And, no, I’m not going to write it in blank verse. I’m not that crazy.
I had a terrific English teacher my senior year in high school. I do so wish I could remember his name because he changed my life. In addition to letting us watch Harold and Maude in class (and leading a discussion of plot and characterization afterwards) and having us read Pygmalion in parts (I was Eliza!), he cultivated an appreciation in us for Shakespeare, including taking us to a live production of Othello (I’d never seen a live play before except for high school productions), that helped me decide I wanted to be an English major in college.
Which might have been a mistake. I had some of the world’s worst Shakespeare professors in my checkered college career (I finally graduated after thirteen years and five institutions of higher learning — purely because of life logistics, not because I was awful). By the time they were through with me, they’d ruined Shakespeare forever. Or so I thought.
Then, five years later, along came Kenneth Branagh and his glorious movie version of Much Ado About Nothing. I have to admit the only reason I checked it out of the public library was because it was cataloged as non-fiction (plays — Dewey #822.3) and could be checked out for a week, as opposed to feature films, which only went out overnight.
I plugged it into my VCR (this was in 1993), and promptly fell in love. No, not with Branagh, although I do consider him my oldest online fandom, since he and my first home computer arrived in my life almost simultaneously. But with the play. The movie reminded me just how much I loved Shakespeare, and how much I loved watching the plays as opposed to dissecting them like so many frogs.
I promptly bought my own copy of the movie (for a while there I watched it once a week whether I needed to or not), and went looking for more. I found Branagh’s Henry V and the BBC canon from the seventies (the highlight of those was a very young John Cleese as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew) and the Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet (and his Hamlet, although that was not a highlight, in my humble opinion). And, lucky me, the next few years produced almost a dozen more excellent Shakespeare films, including the Loncraine/McKellen Nazi-style Richard III, and the Trevor Nunn Edwardian-set film of Twelfth Night, among others. Not to mention Branagh’s own four-hour Ruritanian (or Barrayaran, for those whose fandoms overlap in the same odd ways mine do) version of Hamlet (worth every single minute).
So, thank you, too, Kenneth Branagh and the rest of the film industry, for renewing my faith in Shakespeare. And bringing back the joy of his language and his characters. Life has been much richer for it.
Not to mention the novel I’m writing as an homage, but more about that later.
I would love to hear about your experiences with Shakespeare, with really good or really bad teachers, or with movies or actors that have inspired you.