Shakespeare plays are written in a language we don’t use now-a-days. I was introduced to Shakespeare in my 10th grade and there, in those conventional ways of learning, we assumed that maybe the only way to unlock Shakespeare was to find the key in the English teacher’s hand. But I was mistaken. Since Shakespearean English in no more a part of our diction then maybe it means that we have the liberty to carve our own ways to unravel, to unlock what it means. Maybe each of us have our own keys, our own way. Shakespeare has possibly written something on every kind of emotion we humans can feel. Generations might have sacked upon his plays, cultures might have evolved over and over again, globalization might have made the world open and easy for everyone but as humans, we all feel those intrinsic feelings and emotions that the older generations felt- homesickness, unrequited love, greed, loneliness… the entire spectrum of human emotions, all wrapped in couplets that are seamlessly blended in the rise and fall of kingdoms, possibly everything presented to us like jewels upheld in writings, something that will not fade away but will serve the generations to come.
I never had a liking for Shakespeare because I found those words tough and difficult to decipher. Probably I was trying to chisel through that Shakespearean time and trying to find the relevance of those words in that era, absolutely forgetting that I am reading Shakespeare in the 21st century. And if I don’t read Shakespeare, making it a part of my experiences, trying to live those stories making them a part of my culture then maybe I would never be able to fall in love with that language.
I used to think that calling Shakespeare as ‘The God of English Literature’ was a result of some stubborn criticism of how ‘good’ or ‘great’ language reads but maybe my ignorance deceived me there. Myriad emotions carved in those timeless plays with beautiful, intriguing imaginations taking shape by the by, well that is what good writing is- the one that will never wry, something which will stay, something which is timeless.
The first play of Shakespeare that I remember reading was Hamlet. Hamlet’s first words were, “Whose there?” and I remember David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest’s first words were, “I am there.” (I gave up on Infinite Jest, well that’s another story) But this just kind of made something clear to me. The first line of a book is extremely important. It welcomes you to the book. It is probably the author’s way of saying ‘Hello!’ I still remember the 2002 movie version of The Hours, Nichole Kidman as Virginia Woolf says after finger-breaking days of writing, “I believe I may have a first sentence.” Well, that says a lot. She doesn’t, even then, say that ‘I have a first sentence’ but ‘I believe I may have a first sentence.’ And that sentence is: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” Therefore, the first line of a book or a story or a play has an unmeasured weight in it. And now that I have gone back to Shakespeare and I am trying to find my own Shakespeare in those plays, I present the first line of Romeo and Juliet (the play I am beginning to unravel) as a requiem to my fresh revelation about ‘How I should read Shakespeare,’ trying to give it something of my own: maybe a foreshadow, maybe a rugged calculation of the following events in the upcoming acts, maybe the age old experience of listening to Romeo and Juliet love saga being quoted again and again… or maybe just me!
‘Two households, both alike in dignity’
These are not just any households standing upright in the society, these are those ‘two’ households and those specific two households that stand tall among the others. While the others silently weave their stories into this story, as imaginations, as faint reflections on a particular street of a locality, the Two households have sharp edges to their structures that speak for themselves. We aren’t talking about ‘a home’ but two households: two important names in the society. And there is something that wreaths the two together which is Dignity. But is this ‘dignity’ wreathing the two or are the two households standing upright with its deep roots in a wrathful pride? The two households can be absolutely different from each other in appearance, day to day chores and their relations with the society but the word ‘alike’ and that too ‘alike in dignity’ almost makes the two household identical, identical in the imaginations, in terms of appearance they look exactly like one another. At the fringe, maybe these two households have their uniqueness enshrined and a legacy is carried in each of them year after year but at the center of values, of things that can only be felt, like dignity, they are just the same. All the history of their separate existence narrows to their similarity in dignity. The play which is hailed for its romance doesn’t begin with words like love or lovers. The first two words are ‘Two households’ instead of ‘Two lovers’… then maybe it indirectly points how ‘the two households’ will overshadow the romance of the ‘two lovers.’ Reading the first line of Romeo and Juliet, the very first word of the play- TWO, itself introduces its contents and characters. It is not the story of a single protagonist but of two people. One story, two households, both alike in dignity!
P.S- I could be so ignorant that I just realised that my blog’s name, What’s in a name?, is also a quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. We could sometimes be so unmindful that we absolutely can’t see how we quote Shakespeare even in the present times