You know how everyone talks about how Shakespeare is still relevant in this day and age? Well, it’s not that I didn’t believe this, but I never really saw evidence of this in my own life. I couldn’t imagine how Shakespeare would ever be relatable to someone like me, living in the twenty-first century U.S. That is, I thought this, until yesterday.
I’ve heard so many people tell me that you don’t know if you like Shakespeare until you see the plays live, and I agree. One of my friends has invited me to Shakespeare on the Green every year since I have known her, and it’s always been a blast. Even that one year she had to keep poking me awake during The Tempest because I was jet-lagged from a trip to London. I would wake up to some Shakespearean character rapping or singing; it was so odd but so fun! Shakespeare on the Green does their own adaptations of two plays every year, and somehow makes them so funny or relatable or sad or all of the above. And while I didn’t hate the Shakespeare I read in school, I certainly wasn’t as entertained by the text as these performances.
This year was different. This year, I wasn’t just entertained. I learned.
Before the first play, we all tried on the Shakespearean outfits in the little costume tent and took silly pictures with swords and hats with feathers and masks. Then we were all coerced into “sword fighting lessons” by my friend Kateri. Four of us, all in college, stood behind the little boys who were
learning the beginnings of swordplay—five defense positions and five offense positions. And honestly? It was so fun making funny faces and pretending that I could actually swordfight. My inner child burst out; I’d been hiding that part of me for a while. I missed the carefree version of me, and I’m glad I got to bring it out for a little while. No stress, no anxiety—just swords!
The first play we went to was King John with a punk-rock twist (Green Day music during the intermission was the best!), and it was both funny and heartbreaking. The scene when the young prince dies was absolutely horrible to watch. The young girl playing the prince was one of the most talented actors in the entire production, hands down. No matter if the prince spoke much or not, she was always in character and always believable. I wanted to protect the prince so much, even if some of the other characters were ridiculous as villains. I followed in Hubert’s footsteps, learning to love the prince the more I spent time with him.
The girl who acted as the prince showed me that it doesn’t matter what part of your life you’re at; you can be so good at the things you want to do if you put yourself out there and try as hard as you can. Prince Arthur was not the main character of the play, but he was the star for me.
The other character in King John that intrigued me was the Bastard. As you can tell by his name, he wasn’t the most morally upright character. He didn’t have childlike innocence behind him like Prince Arthur or good intentions to back up his poor choices; no, he was just a blind follower of the king. But he interested me because he had chosen to give up his title and land to become known only as “the Bastard,” the son of the deceased king out of wedlock. I wanted to know more about his motivations to choose this title rather than a more noble one. I wanted to know if it was because he wanted to be different or wanted or loved. If he wanted to know who his true family was.
Unfortunately, the actor that played the Bastard got injured during Act I, so
the director had to read off a script for Act II. This distracted me from the Bastard’s character and what I may have learned from him. We all worried that the next day’s play wouldn’t be as top notch because this actor was also playing Benedick in a 1950s version of Much Ado About Nothing—not exactly a small role.
The next night, we packed up our chairs, blankets, and food anyway, figuring we could still have fun dressing up in the funny Shakespearean outfits and sword fighting with each other. Our inner children refused to be disappointed.
Then one of the people in our group went up to ask the director about the injured actor. Apparently, he had injured his calf but would still be acting with a cane. Now, I had no idea that straining one’s calf was so horrible, but Kateri had had the same injury in the past and said she could barely walk on it. So the fact that the actor crouched and danced and moved around during the play, albeit less than he would have before the injury, was amazing (and confirmed my idea that passionate people are sometimes the most empowering people). All of the physical comedy was hilarious, and he added to it by poking people with his cane and using it to point at things. He not only performed through his injury, but also used it to make the play even better. (And, I have to admit, he looked just as suave with a cane as without it. That takes skill!)
Thanks to that actor, I realized that everything that I think holds me back should not. It only holds me back because I let it. And I need to stop holding on to that comfortable feeling of not having to try as hard because of those obstacles. Instead, I will take those obstacles and turn them into something that will make me, and whatever I do, better. If I can’t run as far because my asthma is getting worse, well, I’ll try new things and that will help me with my fear of the unknown. If I am anxious about new social situations, I will direct that nervous energy into something creative or meditate on what I am feeling in order to channel it into something positive.
As a character, Benedick is kind of a shitty womanizer—until he is fooled into falling in love with the woman he always banters with about never getting married. (As the Biebs would say: never say never.) I often write off romantic love because I’ve almost always been indifferent to it, but if I’m the Benedick
of my narrative, it means that I shouldn’t write it off completely. I shouldn’t write anything or anyone off completely, not just romance. I shouldn’t write myself off, either. Someone loved Benedick, and he loved her back against all odds. Now I know I can have success if I don’t shut out certain parts of life.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is: Shakespeare really can be relevant to my life. I love reading and I love the written word, but Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be performed. And I connected to the stories much more with real people attached to them. I can’t say that I love performance more than the written word, but I can say that any art can touch you if you let it. Especially if you’re in need of a life lesson. And I definitely was.