A Writer's Views on the Arts, Literature, Culture, Life, and Humanity

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

My Year of Shakespeare: Introduction

Art by Trevor Downs, for my play The Drown'ed Book

All my life I have stubbornly studied what I love. I have excluded what others told me were practical pursuits and instead studied literature, plays, films—characters and stories. In that Quixotic pursuit, no author could move and create a stirring of thought in me like the master Bard himself, William Shakespeare.   

As a student, as an educator, and as a playwright, William Shakespeare’s life and work has held particular significance for me. I have been watching, reading, and studying his plays since I was young, and since then I have reveled in his vaulting use of language; his intimate understanding of human nature; his uncanny way of constructing a story; and his complex, psychologically vulnerable, and often hilarious characters. Shakespeare centers his plays on the human: on our relationships, on our thoughts, on our search for meaning in a seemingly meaningless world. Whether its Benedict and Beatrice’s playfully verbal volleys, Imogen’s horror at a beheaded corpse, Marina’s valiant stands against rapists, Richard II’s pitiful journey to self-destruction, Macbeth’s hardening heart, Hamlet’s desperate introspection, or Viola’s yearning for her lost brother, I have been caught up by Shakespeare’s humanist characters and their struggles—not unlike how Prospero and Miranda were caught up by that tempest and deposited on such an enchanted isle of bewitching characters.  

The past year or so, particularly, I have made a concentrated effort to immerse myself in his work and biography (serendipitously on the same year as the 400th anniversary of his death). I made sure to read or view his entire canon of plays and poems, as well as reading biography after biography, trying to make sense of the smattering of clues we have about his life, culture, and context. James Shapiro, Germaine Greer, Stephen Greenblatt, Jonathan Bates, Michael Wood, and so many other scholars and historians have been welcome teachers to help me puzzle out some sort of understanding as to who this mysterious genius was. To the initial chagrin of my students, I portioned out a whole couple of months of my English class this last Fall to focus on Shakespeare, his plays, his history, and his culture. What some of my students first complained about, they later delighted in, as they said my love of the material was infectious and they discovered for themselves why Shakespeare is still, after more than 400 years, a big deal.

All of this Bardophillic focus culminated in a play I wrote about Shakespeare’s last years in Stratford, The Drown’ed Book (written in iambic pentameter verse and pseudo-Jacobean verbiage), which received a staged reading at Utah Valley University on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, to a wonderfully positive response. It was truly a wonderful climax to my own personal year of Shakespeare.

And yet I’m not done. I’m still hungry to learn more, write more, research more, experience more, understand more of Shakespeare’s life and works. My "search for Shakespeare" will last my entire life. I am still unpacking all that I learned this year, so I'm planning on writing a series of posts here about what I've learned, what I've pondered, what I've theorized, and how I've realized how much I still don't know, all during my Year of Shakespeare. So lend me your ears, I'll be writing about the Bard for a good while to come. 


  1. Entire canon? King John? Actually, pretty timely given recent politics.

    1. Yep, all the sonnets, all the plays that are definitely Shakespeare (minus some of the collaborations... still have to finish Two Noble Kinsmen).