I’ve just finished reading (and doing minor final edits along the way) my friend Lisa’s YA. I think I’ve read it now at least five times before now, but each time I enjoy it more. It’s terrific.
The kids in the book are going to a summer theater camp – a Shakespeare camp – and it has made me think about the influence Uncle Will (as he’s called by one of the characters in the book) has on writing. Not just mine, but almost every writer is influenced – whether consciously or not – by Uncle Will. We use phrases that we forget are his. We use plots that are so much a part of our culture that we forget where they came from. His characters become stock players in our minds and our work, so stock that we don’t even think about from whence they came.
For me, it’s much more than that. I spent one very hot summer completely immersed in Shakespeare. I was taking a fourth year Shakespeare course and one of the things the professor suggested we do, in addition to actually reading the text, was to see the plays. The university library had the complete BBC series of plays – some of which were rarely performed. And I, obsessive reader that I am, read every single play. My practice in every class was to read each book (or play, in this case) before the class began (even if I’d read the book many times before, which was true in many cases), to read it again as we went through the texts, and to read them all again before the final exam or essay. I’m a fast reader – as was my mother, as are my brother and sister. It runs in the family.
In the case of my summer of Shakespeare, I also watched every one of the BBC plays. Some of them, my favorites, twice. The icing on my Shakepeare cake was a live and absolutely brilliant Royal Shakespeare Company production of the Henriad (Richard II, Henry IV – Parts 1 and 2, Henry V). The soldiers were bikers – and I fell in love with all of them.
So for me, all of the plays are deeply embedded in my brain. They are part of the way I think about the world, about what’s happening around me. I see political machinations through the lens of Shakespeare, family drama – my own or others – as Shakespeare. I see war and love and passion as Shakespeare. I can’t help myself. I don’t consciously use Shakespeare in writing – as my friend Lisa has done – but I can see it when I look back at something I’ve written. I can see the rhythm, the imagery, the language – all there, transformed yes, modern yes, but still Shakespeare.
And I think this is true for almost all of us. How often do you hear – or use – one of these phrases?
All’s well that ends well
As dead as a doornail
Eaten out of house and home
Love is blind
Up in arms
Vanish into thin air
I think that summer changed the way my brain was wired. It gave me a new lens through which to see the world, to filter things out or in.
What about you? Have you had an experience like this? A short period of life that changed the way you saw the world?