Shakespeare, Anyone?

Disclaimer: this is less a discussion about poetry and more about language. Due to a specialized and, therefore, biased past, I fail to see the displeasure and struggle that surround the works of William Shakespeare amongst students. Throughout my academic career, most students I have spoken to dread reading his plays and/or analyzing his sonnets. They argue that the language doesn’t make sense to them, that the syntax is complicated, even that the stories are irrelevant. Perhaps it is because of extensive study and involvement in productions of Shakespeare that I find the language easily comprehensible and beautiful. For example, in Act I, scene ii of The Winter’s Tale, the character Hermione says:

“You put me off with limber vows; but I,
Though you would seek to unsphere the stars with oaths,
Should yet say, Sir, no going. Verily,
You shall not go; a lady’s verily’s
As potent as a lord’s. Will you go yet?
Force me to keep you a prisoner,
Not like a guest; so you shall pay your fees
When you depart, and save your thanks. How say you?
My prisoner or my guest? by your dread verily,
One of them you shall be.”

Not only is there the obvious “unsphere the stars” that is beautiful to both the eye and the ear, but there is a repetition of sounds that makes this line a fun experience for reader and actor. Following this, the “e” in “yet” and “verily,” then in “guest” and “fees” lets that sound linger on the tongue. This is not simply a mastery of the English language, but also one in comedy. I would argue that the actor portraying Hermione enjoys this wordplay using “verily.”
I suppose the question I am posing here is whether or not you find Shakespeare an arduous experience, and whether or not you enjoy his poetics (this including both his sonnets and plays)? What is it that puts students off from reading or watching Shakespeare?

One Reply to “Shakespeare, Anyone?”

  1. Rachel,
    I think I exist somewhere between you and the disgruntled Shakespearian student. I picked up Romeo and Juliet for fun in fifth grade, and while I definitely lacked some of the knowledge that makes Shakespeare so endearingly funny and gut-wrenching, I enjoyed the experience of challenging myself. As a college student, I don’t mind his works, and I spend time with his sonnets, but I’m not an enthusiast by any means. I really think that teaching Shakespeare in all of his turns-of-phrase, his bawdy humor and his (damn it) context really enriches his work, and not enough teachers do that.

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