Pathways into Shakespeare, aka How Netball Saved My Life

Yesterday at rehearsal we got into a discussion about first experiences with Shakespeare/how people became Shakespeare fans, and I thought I’d do a little blog about it.

When I was a kid, there was nothing I hated more than netball, which you had to play twice a week if you were a girl (boys played football). Being a fairly wily type of person, I practically always found some way to get out of it; faking an injury that would spontaneously clear up an hour later, that sort of thing. I was not remotely subtle about it, The thing is, I was one of those freaky child prodigies who could do complex mathematical calculations in their heads, like, instantly* – you know, the kind who never reach their potential as adults and end up living completely broken lives. I placed in some national competitions, and that gave me some sort of odd power or something to be able to get away with absolutely anything at school as long as I did all my work and kept excelling academically. So I could skip netball 47 weeks in a row with the flimsiest of excuses without anyone calling me on it. (Getting to the Shakespeare.)

I was entirely cognizant of this – I knew exactly why I was being treated differently. I perceived that my special privileges were due to my academic status, so I somehow formed the impression that I had to continue this during the time. I thought that if I used netball time to read J17* I’d get caught, but if I read something academic, I’d continue to receive a free pass. So every morning I knew we’d have netball I’d pick the most academic looking book I could find from the bookshelves. One day, I guess I was 7 or 8, I chose Macbeth, vaguely recognizing Shakespeare as something ‘generally smartypants.’

As a kid the two things I loved more than anything were mysteries, and the supernatural. So I opened this book shivering on the bench by the playing fields expecting it to be dull and adult, and what do I find? Fricking witches talking in rhyme about mysterious prophecies and forests that can walk. Why does anyone think this is a serious grown-up book?

I came home and told my mother, “Hey I discovered this really amazing book called Macbeth”, and to her credit she didn’t laugh in my face but instead took me to a production and then chose more Shakespeare plays and productions for me to read and attend. I didn’t study Shakespeare academically till years later.

And I think ever after there’s always been a part of me that regards Shakespeare as my childhood mate. I never had that instinctual fear or awe of Shakespeare or doing Shakespeare that I think a lot of theatre-makers, whose first experience was studying the plays in school, have.

I don’t know if anyone reads this, but anyone want to share their ‘introduction to Shakespeare’ stories?

*I can’t anymore.

**Who remembers J17?