Happy Birthday Shakespeare

“Goodnight, sweet Prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” Horatio,  from Hamlet Act V, Scene II

As part of the Happy Birthday Shakespeare project, I thought I’d write about my first literary crush. It happened on a rainy morning in the twelfth grade.  The classroom was damp and smelled of dust and a kind of mold that prevails in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada. We were a small class of about a dozen English Lit students, and I was a new transfer to this academic alternative school.

That morning, as we took our seats around the table, our teacher announced we would be reading the full version of Hamlet.

I didn’t think much of it. Up until this point, the only Shakespeare I’d read were the Coles Notes versions (shudder) of Julius Cesar and Macbeth. I had no comprehension of the depth of feeling that could be transferred through Shakespeare’s own words.

The play started with a ghost. What’s not to love about that? But it was Hamlet’s first soliloquy that stole my heart. “O that this too too sullied flesh would melt.” It melted my resolve. Finally, I could relate to some character we had to read about in school!

I was seventeen, my mother was a rageaholic, and I’d just moved in with my father to get some time away from her. While she wasn’t Claudius, I understood what it was like to feel betrayed by your mother. At the time, the circle of friends I had didn’t understand me, showing the same lack of depth as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. One of those so-called friends started a rumour that I was crazy that spread around my old school. I was diagnosed by teenage peer and given a semi-public intervention. It was gross misconduct. When I told my parents, they told me to ‘snap out of it’ whatever ‘it’ was. Being a teen? Being bullied?

So, to me, Hamlet was a genius for letting people think he was insane. He used to his advantage what was an embarassing situation for me. I admired him, empathized with him, and didn’t blame him at all for his procrastination around killing Claudius. It showed he had a conscience.

I loved him. The play, Hamlet, inspired me so much that I set a scene from my own book, The Watcher, around a reading of Act III, Scene I.

While I studied Shakespeare in university, to this day, Hamlet is still my favourite of the Bard’s plays. And it always will be.

4 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Shakespeare

  1. Stephanie says:

    Hamlet is my favorite, too, but it could be because my goofy English teacher wrote and performed an entire tongue-in-cheek “Hamlet Rap.” 🙂

    I also understand a little better why you were drawn to Want.

    • lvoisin says:

      Yes. I did feel an affinity for Want, for sure.

      When I was in university, my boyfriend composed this piece, which, ironically has sparked many other spoofs. He didn’t even publish it, someone took an email he wrote and ran with it! (I’ve modified this slightly to match his original wording. it seems people have changed it along the way, too!)

      Green Eggs and Hamlet
      I ask to be, or not to be.
      That is the question I ask of me.
      This sullied life, it makes me shudder.
      My unc’ is boffing my dear sweet mother.
      Would I, could I take my life?
      Could I, should I, end this strife?
      Should I jump out of a plane?
      Or lie down in front of a train?
      Should I from a cliff just leap?
      Could I put myself to sleep?
      Shoot myself, or take some poison?
      Maybe try self immolation?
      To shudder off this mortal coil,
      I could stab myself with a fencing foil,
      Or slash my wrists while in the bath?
      Would it help to end my wrath?
      To sleep, to dream, aye, there’s the rub.
      I’d drop a toaster in my tub.
      Would they be happy, with me dead?
      Could I murder them instead?
      These thoughts take much consideration,
      After all, I’m the prince of procrastination.
      — Tim Hnetka

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