Young Shakespeare

After reading my post THE TRUTH ABOUT SHAKESPEARE, I received a request from a reader asking that I write about Shakespeare’s great grandson updating Shakespeare’s manuscripts for the sake of today’s teens.  

Chad Shakespeare hated his last name. It seemed he couldn’t make it through one single day without someone asking,

“Wait. Shakespeare. Are you related to the Shakespeare?”

“If you mean the Shakespeare, as in William Shakespeare, then yeah, I am.”

And the flurry of questions would ensue. Do you write? (No.) How are you related to him? (He was his great, great, great et cetera grandfather.) What’s it like being related to the greatest writer in the English language? (What’s it like being related to some dead relative you never met?)

Chad considered changing his last name. Chad Shake. Chad Speare. When he mentioned this idea to his mother, she clutched her throat as though she were choking. (At first Chad didn’t notice. He was in the middle of playing Grand Theft Auto and his mother had to bang on the coffee table to get his attention.) Changing his last name would kill her, she announced. Forget her high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes! Those were no threat compared to the notion of removing the beloved Shakespeare name from the family. That would put her in the grave quicker than any stroke.

Something had to be done. When Chad asked Kelly, a coworker at Moo Burger, out for a date, she wrinkled her nose and said,

“Umm, no thanks. I’d rather not go back to your mom’s house and play video games.”

Chad quickly realized he needed to use his last name to his advantage.

“How about going back to my place and you can read some of my Grandpa Shakespeare’s sonnets instead?” he asked.

Kelly paused, her hand suspended over the Moo Burger cash register. “Grandpa Shakespeare? You call him Grandpa?”

“I mean Grandfather. Would you like to read some of my Grandfather Shakespeare’s sonnets? We got all of them, since he was my grandfather. And all of his plays. Those too.”

Kelly studied him for a moment. “No thanks. I can read his sonnets anywhere. Plus, I’ve already read most of them.”

Chad’s shoulders slumped. He had been hopeful that Kelly would have agreed to the date after she helped him refill the ketchup containers earlier in their shift. He could have sworn she purposely brushed her wrist against his when they were stacking the paper Dixie cups into towers. But of course she had read the sonnets! Who hadn’t? That was the whole reason it was such a big deal being related to the old fart. Everyone loved what the guy wrote.

That night, Chad took one of the Shakespeare Sonnet volumes down from the bookshelf in his den. By looking at it, he would never have known he was related to the author. The pages felt brand new and were adhered to one another as though they had never been touched. In fact, the book still had the price tag stuck on the back (bought at a discount store, by the looks of it). Chad flipped through the pages and skimmed the words.

Whoa! What have we here? Faults by lies we flattered be? Forbear to glance thine eye aside? And thous shalt find it merits not reproving? What the hell was he reading?

Chad lowered the book. Chicks dig this stuff? Kelly had read all of these? Chad’s eyes flickered up to the portrait of Shakespeare hanging over the mantle. Suddenly Shakespeare’s eyes seemed taunting. Chad could almost hear his voice whisper,

“I can get the girls but you can’t” (though even Chad, in his confusion, knew Shakespeare would probably say, “I get the wenches whilst thou get nary!)

That did it. Chad stood and walked over to the desk. Pushing the household bills his mother had left in a muddled pile over with his elbow, Chad snatched a pen and flipped open the book of sonnets. He began to write. As his Bic pen touched the pages, images of Kelly punching the keys of the Moo Burger register danced in his mind. This was his inspiration. Every now and then Chad would pause and look up at his Great, Great, Great (et cetera) Grandfather Shakespeare and give him a triumphant grin.

Kelly was wiping down the Holstein cow patterned tables when Chad approached her the next day at Moo Burger. She straightened, cleansing cloth in one hand, cleanser in her other. Chad looked disheveled. His hair was greasy and he still wore his Moo Burger uniform from the previous day. He also smelled like Moo Burger from the previous day. Kelly took a light step backwards.

“Look,” Chad said.

He was holding a large book, and when he opened the pages Kelly could see text crossed out and words written in the margins.

“Since you read all of Shakespeare’s stuff , I thought I’d change it. Make it more modern.”

“Change it? Make it more modern? What do you mean?”

“His stuff, like, doesn’t make sense anymore. It’s all gibberish. With the ‘thous’ and ‘thines’. Who talks like that?”

Before Kelly could respond, Chad balanced the book on his knee and pointed to a sonnet with his finger.

“Like, listen to how much better this sounds now.” Chad cleared his throat. “Sonnet eighteen. You’re like a summer day. All nice and hot. It’s almost like you’re summer forever, which is pretty cool. Because then there’s no school. So, as long as dudes are alive, you’re hot. The end.”

He flipped the pages and started to read his next revised sonnet.

“Sonnet hundred sixteen. Two smart people shouldn’t get married. Things shake and there’s a star and a dog barks. Love changes ’cause the dude works a lot, and she’s got rosy cheeks and lips. And then there is doom – like this really bad ending. The end.”

“Or this one – I made this one a LOT better: sonnet one hundred twenty four. The kid didn’t have a father and looked like a weed instead of a flower. He also didn’t shower. But then he got into some bad stuff, like robbing banks.”

When Chad looked up at Kelly that perfect nose of hers was wrinkled again. She chewed on her bottom lip a moment before saying,

“That was interesting, Chad. But … um … I don’t think Shakespeare’s work needs any updating. That’s the beauty of it. So fare thee well in thy travels.”

“Huh? Travels? You going somewhere?”

And with that, Kelly turned and walked into the Moo Burger kitchen.

Special thanks to Stephanie Lewis for this creative request. Click HERE to read her wonderfully written confession on being an eavesdropper. 

The Truth About Shakespeare

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’.”

Silence.

“It does? Are you sure?” Willy asks.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Huh.”

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.