John Grindrod: Shakespeare, me and incompatibility

For many, including my Lady Jane, a past two-term president of the St. Marys Shakespeare Club, Tuesday of this week certainly was a special day, as it was William Shakespeare’s 460th birthday. All who have immersed themselves in his plays and sonnets and marveled at his considerable abilities with a quill in his hand may have spent some time thinking about the Elizabethan icon.

However, despite my language training and career as an English teacher and someone who taught Julius Caesar to my sophomores once upon a time, he and I were never very chummy. I realized early in my teaching years at St. Marys Memorial I had to teach a couple sections of sophomores that would include a Shakespeare play.

It was then I recalled my dicey times at Miami University with my three quarters of a class in Shakespearean lit and the difficulties that ensued when I tried to decipher that Elizabethan dialect. Each of the three quarters produced, euphemistically speaking, underwhelming grades. As a matter of fact, and, as an English Education major, I’m ashamed to admit this, I received a “D” in one of those three quarters.

Realizing that early preparation was the only thing that might save me, the summer before I’d have to teach the play at Memorial, I did a lot of reading of both the play and several critical analyses. By doing so, I did what I felt was an above-average job.

While this week’s birthday boy was writing for a different generation in a dialect largely understandable who piled into London’s Globe Theatre in the early 1600s, for me, centuries later, he was the master of obfuscation, unlike my American authors who I understood very well. In my world, Inferiors were not called “sirrahs,” procurers of women were not “bawds” confessions were not “shrifts” nor were cheaters called “cozens.” And, in my world, were I ever to come across someone who died, I wouldn’t say, as Titinius does in Act 5, Scene 3 of Julius Caesar when he comes upon the fallen Cassius, “He lies not like the living….”

In contrast to my troubles, let me use a pun, a device Shakespeare loved and liberally sprinkled throughout his 37 known plays, and say Lady Jane and Shakespeare remain to this day closer than two “bards” in a wood house.

Several years ago, while on vacation, Jane and I were in Stratford, England, Shakespeare’s birthplace. While there, we watched players doing a scene from Romeo and Juliet, which Jane taught for many years to her freshmen. Following the performance, I took Jane’s photo with the young actors and actress who did the scene.

Despite my difficulties with Shakespeare, there’s certainly no denying his greatness. I’ve always been a sucker for a good quote and used to encourage my young writers to include in their research Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations when writing their essays to find a suitable one that would strengthen their prose. And, over the 19 editions that have been published since the first came out in 1855, the editions have included literally hundreds of Shakespeare quotations.

Despite the fact that the plays were written over 400 years ago, many when hearing stories of disrespectful and unappreciative offspring might remember the line from King Lear, when Lear says about his daughter Goneril, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” For those who see so much in the world that’s superficially attractive but that lacks substance, many will recall that line from The Merchant of Venice, “All that glitters is not gold.”

Of course, many when hearing of a friend’s betrayal will think of Caesar’s dying words to Brutus, “Et tu, Brute?” And, how many, as I do, when hearing of stories of those in powerful positions often forced to make such difficult decisions will recall Shakespeare’s words from Henry IV, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”

And so, despite my troubles during my collegiate days in that Shakespeare class so very long ago, let me give an idiomatic and posthumous tip of the hat to the man whose greatness may be best symbolized by the number of nicknames he’s gathered over time.

To Will of the Quill, the Bard of Avon, Stratford’s Scribe, The Epicurean of English and the Elizabethan Eminence just to name a few, let me say, “No hard feeling,” and I hope you enjoyed your day somewhere out there in the cosmos.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].