For the Love of the Bard
I have had a love affair with Shakespeare as long as I can remember, but every time I hear someone say they hate Shakespeare or they don’t understand Shakespeare or why do we need to study Shakespeare, I wonder how I ended up so different. Even some English teachers I know avoid Shakespeare (to my mind a travesty but there ya go). I can’t think of anything better than a week in Stratford and I’ve lost count of the number of Shakespeare plays I’ve seen live. I roamed the streets of Stratford England in awe and saw Judi Dench in The Merry Wives of Windsor. I revel in his words and delight in his intricate plots.
Now I don’t come from a family of Shakespeare lovers. My parents didn’t read sonnets to me in the womb and there were certainly no performances to attend in tmy small Northern Ontario city. So where did my passion come from? Well I trace It all back to a single book; Cue For Treason by Geoffrey Trease. The story is set in Elizabethan England and is the tale of 15-year-old Peter who escapes prosecution for a minor offence and heads to London where he eventually ends up as Shakespeare’s apprentice. There is murder and intrigue and a plot to assassinate the queen and I was riveted from start to finish.
It was the set novel in my grade 9 English class and we spent a long time with it, tracing the historical elements, labeling maps and learning about Shakespeare’s plays.
I don’t remember how many times I read it but I went over and over my favourite scenes and answered every study question in the back. It was a fascinating study of the times and the political and social climate, not to mention how theatres operated.
I then sought everything I could find about Shakespeare, theatre, Elizabethan England and the Tudors. Strangely enough I didn’t study Shakespeare in high school until my final year and I wonder if that might not have cemented my love of the Bard. Honestly I don’t think I could have been turned off, but I can’t help wondering if a bad first experience with Shakespeare is where all the haters come from. Students who are presented with the Bard too early, before they can appreciate the genius of the language and the bawdiness of the comedy. Or a teacher who is indifferent to Shakespeare but forced to teach it, resulting in everyone being unhappy.
I was lucky. I had two very passionate English teachers in high school that I credit with nurturing my newfound love, leading me to eventually study and teach dramatic literature.
There is no doubt that the impact of a single book can be very powerful in its influence on a child. Saying that Cue for Treason is the reason I am where I am today is pretty simplistic, but it certainly started me down the path. I feel an overwhelming desire to read it again but I’m a little afraid that as an adult reader I won’t feel the same magic.
Will let you know how it goes…