor I’d had a class with before and found her an engaging teacher, one who really did seem to love her job—well, that and this class was one of the only choices left to me. I was forced to take it. Yeah.
Even now, I wonder what has become of Barbara Gray. Last I saw her, I was visiting Baton Rouge during Mardi Gras and spotted her at a parade with a pair of bright pink panties on her head—perhaps I am remembering that incorrectly, but my recollection is of hilarious surprise that the Barbara Gray who so aptly and beautifully and with grace taught this Shakespeare class was hoopin’ it up at a parade with something bright and weird and wonderful and sexnicious atop her Great Head.
But, I digress, as I love to do! I digressify with the best of ′em—anyway . . . .
I remember worrying in that first week or two of class that I’d never figure out what Shakespeare was trying to say, or if he was laughing to himself as he made stuff up just to flummox us all—what a jokester he was! I mean, really, greater more intellectually gifted people than I had studied Shakespeare and they all still argue about his works and him.
But, through Barbara Gray’s imagination and calm intelligence (well, she was calm in class anyway – haha!), and a whole lot of patience, she led her students through the dense forest of words and phrases, the very brilliance and wonder and unique—the unique that ironically so much cliché has been formed—that is our William Shakespeare. I had to learn to pick apart his plays limb by limb. And even so, half of it I still skimmed over all glassy-eyed (and still do). With respect, William, I was veritably bored (and still am) when I had to read your plays, and woe is me if I had to read any of your smooshy sonnets. But, it’s the deeper understanding that fascinated me and fascinates me still.
The words, language, yes, okay, whatever. But those characters! Those tortured, wayward, murderous, wanting, lovelorn, brave, adventurous, cravenous, delicious characters!
I wouldn’t suggest to I, Me, Myself, or anyone else, that they write in the prattering pondering ponderous way Shakespeare wrote, but from his works we note how he knew the character of people. He deeply understood the nature of people. He knew them to their deepest darkest bottomed pits. And he aptly exploited all of it.
Shakespeare’s characters and themes endure throughout the years and years and years upon years because he knew people.
His characters with their tragic flaws, with all the angst and beauty and rage and murder and horror and love and hope—that is what kept me reading and watching Shakespeare not only through a semester with Barbara Gray, but ever after. I learned much about Shakespeare, okay, yes. But I learned much about people’s very inner innards.
I have a bust of Shakespeare in my study, and my Shakespeare sports a big red lip-print upon his ever-exposed forehead. My kiss of thanks. I owe the same forehead kiss to Barbara Gray.
Really, if I don’t get it all, if there are clouds still amokity-doo in my brainicles when it comes to Shakespeare, so what? Me-thinks he did that on purpose so we are always engaged with him, trying to figure out him and his words and works. He’d laugh and laugh at those who act snobbishly arrogant when it comes to his work—no one is supposed to “Get It” all—even Barbara Gray knew we had to find our own truths and recognitions and knowledge. That made the class super-awesome.
Oh, William! I adore you, and you, too, Barbara Gray, and demurely, I bow to you both in thanks for who you are and what you have contributed to my life, to my writing, to the very particles of air you breathed out and scattered upon the winds for future generations to breathe in.
As an aside, Barbara Gray also greatly encouraged me in my writing. Enough that my entire life turned on a dime-sized dime. My major at the time, as a “Non-Traditional” student (read: older than 40 student), was Kinesiology, to supplement my personal training education. I “dabbled” in writing, but really didn’t think I had anything special. But Barbara Gray saw something in me. And, bless her, she sat me aside and very strongly encouraged me to explore my writing. I’m so glad I listened.
In my Virginia Kate Sagas, one of my characters (Frederick) is a Shakespeare-quoting door-to-door salesman—I had such a good time with that. It became an important part of the book, as well. I can’t imagine the trilogy without the Shakespeare quotes. Thank you Barbara Gray (And William).
Open up the creaky door that you closed to fears or unknowns or self-imposed limitations, and go for it. Be all Shakespearyish in your love of words and language. Dig down, far far down, to find the deepest darkest nuggets of your characters—and their light, too, for we all have dark and light.
Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt … (from Measure for Measure)
Who inspired you? Who opened up a “new” world for you in your writing life? Who do you wish to thank?