Shakespeare and Spirituality

View from one of my daily walks during the Covid-19 pandemic, Stone Mountain, GA

You may or may not know that I used to adapt Shakespeare into modernized prose narratives. I wrote Othello, for example, as a short story about a white South African guy enrolled at an HBCU and all the problems that ensued. During the pandemic, I’ve rediscovered many of these stories – much to my excitement. I really enjoyed the Macbeth story I wrote.

During this time, I’ve also reflected quite a bit on my own religious and spiritual experiences in life. Coupling those reflections with my Shakespeareana, I wonder if there are some ideas we could glean from Shakespeare’s plays about spirituality. I don’t just mean Christianity, although that is what I’m most familiar with. But as I sit here – that’s about all we can do under a stay-at-home order – I wonder whether it’s ok to turn to Shakespeare to develop a deeper relationship with God, and with others. Are there concrete lessons we can draw from his works to be better together, and with ourselves?

One significant event that occurred during the pandemic for me is my graduation from my doctoral program. It’s a momentous occasion that I’ve admittedly found difficult to celebrate or mark. An entire life chapter has concluded and, perhaps because of the coronavirus pandemic or perhaps just in general, I’ve found it extremely difficult to lean into the grief of loss and of closure. I don’t really know what to do with myself. But I’ve somehow found myself revisiting these foregone stories of mine and old college journals filled with my imaginative reflections of…well, college life and unrequited love. In the middle of Netflix and rewatching Marvel movies, I’ve found that returning to my “old self”, saying hello to this other person, is extremely rewarding.

So here I am. Given my reflections on these deeply personal experiences and my more developed interests, I wonder what Shakespeare has to say about this. I’m inspired by a podcast called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text which walks through J.K. Rowling’s books, chapter by chapter, to develop nuanced and inclusive exegesis that listeners can use in everyday life. Thus I ask: can we do something similar with Shakespeare? I mean, the answer may in fact be a resounding “no.” I certainly believe that Toni Morrison, for example, has a lot more to say about the human spiritual condition. But I know Shakespeare better. And I think, maybe, that in this strange time of quarantine, I’m searching for more purpose and meaning in my research and teaching. I realized that, after spending several years on a dissertation, I’ve developed a toxic relationship to reading and writing. And I want to find my joy, my rhythm again. I want to enjoy it again.

I’ll keep tinkering with this idea. I’m not sure what medium it’ll take, if any. Maybe it’ll be inspirational fiction. Maybe it’ll be a podcast. I’m really not sure. But I’m optimistic about the new journey it’ll take me on.