Archive for June, 2013

Shakespeare in love..and life and death.

Shakespeare in love……and life and death

You walk from the buzzing bustling town centre of Stratford-upon-Avon, out past The Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre complex and you follow the sloth-like river Avon and the manicured gardens that run parallel with the road you are walking, for just a short distance, before the road and river run away and fork around the church that sits like an island between the two avenues. The same river Avon on which the Queens own elegant white swans ebb and flow alongside the put-put craft that idle up and down its silent waters. Waters that soak up the emotions of the voices that seep from the walls of the Shakespeare Theatres foundations and spread their sounds like a distant echo of the past into the tributaries that connect to her and then deposit Shakepeare’s eloquent wisdom as dampness onto the banks, bridges and buildings of England’s hamlets, villages and towns as the waters wander through the English countryside, unstoppable and irresistible. A constant flow of his legacy that we can and do still tap into and be quenched by.

Today the bobbing craft on the Avon are loaded with huge black-eyed sight-seers who, perhaps surprisingly and happily are caught out, sheltering their own lenses from the mid-May and midday sun with sunglasses. Shakepeare’s sun, the same sun he saw rise as a child and set as an old man, though old for him in his time was just 52, our very own middle age, the new 40. The sun that he used so often in his work and for which perhaps he held the same belief as did E.E. Cummings, in that, ‘No sunbeam ever lies’.

The sun that like he, rose and fell and is like him, renewable for all time it seems, as if his tales of fortune and foul play, dark and dirty romance, of lost, lasting and lingering love are all timeless in themselves, rounding the planet constantly and are beamed down from that bright orange oracle, infecting us all. All of us featuring in the seemingly endlessly variable detail of the plays he wrote and each of us in turn thinking we discover new lands as if they were fresh and wild, only to realise through our own pains and suffering that we have merely stumbled on the same lands laid claim to by others, aeons before, and that we are all bound by the same universal laws that give us an illusion of freedom and that perhaps our lives are so small we cannot make a mark worthy of our time here.

But then too, on revision, like a flock of starlings that weaves the light of the day into dusk and thence into night, if we could only see our place in the flock, we would know that we touch the heavens with our majesty and become part of a whole that is beauty, and what is beauty but truth and truth, beauty.

You wander down the lane that has narrowed from a road and leaves behind the hustle and bustle of tongues twisted and tongues lost in translation and away from the click and clack of cameras, until there, shading under trees is a church, quite a small church, now hidden from view in the exuberant spring outburst of green. A small church with a sharp spire, hidden and unobtrusive, shying away from the town centre and Shakepeare’s Theatre, not attracting attention, not demanding to be heard, just sitting patient, but yet holding all the treasures on Earth.

. ‘The Collegiate Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon’

At the T junction you turn left and then shortly the entrance to the church appears and you walk along a straight gravel path that rises slowly, passing through a graveyard, up towards the main entrance of the church. Once inside, to the right is a tiny brightly lit book and gift shop with people almost whispering, and to the left are the rows of pews and further up the altar and large stained glass window above it.

You walk between the pews and half-way there is a sign where the pews are blocked off and the sign there says ‘Nominal’ £2 please for viewing Shakepeare’s tomb’, or words to that effect. A man quietly and without demand almost embarrassingly takes your ‘nominal’ £2 and hands you a leaflet about the church and Shakespeare’s connection. walk about 10 yards and there is a raised altar, about a foot higher and a further section higher than that.

Its hushed tones only here and as you walk a few more yards, it hits you. There on the left hand side of the altar is a throne, though its invisible. At least I expected a throne and perhaps there should be a throne. For here is a King and though we all finally have to lay down one day, it was as if this man perhaps should have been buried in a place higher up, celebrated, exalted, perhaps raised on high at least at a level on a par with our eyes, but really I felt as if I should be standing there gazing upwards, as if looking heavenwards. A simple man, many would say, but surely a God amongst men.

I stood there alongside visitors. Visitors looking, reading, thinking, wishing, wondering, quietly snapping memories for the folks back home. I wonder what he would have thought of that? That his grave would be captured on paper or by atoms of light and could be transported around the world by flying devices or transmitted through the air instantaneously and received the other side of the world on a screen with moving pages. Would Shakepeare own a computer? A camera? What would he have written about were he alive today? Perhaps he had already seen into our minds and deeds long ago. After all it seems he saw us as we are 500 years ago and nothing too much changes in our basic wants and needs and desires. He knew us before we knew ourselves. He didn’t need the use of DNA, or science, psychological theory’s, he had the mind to observe and postulate and read the mind of men and pose a story, a question that was, like all great works, personal and yet universal.

So there he lay, The King. Not the King of Rock n’Roll. Not the King of Pop. Not a King of Blue Blood and inherited power, power disposed rightly or taken by force. Not a King of Industry, a self-appointed King, a King for a Day, not even the King of Heaven, but a King with a Kingdom of all history and all things human.

Now I can honestly say that I have never read an entire play of his in my life. I have seen numerous films and heard parts of plays on the radio. But his impact on all of us is beyond evaluation.

Ben Jonson anticipated Shakespeare’s dazzling future when he declared, “He was not of an age, but for all time!”

Shakespeare’s ability to summarize the range of human emotions in simple yet profoundly eloquent verse is perhaps the greatest reason for his enduring popularity. If you cannot find words to express how you feel about love or music or growing older, Shakespeare can speak for you. No author in the Western world has penned more beloved passages.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers’

‘We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.’

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

William Shakespeare was the most remarkable storyteller that the world has ever known. Homer told of adventure and men at war, Sophocles and Tolstoy told of tragedies and of people in trouble. Terence and Mark Twain told comedic stories, Dickens told melodramatic ones, Plutarch told histories and Hand Christian Andersen told fairy tales. But Shakespeare told every kind of story – comedy, tragedy, history, melodrama, adventure, love stories and fairy tales – and each of them so well that they have become immortal. In all the world of storytelling he has become the greatest name.Shakespeare’s stories transcend time and culture. Modern storytellers continue to adapt Shakespeare’s tales to suit our modern world, whether it be the tale of Lear on a farm in Iowa, Romeo and Juliet on the mean streets of New York City, or Macbeth in feudal Japan.

Many of the common expressions now thought to be clichés were Shakespeare’s creations. Chances are you use Shakespeare’s expressions all the time even though you may not know it is the Bard you are quoting. You may think that fact is “neither here nor there”, but that’s “the short and the long of it.”

If you cannot understand my argument, and declare “It’s Greek to me”, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool’s paradise – why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then – to give the devil his due – if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I were dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then – by Jove! O Lord! Tut, tut! for goodness’ sake! what the dickens! but me no buts – it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare. (The Story of English, )

Here then, at this simple graveside, there was no fanfare, no musak, no flowers, no weeping and wailing or gnashing of teeth, nothing elaborate or flashy or gaudy, for all intents and purpose if the sign had not been there fronting his grave, it may well have passed for some long forgotten nobleman’s resting place.

But there he was, a giant of a man, in a small grave, in a small church, in a small town, somewhere in the middle of a small country. And for all the power some men claim to possess, whether through money, or war and bloodshed, or industry or materials, here was The King, His power was the power of the mind and the means and language to express it with. The king of his mind and our minds too.

And all for just a nominal £2.

God bless the King.

Chute, Marchette. Stories from Shakespeare. New York: World Publishing Company, 1956. 
Levin, Bernard. Quoted in The Story of English. Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil. Viking: 1986).

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