Yesterday was William Shakespeare’s birthday. I confess, I am not one who enjoys Shakespeare’s works. When I read Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and Taming of the Shrew in high school, I had to borrow the equivalent of “Shakespeare for Dummies” from the library just so I could understand what I was reading. When I hear that he is considered one of the most prolific authors in history, I can’t help but furrow my brow and think, “Really? Him? I just don’t get it.”
Perhaps it is ignorance (or lack of culture) on my part. I want to like Shakespeare. Truly, I do. I would love to understand his sonnets and swoon over them. But the whole “doth” “thou” “mayst” “oft” “thy” parts throw me for a loop. Did they really speak that way back then? Or did they talk like we do now, and just wrote like that? Maybe he wasn’t the romantic that scholars claim he was. What if the historical accounts of William Shakespeare are actually myths?
Let’s picture Willy. (You know that’s what his wife called him. Admit it.) He’s sitting at his desk while trying to work through another case of writer’s block. A chicken is pecking next to his feet.
“Hey Anne!” he hollers, “grab me that quill pen, will you? I finally thought of something.”
“Hold your horses!” she yells from the loft, “I can’t drop everything when you suddenly think of an idea. I have to change the baby’s diaper!”
“Ehhh,” Willy grumbles as he peers at the chicken that is now scratching the floor. At last Anne brings Willy his pen. He snatches it out of her hand and frantically starts to write. The only sound in the Shakespeare home is Willy’s pen scratching across the paper. Suddenly, he pauses.
“Hey Anne?” Willy hollers again.
Anne, who is churning butter in the kitchen, rolls her eyes. “Now what?”
“What does ‘forsooth’ mean?”
Anne pushes her bangs (they were all the rage in 1583, too) out of her eyes with the back of her wrist. “It means ‘indeed’.”
“It does? Are you sure?” Willy asks.
“Yes, I’m sure.”
Later that night, as Anne is rocking the baby, she notices Willy’s manuscript lying on the desk. Shifting the baby to her other arm, Anne picks up Willy’s work and scans it. She then shakes her head in exasperation. After the baby drifts to sleep, Anne gently places her in the cradle before sitting down at Willy’s desk.
“First things first,” Anne mumbles.
She crosses out the title, “A Gent, A Maiden, and Their Two Familys Who Fite A Lot.” (Willy was a terrible speller.) She changes the title to, “Romeo and Juliet.”
When she reads, “This was fun. We should do this again tomorrow!” Anne whips out a fresh piece of paper and writes, “Good night! Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow! That I shall say goodnight till it be morrow.”
“I can’t stop thinking about that guy” Willy had written. Anne closes her eyes for a moment, takes a deep breath, and writes, “Romeo, oh Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”
Yet, she can’t help but pound the desktop in frustration when she gets to the part where Willy had written, “She sure looks pretty!” Anne nibbles on her quill pen and then triumphantly changes it to, “It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear.”
It is dawn before Anne finishes her revisions. She wearily rises from the table and crawls in bed next to Willy, who is sleeping on his back with his mouth open, snoring.
“I made some changes,” she whispers before closing her eyes and drifting off to sleep.