Growing up with a high school English teacher for a mother meant that nothing was off-limits in our house when it came to reading. In addition to the usual bedtime stories of childhood, my mom often spun a kid-friendly version of whatever story she was teaching her students for me. As I was always a high-level reader, it was not long before I was cutting my teeth on the classics at my parents’ encouragement, and I vividly remember the day in April during third grade when Mom woke me with the announcement that “Today is William Shakespeare’s birthday, and he died on his birthday, too!” This fact tweaked something in my young mind—did everyone die on their birthday, or was Shakespeare unlucky? I never could figure it out.
The summer after fifth grade, we started taking family trips to Stratford, Ontario every year. I grew to love Stratford as a place of picnics, pretty scenery, and great theater; but more than that, I loved the challenge it posed. The first trip, we saw a musical, but the summer after sixth grade, it was The Taming of the Shrew, and a few weeks before we went, Mom pulled down her battered Shakespeare anthology from a shelf and presented it to me. I remember the feeling of awe and intimidation that washed through me when I held it—this was my mom’s book, it even had her name in the cover from her college days, and it felt precious, almost holy. Shakespeare was harder than any of the classics I had read before, but I had my mom to help me with the hard parts. Seeing the play after reading it was a magical experience. I knew what was going to happen, but the effect of seeing the words on the page brought to life in the dark hush of Stratford’s Festival Theatre was something else entirely. This was the beginning of a lifelong love affair between the Bard and me. Every summer we saw a play. Every year I would take out Mom’s Shakespeare anthology and read it before I saw it. By the time high school rolled around, I had several plays and most of the sonnets tucked away in my mind.