The Journey

To Act or Not to Act: The Shakespeare Dilemma
By Blair Tellers

Personal Essay

My best experience at Whitworth came veiled as a curse.

My writing track mandated that I take a Shakespeare class, so there was no way of cheating the system. This was unfortunate, as Shakespeare had never been my thing. For an English major it is absolute heresy to express disdain for the babblings of dead white European males. Thanks to the group of intellectual authorities who gathered together and created the Western Canon of Approved and Worthy Reading Material for Stressed Out and Suicidal College Students, I was trapped and wary. The only Shakespearean phrase that had ever resounded in my mind was "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

The course itself was demanding and required a truckload of reading. Still, the real issue arose when our professor informed us that we would be divided into groups and must perform selected scenes from a series of plays we had read, such as Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, A Winter's Tale and Two Gentleman of Verona. The part that bothered me was performing in the Hixson Union Building – in front of many people. As a kid I participated in theatre, but by now I had come to excuse that long-expired, youthful confidence as ignorance. Childhood serves a generous portion of blissful naivety, but the servings become more meager as I get older.

Our group was to perform Act 5, Scene 3 from Much Ado About Nothing. I thought about staging a small car accident as a decent excuse to offer my professor when I did not show up on the day of our performance, but my insurance was already high enough.

I have a photographic memory and am tragically adept at absorbing mass data, so my group decided to give me the biggest part. I would have traded my soul to the devil for a character with only one line. It was not the memorization that bothered me. It was the fear of humiliating myself in front of my professors and peers.

We practiced relentlessly and I was the only actor to mess up every single time. As Claudio, the angry groom who was foiled into thinking his fiancée had cheated on him, my job was to yell, walk around and wave my hands in bitter contempt. In ranting, I managed to butcher Shakespeare's eloquent dialect every time my mouth opened.

During a practice, I dramatically pushed the condemned bride, played by my friend Caley. I lunged at her savagely and in my haste tripped and accidentally pulled her tube dress down to her waist. "BLAIR!" she shrieked, grabbing the white dress and yanking it up. I was convinced that Caley's inadvertent naked episode was an omen of bad things to come. My spirits were seriously dashed.

On the day of our performance I arrived on time in the HUB, having written my will about an hour beforehand. The professor got up and announced our group, and I remembered a quote from Virginia Woolf: "I saw my own thoughts sailing past me like blazing ships." I started to sweat. I saw my Shakespeare grade sailing past me like a blazing ship. It would careen off the edge of the earth in a fiery ball and I would have to take that blasted class all over again.

We walked on to the makeshift stage.
From that moment, however, an unforeseen confidence manifested somewhere in my gut. All of the anxiety disappeared. Smoothly and comfortably, the words flowed from my mouth. Nervousness and self doubt vanished in a peaceful exhale as I boomed in the loudest man voice I could produce. I had paragraphs of lines, but for some reason it all seemed effortless. I moved freely about the stage, emphatically beseeching our spectators to sympathize with me.

"Oh, Hero!" I moaned. "What a Hero hadst though been if half thy outward graces had been placed about thy thoughts and counsels of thy heart!"

I agonizingly clutched Caley's hand before throwing it down like a dirty rag. For a brief pause I let my face soften, so the audience could see how pacifying my bride's beauty was. My expression quickly hardened again as I pushed her, just as we had rehearsed. Her dress stayed on.

"But fare thee well, most foul -- most fair! Fair thee well, thou pure impiety and impious purity! For thee -- I'll lock up all thy gates of love, and on my eyelids shall conjecture hang!" I said.

I flung an arrowed finger toward the spot where Caley was standing and squeezed my eyes shut in utter heartbreak. "To turn all beauty into thoughts of harm" -- I raised my voice to a scream -- "And NEVER shall it be more gracious!" My knees buckled and I dropped to the ground in a dramatic finale. In sweet relief I wanted to say something like, "It is finished," but I had not been crucified. Stealing Jesus' line might have been sacrilegious.