I know I’ve been posting quite a few reviews lately, but I also want this blog to be a place where I can reflect on my life and my thoughts. So today, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about one of the people in this world who’ve completely altered the trajectory of my life: William Shakespeare.
When I first read Romeo and Juliet in my ninth grade English classroom, I was underwhelmed with the story. Star-crossed lovers, blah, blah, blah. But I was completely taken with the language, with the way that Shakespeare told that underwhelming story. The rhyme, the imagery, the creation of the characters just through the dialogue they said – all of it was astounding to me. I still wasn’t to the point where I wanted to pursue Shakespeare outside of the confines of the classroom, though. I think I was too overwhelmed to try reading it on my own – when his words were so brilliant, if I tried to read it by myself, I’d surely miss out on everything of importance. And where would the point be in that?
Macbeth and Hamlet were the next plays that I read – in AP lit, in eleventh grade, though I don’t remember which play came first. I do remember, however, that Hamlet spoke to me on a profoundly emotional level. His character – a young man in a complex relationship with the world around him but who was bound by his own melancholic state – is one that resonated with me then, and still does today. Thankfully, high school wasn’t the end of my Shakespearean studies. I read Othello in one of my honors humanities courses at Ball State, and it was a privilege to discuss that play with college students who – let’s be honest, were of a bit higher caliber than the kids at my high school. But I considered myself to be only a casual fan of Shakespeare up until the summer of 2012. Well, maybe slightly more than casual. But “casual” in terms of the fact that Shakespeare was a playwright I loved, but he hadn’t taken over my life. Yet.
Everything changed when the fire nation attacked.
That was a joke (it’s actually a Last Airbender reference, for the information of those who are less inclined towards pop culture).
In actuality, everything changed when I applied for the US-UK Fulbright Summer Institute to Shakespeare’s Globe in London. A full scholarship to the Globe for three weeks, for three lucky American students – and I decided to apply. I knew, of course, that it was just a pipe dream, and that I had no chance whatsoever. I almost gave up on my application, too, because it was so much work getting it into shape. But I finished it, and I submitted it, and I expected nothing to come of it.
To my surprise and delight, I was chosen for a phone interview (to which I wore my lucky green pants, which I still cherish to this day) – and the next day, I got the email telling me that I won. I won the scholarship. I would be spending three weeks at the Globe.
I won’t blather on too much about my time at Shakespeare’s Globe, because everyone who knows me knows that I will not shut up about it once I get going. But I do want to say that the three weeks I studied in London completely changed my life. Obviously, the cultural experiences and adventures I got to have changed who I was personally. But as a lover of Shakespeare, nothing could have stimulated my obsession further than being given the opportunity to study Shakespearean text analysis with Giles Block, movement with Glynn MacDonald, voice with Martin McKellan… and beyond those classes, we studied and practiced Shakespearean music and dance, learned how to properly stage fight with rapiers and daggers, discovered how sets and costumes were designed for Shakespearean productions. As an English major who has harbored a love of theatre for her entire life, our classes and workshops were a dream come true.
Beyond that, we got to perform. Directed by accomplished actor Philip Bird, we put on an abridged version of The Taming of the Shrew, in which I played Petruchio in one act and Bianca in another. And of course, we got to see professional shows performed, which was even better. The Globe put on Taming that summer, as well as Henry V and Hamlet. Hamlet was another dream come true, as it was my favorite Shakespearean play and the first one I had gotten to see on stage, ever. And Henry V was – and this is no exaggeration – a life-changing experience. I can’t put into words what that play meant to me. We saw it twice, and would have seen it again. I would have gone to see it every day if I had the chance.
My experiences at the Globe will forever be the most cherished memories I hold. I actually wrote a memoir about them, entitled London Above, London Below (the title an allusion to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, one of my favorite books and one which I had the great pleasure of re-reading while taking the Underground to class each day), for my senior English capstone course at Ball State last year. The Globe helped me to grow as a person, as an actor, as a scholar, and most importantly, as a lover of Shakespeare.
When I returned to Fort Wayne, it seemed as though I had been marooned in a desert with no culture whatsoever. But I was hopeful that I could find some oasis to depend on for my Shakespearean needs. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a non-profit group in Fort Wayne called “Shakespeare from the Heart,” which was holding auditions for their summer production of Romeo and Juliet. Each summer they put on a show outdoors for free – and any donations from the audience are given directly to the charity for the year. I wasn’t able to audition, as I was going to be in Oregon for the week of the show – but they gladly took me on as an assistant, and since then I’ve risen to the status of executive board member, acting as the fundraising coordinator for the company. This summer, we’re doing Midsummer, and I hope to get a part; even if it’s just two lines, I’ll still be happy (auditions are tomorrow – please hope I break both legs).
I also landed an honors fellowship position as a research assistant for the “What Middletown Read” project as a result of my Fulbright summer. In essence, I was paid to read and take notes on Muncie newspapers in the 1890s, as the two professors heading the project – Dr. Frank Felsenstein and Dr. James Connolly – were working on editing the draft of their book about Muncie’s reading habits during that time period. I’ll definitely spend a whole post later talking about the project, because it’s a fascinating one.
But where this ties into Shakespeare is that for my honors thesis – the one I was procrastinating on when I wrote my first post on this blog – I decided to use my research notes from my fellowship as a starting point to do an in-depth analysis of Shakespeare in Muncie in the 1890s, specifically. I compared my findings from the newspapers and library records with scholarly research about Shakespeare in America during that period to discover whether or not Shakespeare’s position in the cultural hierarchy was established in the typical American town by then or not.
My thesis advisor (and former boss – Dr. Felsenstein) thinks that with some cleaning up – and shortening, as it’s currently 95 pages long – my thesis would be a prime candidate for publishing in a periodical like Shakespeare Quarterly.
I took a Shakespeare colloquium from the honors college and studied As You Like It in my literature and gender class, with the added benefit of having seen the play performed in Covent Garden while I was in London. I took a trip to Illinois for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival last summer in order to see Comedy of Errors and Macbeth, and I’ve seen every local Shakespearean production performed in about a sixty mile radius of Fort Wayne. I’m well on my way to finishing reading Shakespeare’s complete works. This blog is titled according to one of my favorite Shakespearean quotations. I applied for a full Fulbright to get my Master’s in Shakespearean Studies at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-Upon-Avon – which, no surprise, I didn’t get. But like I’ve said before in previous posts, just because I’ve left the world of academia doesn’t mean the world of academia has left me.
Shakespeare has, it is safe to say, taken over my life. And I have absolutely no complaints. I can’t wait to see where my love (read: obsession) takes me next – but I’m sure it will be somewhere I never expected. I certainly never expected when I was sitting in my ninth grade English class, drawing a life-sized outline of Friar Lawrence, hating the fact that I had to work in a group, wondering how drawing a fat friar had anything to do with literary analysis, that my life would eventually lead me here, unemployed and rambling about Shakespeare’s impact on my life. Yet here we are! And I still have no complaints (although the “unemployed” thing could change, I’d be okay with that).