by Bridie Wilkinson
The first time you encounter him is in a Year 8 English class. You are presented with an A4 sheet of paper, photocopied 30 times. You don’t really understand what you are looking at. The letters are familiar, but the sentences are jumbled, out of place, with extra vowels scattered amongst them. Read this, you’re told. It’s important.
As you read, you stifle a laugh. Fumbling over words, emphasising pauses and culminating in you getting told off for physically biting your thumb at your friend. That’s not the point, you’re told. So what is? You want to ask back.
The next week, a video plays on the TV that hovers dangerously close to the white board. It’s loud, vibrant, all Hawaiian shirts and palm trees and Leonardo DiCaprio’s blue eyes. The strange script doesn’t feel so strange here, anymore, not when it’s played out in front of you. And that’s the point, really.
“He speaks about the common threads of humanity, the things and thoughts that pull us all together”
But as you keep going, keep turning up to classes with more A4 sheets and more set texts, it starts to get lost again. His worlds are deconstructed and pulled apart into categories: gender, politics, language – separate from each other and assessed in 500 word paragraphs and 1,500 word essays. His stories are parts to you. They’re not whole.
This is where he may have lost you. Where you may have thrown your hands up in despair at phrases like ‘liminality’ and ‘festive’ and pushed him back on the shelf. I hope you didn’t, though. I hope you gave him another try, found a few more of the endless updates and reworks, went to go stand in the £5 grounds at the Globe, watching as actors of all generations pulled up his words from the soil and gave life to them again.
Because it’s the words that stay with us, and the stories. It’s the women dressed as men and the isolated hero and the sparring families and the tragic and the comic. It’s lines like ‘If love be rough with you, be rough with love’ or ‘It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but ourselves’ or ‘What is past is prologue’, simple sentences that linger in your mind and don’t ever really leave.
And nor does he. Because he speaks about the common threads of humanity, the things and thoughts that pull us all together, from the seats to the stalls to the sofa, retelling stories that were already told a hundred times before, and will continue to be retold. Not bad for a 400-year-old playwright.
Co-founder of Dear Damsels. For reference, her favourite Shakespeare play is Richard II and her favourite quote from it is ‘Your cares set up do not pluck my cares down.’