Happy Birthday, Shakespeare. What You Mean to Me.

Post Date: April 23rd, 2012
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Today the Bard is 448 years old. This universal author touches so many: he’s global and he’s omnipresent because he’s also quite local and personal. So let’s set the GPS for me with the typical narcissism we love as bloggers. What does the Bard mean to me? It’s still a pretty nice birthday tribute to tell another how he’s changed your life, so I’m sure Will wouldn’t mind a fan 400 years hence bowing to his wisdom, his beauty, and his wit.

I have already written my thanks directly to Will and why I need him, and I have already defended his honor, nay, his very existence. Today, just some simple, quick thoughts of how Shakespeare is part of my daily bread and daily pages.

  1. Poetic language that transports the teen heart. I fell in love with Shakespeare in 11th grade when Macbeth taught me what “all is lost” meant. Is there any better speech than “To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow…” (The entire text shimmers at the end of this post.) I knew then that Shakespeare got me. He got depression, he got ennui, he got hopelessness. 
  2. Words, words, words. I have so many great words thanks to the man who made them common parlance. Dauntless, besmirched, and lackluster are just a few. This delightful Youtube video, a must-see for high school students, dedicates Chapter 3 (found at 2:19) to the Bard’s impact. His words, read aloud many times in my own schooling and later in my classrooms, inform my writing today with diction, musicality, and emphasis. I think of his consonance, alliteration, euphony, cacophony, internal rhyme, and meter, and I hear me trying to imitate it in my own work while sounding 2012. 
  3. Kid inspiration. The other day, I’m standing in line for a burrito, and a young man in scrubs said, “Excuse me, did you ever teach at Stanford?” I told him yes once I figured out he meant the middle school, not the university. I could not place him. “I’m Adam,” he said. “I played Mercutio?” Then I remembered. One can only cast an adventurous, humorous soul for that role, and suddenly I saw the 13 year-old I hadn’t seen since 1998.  I told him I was happy he had survived that production of Romeo and Juliet, because I recall it involving a) seventh graders  b) no budget and c) not enough time to master the Bard’s work. But because of intrepid and enthusiastic kids, a persistent if naive director, and some awesome parent support, the thing came off. And Adam made his mark. Now he takes care of patients and plays music. And yet he still remembered being Mercutio. “My one claim to acting fame,” he joked. Thanks, Will, for helping me make an impact on some youth on a dusty stage with poor lighting yet burning still with your incandescence. 
Shakespeare, a book of your complete plays would suffice for a desert island exile. On my worst days there, I’d still find great speeches with more left to mine, and I’d call up great memories with your stories in my classroom. And I would find great words to help me write my story in the sand. 
Writing Prompts:
  • What has the Bard done for you lately? Or once upon a time?
  • Write about to-morrow, about life’s petty pace, and your fears of dusty death.
  • Find one of Shakespeare’s sonnets and let its lines inspire a new work from you.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
 Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
 To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. 
Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

excerpted from the MIT full text. Act V, scene v

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