My love of Shakespeare made me a medievalist.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival was a regular part of my family’s annual summer vacation when I was in high school. We would drive from Eugene to Ashland and see two plays a day. I was learning to read Shakespeare, but on the page the texts were hard; on the stage, they sprang to exuberant life. One summer we saw Richard III, and my mother gave me a copy of To Prove a Villain, a collection debating whether Richard III really had murdered the princes in the Tower. I was hooked. I could not stop reading about Richard III. Soon after I discovered Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D’Arthur, published at the end of Richard's reign. And that is how I became a medievalist.
My boyish love of sword fights in Shakespeare’s English history plays has grown to appreciate their deep human insights. Shakespeare did not understand politics as abstract systems, nor people as isolated individuals: he saw how deep personal desires translate into political action, and what political action does to men’s and women’s hearts and minds. Shakespeare understood how the past shapes the present. He made history matter to his audience, as he made it matter to me four hundred years later.
That is part of Shakespeare’s genius. He belongs not to specialists but to everyone. He engaged the world, and he taught me to do the same. I learned to love things and people I had never heard of because Shakespeare showed me how.