The single and peculiar life is bound
With all the strength and armor of the mind
To keep itself from noyance, but much more
That spirit upon whose weal depend and rest
The lives of many. The cease of majesty
Dies not alone, but, like a gulf, doth draw
What’s near it with it. It is a massy wheel
Fixed on the summit of the highest mount,
To whose huge spokes ten thousand lesser things
Are mortised and adjoined, which, when it falls,
Each small annexment, petty consequence,
Attends the boisterous ruin. Never alone
Did the king sigh, but with a general groan.
It has been many years since I challenged my feeble brain with the words of Shakespeare and I must admit that I wouldn’t have done so at all if not for the insistence of my college English professor. I mean, who reads this stuff for entertainment? Watch yes, read…not so much.
That’s why this newspaper item from 1900 caught my eye this morning and made me think, for the umpteenth time, about the complex lives of our ancestors, especially the women.
The Shakespeare Club met with Mrs. Ahrens last Saturday night. Tomorrow night it will meet with Miss Rathbun. Subject: Scene 111, Act 3 of Hamlet.
Hamlet? At a time when daily life was filled with labor intensive chores and countless responsibilities, these mothers and grandmothers gathered in a parlor lit by lamps and read the difficult words of the bard- of their own free will, and probably from a borrowed book. Home libraries were usually small and included more practical books such as the Bible and school texts for the children. Women shared the few books they owned and some even read them in secret. I doubt that this quote from a farm woman was unusual for the times:
. . . Later, when I was married, I borrowed everything I could find in the line of novels and stories, and read them by stealth still, for my husband thought it a willful waste of time to read anything…
What an image of fierce determination and sad reality to think of a woman sneaking out to the barn or arising early in the morning in order to read in secret! How could an intelligent, curious woman survive such an existence without suffering a broken heart?
So I find myself this morning thinking about some of the things that occupy my time and my mind. I have more free time than my ancestors. I have the approval of society to do anything I choose to do. I have the privilege of being able to read nearly anything that has been written. I also have television and technology. I therefore feel a sense of obligation to the women who have gone before me to spend more of my time doing things that are beneficial and reading something more challenging than Facebook posts…at least part of the day. I may not be ready for a group discussion of Hamlet, but I’m determined to learn something new each day, and not get so distracted by nonsense.
8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.