Thursday, April 23, 2009

"What a Piece of Work is Man.... noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how likea god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals..."

This is one of my favorite quotes by Will Shakespeare. Did you know he sometimes spelled his name "SHAXPER"? Spelling wasn't standardized so much in the 16th century.

Today, 23 April, marks the day accepted as William Shakespeare's birthday; therefore, I say, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, BARD!, 23 April, marks also the day known to be the one on which Our Noble Bard "shuffled off this mortal coil". Therefore, I say Woe betide us, for have we not lost the fairest flower e'er to sculpt the humble symbols we know as words?

Coming on the heels of my heightened awareness of literacy (and the lack thereof) I'd have to say that I'm guessing the number of people who revere, relish and enjoy Shakespeare's works - compared to the number of people in the world who DO read - is probably relatively small. There are many educated, cultured, literate people who either haven't ever read Shakespeare (except, perhaps, a wee mite under severe duress in a classroom). But there are some of us who DO read Shakespeare for pleasure, the plays, the sonnets....and some of us occasionally curl up with annotated works or discussions of Shakespeare's work or life or biographies.

When my first two babies were little....Lovely Daughter was two years old and Son #1 was just a couple of months old....I sat between their cribs for a while every afternoon to read them to sleep for their naps. And I read Shakespeare. One day my sister was coming over to visit; I told her when I buzzed her in that she should just come up and come in, I'd be with her shortly. (Had to finish the act - I think I was reading "Midsummer Night's Dream".)

When I closed the door and tiptoed out of the nursery, she said "What were you doing?" I said I was reading to the kidlets before their naps. Her eyes widened and she said "WHAT were you reading????" all aghast-like.

I told her, and she whuffed (you know, the sniff-with-shoulder-wiggle) and said "That's ridiculous, they don't understand that." I pointed out to her that they wouldn't understand "Hop on Pop" either, at that point, and I wanted them to hear the richest phrases their language possessed.

Now - before any Seuss-o-philes get up in arms, fear not. I ADORE Seuss and all of my children and any who come within reading distance are Seussed within an inch of their lives. Just sayin'.

Part of my adoration of Shakespeare may have come from my 11th grade English teacher (I'm blanking on his name, of course). He made us memorize long passages, he read aloud to us every day, and I can't speak for my classmates but he imbued my heart with a real passion for Shakespeare and his works.

Oh! Just remembered this. One day we got into class and he pulled the movie shades down, rendering the room almost totally dark. He then lit a big fat candle on his desk (no doubt against the rules) and told us to put our heads on our desks or cover our eyes. "NO PEEKING!" he said. He then read the Witches' Scene from Macbeth: "Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble. "

He read the entire scene. I cannot lie: I peeked. Because he read it in three distinct voices, and I had to be SURE two other people hadn't slipped into the room to join him. One voice was dry, cracking and high; one was very throaty and evil-sounding; and the other dreamy and querelous. There were long pauses.....I would've sworn I heard some thick fluid bubbling.

Well, let's just say, he had me at: "Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd." I have a very special copy of Shakespeare's complete works, a gift from a former neighbor, and to this day it is NOT uncommon for me to pick it up and read a whole play, part of a sonnet.....

Now, for all of it, neither of my sons are big readers. Son #1 has a very analytical mind and is more likely to study a language on his own than read a novel; Son #2 really doesn't have much time to read anything.

But my daughter, my Lovely Daughter -- also reads Shakespeare for pleasure now and then, and enjoys the plays as much as I do.

Will Shaxper, you have my forever gratitude and deep affection. On this day I mourn your loss, I also celebrate - CELEBRATE!! your birth and every day of your life. For your gift, thank you.


kmkat said...

Couple of aha! moments in that post. Reading Shakespeare to put your kidlets to sleep. Reading the three witches scene in a candlelit classroom. I am not one to read Willy S. for pleasure but it makes me happy to know that some do.

C'mon Cori said...

How amazing to have a teacher so passionate about...teaching. Coming from a high school of over 5,000, you are very fortunate indeed. Perhaps I'll light my own candle and play the most animated rendition of Shakespeare on tape that I can find. Sounds like a nice way to spend a gray and rainy afternoon. Great post. :)

MollyBeees said...

"any who come within reading distance are Seussed within an inch of their lives. Just sayin'..."

SNORT!!!!!! I think you just invented a word DH! Seussed! If 'Doh' can make it then Seussed can too!

Yarnhog said...

When I was a kid, my best friend's family was very different from mine. I spent as much time at her house as I did at my own, and her parents called me their honorary daughter. One of my fondest memories is of her father reading Shakespeare aloud after dinner while we all sat at the table. (Her house is also where I learned to sing the Shabbat prayers, at the same table.)

Lovely Daughter said...

I bought a nice leatherbound copy of his complete works at A.P.T. after a lovely performance of King Lear a few years ago, and I can see it from here :)

Cimorine said...

hooray!!!! SHAKESPEARE!!!! I enjoy actually watching the plays more, but what the hay. to each his own, right? that is so cool you read your kids Shakespeare! It's like playing Mozart for kids, too! how cool. :) and these days, EVERYONE is Seussed within an inch of their lives. Because, c'mon, we ALL love Suess!