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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.