Sunday 3 September 2017
So, this Café Conversation came about because of a conversation I had with a young colleague. There’s a line or two in this piece that she actually said, and probably one or two that I said in reply. Obviously, the names have been changed to protect those who don’t know who Shakespeare was. And in attempting to explain some of his works, I mentioned Romeo and Juliet, and the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio played Romeo. The response was ‘who is Leonardo DiCaprio?’ and that veered our conversation in a slightly different direction before it returned to Shakespeare. There was a lot more to the conversation than what I’ve written about here, and a good portion of this conversation is entirely made up, but I’m not going to tell you which bits. There’d be no fun for me in you reading it if I did tell you. Enjoy!
‘You do know who he is, right?’ It seemed an unnecessary question to ask. Surely everyone knew who Shakespeare was?
‘Nuh. Why would I?’
Caroline’s eyes widened in disbelief. Did she hear correctly? Maybe Portia was joking. ‘Sorry, what did you just say?’
‘Why would I know who Shakespeare was?’
‘Because you studied him at school . . . didn’t you?’
The reply shot back faster than Caroline expected. ‘No. I went to a private school.’
‘D’uh, I went to a private school.’
Dumbfounded, Caroline struggled to make sense of Portia’s response. ‘And of all the schools where you should have studied Shakespeare in English, a private school would be at the top of the list, you numpty.’
‘Well, we didn’t study Shakespeare, so . . .’ Portia inhaled the remaining coffee in her cup, and signalled to the waitress that she required a refill.
Caroline’s left eye twitched. It always did when she struggled to process information that made no logical sense.
‘I really don’t understand what you’re saying, Portia. What are you saying?’
‘Listen carefully . . . I. Didn’t. Study. Shakespeare. I. Went. To. A. Private. School.’
‘Nope, that makes even less sense now.’
Frustrated, Portia let out a loud groan, drawing the attention of the elderly couple sitting three tables away from her and Caroline.
‘And you have no idea who Shakespeare was?’ Caroline asked the question in a different way, as if she were dealing with a student who lacked the understanding of a simple mathematical concept such as addition.
‘No idea at all.’
‘So, Macbeth? Hamlet? Romeo and Juliet? The Tempest? A Midsummer Night’s Dream? The Merchant of Venice?’ She had to have heard of Shakespeare’s famous works, Caroline thought.
‘What are they?’
‘Are you serious?’ Caroline answered the question herself. ‘Of course, you’re serious. You’ve never heard of Shakespeare. All those plays, Portia, Shakespeare.’
The waitress arrived with Portia’s second cup of coffee. She placed it down in front of Portia, took one look at Caroline’s expression, and high tailed it back to the counter and relative safety. Caroline realised she probably looked like she was about to explode with frustration, and quickly tried to rearrange her expression into something less frightening. Portia, used to Caroline’s idiosyncrasies, was oblivious to the expression, and inhaled a mouthful of coffee as she thought about what to say that would minimise her ignorance.
‘So, Shakespeare. Which one was he in?’
‘Which what was he in?’
‘Which play, you mung bean?’
‘He wrote them.’
Portia was confused. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean, he wrote the plays. And a shitload of poems too.’
‘So, he was a real person?’
A single sound escaped Caroline’s mouth. It reminded Portia of a whining cat.
‘A real person?’ Caroline replied. ‘This just gets better and better. Of course, he was a real person.’
‘Oooohhhhh, I thought he was in them.’
Caroline had to clarify what she thought Portia was saying. ‘You thought Shakespeare was an actor?’
‘No, I thought he was one of the characters.’
Caroline looked around at the other people sitting in the café, and wondered how many of them had no idea who Shakespeare was. She looked back at Portia, shook her head, and began laughing.
‘This is priceless. Really priceless. You do realise you share your name with a character from The Merchant of Venice, don’t you? And Shakespeare wrote that.’
‘Doesn’t make any difference to me. I still don’t know who he is.’ Portia sipped from her coffee cup, eyebrows raised, and bored of the conversation.
Caroline thought about how to show Portia that she probably did have an idea of who Shakespeare was. She ran through some Shakespearean quotations in her head.
‘Okay, how about this? Surely, you’ve heard ‘To be or not to be, that is the question’?’
‘Yeah, nah. What’s that from?’ Portia replied.
‘It’s Shakespeare. From Hamlet. He wrote it.’
‘No, Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. Jesus, Mary and Joseph.’
‘Now them, I know!’ She paused. ‘Private school!’