Columbine Shakespeare

Why did I never hear that Eric Harris, one of the Columbine school shooters, quoted Shakespeare all over the place?

The first reference is a quotation from The Tempest: “Good wombs have born bad sons.” Eric wrote this in his school planner on the day marked “Mother’s Day” (he also reportedly recited the line on a video he made about the upcoming attack).

The article in general I think is a little weak, I’m more interested in the Shakespeare connection.  Oh, he has an overachieving brother so you think that maybe he’s referring to himself as the bad son, that maybe he’s got some image issues, feels like he disappointed his mother?  You need a degree to read that into it? Then the article takes a bit of a leap, though, with the second reference:

Eric also made another reference to The Tempest. He complained about people who “criticize anyone who isn’t one your social words, ‘normal’ or ‘civilized’ – see: Tempest and Caliban.”

  What the article does not mention (does anybody know the answer to this?) is whether, being a high school student, Harris had in fact just read The Tempest?  It’s not uncommon – just watch Twitter – for kids in the middle of their literature homework to identify with aspects of the particular story, whatever it may be.  If you tell me he was an overachieving kid in his own right who was never assigned Shakespeare, but who read it of his own accord and made the connections himself, I’ll find it fascinating.  But if he’s quoting The Tempest just because it was on his homework that week, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal any more than if he’d had Cheerios that morning and commented on those.

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5 thoughts on “Columbine Shakespeare

  1. Only after the fact, though, Brian. Had he been reading Hamlet and said "The rest is silence", we would have said the same thing and ended up talking about the demons he was trying to silence. Or if he'd read Macbeth and chosen "Something wicked this way comes" there'd be psychologists lined up submitting papers on how he thought he was wicked.

    Reminds me (and this is a horrible thing to say) of the black comedy Heathers, about the girls who killed their friend and then made it look like a suicide by underlining random passages in Moby Dick. Es-ki-mo….

  2. Dr. Langman is arguing that something can be learned about shooters like Harris by what quotations or characters they identify with. I don't think he's suggesting that there's a link between quoting Shakespeare and becoming a serial killer.

    In addition to your insight, Duane, that student shooters quote Shakespeare because they're assigned to read it & it's on their minds, another possible explanation could be that these shooters have an inflated sense of the magnitude of their own problems. In their twisted minds, only Shakespeare's words are big enough to capture their grief, their isolation, their criminality, etc.

    Just a thought!

  3. American Delight wrote:
    "…the magnitude of their own problems." "…only Shakespeare's words are big enough to capture their grief, their isolation, their criminality, etc."

    –Great observation.
    The only reason I left out the "inflated" and "twisted minds" references is because I think that 1) though it might be true in some cases, in others the sense of their problems might or not be inflated when it comes to feeling pain or hopelessness –and 2) whatever is twisted about what's inside them may be a logical result of the true level of that pain. But I don't categorically disagree with even what I left out.

    And the rest of the quote makes so much sense that it rings clear as a bell. Where else would you go to find a larger than life, yet absolutely truthful way to express something you can't otherwise say, in any other words, but to someone who put such rounded truths of observation into the mouths of Titans? Maybe it means: "I really mean it; and I've said it in the biggest and best way I know how. How can you argue with or not understand that?"
    Also,maybe at that point,a Hamlet or Macbeth or Othello or Prospero, or maybe even Shakespeare himself, is the only one who might commiserate, or possibly understand, or– even care at all.

    I'm not offering excuses for them, or for anything they do; only positing possible causes for what must be insurmountable desperation. But I think it has something to do with why it's always so hard for us to explain the "why?" It's only "real" to them.

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