Writing Roots: Learning Shakespearese

Christina KatzBy Christina Katz

Remember when you were in high school, probably a freshman, and you were introduced to the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet? How many of you dutifully toted home your Shakespeare readers and tried to puzzle through the iambic pentameter and other poetic meters?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know what the heck this Shakespeare fella was trying to say, which only made all the hoopla about how great he was more frustrating.

Through the remaining four years of high school, I tried to hide how the masterpieces of the bard plagued me, carrying my frustration along with me when I matriculated into the hallowed halls of the Ivy League. Though the campus was familiar (I attended the same college as my father), I felt intimidated by the lay of the intellectual landscape. My teachers were revered professors in historic classrooms, and anything worth reading had to be “Literary (with a capital “L”), and all the Literature was to be approached in a decidedly analytical and critical manner. Which brings us to the illuminated professor who finally cracked the Shakespearean code for me.

“Here are the assigned plays for the quarter,” announced a petite, bustling blond on the first day of class. Professor Boose looked the polar opposite of my typically male, fairly monotone, slack-shouldered professors wearing tweed. Professor Boose wore skirts in bright colors and blouses with frills. And she was practically on fire about the dead English playwright. Up until this point in my college career, I doubted whether I would survive the English major I had dragged my feet to declare. But then, Professor Boose handed me the key that would unlock the mysteries of the written word. “If you have trouble keeping up with the reading, at least listen to the recordings I’ve placed on reserve in Sanborn Library.”

Sitting in Sanborn later that week in an overstuffed chair wearing over-sized, padded headphones, I listened to a scratchy recording of “Measure by Measure.” And for the first time, I heard. A door in my mind that had previously remained closed opened, and I finally got Shakespeare. Not only did I hear the words that brought the play in full glorious pageantry to life in my imagination, I could actually enter that world in my mind’s eye and explore it. And so I did in a paper for Professor Boose entitled, Coining Imagery in “Measure by Measure.”

Okay, so the title was a bit dull. But the paper was energetic, fueled by my recent breakthrough that words coming in through my ears, not just my eyes, could instantly manifest a world. For the first time since I’d been in college, I enjoyed writing a paper. And that imaginary world that existed in my mind, the one I’d heard on the recording and entered, the one I could move around in and explore, was the same world I wrote that paper from and the same world I write from today. It’s a realm of the imagination where “experience” can be heard, seen, touched, tasted and smelled-and then recorded onto the page. I can go there. You can go there. We can all go there. And bring back what we notice to share.

I will never forget Professor Boose’s response, written in blue ink on the title page of my paper. It said, “Thank you, I really learned a lot from you.” I was both shocked and pleased. She’d learned from me? That was nothing compared to what I’d learned from her. For her excellent example of inspired teaching, I owe Professor Lynda Boose a huge debt of gratitude. Thank you, wherever you are.

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Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, is working on her second book for Writer’s Digest Books, Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform (now available for pre-order at Amazon!). She has also written over two hundred articles for magazines, newspapers, and online publications and has appeared on Good Morning America. Christina is a popular writing instructor who has taught hundreds of writers over the past seven years. She blogs daily at The Writer Mama Riffs and is publisher and editor of two zines, Writers on the Rise and The Writer Mama. More at http://www.thewritermama.com/.
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