I’m reading Shakespeare on an e-Reader; and it’s surreal.
By best guesses, William Shakespeare wrote Richard III around 1591. It’s odd to consider… reading a book on a modern electric device that was written over 430 years ago on a scroll.
I’m new to e-Readers, and to be honest, I’m a bit reluctant.
I love books. I have a small personal library, which includes a tiny collection of older volumes full of the deep smells of history (much to my asthma’s dismay). I adore the feel of a book in my hands-its weight folding itself into a kinesthetic, almost kismet interaction with my touch, creating a completely visceral emergence into narrative.
It’s been five minutes on this e-Reader, and the slippery-little-sucker has almost fallen three times. Imaging the ghost of Richard III standing behind my chair, groaning at my complete incompetence, I beseechingly glance up at my book shelf eyeing the hardbacks…Yikes! Now it’s four times.
Ok Angela, get a grip. It’s time to embrace the future and be open to change.
Ironically, I decide to start with Richard III. 430 years-later spoiler alert, it turns out Dick wasn’t so good with change; picture an uber-repressed John Wick in a ruffled collar running around all homicidal. My choice of story makes me wonder if my subconscious is trying to rebel and make this new experience as difficult as possible.
I pop the last bite of my bagel and stop to wipe the butter from my fingers re-gripping the e-Reader. As I settle back down into my chair I keep picturing a 27-year-old William sitting on a low 3-legged stool, perched over a desk, quill in ink-stained hand, scrolls scattered around, and very likey; he’s a bit drunk.
Sighing at my bland coffee, I wonder if something is lost with stories throughout time. Is there a lack of connection due to changes in culture? Perhaps it’s about the change in the medium by which the story is conveyed? Would I feel more connected to the plights of Richard III if I was back in the Globe playhouse, watching and very likely smelling the live performance?
Certainly not all stories hold up to the test of time.
Woke culture has been a mixed bag, but it has highlighted that not all narratives have a long shelf life, and that there’s likely a good reason for that. There are movies from the 1980’s that feel a bit awkward and confining to watch now. And yet, some stories are still relevant today, such as Orwell’s Animal Farm. But that’s just a few decades ago…how about almost 500 years ago?
To be fair; I’m biased.
Whether it’s scenes of gun-toting- gangsters unintelligibly shouting dialogue, or worse, musical versions where finger-snapping-toe-tapping characters are always just a moment’s away from bursting into song: I find modern adaptations of the classics somewhat cringe-worthy.
Which is oddly snobby of me.
It’s not like I learned about literature at private boarding school deep in the English countryside sipping hot cocoa in next to the Gryffindor fire place. Nope. Like most Westerners, I had my first introduction to Shakespeare in grade 9: A Midsummer’s Night Dream.
I recall students shuffling from foot to foot in the aisles next to their desks, taking turns reading, while every now and then pulling at their wedgies. I remember awkwardly trying to say words like “beauteous” and “methinks still doth stand” with a cool British accent- which only led to my braces cutting the inside of my lip and a dollop of drool seeping out when I said “doth”. There is no way to look cool reading Shakespeare in high school. However on the positive side, it was the same for all of us-class president, star athlete, or quiet loaner- the first thing I learned about Shakespeare was that he was an equal-opportunity-humbler.
From freshman to senior year we read; As You Like it, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Henry VIII. I recall all attempts to bring Shakespeare’s words to life as absurdly mortifying. Of course, there’s a big build up for the famous love story Romeo and Juliet, aka “The tragedy of teenage hormones and toxic codependency”. If I could give any advice to my 17-year-old self it would be:”You think you want to play the role of Juliet, just like you believe you are going to want to say ‘yes!’ every time someone asks you to be a bridesmaid in your 20’s- you don’t.”
It can be done though, bringing those stories to life, it just has to be done well.
As such, the notion of reverence comes up. I believe John Milton said it best when he wrote, “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” Meaning, it’s our job as readers to meet the story halfway, and not get too hung up on the method of delivery.
In reflection of my first e-Reader experience I’ve learned a couple of things. First, I learned a philosophical lesson. Whether written on a scroll or in a hard cover book, whether presented as a live play or full featured movie, or even just listening to a simple oral tale told around a camp fire; it is not the medium by which the story is conveyed that really matters.
If a story is of a higher truth for us- it resonates.
If a narrative is written from a place of deep connectedness, authenticity, and causes us to not only think, but also feel when we engage with it, then it has real substance. This is the power of astonishing authors, such as William Shakespeare. Their passion and creativity transcends everything; whether that hundreds of years, or scrolls and screens alike.
Secondly, I also learned a very practical lesson; put the grippy-case-thingy on the e-Reader if I’m not going to bother wiping the butter off my hands first.