Why You Shouldn’t Study Shakespeare

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Some of us, more than others, have taken those Shakespeare lessons in school a little too close to heart. So much so that we decided to delve deeper into the man’s mastery with words, words, and more words.

Shakespeare was the father — or one of the fathers (with the utmost respect to Homer and Johnson and Marlowe) — of English literature. And that’s one of the reasons people study Shakespeare; he’s done most of the heavy lifting already. When you study Shakespeare as a subject, you don’t have to create anything from scratch. There are no eureka moments. (As the ignorant people would say, but that’s for another time.)

As a student, you’d have to memorise the structure, the poetry and find the prose that’s hidden within. It’s not medical science, it’s not astronomy, and it sure as hell ain’t math.

At least in India, studying Shakespeare is transferring the textbook onto your answer sheet. Once you’re done, you’re ready to graduate with a degree in Shakespeare. That’s our education system — it’s all text and nothing more.

That’s why it’s so sexy — because it’s easy. Literature students thrive in repetition, and the concept of repeating book words appeals to housewives who’re busy with kids running around the house. It appeals to their husbands who advocate women education and empowerment. It appeals to the losers who can’t do math and science at school. Because, well, let’s face it, people think it’s easier to count metre and Iambs than it is to count metre per second. And who’d want to fumble with computer programmes when they could just scribble lines of rhyme “as defined in the textbook?”

Plus, in Shakespeare, you’re studying plays with words and words with plays; tone and tenor, method and manner. All that sounds far easier than calculus.

Here’s another reason people study Shakespeare: It sounds exciting in the preface of the textbook, but when you flip the cover and cradle the pages, you’ll stare at opinions. Not prose, not poetry, just random interpretations of Bard’s rhetoric.

Your question paper wants observations of moderators, not your own. You think you’re studying Shakespeare when, in fact, you’re studying summaries of the original piece that — this is called irony in literature — never made it the text.

That’s what they do to you when you want to study Shakespeare. They make you study the ones who’ve studied Shakespeare, and not Shakespeare himself. They divulge the amateur as the master; a blunder if there ever was one.

Alas, a formal study of Shakespeare includes none of his actual works and all of misleading citations and cheap caricatures. And to continue studying Shakespeare would endanger our minds, and force us into thinking like the wannabes desperate for a sliver of Shakespearean glory. We’d limit our thoughts and diminish our ability to differentiate witty wit from winding word choice.

And that’s why you should never study Shakespeare. He wasn’t meant to be studied. He was meant to be experienced.

His works are to laugh at, to cry over, and to pine about with bottles of wine. Shakespeare, the man, stomped on rules. He cut licences from rule books. He had a way of doing things, of seeing things. And you won’t get that by reading what others say he says.

You won’t see it when others tell you. You will see it when you see it for yourself. Shakespeare speaks to the reader, textbooks speak at the reader.

You’d study for the marks, but you experience for the thrill it gives you. Shakespeare visualises life and body and love and beauty — he talks human traits. That’s not something to study, that’s the essence of life you inhale, that’s what pierces you, transcending emotions that translate into words.

Studying Shakespeare sticks words to your head. Experiencing it tugs at your heart.

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