Returning to My Literary Roots, Part II

Shakespeare was my first literary love.

I was 8 when my grandmother and I read Macbeth aloud together, sitting at the dining-room table of the house that holds my most vivid childhood memories, bright sunlight streaming through the window as I encountered that grim but glorious material for the first time.

This is the very book from which we read, my grandmother and I, this book bedecked with working designs, such as this image, drawn by Michael Ayrton and John Minton, from which a costume would be fashioned that Lady MacDuff might clothed be.

I was hooked.

After that, I sought out the Bard at every opportunity. By high school, I had absorbed Shakespeare’s sentence structure deeply; I was more comfortable with a sentence containing four or five clauses than my teachers.

As I proceeded through my academic career and especially during my time as a lawyer, my writing changed. I retreated from my literary use of language. By the time I left legal practice, I had developed a dry and unambiguous style, a style that was working against me as I struggled to write a fantastical novel.

This fall, I started working through a dvd-based course entitled Building Great Sentences. The instructor loves and encourages long, cumulative sentences. As I started working with the materials, it was as if a flood gate had been opened. Complex, flowing sentences of greater than average length started appearing throughout my work. The early influence of Shakespeare and my grandmother had been sleeping, but no longer.

Several of Shakespeare's plays in the Folio Society edition from the 1950s. There were several complete collections of Shakespeare's plays and poetry in my parent's house, but this edition was my favourite because of the heavy paper, elegant type, and evocative production design drawings.

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About Kate Arms-Roberts

www.katearmsroberts.com

Posted on March 16, 2012, in Creativity, Education, Parenting, This Writing Life, What is Kate reading? and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I lean on Macbeth at the end of my book #3. We’ll see how many middle school kids know the tale. It’s been years since I’ve read it and I remember the phrase “Hello egg” but when I check online, the quote is “What, you egg!” Anyway, it was funny because some character in the novel who knows one of the kids is about to die, talks about how their situation is similar to Macbeth and identifies one of the kids as the egg. Every pass my editor struck the passage saying there was no egg in Macbeth and I had to keep putting it back in.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts

      I love that the line, “What, you egg!” comes in the scene that starts on the page I show above. Does that make me a big nerd? I rather think it does.

      And that scene is, as I think it should be, the one that always tears my heart out if played decently.

      • Yeah, I never could figure out why that area had such a big emotional impact when I read it in high school. The teacher read it aloud and it was all I could do to keep my stoic teen persona and not embarrass myself. Subliminally I learned the lesson though and I used his technique at the end of Book #3. Recently after reading some analysis, I realized what gives the scene its impact is that you are baited much earlier when your defenses are down with a strong characterization of the boy as a smart, gentle human being, the kind of person that’s easy to love. Because it happens early enough, you have no idea what is going to happen to him and you buy in totally. I added a technique to his in my book that I think increases the impact even more. I put the reader in the character’s head as he meets his demise. It’s like Poe meets Shakespeare. There’s an early reader (a 13 yr old) reading that book right now so I’ll have to see if it worked.

  2. How much of your 8-year-old’s love of Macbeth do you think came from reading it aloud? Speech seems more Shakespeare’s natural habitat than writing, so it was smart of your grandmother to make your first exposure a bedtime story rather than letting you get socked with a script sometime in early high school.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts

      I am sure that reading it aloud with my beloved grandmother, who loved the poetry beyond measure, though famously complained that the trouble with Macbeth was that the play consists of nothing but quote after quote, was crucial to my love of Shakespeare.
      Without hearing the language well spoken, it is too easy to be disturbed by the unfamiliarity. And seeing good performances is even better.
      Before I had a chance to be hit over the head by an unenthusiastic English teacher, I had also seen Alec Guinness onstage as Shylock, watched and loved both Roman Polanski’s Macbeth and Laurence Olivier’s Richard III, and acted in scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so even a bad classroom experience couldn’t ruin Shakespeare’s plays for me

  3. I’m impressed. Shakespeare leaves me scratching my head for the most part!

  1. Pingback: Returning to My Literary Roots, Part III « Kate Arms-Roberts

  2. Pingback: Returning to My Literary Roots, Part IV « Kate Arms-Roberts

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