Sunday, May 16, 2010

It's nice and fat.

Despite being at least four inches thick, it's surprisingly lightweight.

Bearing a facsimile of the Chandos portrait, allegedly but uncertainly of the man himself, my Collins Complete Works of William Shakespeare won't cause too much strain to the shoulder muscles as I haul it around town for the next year or so.

Nor did it cause too much strain to the hip pocket nerve. As I recall, it was a sweet 16 bucks, and I talked my mum into buying it for me in a post-Christmas, A&R sale at Orana Mall before I moved out of home in Dubbo to Sydney for further study. It was a good purchase.

I know this will sound anachronistically 'high-brow', but is it possible to do "futher study", or more particularly a Journalism Diploma and an Arts Degree, without occasionally dipping into The Bard as a source of all that is golden and good in our language? I don't think so. Which is why I have reasonably frequently thumbed the delightfully parchment coloured pages of this tome to refresh my memory of one of the great speeches or sonnets, or to check if I have recalled a phrase correctly, or just to re-rehearse the passage in Twelfth Night wherein my middle name is hallooed to the reverberate hills (ever since learning that particular scene for Shakespeare Festival in Year Nine, it has given me great joy to quote it when people ask what the O stands for... Mostly people never know what I'm rabbiting on about...).

Of the many many silly things I've had to read in my 19 years of school (and counting), there have been many which have caused me to raise my eyebrows in perturbation, roll my eyes in exasperation and grit my teeth in condemnation. Never ever has Shakespeare made me do this.

I emphasise the 19 and counting not so much to talk up my educational qualifications for approaching this project, (who should need to be highly educated to read Shakespeare?! And I'm not sure that I am highly educated anyway...) but to draw attention to the endlessly satisfying fount of interest and delight that has remained without peer amongst all the literature I've chosen or been required to read.

Not because there are no other excellent authors who have surprised, challenged and inspired me, educated and filled me with joy. It's not really a comparison of depth. Shakespeare does have much that deeply satisfies, but Shakespeare, for me, has remained unparalleled mostly because he has much. He wins in the muchness stakes. There are just so many plays and poems and possibilities that ol' Bill's pretty hard to beat for pouring out buckets of the good stuff (as Bertie W might say).

Just $16 for buckets and buckets of the most startling, fascinating, hilarious, vile, disgusting, awe-ful, wise, vainglorious, meaningless, piercing, rhythmic literature to feast on feels... Well, I was going to say like robbery... But it doesn't. It feels liberating. It feels exciting! So many wonderful wonderful words, and sentences, and verses, and plays, available so cheaply for EVERYBODY to read!!!

But we don't.

We hardly do.

My housemate was surprised when I knew not just which play but which author she was quoting from - Shakespeare!

I think if pressed, most of my friends could recall the plot of Romeo and Juliet correctly, but ask them to take a stab at Lear, Hamlet, Henry V, Much Ado or even Julius Caesar and they'd be stumped. There's been no movie out for ages (or at least, not one with Leonardo DiCaprio in, and therefore, not one that they'd have seen), and even if they'd worried their way through one or more of those in highschool English classes, the plots and dialogue have long fallen down the back of their memory-couches, next to the basic rules of algebra and how to thread a bobbin.

And that makes me sad...

I'm happy to leave algebra there, gathering dust and cockroach eggs, and I can remember how to thread a bobbin sometimes, so I don't much mind about that.

But I'd like to pull Billy out from under the couch, dust him off and have a look. I'd like to plumb the depths of his dating advice, get his best strategies for taking revenge on sworn enemies and glean his wisdom on cross-cultural relationships. You know, all the stuff that is so relevant to modern life.

Please vote (via commenting) on whether I should start with tragedy or comedy. The first play in the book is The Tempest (Oh Prospero!), but I'm happy to start wherever.


  1. oh now this is exciting! i think midsummer night's dream, for some light fun :)

  2. I'm with Bron - start with something silly.