Reading Shakespeare's Mind

Shakespeare changed my perception of writing. It was the second week of ninth grade when our teacher passed out copies of Romeo and Juliet. You could count me among the number of our class that looked at the book as if it had risen from a swamp.

Shakespeare, as you know, has quite the reputation for being inconsiderately confusing and purposefully confounding. He had it out for me. Shakespeare didn’t like me. All of this before I even read the play. During class that first day, my teacher had us take turns reading from the book. It was slow-going (a lot of flipping to footnotes and commentary) and the process of translating proved to be a little tedious.

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I went home that night and read through the first two acts. I slowly fell into Shakespeare’s rhythm, flipping less and less to the back of the book and enjoying more and more the sounds of the words, the cadence of the syllables, and the story. After class the next day, I finished Romeo and Juliet. I sat and wept in my bed; with the book in my hands I returned again and again to the scene of the Capulets’ party and Mercutio’s soliloquy. That night, I couldn’t finish my homework, I couldn’t eat dinner, I couldn’t fall asleep. All because of a long-dead man and his popularly scorned (by high-schoolers, anyway) manuscripts.

And it was then, crying in my bed, that I began to think about the power of what that man had done. Shakespeare made my mom cry in her sophomore English class, my grandma cry during her college literature course, and would make my best friend cry the next year when she finished Romeo and Juliet for her English teacher. And how? Through his words. Take a moment and really think about it. It’s impossible to read the mind of a centuries-dead author (unless you have a deal with the Thai government), impossible to see the thoughts firing in his neurons, and impossible ever to speak to him, but as I read I was thinking what Shakespeare had himself thought.

I knew his thoughts on the day he sat and scribbled the prologue with his ink on parchment, preparing his audience in the Globe Theater for the “two hours’ traffick of our stage.” I had one part of his brain before me on my desk, and I was invited to take a look at it, comment on it, and enjoy what it had to offer me. The stories Shakespeare wrote 300 years ago are still understandable and moving. The only reason that we have this time capsule (one nearly perfectly preserved from the past) is because he took the time to write down what he was thinking. Another 300 years from now, when someone finds the remains of whatever building you’re reading this in under a yard-thick layer of Furbies and alarm clocks, they’ll find this reflection. What I was thinking (perhaps a little disjointedly), will now be there knowledge and, if not moving, it will be understandable.