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Words, Words, Words

A catalog of my comments and thoughts on books, reading, and writing as well as anything I come across that seems interesting. I used to sell other people's words at an independent bookstore but now I hope to get by on selling my own.

How I Found Shakespeare

The Complete Pelican Shakespeare - Stephen Orgel, A.R. Braunmuller, William Shakespeare

In the face of personal upheaval I find it comforting to return to my favorite works from the past. Since it has already been read, it can be read casually, without the dedication and interest I put into a new read, but they still have something to say. In the last few weeks, struck with a brooding disposition, I have turned toward the master of brooding antiheroes, Hamlet, and, in the process, came to reflect on my relationship with Shakespeare over the years. Specifically, how this very play had first awakened my interest in the playwright.


I first read Hamlet in the traditional way...for high school. It was not my first encounter with Shakespeare, but his work had yet to strike a chord in me. My adolescent rebellion manifest itself in a particularly anti-literary tilt, I didn't read out of the classroom and I griped about the stuff I was assigned - much of which I have since rediscovered How to Kill a MockingbirdThe Old Man and The SeaA Tale of Two Cities, and so on. Shakespeare was the perfect target of my scorn, he was old, stuffy, and he wrote in a nearly foreign language. In reality, I doubt any author or work would have passed my approval, but these were low hanging targets, and I enjoyed sounding smart as I told my friends, and girls, of course, how archaic and out of touch were our assignments. 


I was struck by the line "words, words, words". There wasn't anything profound, and sure I wish it was some soliloquy or a more striking line, "We are arrant knaves all; believe none of us", "to thine own self be true", or "I am but mad north-northwest. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw", but no. I found it interesting. It was plain for one. No flourish or "fie on't"'s or mentions of "coagulate gore". That was enough to catch my interest and probably why it sticks in my mind after all this time.


What spoke to me was the sarcasm. Relating to characters was a huge deal in adolescence, especially for those that are not attracted to reading. It is not right, I wouldn't argue that, but, at sixteen, if I looked into a text and did not see myself, I had no interest. Enter Hamlet. Other Shakespearean tricksters were effeminate sprites or minor characters. Romeo and Juliet was for chicks and only really worked if there was love to be had. Hamlet, however, was an adolescent hero. He rebelled against the falling apart of his family and relationship with acerbic wit and contrived madness. I certainly, and I'm sure most people at some point, wish to have been so masterful. To delve one yard below the mines of our parents and teachers, of other students and troubled relationships; to seem a fool while pulling all the strings. That he had no real method or endgame did not matter, he turned the game on its head, and I loved it.


I have grown a lot as a reader, I hope, but I found myself in my recent state projecting onto stories and seeing fun-mirror reflections of my own ills. As such, I came back to Hamlet, a work I am sure has much more to teach me, but lessons much different than those I found in high school. I appreciate the language itself, the craftsmanship in the story, setting off all these moving parts and exploding them together in a tragic and bloody mess. Hamlet, my literary hero, at 16 was a reflection, at 25 he is a creation.