My oldest–affectionately known as “The Girl” in my social media–starts her senior year of high school next month. Accordingly, we have begun all the grand college tours as she searches for her next educational home. She’s interested in political science, so candidates are of course being evaluated on that criterion.
All of this, plus Kate’s post Monday brings back memories of my own quest for college. I always knew I’d be an English major. What I was going to do with that degree changed over the years (law school, education, etc.), but I made up my mind in eighth grade. I was going to read books for my college years.
Because of this, I looked mainly for liberal arts colleges. (I can hear all the business and engineering folks snickering now.) And yes, I went to college as a declared English major and never wavered, despite many people asking if I also knew how to flip burgers because if I didn’t teach what else was I going to do with an English degree? (I am not flipping burgers, trust me.)
And because of that, I do exceedingly well on those “How many of these 100 essential books have you read?” quizzes. I hit most of them in college. And I learned some things:
- Medieval English is really hard to read and if you have to have the jokes in Chaucer explained, they aren’t very funny.
- American literature was obsessed with sex and religion for a Very Long Time.
- Most 19th century American writers were…ponderous. Except for Mark Twain. I still think he’s funny.
- The English Romantics were often a bit over the top in their emotions.
- Those “Victorian” values and the image of being sexually repressed? Yeah, that was for the middle and lower classes. Victorian writing is full of sex and sexual imagery.
- American literature in the 20th century leaves me scrabbling for anti-depressants and the English were often completely indecipherable (James Joyce anyone? Samuel Beckett?)
But the period I really liked was the Elizabethans and especially Shakespeare. My absolute favorite course was called “Shakespeare in Stratford.” We read five Shakespearean plays and took two trips to Stratford, Ontario (Canada) to see them performed, so the choice of plays for the course depended on the season for the theater company. We also saw Gilbert & Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.” I enjoyed it so much, The Hubby and I went back for a week on our honeymoon.
When I tell people about this, especially non-reader type people, they stare in horror. “I never understood Shakespeare, especially why he’s still so popular.”
If you are one of these people, I have some advice: see Shakespeare performed. Movies are fine, plays are better. The words on the page are okay, but it is a completely different thing when you get the body language, inflection, expression – and, of course, the correct reading of anything that may be in iambic pentameter. Shakespeare touches the human condition in a way that few other writers have ever done for me. I think this is why his plays are equally successful in multiple time periods. Franco Zeffirelli’s original “Romeo and Juliet” can be translated into 1996’s “Romeo + Juliet.” The “Taming of the Shrew” is just as good done as written, or as “Kiss Me Kate” or “Ten Things I Hate About You.”
I’m not much on time travel. I like modern times just fine, thank you very much. But if The Doctor showed up in his T.A.R.D.I.S. today and offered to take me anywhere, I think I’d want to meet old Will. Pick his brain a bit. Have a glass of wine or three (I’m positive there’d be drinking). Assure him that his plays are going to have a good long run.
Or maybe I’ll just torture The Girl with yet another viewing of “Hamlet.”
Readers, Shakespeare fans or no? Read or performed? Writers, what author would you like to sit down with over a nice glass of wine?