Saturday will mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, my absolute favorite writer. If you ever doubt that this man has played a huge role in shaping our lives and language, I beseech you to pick up any of his works so as to bask in his brilliance. With the Bard on my brain, I decided to list 10 ways that South Philly reminds me of a Shakespearean play.
10) The ease with which we prove Jaques a genius: In “As You Like It,” Jaques offers the famous “All the world’s a stage” speech that discusses how we must manage the difficulties that seek to strip of us of our delights. When one looks around South Philly and sees residents doing their best to put food on the table for their families, it becomes obvious that Big Bill, as Mr. Charles Haub, my freshman year English teacher at St. John Neumann High School, dubbed him, knew that nobody’s journey would be a walk in the park.
9) Our neighborhoods have plenty of people who talk to themselves: Shakespeare liberally allowed many of his chief characters to deliver soliloquies to give audiences some insight into their interior dilemmas. Anyone with enough walking experience through South Philly has witnessed enough folks who seem to be yearning for a chance to hit the stage themselves.
8) Life here has many complex plots: Maybe I am in the minority, but I would bet that most of the people who call South Philly home are friends or relatives to individuals who are struggling with multiple matters, including financial misery, romantic misfortune, or personal misdirection. Many Shakespearean works thrive on this trinity.
7) Feuding families abound: Familiarity can be a perplexing blessing. I am always hearing of households that suffer from strife and frequently think that many of their gripes would serve as solid plots. I certainly hope they would turn out with comedic endings rather than tragic results, of course.
6) Constant conflict confounds us: Parking troubles, health concerns, tax issues – These are to us what land battles, extremely limited life spans, and monarchal matters were to Shakespeare’s creations.
5) Our area is teeming with replicas of The Nurse: My first Shakespearean obsession was “Romeo and Juliet” (Thank you, Mr. Haub) for many reasons, including the presence of The Nurse. As Juliet’s personal servant, she is incredibly comedic and compassionate, much like many of the talkative, sweet, older ladies who are quick to deliver advice to youths (and yours truly) in our environs.
4) We experience many cases of mistaken identity: With all of the times that I hear “It wasn’t me” and “I didn’t do anything,” (or “nothing – Damn their grammatical souls, right, Mr. Haub?) from my office window, I have begun to think I am stuck in a Shakespearean comedy, where instances of mistaken identity abound.
3) We are good at using strong language: Read Shakespeare enough, and you will discover (and perhaps appreciate) that the man was bawdy! The puns fly in his texts, and while many of us might not be as verbally gifted, let’s just say we come up with some pretty hilarious ways to express our wants, desires, fears, and grievances.
2) We have great storytellers: I read the canon and marvel at how many wonderful tale spinners Shakespeare created. When in the mood for comedic relief or a dose of seriousness, I know I can rely on fellow South Philadelphians to emulate them by spinning a wonderful yarn.
1) We are never short on characters: Shakespeare’s plots, whether original or modified from other texts and sources, are rich but would be trivial without great characters to deliver his gorgeous lines. We have a surplus of personalities here, too, who remind us that to thine own selves (and others, while we are at it), we must be true. ■
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