Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sam's Advice on Studying Shakespeare

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Dear Parker,

I must say, I'm shocked that you ended up choosing English as your major. You never seemed like an English guy to me... You'll probably take that as a compliment but I meant it entirely as an insult (love you). But now that you have chosen this road less traveled, I have a few words of advice for you that may be somewhat helpful. If you didn't get that Robert Frost allusion, get out. You're done. It's time for you to go back to architecture or math or strumming the guitar or whatever it was that you were studying before. However, if you did understand it, continue on.

Shakespeare is somebody that you are going to have to get acquainted with during this time in your life. You know, William Shakespeare? Ever heard of him? Well, it's about time you have. In my experience as an English major so far (best time of my life, obviously), I've had to learn a lot about Shakespeare and his works. I can't honestly say that I've loved every minute of it, but it has been an eye-opening experience for me.

This summer, I visited the house where Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway, grew up. I was there and I should have been in complete awe, but honestly, I wasn't. I was tired, I was longing for some alone time (that's hard to find on a study abroad), I had seen what felt like dozens of castles and houses and fields and documents and I'll be honest, it was just another old house that held little significance for me. What I'm trying to say is that it wasn't until I delved into Shakespeare's actual works that I was able to finally being to appreciate Shakespeare and understand all the hype. It's not the man's life that is impressive, but rather the creations that he fostered through ink and paper.

What finally opened my eyes to his brilliance was reading "Hamlet". In the Shakespeare class I took my senior year, we read a few of his sonnets and plays before we arrived at Hamlet, but for some reason, it took me that long to finally fall in love with Shakespeare. We read the play, I went to a screening of Benedict Cumberbatch's version (love of my life), and I watched the entirety of a David Tennant version the next day on Youtube. I was hooked. For the first time, I was seeing the variations of meaning that Shakespeare infused into his works, and how stable yet malleable they managed to be. Hamlet was three different people in those three different interactions with the text, but yet the same. I couldn't believe the emotional response I started to have by the end of my studies. I was entranced.

Parker, you're going to have to read and study Shakespeare as an English major. If you don't like the idea of that, get out of the major or just get used to it. If you choose the latter, the best way to go about that is by forcing yourself to interact with the text. Take your time. Don't expect it to read like a novel. You can't fly through his texts and come away changed. Define words. Annotate EVERYTHING. Make connections. I would go as far to say to treat it like scripture by applying it to your own life. Try to imagine yourself in the shoes of the characters, to feel what they must be feeling, to understand influences and culture that surrounds them. When Hamlet grieves his father, think of how you would feel if your father died and everyone was so determined to move on so quickly. Wouldn't that drive anyone, well, mad? Or would it? Challenge your beliefs. Define what you think and feel and then try everything you can to change it to fit the characters that you find on the page. And don't stop there. Find the rhythm and rhyme of the text and take note when it ends. Read it out loud, try to put emphasis where there is meant to be emphasis. Read outside articles, watch interviews with Shakespearian actors, do EVERYTHING you can to understand and appreciate the text. Make it come to life.

Something specific that helped me the most while reading his plays was reading the texts out loud, and looking up allusions, words, or phrasing that I didn't understand as I did so. It took me a long, long time to get through the plays. A long time. But by forcing myself to do that, I was able to hear Shakespeare's voice with my own. It took time and patience, but it was so worth it to hear his voice.

Remember that you are not alone with Shakespeare. He will never force you to sit and have an extended conversation with him without help. You have resources at your fingertips that will enhance your experience by the hundred fold. Watch YouTube videos. Search images on Pinterest. Read articles by people that may or may not know what they are talking about- they more often than not have something valuable to say. Talk to people- everyone! Whether or not they themselves know it, everyone has something to say about Shakespeare, because Shakespeare had something to say about everyone else. Relish in it. There are few things in our world that are as universally applicable as Shakespeare. All these things and more (you'd be surprised at how creative you can get with Shakespeare!) have greatly benefitted me in my introduction to the Bard, and they will do the same for you, I promise.

Love you, bud! Good luck with this.


1 comment:

  1. I really love that your voice shines through on this piece (something that I felt I struggled with). I really felt like these were things that you would actually say. Great job.