Neither Mr. Harvey nor Mrs. West could motivate me to appreciate Shakespearean literature. The concepts did not come immediately. Additionally, for this small-town southern boy the language was not in keeping with the local culture. It was by grace I survived and managed to meet the unit requirements to graduate from high school. You can imagine my dismay when given the course of study for a freshman in college. There in bold print were listed the two semester requirements for World and English Literature. Dr. Root, try as he may to convince me of the necessity to master the reading and memorization process, like my two previous teachers, failed in this endeavor.
Some years later, as part of my graduate studies, I was assigned an internship at Oregon School for Visually Handicapped. Miss Molly, my supervising teacher, informed me we were going to take the high school students to a Shakespearean Festival and I should be prepared to discuss Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ with the students assigned to me (God works in mysterious ways). My immediate response was to ‘get out’ of this assignment as graciously as possible. My efforts were to no avail. The only course of action was to ‘hit the books.’
With determination I was not going let the students I was responsible for down. In the process I learned a ‘life’ lesson from Shakespeare that lives with me today. “To thine own self be true” is Polonius’s last piece of advice to his son Laertes. As Polonius sees it, borrowing money, loaning money, carousing with women of dubious character, and other intemperate pursuits are “false” to the self. By false Polonius seems to mean ‘disadvantageous’ or ‘detrimental’ to your image; by true he means loyal to your own best interests.
We are far enough after the New Year to begin to determine the direction of our new year’s resolution: “I am going to lose weight,” “I am not going to increase my credit card debt,” “I am going to enroll in a Bible study,” “I am going to walk a mile every day,” and the list goes on. —–“by true he means loyal to your own best interests.”
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.