Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon. Photo by me in May 1998.
When I sat down to write my Happy Birthday Shakespeare post I realized that I have a hard time putting into words the impact that Shakespeare has had on my life. I have been an Anglophile pretty much my whole life and became obsessed with the Tudors in junior high school, so becoming a fan of Shakespeare was just natural.
Like many people, my first exposure to reading Shakespeare was in school, and I have to admit that I didn’t like it very much. Seeing movies based on the plays (the Burton & Taylor Taming of the Shrew being an early favorite) gave me an appreciation the textbooks couldn’t. Then, my senior year, my English teacher had us read Macbeth and Hamlet aloud. Even with high school students in Texas reading the plays, I finally got it: these words weren’t meant to be silently read at a desk, they were meant to be sounded out so that the rhythm and poetry of the words came through.
Since then I’ve had the opportunity to see plays performed live, from Hamlet at the Globe in London to Hamlet done by a 6-person cast in an old opera house on a small island off the coast of Maine, have visited the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC several times, done a Shakespeare London Walk and visited Stratford-upon-Avon and the Shakespeare Birthplace on my first visit to England in 1998.
Parallel with my interest in British History from an early age was my love of astronomy and science fiction, and there is a relationship to Shakespeare there too – from a Bard-quoting Klingon in Star Trek VI (subtitled The Undiscovered Country – from Hamlet) to the myriad of astronomical references in the plays. When we studied Julius Caesar in 10th grade we had to memorize some number of lines and I of course chose a section with an astronomy reference:
…But I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
The skies are painted with unnumber’d sparks,
They are all fire and every one doth shine,
But there’s but one in all doth hold his place…
(My favorite line from the play though, comes from Act I: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…”)
I guess the point of all this rambling is that Shakespeare has long been a part of my life, and in ways that I wouldn’t have necessarily expected. And that’s part of the true genius of Shakespeare.