As usual, I have absolutely no business showing my face around here. I was hoping to have been done with Pericles by now – heck, I should be done with Henry VIII by now. It’s just that I’ve been going through a rough patch, and I’ve been struggling to keep my spark alive. Shakespeare has been playing a role in saving me, in a sense. I was too gloomy to care about finishing Pericles, but I eventually picked it up a week or two into my sad spell and, for the first time since the beginning of this year, I felt serene.
“Every time you’re down, I always end up telling you to bring more Shakespeare into your life,” my best friend (who is decidedly not a Shakespearean) said over text. “It’s what you need.”
I have to say that I’m feeling very hesitant about writing this post. This is a blog about Shakespeare, and here I am trying to write something personal. And I’m always afraid that I’ll just sound insufferable if I talk about myself, and especially if I try to discuss my very first world problems. But, hey, at least I’m self-aware, right?
I went to a Shakespeare reading at the library a couple of weeks ago, and it was terrible. My subpar experience combined with the fact that I’m going through some kind of weird quarter life existential crisis left me sniffling pathetically in my car after I had left the library. Sadness, of course, turned into annoyance. I was annoyed that a silly experience could take away my enjoyment for Shakespeare. And, of course, annoyance turned into a stubborn determination to never let anybody or anything ruin Shakespeare for me ever again.
To say that I love Shakespeare is an understatement. I tried to describe just how much in my last post of 2016, a post I made before embarking on this adventure of mine. I remember the first time I read Shakespeare so vividly. “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York,” is not an exciting first line, especially since I hadn’t read Henry VI. But I kept reading because, well, I had to. I’m nothing if not a total teacher’s pet. “But I, that am not shap’d for sportive tricks, nor made to court an amorous looking-glass; I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty to strut before a wanton ambling nymph; I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion, cheated of feature by dissembling nature, deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time into this breathing world scarce half made up, and that so lamely and unfashionable that dogs bark at me as I halt by them.” Now that is a set of lines so intriguing that I saw the scene laid out in my mind, crystal clear. And by the time Richard declared his dedication to villainy, I was beyond hooked. Everybody knew. My father, who would drive me home every afternoon, would jokingly ask, “And how is Richard today?” At school, I was teased to no end. But, honestly, it didn’t matter. Shakespeare was something that was mine, and mine alone. Years later, when Richard III’s body was discovered under a parking lot, I woke up to multiple texts and Facebook notifications. When I say that I am everybody’s Shakespeare friend, I am not exaggerating.
After Richard, my dramatic teenage self was sure that I would never love a play with such intensity ever again. Henry IV, Part One was the Shakespeare play chosen by my school. You may be wondering what kind of nonsensical school I attended, given that I wasn’t being assigned Hamlet or Macbeth. It’s easily explained: I went to school in the United Arab Emirates, and what my school was doing was choosing the plays that they believed to be the most tame. Discussions about sexuality and homoerotic subtext had no place in our classrooms, and so the least offensive plays were chosen. So we hopped from Richard III to Henry IV, Part One. And that was how I found myself face to face (face to text?) with Hal – and you all know how I feel about Hal.
I remember a boy asking me who my favorite character was. I was very quick to answer that it was Hal – of course it was Hal. He rolled his eyes and said, “Typical girl. Your favorite would be the knight in shining armor.” I didn’t bother explaining that I loved Hal for his human messiness, that I adored the fact that he was a walking disaster, struggling to carry the weight of his duty and desperately searching for a way to reconcile his personality with his birthright. To this day, I find myself faced with professors who simply refuse to see Hal as anything other than a monster. Maybe I would feel the same if I hadn’t spent all of my lonely hours trying to figure Hal out. Lonely hours turned into years, to be honest. In 2012, I was walking across the Millennium Bridge in London, having just left a performance of Henry V at the Globe. My friend, who I have since lost touch with, walked alongside me.
“You really have Henry all figured out?” she asked, unconvinced.
“I do,” I replied immediately, confidently. “I know who he is. I think I’ve always known his story would turn out like this.”
