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  • Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bard - Part 1

    There is a sweet cartoon in which a cloud takes the stuff it is made of and shapes it into baby versions of the many wondrous creatures of our world – soft slyly-smiling sheep, cute cuddleball kittens, mohawked fledglings, puppy-eyed guppies, pigeon-legged calves, and so on.

    And with the greatest care, this cloud places those little new formed creatures into swaddling clothes, which are then carried in the beaks of sturdy storks down to the expecting world below.

    And what has any of this to do with Shakespeare, you ask? Well, I should very much like to tell you. But first, I must digress back and back in time...

    It was indeed a long time ago. I am a student in Mrs. Potter’s English class and we are reading Hamlet. Some, in the buzzing breeze of the text being read aloud, have begun doodling on their Pee Chees, writing on them in bubble letters the names of their secret crushes and dotting their i's with bubble hearts; others are shifting in the discomfort that is bound to arise when in boredom bottoms are made to stay still in wooden seats. My friend Rakesh next to me, a smart straight-A student, has after many noble efforts to catch his heavy head from falling, begins to snore.

    Stop! Mrs Potter exclaims.

    Doodling pencils are quickly stilled. The stricken student reading Polonius' sage advice aloud goes silent. Only Rakesh’s quiet slumbersounds are heard.

    Stepping away from the front of the room, tiny, but feared by all, Mrs. Potter approaches Rakesh’s desk. She shakes him gently awake. Rakesh, she says, I think you will find the library more suited to sleeping than my classroom. A blinking Rakesh agrees and, as if still in a dream, gathers up his things and goes to the library, where in its vaulted peace, he will sleep unperturbed - at least until the next period bell's screeching electric clang clangs.

    As for the rest of the class and their dispassionate engagement with the Prince of Denmark, Mrs. Potter decides on an entirely different methodology. She charges us with memorizing one of the soliloquies; we have a choice: To Be or Not to Be or O, What a Rogue and Peasant Slave am I.

    Mrs. Potter
    : A sign-up sheet has been passed about. Please write on the paper which of the two soliloquies you will present before the class on Monday next.

    Students: (Emit stifled groans and garbled sighs, as if unhinged bike pumps.)

    Now, a keen student would realize that To Be or Not to Be would be the better of the two choices; for one, if you even once watched Bugs Bunny, chances were you were already familiar with at least the first line. What is more, depending on when you were chosen to recite it in class, you had a good chance to hear at least one other person muddle through before it was your turn to muddle, thereby allowing you leg up.

    Naturally, being a little more than slightly pretentious and a little less than astute, I chose O, What a Rogue and Peasant Slave Am I.

    Gentle reader, I will not force you to bare the excruciating pain of hearing nearly thirty feather-haired highschoolers recite Shakespeare by recounting it here. For the curious masochists who find themselves disappointed by the absence of this telling, take comfort in the fact that the decidedly adolescent Kenneth Brannagh’s film version of the play can be easily rented, God help you!

    (I have heard that in every scene in which Kenneth B was to rrrrage and weeeeppp through his lines, the sets of those scenes had to be fitted with extra walls that he might have enough at which to throw himself. A wall, a wall! My kingdom for a wall! he anachronistically thundered at his confused crew. Of course, this may be a complete lie. Nonetheless...)

    But what I will tell you (in part two of this little essay) is that I made a startling discovery while committing to memory my chosen soliloquy which, when coupled with a drunken experience slightly later, opened the secret door to the wonders of one Willy the Shake’s works, making the Bard's language and poetry a matter of previously unimaginable pleasure. And for this, I am eternally grateful to the tiny and much feared Mrs. Potter. And to Rakesh’s quiet snore.
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