My Good Friend, Willy Shakes
I am a literature nerd – we’re like math geeks but without the lucrative career options. I collect books like North Korea collects nuclear weapons, like the United States collects debt, like Tiger Woods collects women. I am the bookworm to whom English teachers automatically look during awkward lulls in class discussions. My literature addiction is the primary reason for my messy room: J.D. Salinger and Herman Melville have taken up residence in my dresser drawers, forcing my clothes onto the floor. I am the girl bookstore employees greet by name, the girl who will trade her lunch money for the newest David Sedaris book, and the girl who is ineffably excited about spending the next four years studying English. But, unlike your typical bookworm, I have been hiding a secret shame: I abhor William Shakespeare, the beef of literature stew.
I realize that saying you want to major in English but hate Shakespeare is as blasphemous as saying you are a Christian but hate Jesus. But, you see, I do not understand the Bard and his language. Frankly, he makes me feel stupid. And to further my feelings of inferiority, there are Shakespeare proselytes everywhere spewing quotes with elitism so thick, they are one Othello reference away from choking on their own egos.
I think it’s the footnotes that really kill me. Open any edition of “Romeo and Juliet,” and you are inundated with footnote after footnote. And they’re all necessary for understanding the text. Every pun, turn of phrase, and reference must be explained or I will completely misinterpret it, which is aggravating, since I like to consider myself literate.
I was hesitant when I discovered my AP literature teacher is a quintessential Shakespeare groupie who believes that asking students to name the act, scene, importance, and speaker of a multitude of insignificant quotes is a perfect assessment for understanding Shakespeare’s plays. My apprehension should have been relieved when I received the highest grade on the “Macbeth” test, but my joy was tempered by the fact that I had scored a 64. My entire class failed; I had just failed the least.
Thanks to high grades on essays and an extra-credit project, my hard-earned GPA was not in danger. My pride, however, was. Throughout high school, I have struggled with William Shakespeare. He has been a cloud looming over my head, constantly haunting me and threatening my future collegiate career. Honestly, his “thees” and “thous” and “wherefores” doth make me want to punch him in thy face. But assuming punching a skeleton in the face is neither socially acceptable nor particularly satisfying, I decided I was finally going to conquer Shakespeare and his perplexing puns in time for the upcoming “Hamlet” test.
In true nerd fashion, I immersed myself in Shakespeare. I read between classes, in the bathtub, and at stop lights. I made flash cards and scribbled annotations. I’m not sure precisely how this metamorphosis came about – perhaps it was due to the delirium of lack of sleep and human contact – but I found myself enjoying Shakespeare’s most heralded play. I became enamored with iambic pentameter. I found that beneath the dense language, “Hamlet” actually has all of the elements of literature I covet: teen angst, metaphysical struggles, potential for psychoanalytic and feminist analyses, and drama. But, perhaps most importantly, I was beginning to appreciate the style. I have always been more concerned with the themes and the messages underlying literature, but “Hamlet” was making me laugh at previously indecipherable puns, call my friends “fishmongers,” melt over eloquent soliloquies, and fall in love with words and wordplay.
I received a hard-earned 92 on the “Hamlet” test, and my ego was saved. I am now a devoted Shakespeare fanatic. I revere his sonnets, his plays, and his genius. I am as excited about studying him and other literary greats as Republicans would be over legislation banning universal health care. Having such challenging tests and a literature teacher who refused to spoon-feed us Shakespeare has reaffirmed my work ethic. I am glad I did not quit or concede to a failure that seemed inevitable, but instead rose to the challenge and conquered one of my long-standing obstacles.
I know that college will be filled with much more trying challenges, both academically and personally, but I know I will not back down from them either. Plus, I now have my good friend Willy Shakes to turn to when I need a laugh.