My first encounter with the Bard was in a children’s book called lamb tales from Shakespeare, and I thought that he was pretty lame and not a patch on Enid Blyton, my favorite writer those days.
Later of course we could not escape the bard however hard you tried because half the commonly used phrases were coined by him.
There was a joke about it that goes that what’s so great about Shakespeare it’s just a collection of popular quotes and clichés.
His genius lay in the fact that the phrases coined by him were so apt and used ad infinitum that they became clichés.
But even so there was a dread about reading him in the original, and the formidable looking leather bound volumes of his complete works that decorate every educated man’s library remained unread.
But in class eight we had to study Julius Ceaser in the original, and that finally got me in close up with the Bard.
The plot was exciting for a teenager, with war, intrigues and murder, but the language was a barrier and the English teacher had his limitations.
Much that remains is Mark Anthony’s speech which we had to memorize for elocution classes, and warning people about the ides of March when the exams began, and et tu brute to friends who let us down.
It was only later that we realized what a brilliant political speech Mark Anthony’s was ,and can suit the purpose in any rally even today.
Next year we had a brilliant teacher and a play that we hormonal teenagers lapped up hungrily, Romeo and Juliet.
Now language was no longer a barrier, and we loved the double entrende in the nurse’s speech more than the poetry of the major players.
This was a a passionate story about teenage love where lust rules and no drawing room romance with platonic platitudes, and the poetry resonated with it.
This started a life long love affair with the Bard, and his peculiarities in spelling notwithstanding, I devoured the complete plays during summer break. The sonnets defeated me, and till date I have not revisited them.
In eleventh standard we had merchants of Venice, and by now could form independent opinions.
Shylocks powerful speech against bigotry is valid even today, and our teacher was liberal enough to appreciate that we rooted for him rather than his wimpy victims, and Portia despite being the smart lady, we hoped would lose.
After this college university and the corporate world of earning my daily bhat mach left little time for the Bard, but you cannot escape him.
Whether East side story or Omkara, Kurusowa or Vishal Bharadwaj, Hollywood or Bollywood, the Bard inspires all, and stage and screen are permanently in his debt. And why not? For he didn’t write for the critics or academics or even for the royals but for the masses, the cattle class, the mango people of his time, what was then called the groundliings. They were his paying customers and almost every play was a Sholay, or a Gone with the wind, a blockbuster hit, and kept his kitchen fire burning. He knew what the public wanted, and gave them that, and gave them poetry as well. He plagiarized with abandon, but transformed ordinary tales into classical art which have defeated time, and continue to entertain, inspire and employ academics who study the nuances even today.
I wonder if five hundred years later a seminar would be analyzing the poetry behind “ kitne admi the “ but in the meanwhile, Shakespeare rocks
This was earlier published in the Times of India, journal of English department of university of dhanbad, webzine different truths.
Copyright ©️soumya mukherjee
Earlier published in Times of India, the literary journal of university of dhanbad and webzine different truths