“The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he is really very good – in spite of all the people who say he is very good.” – Robert Graves
“He was the man who of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul.” – John Dryden
This week I’ve introduced my older high school students to the wonderful world of William Shakespeare. At first, everyone assumes that his writing will be dreadfully boring and old-fashioned, but after reading a few examples one quickly realizes that he was quick-witted, incredibly bold, and downright hilarious. And above all this, his writing seems to touch upon the soul’s deepest convictions.
So how did he do all of that? One thing that makes Shakespeare’s writing so poetic, so meaningful, is that he explored every English word to the very depth of its meaning. Take any famous line from a Shakespeare play, and you will be able to read it in more than one way. For example, “Something smells rotten in the State of Denmark.” We know the characters are speaking of an actual fishy smell coming from the coastal waters, but are also describing a dark sense of foreboding. Similar to the way we conduct word studies in biblical texts, we can peel away several “shades” of meaning from Shakespeare’s writing. By considering the different shades of meaning in these words, Shakespeare has created a wordplay that is both entertaining and suspenseful.
Painters never use only one shade of any given color. Instead, they play with a countless variety of shades and hues to bring their image to life. In the same way, writers should never use words mindlessly. Instead, consider every definition of a given word and reflect on how certain words can be interpreted in several ways. Use this to your advantage, selecting multipurpose words and phrases to add shading and vibrant color to the images you are painting in your reader’s mind.
We can’t all be William Shakespeare, but we can certainly learn from him!