Subtext….or why I love Shakespeare!

               I remember falling in love with Shakespeare… his writing that is, not the man.  I was sitting in Miss Whitman’s Freshmen English class, and we were studying Romeo and Juliet.  One day, as we were nearing the end of the First Act, and before we started acting it out for the day, (yes, Miss Whitman was that awesome – we ACTED OUT Skakespeare in class) she handed out a sheet of paper that had Romeo and Juliet’s confusing conversation about palmers on it.  And then she asked us to interpret it, or to dig past the words and actually find out what Romeo and Juliet were saying to each other during this conversation:

[To JULIET] If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.

Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.
Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged.

Then have my lips the sin that they have took?

Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!
Give me my sin again.

My friend Ashlie and I sat and struggled through all the notes that Miss Whitman had given us.  We practically squealed when we figured out that while Romeo wanted to kiss Juliet, Juliet wasn’t going to just tell him “sure, go for it, lay a nice juicy one on me”.  She was too much of a lady for that.  However, she DID basically tell him that if he wanted to kiss her, she wouldn’t stop him.   So he gets bold and kisses her…and then kisses her again.  Rocket science I know, but I bet you didn’t get ALL of that when you read through it in Freshmen English.  If so – well done!  You should give your English teacher an apple…or a Starbucks card.

Anyway, I fell in love with Shakespeare that day, NOT because of his amazing love story (Gag) but because the man was a master of subtext.  I know I’m weird, but I LOVE having to figure out what his characters are actually saying.  It’s kinda like searching for treasure, or deciphering  a code.  I love it!

For those of you who haven’t figured it out yet (or need a definition for your English class )subtext is when someone says one thing, but is really talking about or means something else.  For instance, if your mom asks you to go pick your younger brother up from soccer practice, and you say “great”, you probably didn’t actually mean “great”, you meant, “Awwww, man, really!  I hate having to do that!”   …Or maybe not – you very well might be the best sister in the world and LOVE picking up your younger siblings.

So, the other day I was talking about poetry to a friend, and explaining that I believe most good poetry (like Shakespeare’s) has subtext, when I realized that I believe good people have subtext too.  But you probably already knew that, right?  The people you are really challenged by, the ones that somehow draw you to them, are genuine and caring on the outside, but you can tell there’s something MORE to them; there’s something  that draws you in.  They wear their heart on their sleeve, but there are layers below that very sleeve that you get to discover.  A quality person, like a good poem, has lots of beauty (of all shapes and sizes and stories) on the outside, but they have a heart with depth – with subtext.  They have character that runs deep, that cares deeply, that thinks deeply, that has deep, deep layers of love, an unshakeable love because of how deep it runs in them.  That person has subtext.  That’s the sort of person we humans are drawn to, and the sort we need to strive to be.

Probably because we humans are drawn to God, and God writes subtext daily; He has done so every day from the beginning of time.  He practically IS subtext.  Since He created everything, His reflection is hidden all over – you just have to look for it.

So, ask God to give you eyes for His subtext, because if you’re looking for Him, than your own subtext will deepen.  Go ahead, ask Him to make you a person of many layers, a person who cares deeply about the people around you.  And ask Him to give you the wisdom to be able to read the subtext in the people around you, because that’s a pretty big talent as well.  Not a lot of people are willing to look beyond the top layer of saints and sinners and palmers and general confusion.  And the friends and people that do – they’re the ones that shape the world; they’re the ones that have Jesus shining through all their layers out to the world around them.


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