I wasn’t quite sure about my own story, though. I was just a kid back then, clinging very desperately onto the feelings of elation that Shakespeare gave me.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. In 2010, when I was applying to universities, I remember longingly looking at English under the list of majors. “Well, if you love it so much, what was stopping you?” you ask, rolling your eyes at the melodramatic tone of this post. What was stopping me was my culture. To Arabs, success comes with an engineering degree or a medical degree. English? English was for failures. My only other bookish friend was stubborn enough to major in it anyway, and I still admire that to this day. I chose biomedical engineering, and I was good at it. I’m still good at it.
Sometimes (I know how this is going to sound) I wish I were only scientifically inclined. Yes, I know, boo-hoo. How terrible it must be to be so well-rounded. It’s a non-issue, I know, and a really stupid thing to think, but I just cannot explain how difficult it was for me to throw myself into engineering when Shakespeare was being taught right across the hall. And when I did sign up to take Shakespeare classes “for fun,” I found that I never heard the siren call of engineering from across the way. There was no siren call. The fact that I was so happy in English classes and so unhappy in my other classes meant I was constantly on the phone with my parents, crying. They were vehemently against a change in major, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. And it wasn’t just them: I simply cannot abandon something once I’ve started it. It’s akin to failure to me.
But things just kept getting worse, and the only solution was Shakespeare. I didn’t ask to participate in the Shakespeare summer abroad program in London. I always ask permission, but this time, I just told my parents I was doing it. I wrote an essay about what Shakespeare meant to me and landed a scholarship that covered my airfare. And I went, and I was so incredibly happy. I hopped out of bed every day, ready to read and talk and stand in the same city where Shakespeare once stood. And when I eventually flew back to California, as I was unpacking all of my treasures from my adventure, I burst into tears. I asked my mother, “Why did you let me go?”
Engineering has never called to me, but Shakespeare always has and always will. I lived out an alternate existence that summer in 2012, and going back to my normal life was devastating.
But back to the Shakespeare group that I went to earlier this month. I took my love for Shakespeare with me, ready to share it with everybody. But most of my contributions were swiftly dismissed and, well, everybody was old. So not only am I an engineer who loves Shakespeare, I am a young engineer who loves Shakespeare.
And I feel alone. There is nothing I want more than to share my passion with everyone I meet – with the entire world, really. But my mother once told me that it’s a boring hobby that nobody understands. She didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but her words caused me to button up about Shakespeare immediately and indefinitely. I feel like I can’t talk about it in my real life. And when I looked for people who might feel the same way as me, I was dismissed and made to feel like a silly little girl.
I suppose there’s no real end to this story. Luckily, because I am who I am, nothing anyone says or does will change how much I love Shakespeare. I often daydream about using my degree to make a bunch of money, and then using that money to pay to get my PhD in Shakespearean studies. In my daydreams, I am always accepted into these programs, though I do know that probably wouldn’t be the case in real life. But maybe I’ll try one day. In an ideal world, an incredibly influential Shakespearean scholar would read this and feel for me enough to become my mentor. In reality, I will probably have to navigate the mysterious world of Shakespeare by myself until I meet a kindred spirit, or until I am brave enough to leave the comfort and security of my current profession. I would love to teach Shakespeare. I know I’m not the only 25 year old Shakespeare nerd in the world – I just wish I knew how to make sure that nobody my age is lonely in their love for these often confusing but oh-so-fulfilling Elizabethan plays. I just wish I knew where to go, where to find comfort. Until then, I’ll be reading plays by the soft pink light of my salt lamp and dumping my thoughts into the void, hoping that someone will find them useful.
I feel like this post is entirely pointless, but I have to say that it was very therapeutic to write out. I shouldn’t call it pointless, though, because there’s a minuscule chance that someone in the world needs to read these words. There’s a microscopic chance that I’ll help people feel less alone, and that’s why I write.
Anyway! Enough of my melodramatic ramblings. My post on Pericles will come soon, and then I’ll only have two plays left. Then I’ll be presented with the daunting task of ranking all of the plays, and I’m agonizing over my list already. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – Pericles first, three thousand word essays on what the best plays are later.