I'll soon be doing something I've never done before and, while I think I can do it, I'm just not quite sure how I should go about it.
I'll be teaching Madeleine about Shakespeare.
Before I go any further, I want to put your mind at ease, Dear Reader. While I'm not impressed by a whole lot, and I question all kinds of "But you have to! For the sake of the children!" thinking, I have no misconceptions about Bill. I acknowledge that he is, if not The, certainly among The Greatest Writers of the English Language. Plays and poetry that still speak to us four centuries later, that withstand repeated readings, viewings, performances. Yeah, he's got it going on. Please don't waste anyone's time and energy justifying the study; you're preaching to the choir.
That said, how to teach him? I balk at having him up on a pedestal, gazing starry-eyed at him like I'm some kind of groupie. I admit I'd probably squeal if I met him; either he'd be a zombie or I'd be that excited, but he's not here. So no squealing.
But on the "four hundred years" fact. Aside from Moses and the New Testament writers, has any writer imagined their work outliving them? Who? I'd argue that some of the folks who wrote in Biblical times had fantasies like that, but their writings haven't survived. Homer? The author of Gilgamesh? Yeah, it's been millennia, but the fact that we still have that stuff is part of what makes it so remarkable.
When Shakespeare was alive, his works weren't performed only for the cultural elite. I'm sure it was a big deal for some to go to the theater, but it wasn't a Long Gloves and Opera Glasses Only kind of trip. He put some of his jokes in there to keep the riffraff in the cheap seats quiet--that way they'd hear them. Was he regarded as the Best English Has to Offer? I doubt it. That we regard him as such in our own time is on us, not him.
Did he mean for us to contrive some meaning from Desdemona's veil? What did he really mean when Hamlet tells Ophelia to get to a nunnery? I'm certain he wasn't trying to comment on Third Wave feminism with either "Much Ado About Nothing" or "Taming of the Shrew" and I get quite irritated when others lay that on Shakespeare. Comparing him to another writer, Tolkien may have set out telling his children a story but it morphed into the great work it's become--on purpose. He did tweak things to give it the spiritual aspect it has, and had the talent to disguise them to appeal to everyone. We know that from Tolkien's own notes and commentary. But what of the Bard? Not so much.
To compare the two, Van Gogh sold a single painting in his lifetime. And he gets this.
The significance of this scene is that Vincent never dreamed of this level of recognition. That's why he has tears, that's why I have tears just about every time I watch it. The more I think about it, the fact that Bill was NOT a college professor, or one of the great movers and shakers of his time, makes him all the more remarkable.
I'm not going to teach that he's an inaccessible Great One. He was meant for everyone then, and he's meant for everyone now. That's what makes him great.