A few words on Shakespeare

Dear friends,

Every time I sign onto this platform, I always end up thinking “it’s been a while!” And it has been, for which I duly apologise. Today’s the day, the date that I’ve been reciting to almost everyone who has asked me about my course (it’s due on the 3rd of September!), ‘it’ being my dissertation.

So, as I write this, two copies of my dissertation are sitting in my backpack by my desk, printed and bound, ready and raring to be handed in and fervently read by two markers: my supervisor and a secondary marker.

All I can say is that these past two months have been, at the very least, a difficult trek. Paradoxically, though, each day spent writing a dissertation seems to be the most mundane in existence; I basically slept, ate, and read for most of these days. However, I also learned the importance of breaks, and much of my break time was filled with music, culture and art. I managed to make my summer in London (post Street Orchestra) one full of music (my own playing as well as going to the BBC Proms, a must-do for a Londoner), the arts (I managed to see King Lear with Ian McKellen as well as Hamlet at Shakespeare’s Globe), and some more London touristy things (like touring the state rooms at Buckingham Palace, or going to the National Gallery for a Thomas Cole exhibition).

I’d like to remark on one of those past experiences. Being able to go see Hamlet was, in a sense, somewhat of a full-circle event. The reason being is that in my final year of high school, I was in this class called IB World Lit. 2. Each year, this class had a certain focus and we were lucky enough to be focusing on drama throughout the entire year. This led to us studying two works by or related to Shakespeare, the first being Hamlet, and the second being Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (by Tom Stoppard). Now, as much as I may have loathed reading Hamlet (in high school I thought that I was this science-heavy, brainy student (surely a bit arrogantly)), faint memories of our analyses and discussions managed to stay tucked away in my brain until the day I stepped into the Globe to watch the play again.

Whenever I step into a venue to see Shakespeare, I always enter with a bit of fear. What if I’m not going to understand what’s going on? Maybe I should have studied Shakespeare a bit more up until now… and I find myself quickly googling “[insert Shakespeare play] plot notes” moments before the play starts. It always seems that I develop an acute sense of frailty, specifically regarding my familiarity with the play I’m about to see.

So far I’ve seen three Shakespeare plays in London – Pericles, King Lear, and Hamlet. Each time, I’ve had this same feeling of dread that I’d walk out of the play and be embarrassed about how much I caught on to as compared to the friend with whom I was seeing the show. However, as I started to settle in to each play, the ‘barrier’ that is Shakespearean English managed to get smaller and smaller, such that I eventually reached a deeper level of comprehension early on in the play.

This feeling was no different with Hamlet, but even greater because the play started to open the vault of memories that were locked away somewhere deep in the folds of my mind from my high school english course (included was Mr. Frye’s overly zealous look in his eyes when reading through lines of Hamlet). Although I can’t remember exactly what we managed to analyse in the class, having at least a bit of familiarity with the plot helped me dig deeper into the ideas presented in the play.

All this is to say, I think, that we mustn’t shy away from the depth of thought and beauty that Shakespeare managed to give us with his writing. In fact, if one is a native English speaker, it would be an utter shame for us to not realise the beauty in Shakespearean english, only for the sake of being worried about not being able to understand the language. Each time I walk away from a Shakespeare play, I feel a settled sense of comfort, that which very few authors have managed to do with the English language.

I am highly doubtful that I would ever be able to reproduce anything that Shakespeare did, but I do see it as a mission of sorts to create works of writing that might approach a similar, settled sense that I felt from Shakespearean english. The English language is, according to my belief, not very prone to beauty in its prose, and it takes a lot of thought, work, and sometime genius (like Shakespeare or, perhaps, Arthur Miller or T.S. Eliot) to create assuredly good works of writing. However, that’s not to say that ‘genius’ is not accessible – in fact, I think we can all surprise ourselves at how far a little effort goes in comprehending, or even producing, a work of art with this language of ours.

***

This post will be a series of many this week, as I do believe that I owe you all more posts than I’ve written. Stay tuned, then, for a recounting of events, thoughts from my summer, and updates on what I’ll be up to after this fellowship.

~Jeffrey

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