In my first year of college I prided myself in acting like I knew everything there was to know about William Shakespeare, because as an English major I thought that acting pretentious and quoting Hamlet from time to time was a requirement. And it wasn’t until I sat down and read The Tempest, did I actually begin to appreciate all that Shakespeare did for literature as a whole. I enjoyed how I was challenged to actually pay attention to what I was reading, the language making me think and question why I was even reading a play that made my head hurt at times-but that is Shakespeare. He uses narrative to his advantage and runs with it at times, making it his own whether he’s writing a play or a sonnet. Narrative, defined by The Bedford Glossary states, “A story or a telling of a story, or an account of a situation or event,” which Shakespeare did a great job at. This blog post is essentially going to be a long thank you letter to Sir William Shakespeare.
After reading The Tempest I threw myself into his other works, such as Macbeth, Caesar, and Romeo and Juliet, getting myself familiar with the language as I read more and more, devouring his writing as I now enter my junior year. It’s important to mention the level of skill Shakespeare had when he was writing these masterful works, often talking about love and how intense it could be. Love was a big thing for Billy (William), I mean the guy wrote 150 sonnets which were mostly depicting that emotion, as well as tragedy. Shakespeare was complex but he also knew what he was good at and he stuck to what he knew, and that’s respectable.
In Romeo and Juliet, we see an example of this when Mercuito and Romeo are talking, Romeo asking, “Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, / Too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn.” Mercuito responds with, “If love be rough with you, be rough with love! Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down. Give me a case to put my visage in: A visor for a visor.” I appreciate Shakespeare’s use of phrasing in this brief part of the passage, one that’s beautifully written. Two men discussing love and what it means, going back and forth until Mercuito tells Romeo straight up that love is one of the best things there is, and to go for it whether you get hurt or not. Further on in the play when Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time, Shakes does what he does best and paints the scene for us readers. By writing dialogue so wonderfully that one can picture what’s happening as they dance before Romeo kisses her and says, “Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purged.” Juliet: “Then have my lips the sin that they have took.” Romeo: “Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged! Give me my sin again.” I mean, come on. That’s some poetic shit right there.
Let’s move onto tragedy and something darker as I shift the focus to Caesar. Shakespeare once again takes us on a ride as we read the betrayal that Caesar faced from his men and it’s interesting to see how movies and books in this century have taken this trope and made it modern, an example being Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kanobi from Star Wars. I digress and would like to discuss the short monologue that Caesar delivers before the whole attack happens. Caesar: “I could be well moved, if I were as you: If I could pray to move, prayers would move me: But I am constant as the northern star, Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality there is no fellow in the firmament.” I love this, the power of dialogue, because whether Caesar knew he was about to get killed or not-he was stating the power that he wields. The line about him being constant as a northern star is ridiculous and so very true to his character, that when he asks the question, “Doth not Brutus bootless kneel?” a few sentences later in the play, its about time that someone takes him out. I have to admit, no matter how many times I read it, when Caesar says, “Et tu Brute?” just before Brutus kills him, it takes my breath away. I know, that’s dramatic but those three words have become an iconic sentence in literary history, you can’t help but feel some type of way as you read the betrayal.
When my dad passed away this past January, I distracted myself by reading Macbeth-which in hindsight probably wasn’t the best story to dive into after losing my father. However, I turned to William Shakespeare to be transported somewhere else as I simultaneously planned a funeral while also signing up for my last round of classes at my previous college. It was the combination of Banquo, the Witches and Macbeth himself that got me through those first few weeks of not knowing what I was doing, or how I was feeling and being so caught up in everything that I pushed aside time to properly grieve. I know, I know, reading something so dark and dreary shouldn’t have helped me out of my depressed state-but it did. Reading Macbeth’s conversation with the witches before Banquo reveals himself to be murdered is incredible, the tension rising through the scene.
Macbeth: “Yet my heart Throbs to know one thing: tell me, if your art can tell so much: shall Banquo’s issue ever reign in this kingdom…I will be satisfied: deny me this, and an eternal curse fall on you! Let me know.” The Witches: “Show his eyes, and grieve his heart; come like shadows, so depart!” And then the moment comes that we’ve all been waiting for-the reveal of Banquo. Macbeth: “Horrible sight…Now, I see, ‘tis true; For the blood-bolter’d Banquo smiles upon me, and points at them for his.” It’s so good, the richness of text and dialogue that carries this scene all the way through, being able to place myself there as I read it, made all the difference.
As I was preparing to write this blogpost, I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going to go with it, but then I noticed a phrase in the Bedford Glossary that I’ve never heard of before-Purple Patch. Purple patch, as defined by our friend the Bedford is, “A passage that stands out from the surrounding prose or verse by its ornate style. Purple patches are generally characterized by an abundance of literary devices, particularly figurative language, and the marked use of rhythm.” Shakespeare used purple patches in his work, especially in Macbeth, and when I read that definition, I felt the need to take some time and write about one of the most influential writers in history. So, thank you William Shakespeare.