When I first read Shakespeare, I was fourteen. My freshman year in high school we read Romeo and Juliet and Julius Ceasar. Over the next four years I read Twelfth Night, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Othello, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest, Much Ado About Nothing and the Sonnets.
Okay, so here's the punchline: I attended a public high school in North Florida. Go figure. We read a lot of great stuff; all that great stuff we read kept me from becoming a high school dropout. My life was saved by Shakespeare and Plato and Dante and Joyce and Woolf and ... well, you get the idea.
I think as a beginner I found Shakespearean language daunting. I had not been raised on the King James Bible which certainly gives one a head start. But once I let myself drift a little, let the words unfold and the rhythm of the language seep into my soul, I was hooked. I still go back to these plays and reread scenes that made my stomach burn.
And when I'm writing, there's nobody like Shakespeare to lend a little poetic inspiration. Often when I'm plotting out a story, I use a Shakespear search engine, looking up key words and using the resulting links as a springboard into the land of the bard. It's a very postmodern way to explore Shakespeare, I admit, and I'm sure there are purists cringing and closing out my blog window as they read this, but for me it's magical.
A month ago I read an entire act of Henry V spontaneously when I was looking for a quote about battle. Last night I read a long angry passage from Julius Ceasar. As a result, I'm working on a story tentatively titled "With a Monarch's Voice Cry 'Havoc'"... You can't beat the Bard for poetic titles.
And the sonnets are as fresh and passionate as the drama. Last year I wrote a novella called The Marriage of True Minds (Dreamspinner Press). It's a romance about two GIs during WWII who meet, but never really fall out of love. The novella was my tribute to the concept of a love that "looks on tempests and is never shaken."
April 23 is (maybe) the Bard's birthday. We know when he was christened on April 26, 1564, we know when he died on April 23, 1616. A lot of people seem to think he was born on April 23 (St George's Day). As a writer and historian, I recognize the symbolic importance of dates. And so today, I choose to remember William Shakespeare and think about his influence on my writing, my heart, and my soul.
"Yeah, but the photo?" you ask. "Joseph Fiennes? C'mon."
"Poetic license," I reply. "Joseph's a hottie and we all know the Bard loved a hottie. Happy Birthday, Mr. Shakespeare."