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The Days of Shakespeare

By Sally Gosen Case

We schemed, we triumphed, we loved hopelessly, all the facets of life as set forth by the Bard.

The foam swords are non-negotiable.

Discount-store toys from years gone by; they reside in the serious, mission-style umbrella stand in my entryway. Their long, squishy blades and brightly-colored guards stand out oddly among the sober black and taupe umbrellas.

I should have gotten rid of them long ago. They look silly there. What possible use would a middle-aged woman have for a pair of foam swords? Besides, I’m supposed to be downsizing. I’m always giving things away, useful things handed out freely as I settle into a smaller, more practical, empty nest.My son says he wants to have them. He thinks he could have sword fights with his college friends. I can picture his buddies, athletic, high-spirited young men, spending an evening sword fighting, laughing, forming life-long bonds.

But they’re my swords. These useless weapons are my mementos from the days of Shakespeare.

Without really meaning to, we homeschooled from Day One. Before Day One, actually; more than two decades ago, I laid my guitar over my swelling belly and sent chords through amniotic fluid to budding ears. We had waited so many years for this one precious, unlikely pregnancy, our son was a miracle we never took for granted. Teaching him about the world around us was our delight. By the time he reached school age, education was our daily pattern. We rearranged our work schedules so that we could simply keep going.

We were people of words, and our son naturally became a voracious reader. When he was still fairly young, though, an older kid warned him of the literary horrors to come, namely: Shakespeare. English and reading are all well and good, he was told, but the fun ends when you have to start reading Shakespeare.

So what is a parent to do? We started reading Shakespeare. In elementary school. At first we relied on various explanatory supplements and notes, stopping frequently to clarify. As time went on, though, the notes were seldom consulted. We were too busy absorbing the language and following the story.

And we followed the story. Each character had his or her special hat, chosen from our personal collections of headgear. Youths wore beanies, workmen donned ball caps. Good queens wore one of my sparkly necklaces fashioned into a tiara, naughty queens wore my leopard pillbox. Princes wore a puffy, velvet-trimmed beret. We pinned each character’s name to his or her hat and stacked them all on the sofa at the beginning of our readings, or, more accurately, our performances.

The sessions went quickly, each of us balancing our book in one hand and switching out hats with the other. A play’s worth of hats required a considerable pile and a lot of changing. We were kings, queens, and dukes giving orders. We were young girls exchanging confidences. We schemed, we triumphed, we loved hopelessly, all the facets of life as set forth by the Bard. We threatened, we fought, we defended ourselves, and we murdered, brandishing our foam swords.

Year after year Shakespeare came alive in our living room. There were amusing moments, such as the time that, due to bad planning, I was required to catch myself when I fainted. There were sad times, too, as three players became two. Still, the show went on. Even after my son started taking college classes part time, name tags were neatly pinned to stacks of hats. Long, rainy afternoons still melted away as the drama unfolded beside our sofa, foam swords at the ready.

But our local college is small, their offerings few. A college in a big city, hours away, called my son to a different life. I slowly accepted the awful, painful truth: I couldn’t keep up our home in the country by myself. The tall, windswept trees, the overflowing gardens, the cozy guest cottage, the muddy little path to the sea – all of those became beloved memories, polished smooth like beach stones. I have slowly sorted our things. So many cherished items have no place in a tidy little house in town. Even some of the hats were donated to our local thrift store. The big family sofa was sold at a garage sale.

And in the bustle of activity, with boxes stacked up and remodeling progressing, the foam swords waited in the umbrella stand.As seasons come and go, we will build new lives for ourselves. Someday the renovations on the new house will be complete. My son will finish his education and perhaps move into a house of his own. Those Shakespeare years remain as a topic of late-night telephone conversations, yearning backwards together toward a time when we were three and days were measured and predictable.

But perhaps some rain-soaked afternoon we will dust off those books together. Maybe there will be three players again, or even four or five. Hats will be retrieved from closet depths and Shakespeare will live again beside the new sofa. Swords will be drawn from between the tasteful umbrellas, ready for battle. Home, after all, is not that creaky old house by the sea. Home is where we laugh ourselves silly together, grabbing the wrong hat and picking up at someone else’s line. Home is where Macbeth bloodies his hands, and Julius Caesar crumples to the Senate floor. Home is where we parry and shout, slicing the air with swords made of foam. Yes, they will stay with me in the new house. You never know when it may again be time for foam swords.

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2 responses to “The Days of Shakespeare

  1. It took me a while to appreciate Shakespeare myself, and I haven’t read him in a while, but thank you for reminding me what fun he can be. Your children have a wonderful mom.

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