Shakespeare for everyone

By Pamela Koszut

I have realized that here at the University of Chicago, it is quite popular and yet almost cliché to begin a conversation with someone by inquiring about their year, concentration, and interests. However, herein lies the entranceway to my endless annoyance. These benign and (some may also say) friendly first conversations cause me to be piqued for the rest of the day.

You may ask, what is so wrong with such innocent and wonderful social interaction? Am I an introvert or do I hate all other people? No, of course not. This annoyance stems from the fact that when I begin to explain my interest in English, I must also immediately reveal the juicy details of my slightly neurotic obsession with the brilliant bard, William Shakespeare.

Now before you may dismiss me for being obsessed with a dead man, I must tell you that I am not a Shakespearean necrophiliac. On the contrary, I am completely entranced by his living works, his sultry and poetic voice in his dramas, and his penetrating verse in his sonnets. Indeed, his entire personal life may well remain under a veil, yet I am still madly in love with his voice and legacy.

One may inquire why I get so angry when telling others about this man, the love of my life? Indeed this is a valid question. It is because I often get this response: “I hate Shakespeare. I can’t understand him and my professors always made me read something of his.” Ouch! I cannot even believe that I restated these words. This degradation of such a great literary force is enough to make me cry.

It is true that I would recommend a work of Shakespeare to every breathing organism, yet I firmly believe that I am justified in doing so. And I now must attempt to substantiate my own bias in selling the bard to others.

Shakespeare did not live in some foreign fantasy land, nor did he write severalmillennia ago. He lived and wrote in Renaissance England and we, as his loyal readers, can stroll through his home in Stratford and his theaters near London. This first fact, of the accessibility to his world, should make us more aware of his link to our times.

To be sure, his language differs slightly from ours and dissenters may be quick to point out this fact as a moment of confusion. This confusion, I argue, is nothing more than laziness. Indeed, all the linguistic craftiness can be mystifying, yet, it is easily “decoded” through a simple glance in the Oxford English Dictionary. Also, the more sophisticated Renaissance English reader who is puzzled with the meaning of a Shakespearean work, can turn to any editorial work on the given text by our own great scholar, David Bevington. Bevington will safely and accurately lead the crestfallen Shakespearean reader into the light, and towards the meaning that makes the works timeless.

There is a reason why Shakespeare’s works are taught to students at all levels in school. Indeed, Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Othello are all well-known names in the classroom, by both dissenters and lovers alike. One need not look far to see the fame that Shakespeare has gathered despite his detractors. Hollywood, for example, has never passed up an opportunity to recreate his works and to seize millions on their interpretations. Theaters around the world constantly stage his works. Actors often make their names performing Shakespearean roles.

Shakespeare’s malleable themes and diverse characters offer one the ability to truly discover one’s own preferences in his works. Be it a villain like Iago, a lover like Romeo, or a fallen king like Lear, everyone has the ability to find his own particular heartbeat and to relish the brilliance with which it beats.

I do not fathom how one could find faults in Shakespeare’s works. If he is to be criticized for something, it would be that he left such a veil on his own character and opinions. At least for me, a true devotee, I would argue that he needed to write more, at least to quell my desire to read more.