Happy Birthday to Shakespeare!

Today is generally accepted as the day William Shakespeare was born in 1564. Also, it’s recorded as the day he died in 1616. One has to love the concision of the idea that he was born and died on the same day—well, if you’re a geek like me that is.

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Shakespeare, Oppression, and Today

During class last week, I showed students how to break down practice AP Language and Composition argumentative essay prompts. The one I used to model for them was an excerpt from a speech in King Lear.

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I Miss Shakespeare

This year, I am teaching AP Language and Composition, and “standard level” World Literature. AP Lang is all nonfiction, and since it is my first year teaching said subject, I tried to adhere to the nonfiction focus as much as possible (some teachers include a nonfiction novel). My World Literature class focuses more on the skills needed to do well in senior English and in the “real world” beyond school. There is no Shakespeare for me this year, and it’s a sad, sad affair.

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I don’t think so.

Image courtesy of stockphotosforfree.com

Image courtesy of stockphotosforfree.com

On the way home yesterday, I heard an NPR story about how a computer program at MIT has apparently learned how to “help” an MIT media lab student “compose” a sonnet using a database of Shakespeare’s works.

Including only words used by Shakespeare, the program suggests words that The Bard might have used in “that situation,” or, when writing a sonnet.

The transcript clarifies: “It was [Mathias’] sonnet confined to authentic Shakespearean language. It’s the same predictive software we see when our devices try to finish our sentences and suggest the next word.” Great, so a new application of technology.
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Open Shakespeare Posting

Well, without further ado, here it is!

You can access my post on Open Shakespeare by using this link.

From an early age, I’ve always loved books. In my pre-adolescent years, I loved devouring series novels and waiting for the next one to come out so I could get the next piece of the story. Now, as an adult, I love the sight of them on my shelf, I love the smell of the old book glue in the antique books I collect; I love reading them and not only learning things about myself, but so many things about the world around me.

Lately, though, as anyone would notice, the world around me is changing; no longer are books things one must lug about, or wet one’s fingers to turn the pages. Books are available everywhere in our new virtual world, via the world wide web or various e-readers. With the increased availability of books, that means there is an increased availability of knowledge; never before has a society been able to be so autodidactic. Not only can one read all forms of literature online, but summaries, analyses, and criticism of that literature. The increased access to knowledge has created a proverbial vortex in which our lives can mix up with the literature we love to read.

One of my literary loves is Jane Austen. I love her wit, irony, intrusion into her characters’ thoughts, and just the absolute faithfulness with which she presented the society in which she lived. Now, I don’t have just her novels lining my shelves; I have a hyper-concordance wherein – should I be absent from my shelf or just simply not want to flip through the book – I can search for one name or word in any one of her novels. Not only that, but there is also the Republic of Pemberley, a site that provides rather exhaustive information about Jane, her life and times, and her works. All at the stroke of a key. What ever did we do before the advent of this sweeping cornucopia of potential knowledge?

And then there’s Shakespeare. Oh, Will. I’ve loved him ever since I discovered in high school that I could just understand his writing without help. Unlike so many of my classmates, I got it. That doesn’t mean, though, that I’ve ever settled for my own perspective on his works. After my high school introduction, I took one class at university that lumped him in with Milton and Chaucer, another specifically focused on his tragedies. Then, after earning my degree, I went on to take a continuing education course at a different university that focused on other plays. Point being, varied perspectives enhance our understanding of all literary works. Again, we cue the world wide web with all its latent intellectual bounty. Housed within sites like Open Shakespeare, that not only present his works in their entirety, but that offer critical introductions, a Will-ophile like myself can find virtually anything necessary to learn more about Shakespeare – or to use when presenting his works to my ever virtually-evolving students.

So, what’s the point? Well, first, there is no reason to not take advantage of the virtual yet bounteous wealth of information at our very real fingertips. Second, if one is, as Lin Yutang said, to be wise and “read both books and life itself,” then we – bibliophiles and literary types, as a microcosm of a greater society – must be prepared for a paradigm shift. No longer are all of us wetting fingers nor staining fingers with ink in order to push through to that paper or submission deadline; we are callousing fingertips and crouching over a screen that leads us all to a whole “brave new world, / That has such people in’t!”

Happy (Late) Birthday, Shakespeare.

In honor of Shakespeare’s birthday last week, and in conjunction with the effort of Happy Birthday Shakespeare, I’ve composed a bit of an explanation for why I love Shakespeare so much. He was, after all, my first true literary love, and the ultimate reason I decided I needed to be an English teacher. His words made sense to me so quickly, while others struggled to find meaning, and for the first time in high school, I was truly good at something.

Why do I love Shakespeare? Many reasons: because every time I read his words – either a sonnet, play, or longer poem – my heart swells; because no one has ever depicted human beings better, in all their beauty or in all their squalor; because he speaks for me when I have no words to properly say what I’m thinking; because he speaks to me, my students, my husband, my daughter, to so many others still, after almost 400 years.

In fact, when first beginning to think of the man I was dating as my future husband, I couldn’t quite find the words to say what I needed to, so I let Will do it for me, since I always found him so capable of expressing my thoughts:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Then also, when I need a pick-me-up, Will is there:

Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.

Measure for Measure

When I’ve had a bad day, he’s got it all figured out:

Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;

As You Like It

And when I’ve had too much wine, he’s there too:

O thou invisible
spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by,
let us call thee devil!

Othello

I don’t know where I’d be without Shakespeare – lost within the travels of my own mind, likely never having found my true calling or voice. I’m thankful to have found my voice, and to have had Will Shakespeare along for it all.