Studying Shakespeare

As an English-Major-to-be, I should have anticipated this. Why it hadn’t crossed my mind that it might come to this, I haven’t the slightest inkling. However, the first wave has been completed, and I am sure it is truly just a ripple in comparison to the flurry the years shall bring.

I am of course referring to the tedious study of Shakespeare.

In my Introduction to British Literature class, we are just wrapping up reading and interpreting several of William Shakespeare’s sonnets as well as the supposed greatest play ever written, Hamlet.

This of course is not an introduction for me. In high school we read Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream – both of which I greatly enjoyed, the latter far more than the former. I knew that Hamlet was one of our required readings for this class, and thought that I might take it at the same stride that I did in high school.

Wrong.

Why I was so wrong, I haven’t a clue. How have I lost so much of my ability to interpret this man’s insane linguistic patterns? How is it that I allow the floral pattern of the words get in the way of my understanding of the core? No matter, I wormedly found my way around these linguistic obstacles – by finding an app for my iPad which read the play to me, and when that wasn’t enough, I watched the movie (which, by the way, I generally don’t condone, but considering that this is a play, designed to be seen and not read as a book, this is an obvious exception).

I spent a lot of time watching, listening and reading. I began to understand the language a bit better, and even enjoy it. However, there were some scenes which seemed pointless, there were times when I didn’t even understand the point of a character being there, or their actions.

Looking at it from a writer’s standpoint, I contemplated what a character or scene or line contributed to the plot as a whole. Ophelia’s character was a completely waste to me. I didn’t understand what she contributed to the story at all until she went mad, and in her own insane songs began essentially calling out the entire cast on their ill-deeds. However, the real contribution she held was in her death, which brought the secret dealings to a head and inspired the duel at the end.

This caused me to wonder: how much of the play was premeditated before it was written? Did Shakespeare sit down with his quill and simply know that he would write a play of the Prince of Denmark and what elements it needed and how to fit characters to them? Did he create tables and have scribbles of notes to himself through which he worked out details?

Again, going back to Ophelia, I felt her to be an empty and pithy character, not even worth having in the play other than to add to the tragedy of it all, however, upon dissecting her, I realize just how deep she really is. She is everything a woman of the time ought to be – gentile, obedient, pretty, quiet,  and so on. However, when all the male figures in her life are gone – her brother in France, Hamlet “insane” and having killed her father only to be sent away to England, she herself falls to mental illness. Then she sings. She sings everything that has been pent up inside of her. She uses the voice of the flowers in order to express herself. With all these things to consider, she truly is a deep and developed character.

Which brings me to my point: I truly hated reading this play and his sonnets. However, understanding the characters of Shakespeare, the time he was living in and the echos of his life, mentality, family, health, and the politics of the world during that time, shows how in depth of a writer he was. In order to grow as a writer, I believe that studying his work would be highly beneficial, especially as someone who wants to write fiction as well.

His works have gone down in history as literary genius for four hundred years, dude must be doing something right.

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