Maybe I should stop calling it a crush.
Last spring, I signed up for the Shakespeare Workout (an all-level, no-prior-experience-necessary acting class offered by Actor’s Shakespeare Project in Boston.) Since then, I’ve been to as many live performances of as many Shakespeare plays as I could get to, watched several more on video, lurked at rehearsals, insinuated myself into the lives of a few talented actors, and written about some of my adventures in Shakespeare-land.
Calling this activity a crush may come off as cute, but at least it makes clear that my Shakespeare “thing” is not an academic or professional pursuit. A crush is naïve. A crush is the beginning of something that could fizzle or blossom.
A crush is certainly not a hobby – a word that either trivializes (Isn’t that nice?) or smirks (Isn’t thatnice?) Building model airplanes is a hobby. Crocheting seasonal hats for your cat is a hobby. Sinking into the darkness of Richard III for two months does not feel like a hobby.
I am certainly notstudyingShakespeare. Two friends sent me a link to a piece in the NY Review of Books that described Freud’s take on Hamlet and The New Historicists’ focus on its politics and contemporary interpretations and … zzzzz.
Paula Plum, one of Boston’s great actors (Shakespearean and otherwise) suggested I look at Harvard professor Marjorie Garber’s book, “Shakespeare After All.” I went to the library and there it was, all 977 pages (not counting footnotes). But the chapters, each devoted to a single play, clearly untangle relationships and story lines, with just the right amount of historical context: a delicious concoction.
The book is based on Professor Garber’s extremely popular Shakespeare class, which I watched on YouTube. Behind the podium, the professor is affable and brisk, a fair, no-nonsense lecturer with encyclopedic knowledge of all things Shakespeare, who knows how to hold the stage. And she often talks about the plays as living theater.
In her Othelloclass, Garber told a story about John and Abigail Adams who had read the play many times and loved it. But when they went to a performance in London, in which the title character appeared in blackface, they were so troubled by the sight of him and the white Desdemona in each other’s arms, they had to leave the theater.
Shakespeare is always relevant.
A crush that lasts for more than a year places you squarely in relationship territory and, as with any relationship, this one has had its ups and downs and doubts. Do I have a future with Shakespeare? And if so, where are we going?
I am not going back to school, nor do I have the chops to tread the boards. Writing about my Shakespeare crush seems less and less connected to my career. While I send my thoughts into the ether and hope I’m entertaining people, I’ve come to realize that I’m writing these essays as exercise for my brain, with many of the same ancillary benefits as physical exercise: reducing anxiety, depression and negative moods; improving cognitive function; alleviating low self-esteem and social withdrawal.
After seeing a great performance of any Shakespeare play I leave the theater flying. But it doesn’t take greatness to turn my head. Last spring, after an uneven performance, I turned to my friend and said “You know, Hamlet is a really good play. Giving new meaning to the word, “Dumbstruck.”
I have barely stuck a toe into the vasty deep that Shakespeare wrought. After a little more than a year of hanging around with the bard, I have learned how little I will ever know, and I’m okay with being a perpetual beginner. It relieves the pressure. But I would dearly love to find a substitute for “crush.”
I am certainly not a “Shakespearean,” which implies scholarship or specialization.
Shakespeare novice? Too religious.
Shakespeare nerd? Too slangy.
Devotee? Too archaic.
Enthusiast? Too gee-whiz.
A crush by any other name is not found in my beloved mother tongue, biggest by far with a million word vocabulary.
I kind of like the French, “Je suis occuper avec Shakespeare.”
Even better is the Hebrew “la-asok,” which means “to engage with or immerse oneself.” It’s a verb with gravitas, used in the blessing Jews say before study.
Both the French and the Hebrew can be translated as “to busy oneself.”
As of now, I have tickets to Richard III, Macbeth (two productions) and Twelfth Night, with plans to see Midsummer Night’s Dream, Love’s Labor Lost, All’s Well that Ends Well, Romeo and Juliet, and maybe one more Macbeth. There will be more, no doubt.
You could say I am busying myself with Shakespeare – because of my crush.