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! [Read more…]