I have mad ridiculous passionate love for Shakespeare. It’s possible that not everyone feels that way about him, though I cannot understand those feelings or condone them. In New York City, you can find Shakespeare for free in almost every leafy green space the city has on a midsummer night. It’s a beautiful thing, but more on that later. Some might want to get their kicks elsewhere. I met such a character once back in college.
I am sitting in a friend’s off campus apartment at UNC-Greensboro, and she is complaining about Shakespeare. “What’s wrong with Shakespeare?” I ask. I want to appear sympathetic, though I know for a fact there is nothing at all wrong with Shakespeare. I am a big-time Shakespeare nerd. When our professor poses a question in my Shakespeare class, my hand shoots up fast and hard on automatic pilot so that sometimes the danger of a shoulder injury is a possibility. I know the answer, and I am happy to provide it. The rest of the class is often content to leave the entire class participation grade to me. A few times when I don’t bother to raise my hand (possibly because of a sore arm from repetitive motion syndrome), he ends up calling on me for the answer anyway.
“Stupid Shakespeare,” my friend says. “I just don’t get him.” Hmm. Shakespeare makes so much perfect sense to me, I can’t understand what she’s talking about. She is one of the best students in my creative class, and all of us boys are a little bit in love with her because she writes gritty sexy stories that feel real and true and right. She is certain to be a famous novelist one day. We sit as close as possible to her to take in a little of her perfume and in hope that her magical writing ability might improve us by greater proximity.
“Why do you think it’s so hard to understand Shakespeare?” I ask her sympathetically. “I dunno,” she says. “Maybe if I weren’t high all the time he would make more sense.”
This stops me in my tracks. How high has she been and with whom? It explains everything about why Shakespeare isn’t getting through, but it poses new questions about her. I don’t ask any of these questions, and I don’t explain emphatically that Shakespeare is best experienced in a clean and sober state. I want to be cool, so I simply shrug as if her Shakespeare learning disability could be just as easily be genetic or a symptom of a bad water supply or too much lead paint in the walls in her building. Something she would have no control over.
A better friend might have advised her to put down the bong for a bit. But we were not quite that kind of friends. There were things I wanted from her that could not be articulated. So, we sat there listening to the Violent Femmes playing “Blister in the Sun” in a manic disorderly way until it was too late for a southern gentlemen to stay any longer, and I drifted out the door to the tune of “Gone Daddy Gone.” I felt sad for her, too lost in a fog to see how tragically hip she was and too needy to put down weed long enough to let in the Master.
Fast forward past my angst-ridden pot-loving literary siren to present-day New York City. You can get your fix of Shakespeare in the Big City quite easily. Orlando Bloom is playing a modern-day mix of Romeo on Broadway right now. I can’t condone it, but someone might like it. Several millions dropped Shakespeare this summer at Central Park during the annual Shakespeare in the Park. Every borough offers up their own little dreamy toke of Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet in some venue. I took a hit of the Bard myself at Battery Park this summer where actors made The Tempest a moveable feast. Each scene was performed in a different part of the park. We all picked up our blankets and folding chairs and followed like punch drunk Deadheads as Prospero took a short hike to the next scene.
Shakespeare is a great natural high. No paraphernalia necessary. Take a deep breath of him. Let him fill your spirit and your soul and your senses. Relax. It’s OK to inhale Shakespeare. No need for incense to hide a Hamlet high.