I feel a bit of a freak because I read Shakespeare, believe it or not, for fun.
The second professor, teaching Julius Caesar, sounded a trifle more enthusiastic about murder and mayhem, but quickly switched to a profoundly boring exploration of the poet’s erudition in ancient lore. I too switched to sitting in the back benches and surreptitiously reading Chesterton’s Father Brown detective stories. The Savage in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World describes education as ‘sterilization,’ and I know of no finer illustration than the merciless mauling of literature in our universities.
Then I had a lucky break.
Now came the shock. The screen parted to show a crooked, deformed Richard, standing in a plush vestibule, looking directly at you, and declaring, darkly and defiantly, “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by the sun of York.” It was like a punch in my solar plexus. I thought I had never heard more beautiful words, spoken more beautifully. I sat mesmerized. The two hours passed like a dream.
When the doctor dropped me at my home, the first thing I did was to go direct to my father’s library and pick up a book I had seen many times but never bothered to touch, Shakespeare’s collected works. It wasn’t easy-going at the start. People spoke in a curious way; some words were unfamiliar; some scenes took a while to warm up. But once you get used to Shakespeare’s style, the guy knows how to grab your heart and choke your throat. I suppose he had to learn how to fill the seats in his theater or go hungry, but he learned it well. Once you get accustomed to his lingo, his plays do no less havoc on your soul than Hitchcock’s movies, to say the least.
If this sounds farfetched, try not Hamlet or Macbeth, nor Julius Caesar, plays you already know about, but Shakespeare’s less known plays. Pick up Two Gentlemen of Verona, a very early play about friendship and fidelity, or Timon of Athens, a story of greed and generosity. You could even try Coriolanus and find surprising insights into Trump’s USA.
Long ago, prompted by a very romantic novel, I tried reading the love poetry of John Donne and found it esoteric and forbidding. By a strange coincidence, I received an amazing Christmas gift that year: a disk of the love poems of Donne, recorded by Richard Burton. I listened in wonder to the golden voice of the Welsh actor for hours, and instantly I understood and loved Donne.