10 May

Understanding Shakespeare by yourself


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Having had my upbringing in Hindi-medium CBSE govt-schools, it was as late as Class XI that I heard of guys like Wordsworth or Keats. Yes, I had even heard of someone called Shakespeare; we had an extract of his from his play As you like it (Seven Ages, probably a speech by Jacques). Point is, I was as dumb about English as you can imagine anyone to be (for that matter, I have maintained the status).
Somehow I went to Jadavpur University English Department. Since I did not have Bengali as a subject during my life, and since there was no provision for Hindi, for morons like us there is a provision for an extra subject called ‘Alternative English’. This Alt Eng had a play by this person called Othello.
We few guys are sitting at the first class of our Alt Eng, when this gentleman walks in briskly, and before banging some book he was holding in his hand (the Arden edition of As you like it, which he insisted all of us buy or acquire), said in all earnestness verging on ferocity:

“I don’t know what the level of your competence is, but now that you are here, you are supposed to read and understand Shakespeare by yourself”.

With an open mouth I thought, “If we are supposed to do so much all by ourselves, what are you here for, sir?”
I took his advice to heart. Henceforth a guy called Ramji Lall became my best friend in college.

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