College Lessons Learned from Shakespeare's Works

It can be difficult to view a text as more than another assignment to read (skim on Sparknotes), write a paper about (pray your GSI agrees with your thesis), and promptly forget, especially when texts run as thick and abstruse as Shakespeare’s plays. However, last semester, I discovered that wading your way through antiquated words and circuitous plots will lead to discovering the occasional lesson that is surprisingly relatable to college life today.


Othello: Bad Relationships

If you have to hide your significant other from your dad, that’s probably a red flag. The reason that Desdemona didn’t initially tell her father she was marrying Othello can only be speculated in the play; perhaps her father was similar to the type of person who supports Donald Trump (read: racist), or maybe he was just a strict guy. However, Othello ended up murdering Desdemona due to some serious trust issues, crippling jealousy, and an uncontrollable temper. These characteristics are chalked up to geo-humoralism, meaning that Othello’s geographical origins influenced his psychological disposition. So if you’re afraid to bring your boyfriend home for dinner or are planning a shotgun wedding to avoid your father’s involvement, you might want to delve a little deeper into your significant other’s personality and whether his hometown engenders a temperament that is amorous and optimistic or similar to Kanye’s at the 2009 VMAs.

Othello: Friendship

Do you ever lay in bed with your BFF, talking all night about growing up, boys, and other mysteries?  Desdemona and Emilia teach you to value those late-night talks and the importance of friendship. Both are in crappy relationships, putting up with sexist remarks and jealous accusations. They come clean about their true feelings late one night in Desdemona’s bedchambers, debating whether it’s acceptable to sink to the moral level of their husbands. When the topic of infidelity comes up, Desdemona says that she would never be unfaithful to Othello no matter how he treats her. (Bonus points to Des for being a faithful wife, but minus those points for tolerating an unhealthy relationship.) Emilia counters, saying that she would cheat on her husband because she believes women should show that they are not powerless and are capable of the same acts as men. (Gold star for female empowerment, but maybe a yellow flag is thrown for the whole “sinking to their level” play.)  At the end of Othello, Emilia is killed after defending her BFF and exposing the evil plot of Iago. Ladies, let Shakespeare remind you of how valuable your friends are. Your twenty-first century BFF might throw a drink at your jerk ex at the bar instead of uncovering power plots, but don’t forget to appreciate her nonetheless. ~ sisters before misters ~



I Henry IV: Parental Expectations

Do you ever feel like the most underachieving family member at holiday gatherings?  Your cousin has landed a job at a successful start-up, your brother has perfect grades, and you’re still jobless, struggling to pass Calc, and your bank account is down to double digits. Prince Hal understands your pain; he is a constant disappointment to his dad, King Henry IV, who has no qualms about expressing this. The King complains that his son spends all his time at the tavern with the lowlifes of London, creating an ill reputation. Henry wishes his son were more similar to the young Hotspur, a military success the same age as Prince Hal. However, Prince Hal gets his act together just in time to help his father win their war and maintain the throne, even eliminating his archenemy to make victory even sweeter. So maybe do the Ann Arbor equivalent of leaving the tavern and winning the war by exchanging Skeep’s for the library one night to boost those grades and apply for some jobs at companies your mom and dad don’t run.



Hamlet: Family Drama

Speaking of family drama, what do you do when your crazy relatives are staying at your house for two weeks over Christmas break? Hamlet understands that problem. His uncle Claudius moved into his castle post-murdering Hamlet’s father and marrying Hamlet’s mother. Unless Hamlet can figure out an alternate plan and avenge his father’s death (basically, some murder is about to go down), Uncle Claudius is there to stay, permanently. To put his plan into action, Hamlet starts to act as if he has gone mad. You could take the more moderate route by shouting some riddles or purposely calling your relatives by the wrong names to help them get the hint that they should end their stay a little early. Hopefully this works before you get too into character, or you might start questioning everything about your own existence. “To be or not to be [home for the holidays], that is the question.”




Hamlet: Existential Crises

Hamlet also teaches us that there is a time and a place to have an existential crisis. Do you have that one friend who seems to create issues just for the purpose of talking about herself? And you sort of feel bad and listen halfheartedly, with a nod or “mhmm” every few minutes to keep up the appearance of being a supportive friend? Hamlet’s BFF Horatio can probably sympathize with you. Hamlet has a breakdown at a church graveyard, going from casually questioning to full on freaking out about how even Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus returned to dust once they died. Horatio merely responds with noncommittal Ay, my lords and It might, my lords, probably realizing that it’s easier to appease Hamlet instead of saying “Hello, we have bigger issues to focus on, like not getting murdered by Claudius” or “Why did you want to meet in a graveyard when you’re already struggling to keep it together? Why didn’t you just go home?” Poor Horatio probably wishes Hamlet would ask him about how he’s coping with the stress of everything. After all, Hamlet is a tragic character whose end is in sight anyways, so Horatio would like to talk about himself for a change, especially since he’s going to be left to pick up the pieces of Hamlet’s tragic story. This feels pretty similar to when your friend goes home with a boy you and she both know she shouldn’t, and you refrain from saying “Why did you meet up with Brad when you’re already struggling to keep it together?” You know you’re going to have to pick up the pieces of her guaranteed broken heart the next morning, bringing her coffee, and maybe plan B. Shakespeare teaches you here that you’re a vital part of keeping your friends sane, no matter how much they can get on your nerves. Hopefully, they appreciate it.


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