MY GOOD FRIEND, WILL

I first met Will when I was in Kindergarten or first grade. While up in the attic one day, my brother found an old, old book called Shakespeare for Children. He thought it was wonderful. I think he even read it. But his main use for it was to be annoying as only gregarious big brothers can be. He carried it with his school books, and while we were lined up for the opening school bell (This was the olden days, folks.), he would show it off and recite the following rhyme with apprpriate actions.

Shakespeare
Slap on the ear
Kick in the rear
Happy New Year!

Of course, tolerant friends and younger sisters were the best recipiants of this charming rhyme. This went on for a while until a kind teacher said "Enough!" It was not a good introduction.

The next time we met was during junior high and high school English classes. I remember my Mom moaning in sympathy for us having to read whichever play was required at the time. Although I found some of it confusing, classes were a help and I didn't understand her dismay until she explained that she had had to read and disect Shakespeare line by line and was not allowed to read ahead (books were collected at the end of class). Poor girl that she was probably never had any idea what the stories were. After all, they are the main thing. (Thank you, Mr. Ritz, for making English lit interesting!)

So, I read maybe six plays in the six years of junior and senior high school -- All's Well That Ends Well, Othello, Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. Sadly, although I remember enjoying reading them, the only specific thing I remember learning about them is that Romeo and Juliet is the basis for the musical West Side Story. But that's not to say I didn't learn anything. Some things sink in without specific reference and I did learn to enjoy reading Shakespeare.

In college our "relationship" became not-so-good again. In a freshman English Survey course I wrote a well documented term paper on a topic I thought was interesting. I received an average grade (ok). But I also got a very sarcastic remark from the teacher about not having come up with something original (not ok). I was a freshman! Check out the shelves of "Shakespeare" at the nearest academic library. They are probably huge. I believe the remark was suitable to a grad student in English Literature, not a freshman. I learned something new to me, even if I didn't provide new insight for the academic world.

My next two college classes in Shakespeare were so unremarkable that all I remember about them is that the professor was a nice woman and I passed. My last Shakespaere class in college was a lesson in boredom and confusion. I never knew what the man was talking about or what he expected, but for the first time in eight years, Shakespeare was dull. Toward the end of that semester I was skipping classes to read the assigned plays. I only got a C, but I figure I benefitted more by enjoying what I read than I would have by sitting in his classes, being bored and not knowing what he was trying to say, perhaps even developing an aversion to anything Shakespeare like my Mom did.

Since then things have been a lot more casual. I've read and enjoyed the sonnets. Now and then I've read various scenes from various plays. I've seen a few plays and have watched some movies of the plays. I bought a couple of the movies recently--Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. For anyone who wonders about the relevance of Shakespeare today, I would recomend Romeo and Juliet. (The current version is a kind of surrealistic view of modern day gangs.)

So how does all this make Will my "good friend"? Well, he's rich! Rich in words. Rich in imagery. In a mere twenty-six lines I found all the quotes and inspiration that I've used on this site to date. He writes good stories and this, along with the bonus of the imagery and inspiration, makes it worth struggling through the sometimes difficult Elizabethan English. But he wrote to be seen, not read. I think I'll go put Hamlet in the VCR.

1998 by F.S. Junaid



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