When I was a kid, I never got Shakespeare.
So much so, that if I am being totally honest, he actually used to make my head hurt.
Seriously, he really made my head hurt.
It wasn’t the Bards “thee-ing” and “thou-ing” that caused the pain, it was Miss Elwell my English Teacher. She used to swipe me sidewise with a copy of the Complete Works every time
I started fooling around when I got bored in class.
And I got bored a lot, and Miss Elwell loved old Bill.
She was an older lady. The kid of teacher who always had chalk dust on her clothes, and stayed later than all the other teachers because she had nobody to go home to. She was posh, or what passed for posh to a gang of kids in an inner-city, down at heel school that could only afford one book between two kids, that was so old, our parents probably shared it before us.
Miss Elwell tried so hard to sell us the Bard.
She used to stand by the window giving us soliloquy’s in sunlit silhouette as she read Shakespeare to a class that was bored, and wished she would move so we could daydream through the windows light she was blocking.
She would sing the words, roll them around and then roll them out for us. She would thrust swords, shout commands, whisper to lovers, and bellow speeches. While we, like the thick kids we were, would stare at the bell and will it to ring.
We didn’t care about Henry V, we didn’t care about Caesar, and we never had no Midsummer Night’s Dreams either.
Bill and Miss Elwell, fell on their swords and deaf ears as we wasted our youth, and waited for the weekends.
It took me nearly twenty years before I met Bill again, and we fell in love.
It was a summers day. One of those hot ones that hurt your eyes, and make you think of cold beer when you can’t have any. This was back before I became a full time writer and I was driving a cab for a living, and hating pretty much hating every minute of it.
I parked up next to Liverpool’s semi derelict St Luke’s Church (bombed during the war, and left roofless as a memorial to those who died in the Blitz). I was tired, hot, hungry and most importantly low on cash, and even lower on customers. I opened the window, closed my eyes, rested my head back, and then heard a voice coming from the church yard:
“That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?…”
I opened my eyes, lifted my head, and looked through the iron railings into the gardens that make up the churchyard. I could see a small crowd gathered around a low stage.
They were watching an actor giving it his all.
Back then I didn’t recognize Hamlet, but that was who it was.
I got out the cab and wandered in to watch the show (it was free). The actor was raging, shouting at the sky, just like Miss Elwell done all those years ago.
The difference was that this time it moved me, this time it mattered, and this time… it didn’t hurt my head.
Shakespeare finally got me, and I finally got him.
I probably owe Miss Elwell an apology.