Did you have to study Shakespeare in your high school English classes? I remember asking my English teacher why we had to study Shakespeare and being told that it was because that was part of the ‘literary canon’ – the holy of holies as far as English literature was concerned. And then when I taught English, my students asked me the same question. And I admitted to them that I had asked that question when I was a student and that I really didn’t have an answer they might buy.
I remember Grade 12 English – Hamlet: dealing with content, discussing characters, considering motivation, memorizing soliloquies. Hamlet and Claudius, Gertrude and Ophelia, Horatio and Laertes – and there was Polonius. I remember him as being full of himself and long winded and meddlesome. Yet, in hindsight, I know that he was given a speech which truly held important advice for everyone to remember.
“This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day Thou canst not then be false to any man”
Students who are compelled to study Shakespeare in secondary school can lose sight of what’s really important to learn from it. It’s not about the content or who said what to whom or poetic devices or dramatic effects or thematic issues. It’s about lines like those said by Polonius: Be true to yourSelf.
What great wisdom to hold close. It’s about knowing yourSelf and it goes beyond that. It’s about knowing who you intrinsically are, who you were born being. It’s about embracing that: holding it as your guide for the choices which you make in creating the life you want. It’s about listening to yourSelf deep, deep down and ignoring the voices of others who, for whatever their reason, tell you who you are and what you can do and how you need to be in the world. It’s about never betraying yourSelf. It’s about never giving parts of yourSelf away until you don’t recognize yourself and you are left wondering who you truly are.
If we only noted such advice when we were teens. Even so, it’s never too late.