Confession: I don’t particularly like Shakespeare.
Usually when I tell people I’m not a huge fan of Shakespeare I receive a piercing glare and a disapproving “Really?” This conversation inevitably results in me trying to defend my opinions while undergoing intense scrutiny from the opposing party. Apathy towards the Bard was the norm when I was in high school, but people’s expectations seemed to change as soon as I entered college. Some people apparently view being an English major and a Shakespeare enthusiast as characteristics that always go hand in hand, as though one cannot be the former without also identifying as the latter.
I hate that this stereotype of English majors exists. Though I love British authors like Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, I’m actually much more interested in American Literature than British literature. Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Willa Cather, Kate Chopin– these are the writers that fascinate me and make my little English major heart beat with bookish excitement. However, whenever I hear Shakespeare mentioned I can’t help but let out a little sigh of indifference.
The core of the problem is that I haven’t connected with Shakespeare’s works emotionally or deeply in any way. None of his plays have ever resonated with me personally like other texts often do. Does this come from my general disinterest in the time period? Or maybe it stems from the way I was taught to read Shakespeare in high school without actually seeing his plays performed? Whatever the reason, I find it difficult to empathize with his characters. For instance, Romeo and Juliet frustrated me endlessly with their impulsive decisions, melodrama, and plain foolishness. (Juliet, girl, you knew him for mere days!!)
Sometimes I feel like I’m missing the point of Shakespeare. I tend to take his works seriously and often literally when they’re probably meant to be comedic, ironic, sarcastic, or satiric. It’s probably safe to say that the Bard didn’t support the rash decision of the star-crossed lovers to give up their lives for one another; instead, he was probably trying to show how dramatic, emotional, and intense young love can be. (Never mind the fact that it makes for a really entertaining story.) I’m just not good at picking up on Shakespeare’s humor, which means that most of his works tend to fall flat for me. I completely recognize that this is an individual preference and I’m certainly not blaming Shakespeare for my inability to understand his intent– I just don’t the process of trying to figure it out!
I don’t mean to say that I hate Shakespeare’s works; rather, I’m sort of indifferent to them. Sometimes they’re enjoyable and entertaining, whereas other times I’m counting down the pages until I can close the play for good. However, I can say that I’ve recently gained a greater appreciation for his skill with language as well as his significant contributions to English literature in general. I still plan to continue reading as many of his plays as possible this summer to expand my Shakespeare horizons– fingers crossed I find one that I love!
Until then, the Bard and I will just have to agree to disagree.
What are your thoughts on Shakespeare? Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play? Have you encountered this English major stereotype before? Let me know in the comments section below!