Breathing Shakespeare Like Air

One of my favorite parts of The Rosemary Spell is the classroom scene in chapter 3. Mr. Cates reads Shakespeare’s Sonnet 55 out loud, and Rosemary and Adam, along with their classmates, work to figure out what it means. At the end of the lesson, Mr. Cates says, Shakespeare “inhabits the English language like oxygen inhabits air. We breathe him in even when we don’t know it.”

I believe this to be true all day, every day, but these days, our consciousness of Shakespeare in our air and in our imaginations is heightened — April 23, 2016 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. This quadricentennial has prompted a slew of Shakespeare events, including performances, talks, exhibitions, and many, many other commemorations of the Bard’s life and work. At my university, there will be a Shakespeare open mic: people can read or recite their favorite verses, lines, and speeches. I’m already signed up to read Sonnet 55, and I’ll do my best to channel Mr. Cates. Of course, I will also read Ophelia’s speech from Hamlet: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance…”

In anticipation of this 400th anniversary, I was interviewed by fellow author Pamela Brunskill for an article that is available now at News-o-Matic, a great news resource for children ages 7-10. [Check out Pam’s outstanding teacher’s guide to The Rosemary Spell!] I am posting the interview here as a way to celebrate Shakespeare’s life and his contributions to all of our lives. I’ll keep celebrating over the next few days and hope you will, too.

-How do you see Shakespeare as relevant for kids who haven’t read Shakespeare yet? Why should they read him when they get older?

Shakespeare wrote plays and poems about some of the most important parts of being a person, like love and family and memory, so anyone of any age can find meaning in Shakespeare’s words. Also, he was extraordinarily gifted in how he put words together to make meaning, and all readers can appreciate the beauty and magic of his writing.

-What is your favorite Shakespeare work and why?

Part of what I love about Shakespeare is that he writes so many different types of texts–comedies, tragedies, histories, and poems–so it’s hard to pick just one, but I do think Hamlet is my favorite of all. It’s about memory and loss and moving on, themes that are really timeless.

-What influences does he have on modern day life that kids (and adults) may not be aware of?

In my novel THE ROSEMARY SPELL, a character says that we breathe Shakespeare like air, and I believe this is true. Shakespeare invented so many of the words and phrases that we use in English (like “zany”!). You could really say he created the English language as we know it. So, if our ideas are in some ways shaped by the language we use, then it’s fair to say that we build our lives on a foundation Shakespeare laid 400 years ago.

-Why should we celebrate his death with a holiday now even though he died 400 years ago?

Just like we celebrate the lives of other people who made important contributions to life as we know it, we should celebrate Shakespeare. A poet and wordsmith is an explorer and a leader and a role model all in one person. Plus, I can’t think of anything more worth celebrating than the lasting impact of books and words!

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