O, what a happy title do I find (from Sonnet XCII)

Scott Gardner

For a short time while I was in college, Shakespeare was my boss. This is a fact. I had a part-time job in the university’s writing center, offering help to students who felt overwhelmed by their college writing assignments. The writing center director’s name was William Shakespeare. He came from a small southwestern US town, from a family of Shakespeares who were apparently descended from the Great Bard’s brother.

You can imagine that with his name he must have endured a lifetime of amused reactions and silly jokes every time he introduced himself in public. I don’t remember exactly what I said to him at my initial job interview, but I like to think it was something friendly, out of the ordinary, and a bit in-the-know, like maybe, “William Shakespeare!? The self-same name, but one of better nature, I suppose” (from King Richard III). More likely, though, I said something along the lines of, “Wow, minde blown!”

Mr. Shakespeare was a fairly laid-back, straight-ahead boss, not wont to lapse into lugubrious soliloquies or audience asides that would make the staff worry about his sanity or about losing their jobs due to tragic, dramatically ironic events looming in Act V. On the contrary, his main workplace concern was worksheets. In the center’s reception area, we kept a large cabinet with dozens of office drawers containing copies of prepared worksheets that explained different research and composing techniques for student writers. Mr. Shakespeare encouraged us to use the worksheets during tutorials, and he supported the staff making new ones if we saw a need. They usually had catchy titles for quick reference. Again, my memory here is sketchy, but I seem to recall a few: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” (Sonnet XVIII) for writing compare/contrast essays; or “Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck” (XIV) for supporting opinions with facts; or “Those lines that I before have writ do lie” (CXV) for avoiding plagiarism. One time I proposed making a worksheet about getting better grades on your papers by sucking up to your teacher, called:

H: Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?

P: By the mass, and ’tis like a camel, indeed.

H: Methinks it is like a weasel.

P: It is backed like a weasel.

H: Or like a whale?

P: Very like a whale. (Hamlet)

But Mr. S rejected it outright; perchance he felt the title was too long.

Obviously, I knew that the original William Shakespeare, a master weaver of insightful, stirring lines of luscious language, was not the self-same person as my boss William Shakespeare, an administrator and worksheet maker dealing in abecedarian undergraduate prose. Still, I thought it exciting to be involved in “composition” under the wise tutelage of a Shakespeare. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Proteus gave Thurio a lesson on writing technique, saying: “Write till your ink be dry, and with your tears / Moist it again, and frame some feeling line / That may discover such integrity.” I imagined my boss himself waxing poetic now and then during a tutorial: “Submitting that term paper? Hold your horses! / Have you sufficiently cited your sources? / Style guides differ depending on your courses.”

William Shakespeare critiquing your writing must be like getting driving lessons from someone named Michael Schumacher, or finding out Marie Curie is the radiologist performing your MRI. You’d probably feel you’re being well taken care of. On the other hand, what if your esthetician’s name was Yersinia Pestis (aka bubonic plague), or your orthodontist happened to be called Vlad the Impaler? You might want to remove your bib and say you’ve changed your mind about the treatment. And it’s perfectly alright to change our minds once in a while, right? “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” said Hamlet. Methinks that should a worksheet title be.