Awake and Dreaming: Remembering the Bard on his birthday
“To be or not to be.”
“All the world’s a stage.”
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
“If you prick me, do I not bleed?”
“Out out damn spot.”
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”
“Is this a dagger I see before me?”
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
“Now is the winter of our discontent.”
All these phrases we like to recite to each other are a permanent part of our speech. They have become metaphors, insults, ways to woo and impress.
The Elizabethan English way of speaking may have faded from our syntax, but the sentiments Shakespeare created are universally part of our relational fabric. Hamlet is the epitome of teenage angst, whilst Iago is the archetypal villain upon which so many other antagonists are based.
To understand Shakespeare is to reach a higher level of literary enlightenment. This man taught the modern world about love, betrayal, the elite and war. His plot and character constructions are models writers still use today.
I discovered Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet in the ninth grade like so many other American students, as it was required reading in public schools. It was cemented by Franco Zeffirelli’s film version where the star-crossed lovers were pictured in bed together, naked (gasp).
From there, I checked out recordings on vinyl records from the public library and listened to them for hours while lying on the couch in my basement.
Shakespeare was the master of insults, inspiring me to write Romeo & Juliet: Part II, a one-act comedy that purports that the couple did not die in the tomb, but lived and grew into a bickering middle-aged couple similar to Kate and Petruchio and is more Taming of the Shrew than tragic love story. I mean, Ro and Jules were only 16 and 13, respectively. We all know if teenagers are madly in love today, they likely will break up tomorrow. What would have happened if their parents had simply waited a week?
At first the friends and professors with whom I discussed the play dismissed it. How dare I change Shakespeare? But the play has been one of my most produced , especially in schools. Audiences love a good spoof.
Shakespeare drew inspiration from life and historical events, so why not draw inspiration from him?
In our technologically saturated world and theaters where stage effects are often used, Shakespeare reminds us that all you need to capture an audience is a strong personality, beautiful rhythms, dramatic tension, and a blank stage.
His work is the template and we need only build the dreams.
Sandra Hosking, M.F.A., is a Spokane-area journalist and teacher. She is editor of InSight for Playwrights, national publication and Co-playwright-in-residence at Spokane Civic Theatre.