“Today students, we are going to be studying one of William Shakespeare’s plays”.
This line is normally met by groans and sighs, or people threatening to jump out of windows.
I know because before i went to college I would have been groaning, sighing and halfway out the window at this point.
“But he doesn’t even speak proper English,” used to be my default response to the mere mention of the playwright’s name. There couldn’t be a less true statement. Yes, his use of language is hard to grasp, but he invented sayings and words that are still regularly used to this day. He helped create proper English. But I am getting ahead of myself.
As is stated in the title of my blog page, I am The School Dropout. So whilst others studied his plays at school, due to me leaving school, I missed Shakespeare the first time around. To be honest I’m glad I did, because they must have really taught it horribly, if you mention Shakespeare around students who sat through GCSE’s and A-Levels they usually begin to cry and uncontrollably twitch.
Now my dislike of Shakespeare was fear of the unknown, I was pretty much suffering from Shakespearism (like racism, but for Shakespeare) see Will, I can make up words too. I had never actually seen one of his plays (unless you count the awful version of Romeo and Juliet, with Leo DiCaprio), neither had I ever tried to read one of his plays. I was literally basing my entire evaluation of Shakespeare on other people’s views and my own unfamiliarity with his works.
Then I enrolled on the Access to Humanities Course at Coleg Y Cymoedd. There on the reading list for English Literature was Shakespeare’s Othello. I’m not going to lie, originally I almost shit myself. Explaining to the tutor that the very thought of it made “my hair stand on end”. Ironically do you know where that phrase comes from? Shakespeare’s Hamlet!
After weeks of worrying, we finally came around to studying it. I’d bought a copy of the play from E bay, hadn’t opened it yet. The first lesson the tutor put on the DVD cinematic version of the play. I was expecting to be bored out of my skull for two hours. Instead this happened …
I looked around the room, my fellow students seemed lost, confused and bored. I on the other hand was engaged from the get go. Kenneth Branagh’s version of Iago was amazing. He dominated every scene, manipulating the events, and all the other characters in the play. The best part was, I understood what was happening. I could follow the language and the story. I’d been so afraid of Shakespeare, that I had been missing out on some of the most interesting works of drama that was ever created.
Other the next few weeks I ingested the terms associated with Shakespearean Drama. Iambic Pentameter, Soliloquies, Dramatic Irony, Asides, the Machiavel, the Malcontent, the Tragic Hero etc. There was so much structure to these plays and so many rules to follow, so many secrets and hidden layers to unearth. I felt like Lara Croft, but instead of searching through tombs, I was searching through Othello trying to find all the little treasures i could get my hands on.
During my first time on the course I remember the tutor left the room, and I ended up explaining the play to the other students in my class (this is where I realised I wanted to be a teacher). This is what lead me to go for an English degree, before then I was going to Sociology to become a politician (yawn).
By the time the assignment came along, I was spoiled for choice on how to answer the questions, I’d memorised pretty much every inch of the play. Had to cut down my word count rather than the usual struggle to bulk it up.
Then during my second time on the course I took it one step further, this time I acted out the opening scenes with my fellow students Ketah and Barbara. I really got into character (Iago, of course), even to the point that when we got outside for break, Ketah, who was nervous about doing it in the first place wanted us to act out another (sadly, we didn’t get to).
Then when it came to University and I saw that Shakespeare was one of the optional modules of my course, I knew no matter what others there were, i was definitely choosing that one.
My love for Shakespearean works is still going strong, just this week I both watched and read The Tempest. It took me longer to watch the pretty naff cinematic version, than it did to read the play.
Sorry for the rant, but I suppose what I’m trying to say is. Never base your idea of something, on an unfamiliarity of it, or what others think of it.
By giving something a chance, you may find something that changes your life forever.