Teaching a Different Shakespeare From the One I Love

By Stephen Greenblatt for The New York Times Magazine, 11 September 2015

My first encounter with Shakespeare — ‘‘As You Like It,’’ in Miss Gillespie’s eighth-grade English class — left me cold. I still remember the words ‘‘I pray thee, Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry,’’ which I must have been compelled to recite out loud, with a shudder. But not long afterward, I fell in love with him, not through the charm of performance but through the hallucinatory power of his language.

Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are, /
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, /
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, /
Your looped and windowed raggedness defend you /
From seasons such as these?

It seemed — it still seems — incredible to me that this power and the moral intelligence that it conveyed could come into my possession. If I desired it, it was mine as if by birthright, for the simple reason that English was my native tongue. All that I needed to do was to immerse myself in it passionately. And, equally incredible, as a teacher, I could spend my life sharing this passion with my students.

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