The bard and I go back a long way, or to 1980 to be precise. Although he was born in April 1564, I came in contact with him more than four centuries later! Yes of course, I am talking about none other than William Shakespeare, the greatest English poet, playwright and dramatist of all time.
My love affair with the bard began when I had just stepped into my teens and was at a rather impressionable age. Being a voracious reader, I’d already finished reading the entire collection of many an author, when one day I chanced upon The Merchant of Venice and felt as if a sledge hammer had hit me! Never before had I come across such well etched characters, each leaving a lasting impression on me – from Portia to Antonio to Bassanio and above all Shylock the Jew.
The second Shakespeare play I read was Much Ado About Nothing and this time, I was awestruck with its the wit and wordplay. I wondered how the same person could write such diametrically different plots, in a manner so sublime.
A birthday present that left an inedible mark
Luckily for me, my father presented me the complete works of Shakespeare on my 14th birthday. As I read more and more of his plays, I found myself so influenced by his writings that I began to speak in prose! I recall telling my mum, “Mother come hither, for I have something to show thee!” Mum of course rolled her eyes in exasperation wondering where that came from, while my father’s chest swelled with pride when he heard me speak such! He must have thought to himself that here was an author in the making.
Over a period of time, I read all of Shakespeare’s writings – all 37 plays and five sonnets. I even read them several times over. Each of his plays left me wanting for more. And the more I read, the more I realised the impact his writings had had on modern authors. Every other novel I read seemed to have borrowed its broad storyline from one of his plays.
The importance given to women
Shakespeare wrote during Elizabethan times when social and political power rested solely in the hands of men. But what struck me was that in almost all his plays, his female characters were portrayed as powerful figures who wielded considerable influence over men.
It is difficult to forget Lady Macbeth’s fiendish manipulation of her husband into horrific acts or Voila in the Twelfth Night – his most sexually ambiguous character. One of his most famous plays, Hamlet, had the character Gertrude, who conspired and connived with Claudius to murder her own husband, the King of Denmark. Then there was Cordelia in King Lear and Beatrice – the feisty, independent and intelligent woman in Much Ado About Nothing. The list goes on.
The beauty about Shakespeare was that even male protagonists in his plays were highly arresting characters. The ones etched most clearly on my mind are master strategist Julius Caesar, Macbeth, the wicked Jewish moneylender Shylock, the ultimate lover boy Romeo, Othello, Titus Andronicus and, of course, all the British monarchs – namely, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Henry VIII, King Richard I and King Richard II.
A flood of happy memories
Even today, I cannot recall a single author who can write in so many different genres so convincingly, be it tragedy, comedy, romance, or stories of betrayal, revenge, lust and repentance.
I may no longer be in my teens, but my love affair with the bard continues. I still turn the old, but still crisp, pages of the book that my father had gifted me more than four decades ago. Every so often, I re-read a play that suits my mood at that moment. Holding the book brings back a flood of happy memories of my father, of the times we spent together, of us reading aloud and discussing threadbare all the characters in his plays!
And I say to myself, “All the world’s a stage and all men and women are merely players, each have their exits and their entrances.”