My English education may be described as eclectic and incomplete. Although I have a master’s degree in English, my undergraduate degree is in psychology. I sometimes use that fact to excuse myself for not knowing what I think I should know had I spent four years studying English as an undergrad. I confess that I have still not read all of Shakespeare’s plays. But that’s not so bad, is it? There, there. What if Shakespeare’s plays were all lost? Wouldn’t there still be English degrees?
Many years ago, prior to the Internet and prior to the commencement of my English studies, I was reading William Gilman’s Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Gilman opens his introduction by saying that “Like Bottom, Emerson once confessed, he wanted to play all the parts.” I had no idea who Bottom was. Was he a friend of Emerson’s? A philosopher? A clergyman? I had no idea. Not a big deal. I just assumed he must have been someone that Emerson knew and admired and perhaps corresponded with. And every time I picked up my well-worn edition of Gilman’s Emerson, I would wonder, just for a second or two, who Bottom was.
Well, back to Shakespeare. I have very slowly been making my way through his plays, and while reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I came across the name of Bottom! And there he was, this hilarious, child-like, joyful, and overconfident character wanting to “play all the parts”! What a joyful surprise to encounter the name of Bottom again and to finally understand the reference! My education has been wonderful.