I’ve oft attempted to take the Bard on board, but to no avail – my interest was always rendered thoroughly unpiqued. At school, where teachers swooned at the mere mention of old frilly-shirt, we read his plays aloud, stumbling over every few words, failing to grasp any hint of plot. Comedies left me untroubled by laughter, and the only emotional response I had to a tragedy was sheer relief when it was over: a gang of olden-days nutters play improbable pranks then murder each other. Boo chuffin’ hoo.
On leaving school, I did three years of musical theatre at drama school and, though our vocational training focused more on taps, teeth and tits, rather than “To be, or not to be”, I didn’t go without a couple of forced Shakespearian scuffles. During my acting career, I was once offered the role of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream by a respected theatre company. I could only assume that the casting director was on pills. How could a thumping great whopper like me pull off a mischievous elf? Though the rent needed paying, I turned the job down.
Beard-face surfaced again when I started teaching. I made a friend in my first further education job who had just started teaching, too. We had loads in common, including our love of words. However, she was a big fan of you know who. This was a dilemma, as I trusted her judgement on every other topic. “She’s reading too much into it,’ I thought, and I let it lie.
Suddenly sold on Shakespeare
I’m now in the final year of my English degree and, unsurprisingly, he was the first thing on the reading list. Argh – I wouldn’t even do Shakespeare when I was offered money, but now I’m paying for the dubious privilege of studying it.
Initially, I eased myself in with the Hollywood version of my set text: Laurence Fishburne as Othello. It was not awful. I scoured the York Notes, which filled in the gaps, then listened to an audiobook with commentary sections. By that point, though, I was gagging to read the actual play. I did and I loved it. I really loved it.
So what’s different this time? Why, after 45 years, am I suddenly so sold on Shakespeare that I’ve spent next month’s mortgage on tickets for RSC productions of his works?
I’ve thought about this a lot and I’m still not certain. Maybe it’s recognising that Shakespeare wasn’t meant to be read but performed. If the words on the paper don’t make sense at first, finding another way in isn’t cheating. Maybe it’s because Othello is the right gateway play for me rather than the flouncier stuff. Maybe it’s because I no longer feel the pressure to like Shakespeare in order to give me academic confidence. Maybe there’s a bit of something in learning styles, though I know the orthodoxy of chaining learners to a singular style has been enthusiastically denounced.
Or maybe I’m just ready. As we age and evolve, so do our tastes. I’m not the same person as I was yesterday or that I will be tomorrow (and tomorrow, and tomorrow). Who knows what’ll happen then. Maybe I’ll like opera or tennis or kippers? Anything could happen.
Sarah Simons works in colleges in the East Midlands. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons