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William Shakespeare, I've got news for you. Are you ready? Here we go. It is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.

And you can take that straight from the old dog's mouth.What it amounts to, Bill, after dodging you most of my life, starting from the dark ages of my high school daze, I've become a Shakespeare fan. It's the truth, you old soothsayer you.

Right off, though, let me say I hesitated to go public with my conversion because, well, it would have been like throwing one of your famous lines back in your face. Or so I embarrassingly thought. You see, I long believed you had originated the hoary line: "Thou cans't not teach an old dog new tricks." Honest.

Anyhow, research reveals variations of that line, the oldest dating back to 1605, to a contemporary of yours, one William Camden. Maybe you two belonged to the same writers' club?

OK, so that having been writ, let's move on. A Shakespeare Festival came to town recently. At first the idea did not excite me all that much, if you'll excuse a 20th century colloquialism.

Well, to a lot of folks my age, Shakespeare meant nothing more than forced reading and memorizing archaic language in school. Actually, you WERE a little more than that: a guy who wore crazy collars and didn't know when to stop spouting off. In a nutshell, courses including your stuff were not in high demand.

Remember, we were cogently concerned with passing through a Depression, more so than passing Elizabethan English Lit.

Never mind. Moot's the point, as you might say, Bill. What's integral is this: I approached the festival's two plays, "The Tempest" and "The Taming of the Shrew," with an open mind, and you pried open my mind - and my eyes and my heart - even wider.

I don't know, maybe it was the full moon hanging like a prop behind the stage door, or the setting in a downtown park, vulnerable to the sound and the fury of a world rambunctiously at large.

Still, as someone once sagely stated, the play's the thing. You gave the cast with all its splendid orations, pratfalls, songs and love making, and the audience, something simultaneously serious and funny to chew on. The Renaissance burst to life.

I don't know how it was in your day, Bill, but in our theaters in this day and age many young people like to sit with their feet up on the seats in front of them. So it was with the girl who kept kicking the back of my seat during "Taming of the Shrew."

But you know something? On this night, I didn't mind. I simply figured someone was getting as much kick out of you as I was. Indeed, it was a night of the rarer action and reaction.

Thanks, Bill, for the colossal. The collected works of Shakespeare are my new plaything. And what a grand business it is, to journey this far in life and still awake to a newness of wild spirit.

Such is the stuff an old cur's dreams are made of.