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This report is taken from PN Review 121, Volume 24 Number 5, May - June 1998.

On First Learning Shakespeare as a Boy in Brooklyn Mordecai Rosenfeld

Roger Bannister set a world record in the mile run. But how fast could he recite Shakespeare sonnet 29?

Having been formally introduced to poetry in grade five, where we memorized our principal's two favourites, Trees (by Joyce Kilmer: 'I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree') and The Heart of the Sourdough (by Robert Service: 'There where the mighty mountains bare their fangs unto the moon'), we were considered ready for something Shakespearean in grade six. To put that long-ago author into historical context, our teacher, Miss Curtis, provided the relevant biographical data: Shakespeare was English, which meant that he spoke the same language that we did, except that he had a Boston accent; he was born in 1564 and died in 1616, which was why he never moved to the United States; and while it is not known how much formal schooling he had, Miss Curtis thought that it must have been very scant because he made so many errors in grammar and spelling. So many, in fact, that many principals did not allow his books in their libraries, which was why Shakespeare is often referred to as The Barred. Although we would be studying only his poetry, Shakespeare also wrote many plays, the most famous of which is Hamlet. Hamlet was a prince who had lived his whole life in Denmark, and one of the most perplexing mysteries of the play is how he learned to speak ...


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