My enjoyment of Shakespeare has made me something of a legend–mostly because I’m one of the few people anyone knows who actually reads Shakespeare voluntarily. Because of my interest in Shakespeare, I make it a point to subtly bring it up in every conversation I have. People smile and nod, then they start Googling mental institutions in the hopes that a nice man will come by and take me to another continent, preferably Antarctica.
I tell these (invariably) unwilling listeners that Shakespeare wrote a lot of plays, and you can almost see the light go out of their eyes; most of them apparently hoped that Romeo and Juliet was the only Shakespeare play they’d have to wade through, only to find a double suicide at the end (spoiler alert). However, the real reason to read Shakespeare is to look good at cocktail parties. If you’ve never been to one, I can personally attest that people speak of Shakespeare exclusively (well, that and sociology, but only if someone forgets the cocktails). So, to fill that need you didn’t know you had, I’ve decided to compile a short guide on how to approach reading Shakespeare on your own.
The first thing you need to know about Shakespeare is that you can attribute anything you’ve ever said as coming from Shakespeare, and people will automatically think you’re smart. Or they’ll think you’re pretentious (a word people use against others to mask their own inadequacies). However, when people act skeptical after you quote Shakespeare as saying, “The internet has ruined our lives,” simply inform the confused listener that you used “has” instead of “hath” so as not to sound pretentious. All will be forgiven, because now you have the benefit of being pretentious with the listener’s blessing. It’s like playing the World Cup against yourself and winning on both sides at once.
But in order to sell the charade effectively, you must affect a somber and scholarly demeanor, looking up and to the right while ever so gently closing your eyes, as if you’re tapping into a philosophical gold mine that only intellectual elites such as yourself can do. The listener will believe you’re doing the mental equivalent of bench pressing a 747. Then whisper with weighty reverence, “that’s from Shakespeare.” And remember, all the quotes you use come from Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet. As a general rule though, it’s better to attribute your quote to Hamlet over Romeo and Juliet because:
- People who have read Hamlet will be too embarrassed to admit that they don’t know the line.
- Every famous saying ever said by anyone is from Hamlet (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” is from Act 3 scene 2 line 45)
Occasionally, you’ll be at a party where someone has actually read the play and remembers it (a feat about as likely as you getting hit by a comet while winning the lottery and finding Bigfoot all in the same few seconds). Rather than admit your mistake, it’s best to belittle the offending loon with an appropriate Shakespearean insult. “You reeking, pot-bellied fecal raft” is quite useful (Hamlet Act 5 scene 1 line 21).
However, using Shakespearean words such as “doth” and “thee” a lot in your regular speaking will cause people to think you’re having a stroke, so limit them. Plus, you have to mete out your Shakespearean quotes in small doses. Flooding others with such language will weaken the impact and make it difficult to get into cocktail parties to get free alcohol in the first place.
To truly master Shakespeare though, you must understand that his dialogue often has little nuances which are difficult to decipher. By that I mean that no matter how obvious the line is, it always means something else. In fact, the more obvious the line, the more likely it means something completely unrelated to what you think it means. Consider this classic line from Macbeth: “Is this a dagger which I see before me? The handle toward my hand?” This line really means “I’m having deep philosophical misgivings about the kilt I purchased yesterday.” As much as I’d like to claim credit for that interpretation, I stole it from a Dr. Mitchell Trentino, a man who makes his living off the fact that everyone is too insecure about themselves to question his reasoning. When I see him at cocktail parties, I leave and slash his tires.
Despite all of that, there are numerous points in one’s life where Shakespeare can contribute positively. I had a teacher who said I’d find myself romantically interested in a girl, and, should I recite an excerpt from Romeo and Juliet to her, she would hurl herself at me much in the manner of a salmon jumping into a grizzly bear’s mouth. The fact that the analogy was weird and that the teacher in question was old, single, and rumored to eat pennies did not enter into my thoughts at the time. Unfortunately for me, every time I quoted Romeo and Juliet to a potential date, I discovered a wide variety of pepper spray fragrances.Follow me in a completely non-creepy way:
This is good stuff!
Thanks! I still think you should be my editor…
What kind of pepper spray fragrances? Really great guide!
Just saw this a month after the fact. Alas, I’ve let the blog go on the backburner because life and stuff (I’ve also spent most of my writing energy on fiction projects).
That said, I’ve yet to see any documentation that quoting Shakespeare outside of English teacher/professor gatherings and pretentious speeches leads to anything other than social disappointment.
With regard to pepper spray fragrances, there’s the tried-and-true “Afternoon Sulfuric Acid.” For the naturalistic pepper sprayer, there’s “Spitting Cobra Spray.” And for the more exotic pepper sprayers, there’s “Summertime Sandblast.” While the third one invokes sand imagery rather than pepper, the alliteration more than makes up for its semantic shortcomings.