Today’s post will be more personal than usual, and less servant orientated. On the 448th anniversary of his death, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust asked followers to discuss how they have been influenced by him (their answers can be found here). This is my belated response.
My Nana didn’t read much but she kept a small collection of classics in her spare bedroom including the King James Bible, the complete works of Shakespeare, and a collection of ‘real life’ alien encounters. As a kid I would lie in bed at night devouring FBI reports of men vanishing into thin air and searching out morbid Shakespearean passages. Both disturbed and thrilled me because both suggested distant, violent, alien worlds.
When I went to college and university Shakespeare became less strange. I got comfortable with the rhythm, language, themes and historical context of his works. My familiarity grew until one morning in July 2008 I sat in an interview for a PhD studentship and explained to the panel that I wanted to study Renaissance literature because that was where modern patterns of thought began, not because it reminded me of a “world we have lost”.
It’s now almost four years later and I am less certain about Shakespeare and how I want to relate to him. After finishing my thesis and loosing my moorings a bit I’m asking myself questions I thought I knew the answers to, including the most basic: what does early modern literature (and literature in general) mean to me anyway?
The feelings I had back in my nana’s spare room are returning. Shakespeare’s plays often seem like strange beasts again now that I don’t have much time to tackle and dissect them. But at the same time I believe in what I said in my interview. For perhaps the first time in four years I’ve allowed myself to properly wade through non-early modern stuff; to look, especially, at the way we represent servants today, and I’ve found many unexpected similarities.
This blog will hopefully help me sort out some answers to these questions. But however my feelings and my circumstances might fluctuate, however much I might change my mind about what I’m looking for, I still spend most of my time thinking and writing about the man.