“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” ~ William Shakespeare
(Revised quote from Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene 2)
William Shakespeare has always been part of my life. In the homes of my numerous families - from my late Nonna and aunties to my parents’ apartment - you will always find works by the world-renowned dramatist. Of course, in my very own collection, I have various copies and editions and have added both adult and Young Adult retellings. One could say I have an obsession, especially when it comes to obvious folklore and fantastical elements. (For instance: A Midsummer Night's Dream revolves around the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta; the Mechanicals plan to honor the marriage with a tragic play about the ill-fated lovers Pyramus and Thisbe, whose story obviously inspired Romeo and Juliet.)
Shakespeare followed me wherever I went, including joining the drama club in fifth grade where I performed as Ariel (The Tempest), and Macduff (Macbeth). In my college era, I took part in some humorous readings with friends over charcuterie boards and wine (for me, I love nonalcoholic Jamaican sorrel or sparkling apple cider) at various locations, usually in people’s homes, or at a bookstore with a bar. (Honestly, I would love to do this again soon.)
The Bard is so intertwined with my life that I am trying to memorize my favorite speech of all time - Shylock’s “To Bait Fish Withal” in The Merchant of Venice, Act 3 Scene 1 - because it’s an incredible speech full of the raw emotion of pain, trauma, anger, and pride for one’s identity. I always saw myself in this speech, being a mixed-race immigrant, and could understand the heaviness of being an Other, of being so callously judged and mistreated, and how unresolved rage, as valid as it may be, could become problematic.
As time goes on, there are more critical essays on Shakespeare and his work's impacts, retellings, and adaptions. I recently encountered an actor in the subway who recommended Fat Ham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning new comedy play based on Hamlet featuring a Black, queer main character. (Funnily enough, I caught this person reading the Sparknotes of Romeo and Juliet!) Whether you love or hate William Shakespeare’s plays, there is a reason why they still impact us today, based on both collective and individual resonance.
We could certainly have short or long discussions on why his plays matter. Recently, Sara Holliday (Head of Events) and I took a trip to the Drama Book Shop, an incredible bookstore (and a delicious coffee shop) with theater and film titles that include plays and scripts. Not surprisingly, Shakespeare has his own dedicated nook with a whole collection! There are tons of gift selections too, including trivia games, puzzle pieces, and punny stickers to showcase your admiration!
One of my favorite parts was the iconic spiraling book pile that starts on the wall from the back of the bookstore to a seated area. According to one of the staffers there, it is to show the timeline of the history of theater and performance art, with early theater creations (Ancient Greek and Roman and yes, Shakespearean plays). If you’re looking for a bookstore with all things that have to do with performance arts, you should visit the Drama Book Shop.
Again, I’d love to go on, and we should, but for now, here are my recommendations to celebrate The Bard’s observed birthday on April 23!
These Violent Delights (Book 1) by Chloe Gong (retelling of Romeo and Juliet) (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020)
Shakespeare and The Folktale: An Anthology of Stories, edited by Charlotte Artese (Princeton University, 2019)
How the Classics Made Shakespeare by Jonathan Bate (Princeton University Press, 2019)
Hag-seed: A Novel by Margaret Atwood (retelling of The Tempest) (Hogarth, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2016)
Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson (Atlas Books/HarperCollins, 2007)
Will in the World : How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt (Norton and Recorded Books, c2004)
Shakespeare in the Movies: From the Silent Era to Shakespeare in Love by Douglas Brode (Oxford University Press, 2000)
William Shakespeare & The Globe written and illustrated by Aliki (HarperCollins Publishers, c1999)
William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, retold by Bruce Coville; pictures by Dennis Nolan (Dial Books, c1996)
Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being by Ted Hughes (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1992)
A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance by Northrop Frye (Columbia University Press, 1965)
"And whether we shall meet again I know not.
Therefore our everlasting farewell take:
For ever, and for ever, farewell, [trustees]!
If we do meet again, why, we shall smile;
If not, why then, this parting was well made."
Julius Caesar (Act 5 Scene 1)