April 23rd is Shakespeare’s birthday. My son and I celebrated by giving away books for World Book Night; however there’s another party going on in the blogsphere. Between April 23rd and April 30th, bloggers around the world will post about the impact Shakespeare has had on their lives.
Shakespeare was a chore during school. His poetry was beautiful and romantic and I loved it instantly, but reading the plays was arduous. Let’s face it. Plays are meant to be seen – not read, deciphered, and picked apart in a classroom like that poor frog you tried to avoid dissecting in Biology class. Even with the teacher showing old movies, pointing to scenes and explaining, “No, see, it really IS funny!” If you have to explain the joke, the humor’s already lost.
However, Danny DeVito changed all that.
Renaissance Man – a quirky film about a man teaching Shakespeare to misfit soldiers – helped me see the plays in a new way. Sex, drama, murder, betrayal… well, THAT’S certainly interesting! There was a scene where one soldier, answering his Sergeant’s question about the value of what he learned, quoted the Saint Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V. For the first time, I saw how the plays were just as relevant today as they were hundreds of years ago. From that point on, I wanted to watch them all.
Kenneth Branaugh taught me to love Henry V. Derek Jacobi made me love Hamlet. Later on, I watched Mel Gibson’s Hamlet and compared the two. (I still like Jacobi’s performance better. Sorry, Mel.) I visited a small, 20-person occupancy theater to watch a double feature of Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Through library films, audio productions, and (with new understanding) paperback copies of the plays, I fell in love with Shakespeare’s work.
Almost twenty years have passed since I discovered a love of Shakespeare. I see his influence throughout our culture, in the common everyday words and phrases he created, to the multiple adaptations of his plots in film and books. I’ve even
massacred dabbled with his plays in short stories – writing sequels and rewriting endings for humorous effect. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, William Shakespeare is the most complimented man in the English speaking world.
His words live on, and he is remembered.