I may be a jock with a thick southern accent, but here’s something I haven’t told y’all about me: I know my Shakespeare.
Mom is a librarian, and one of the things she loves most is Shakespeare. (I’ve got sisters named Portia and Cordelia. That should give you an idea of how much Mom loves Shakespeare.) She started us on it way before they gave it to us in the 9th grade. The way they taught Shakespeare at Maryville High was the way they taught it at every other high school I’ve heard of: they make you grind it out one page at a time so that it becomes totally boringass. Not getting to even As You Like It until you’re 15 only makes it harder to get into.
Mom believed there was no such thing as too young for Shakespeare. She told us the stories of the main plays when we were really little kids and taught us some of the big speeches even before we really understood them. (The first one I learned was “The quality of mercy” from Merchant of Venice. I think I was 10 at the time, and Mom didn’t tell me it was spoken by a chick character. I might have thought different about learning it if I’d known. Even if the chick is disguised as a dude when she speaks the speech lol.) Mom has a great attitude about Shakespeare: it’s in English so just go ahead and read it…and if you come across a word you don’t recognize try and figure out what it means and don’t ruin the play by looking down at the notes all the time.
That’s not how they taught Shakespeare in high school. I’m convinced that’s the reason so many people hate it and say they can’t understand it.
In the Block house, you got your first Shakespeare play as one of your 12th birthday presents. I got Romeo and Juliet. Mom told me to read it and tell her what I thought. Sure, I didn’t know what some of the words meant, but I understood the play (I already knew the story) and I liked it. I liked it so much that I asked for another (Mom got me Midsummer Night’s Dream.) That got me into the habit of reading Shakespeare.
It’s because I knew Shakespeare that I was able to see me and Shoshanah Rabinowitz as Romeo and Juliet. A lot of those notes I put in her locker had quotes from Shakespeare on them. Shoshanah and I had another Shakespeare connection: we were both in a production of Midsummer the winter of our junior year. (Mom insisted that, if I was going to play a fall sport and a spring sport, I wasn’t allowed to play a winter sport, so I had time.) I never wanted to be an actor, and a lot of the guys doing theater were super super gay, but it was fun that once. (Yeah, it helped that I also got to hang out with my girlfriend at rehearsals.)
Mom insisted that I take both undergraduate Shakespeare courses when I was at MT. Some people roll their eyes when they find out that I majored in Leisure Studies (no, it’s not a bullshit major; I need to tell y’all more about it one of these days), but my minor was English. She may have had a son who was going to be a professional athlete, but Mom wasn’t going to let me get away with not getting an education.
Y’all have probably heard that life in the minors means a lot of boring bus trips. Yes: life in the minors is a lot of boringass bus trips to games and back again, and you’re always looking for ways to pass the time. Playing with your phone and sleeping were the two most popular things for a lot of the guys on the ‘Dads. Some guys played cards, but, given what we were paid, nobody ever had a whole lot of money to lose. And, since I don’t bet, a poker game was never something for me anyway.
So what did the Hickory Crawdads’ rookie shortstop do on the bus?
He read Shakespeare.
I had one of those giant books with the complete works of Shakespeare in it from college, and I carried it with me on every bus trip. I still have it; it looks as banged up as Keaton’s phone. Did I get shit for reading it? Of course. At least my “Heartthrob” nickname was already in place before anyone could start calling me “Shakespeare”. There’s also only so much shit you can give a dude for reading Shakespeare. You didn’t call a teammate gay (it’s not cool, we already had one teammate who we all knew was gay, and, given how often I was getting laid by chicks, calling me gay was pretty ridiculous), and “wouldst thou like to take ground balls?” stops being funny real fast. Especially when the dude giving you shit knows nothing about Elizabethan grammar and it comes out “would thou like to taketh ground balls?”.
It was Mom who said I should read Shakespeare on the bus, and it was a great idea. He makes great reading, and I like imagining the play in my head. I read my way through all the plays that year: I’m a fast reader, and Shakespeare goes quickly if you chill and don’t look up every other word in the notes. I even read “The Rape of Lucrece.” I tried “Venus and Adonis” and the Sonnets, but they kept putting me to sleep. (Especially the Sonnets. It’s one thing when there’s a poem in one of the plays; it’s another when it’s just a poem all by itself. Just not my thing.) Not all the plays are equally as exciting, but I got through them, even some of the duller history plays (I remember King John kept putting me to sleep too. Took me three tries to finally make it through that one.)
And, yeah, in case any of the guys reading this are wondering, quoting Shakespeare really does impress chicks. The chicks aren’t always sure what you’re quoting, but they like it because it sounds all fancy and romantic. Once I messed with a hot but really dumb chick by quoting Edmund’s “To both these sisters I have sworn my love” speech from the last act of King Lear to her. That speech is anything but romantic. It’s more like something Keaton would say…if he spoke in iambic pentameter lol. But I got laid just the same.
I never quoted King Lear to Joyce, but, yeah, she’s heard plenty of Shakespeare from me. She really likes it.
I told y’all way back at the beginning of the blog about how I started quoting Winter’s Tale to Candy back in the strip bar when Keaton had gotten me seriously drunk after Monica fucked me over (but didn’t fuck me) on Valentine’s Day. Know how I get into fights when I have too much hard liquor? Give me too much beer and I start quoting Shakespeare.
So which plays are my favorites? I seriously like Winter’s Tale, and Hamlet is pretty dang awesome too. (When I first read it as a kid I loved that it had all those dead bodies at the end lol.) I think Twelfth Night is hilarious, but my favorite may still be Romeo and Juliet. I know, I know…everybody knows it and it’s not an original answer, but I still like it best, and not only when I’m looking for a quotation to impress a chick. Maybe because it was the play I read first. Maybe because it’s the only one I ever thought I lived. Maybe because it really is one of Shakespeare’s best. (When you’ve read all the plays, you realize that, in most cases, the best ones are the most famous ones.)
So…next time y’all think I’m just an illiterate redneck with a face, remember that I know my Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s dang awesome.
And he sounds great when you quote him with a southern accent.