William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, and UsI have no intention of trying to summarize the life and works of William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, in a dinky, little post. However, being a fan and teaching a few of his works over the course of fifteen years or so, I will share how I interacted with my students as we approached Shakespeare’s work.
Before my students knew what we were headed into, I would ask them to write a poem in iambic pentameter. “Oh, and I would like it to contain a word that you invent, one that is used so perfectly in context that no explanation is needed.” I would let them play around with that for a few minutes. “Oh, yeah, and I would like it to be such a great word that it is in common use five years from now. Or do you think you could create a word that will still be used ten years from now? a 100? 400?” Of course, they knew that I was making a point, and that point was that William Shakespeare introduced right at 2,000 unknown words into our language, as well as new phrases — combinations of words never before used in that way.
“Like what words?” they would ask.
“Well, many common words, and they were words of life, not technology, which accounts for most of the new words today. No one individual even comes close to this. When we talk about the brightness of the sun, we refer to its…”
“Radiance,” someone would shout out. “You mean he made up radiance?”
“Yes, and words like obscene, frugal, countless, hurry, excellent, lonely, hint, gust…”
“What about phrases? What do you mean?”
“Did you ever hear about a relative being your ‘flesh and blood’? Or can you picture something in your ‘mind’s eye’? Has something disappeared quickly and you say that it ‘vanished into thin air’? Or that someone is so stubborn that they won’t ‘budge an inch’?” (Thanks to Bill Bryson’s book The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way.)
They were impressed but doubtful of their ability to understand the English.
“Okay, in what period of the English language did he write: Old, Middle, or Modern?”
Not one time did they get it right on the first guess. Shakespeare and his contemporaries wrote in Early Modern English. “So, get it out of your head that it’s impossible to understand.” I would recite some lines of Middle English just so they could hear how reasonable the Bard’s English is.
I would also explain to them the beauty of his use of the language in capturing the many characters and shades of human personalities. Primarily, literature conveys insight into who and what we are as human beings — how we think, act, react in all relationships that represent humanity. And Shakespeare did that in plays that were one long poem of blank verse iambic pentameter. That really blew students’ minds.
Then, we would be off and running to engage in Romeo and Juliet, The Tragedy of Macbeth, or The Tragedy of Hamlet, not to mention looking at a few of his sonnets.
Personally, Hamlet is one of my favorites. Wait, so is Othello, Lear, …never mind. But let me leave you with a bit of Hamlet.
Even in the throes of depression and feigned madness, Hamlet recognizes this: “What a piece of work is a man! how noble / in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and / moving how express and admirable! in action how / like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the / beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!”
Another character, Polonius, a controlling, manipulating but respected man, says a bit earlier in an uncharacteristic fit of wisdom to his son who was leaving, “This above all: to thine ownself be true,…”
Polonius voiced the words; Hamlet understood the words; my hope is that we will live those words today as we consider the amazing creatures that we are and the amazing ways in which William Shakespeare portrayed us.
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!