My affair with William began when I was in ninth grade and our syllabus had recently been revised so as to include his plays . Until before our batch, Shakespeare was a part of English in school only from eleventh grade. We were doomed. Or so I thought. I always believed we were too young for the “complexities” that William had to offer. Until Julius Caesar happened.
In a bid to familiarize us with Shakespearen language, our English teacher asked us to memorize Marullus’ speech in Act I Scene 1. We were compelled to do so to save ourselves from failing.
Wherefore rejoice? What conquest brings he home?
What tributaries follow him to Rome,
To grace in captive bonds his chariot-wheels?
The entire speech is 23 lines long and, yes, each one of us mugged our hearts out.
But I gave particular emphasis on You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things! while practicing in front of a mirror at home. Saying them out loud made me feel like a real actor. Such was its power.
I thoroughly enjoyed studying Julius Caesar. In fact, thoroughness in understanding that play is what guaranteed a better percentage in English in my tenth boards. I was so engrossed at everything that it had to offer–murder, plot, conspiracy (such an enchanting word!), characters and of course, the dialogues.
Beware the Ides of March, said the soothsayer. And there was an eerie ring to it, conveyed so well in such less words. Only William could have done that.
When I decided to pursue literature for graduation, my friends and family told me that William was now my God and I should be worshiping him. They weren’t incorrect, really. We read, analyzed and critiqued three of his plays, each from a different genre–tragedy, love story, comedy–in one year and he occupied almost 20% of the “English” section of our college library.
One reason for this blatant domination is, of course, his unparalleled success. He is said to have penned thirty-seven plays, 154 sonnets and several other long poems. Wikipedia tells us that “his plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.” If that isn’t a measure of his success as a playwright, what is?
But for me, William was enchanting not because he was part of mainstream, canonical literature and neither because he was a well-known, obvious face of Elizabethan drama. He was enchanting because of his sheer talent of weaving such interesting, intriguing and often thought-provoking stories tightly structured in the form of a play. Even his stage directions were so perfect and apt that one could not deny that he put some serious thought to it.
Some of his plays were so good that I never enjoyed reading them. They were meant to be seen in performance, not read for a 100-mark paper.
As You Like It, a comedy, is one such play that employs the theme of role-play and deals with very pertinent, contemporary issues of paternal lineage and country life.
My favourite, of course, will always be Othello. A tragedy par excellence. A plot par brilliance. And I believe William put his heart and soul into the characterization of the infamous Iago–the epitome of evil.
I am not what I am spells out pure evil, mischief, treachery and betrayal—all of which Iago represented. I regret not having been able to watch it in performance but I was lucky enough to catch the movie version of it– Othello (1995) in English and Omkara (2006) in Hindi (an adaption). But nothing can beat the pleasure of devouring every single line penned in the original text.
I can go on about so many of his other plays–each a gem of its own–but I’d probably need another decade to justify the brilliance of each of them.
More importantly, I’d need to read them all first. 😉
Disclaimer: A heavily edited version of this write-up was published in a daily in Madurai