April 23, 2013 • Cee • History Lesson

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As many of you know, it is dear Shakepeare’s birthday. 


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And what is an awesome way to celebrate his birthday? I introduce a new segment in my blog called – History Lesson. In this segment, I either discuss my history with certain authors/books or general historical background/tidbits about those authors/books. We should get started! 

Shakespeare and I have a rocky relationship. Actually, it is more like a rocky history. I can’t pinpoint my feelings for him and his writing; it’s like I can’t help but feel conflicted. I know my feelings are all over the place. I like him and then I don’t like him. I’m sure many readers have felt this way – as if they’re being jerked around by the arm. (Don’t be a jerk, Shakespeare! Ha!)

My first awareness of Shakespeare was in elementary school. I think it was in fourth grade when I became jealous of my older sister because she got to read Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in her classes. I don’t understand where this jealousy came from. Perhaps it was due to my embarrassment of not reading the plays yet? Or due to my yearning to fill my brains with more culture? Whatever it was, I remember lying to my friends that I read A Midsummer Night’s Dream and that it was my favorite Shakespeare play like I was trying to impress the cool kids who thought Shakespeare as their idol. In fifth grade, my teacher handed out packets of The Merchant of Venice. I think it was in preparation for the end of the year class trip to the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon that every fifth grade class takes before entering middle school. I remember that I enjoyed the story and already deemed it my favorite Shakespeare play. 

At the Shakespeare Festival, I felt a lot of mixed emotions, ones that threatened to knock me on my butt and leave me whimpering. Shakespeare and my childhood were tightly intertwined. I felt sad because it would be the last time I would see some of my classmates (since we were headed to different middle schools); annoyed because I didn’t bring a coat (the weather got cold during an outdoor performance of The Merchant of Venice); happy because I was able to room with my best friend; and excited to visit the local shops and go to the theater to see the plays. I left elementary school without acquiring a deep appreciation for Shakespeare. 

I think it was in seventh grade when I first read Romeo & Juliet. (But maybe I read it in elementary school when the play was lying around on the ground at home, the red-colored rose on its front cover calling out to me.) I vaguely remember reading the play, which shows how much I did not care for it. My only memory of the play is the movie that my seventh grade teacher made us watch, where we got to see Romeo’s butt. Such a highlight for a teenager to see nudity.

During freshman year of high school, I read Twelfth Night for class. In sophomore year, I read the-play-that-shall-not-be-named. We had an assignment where we had to modernize the dialogue. Other than that, I actually do not remember a lot from my early days in high school. I remember that both plays were on my must-read list and I was pleased that I could check it off. The characters were far more intriguing than Romeo & Juliet and they left quite of an impression on me. 

Before I transferred to another college, I had to take a required Shakespeare course where we read Romeo & Juliet (that play haunts me!), As You Like It (fabulous!), Richard II (meh), and Measure for Measure. The course was divided into five parts –

  • first: Shakespeare’s sonnets
    • Each group of five students was assigned a specific group of sonnets to analyze and present to the class. I cannot remember which sonnets, but I was intrigued at how each set were addressing different things.
  • second: the tragedy
    • For the tragedy play, we read Romeo & Juliet. I didn’t know I was suppose to already be reading this book when we watched the BBC production of it. I didn’t care for it. I wished my professor had picked a different tragedy, but I guess classics are a must.
  • third: the comedy
    • I LOVE As You Like It. I remember being enthralled by this play. I wrote the first essay on Jacques because I found him fascinated. I think I wrote about how his actions are not one of a jester, but of a cunning personality.
  • fourth: the history
    • I thought I would be indifferent to it, but surprisingly, I enjoyed Richard II. I even wrote my second essay on Gloucester, specifically how his presence manages to influence court decisions despite his death. To be honest, I don’t like thinking about it because it wasn’t the best essay I could write.
  • fifth: the problem-play
    • Like As You Like It, I enjoyed Measure for Measure. It was such a MESS, but I loved it anyways. I think I liked it because the play was a mash-up of Shakespeare’s previous works and that, in itself, is fabulous in my eyes.

The class was kind of a joke. I never knew what parts of the play we were suppose to read since the professor never assigned the pages. During class, we never did any close reading of the text. Instead, we watched Shakespeare in Love and the BBC productions of the plays. It was an easy class to pass.

I had read A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear for class. Surprisingly, I disliked A Midsummer Night’s Dream because I felt it was extremely overrated, much like my feelings for Romeo & Juliet. I didn’t care about anybody except Oberon and Titania. With King Lear, I only cared about Edmund and Edgar. Huh, I realized I like only a select few from each play. 

Like most people, I have plays I love and plays I dislike, but that doesn’t mean I think anything less about it. The point is – I appreciate Shakespeare. He continues to inspire and influence others to read and create.

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare.


 


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