I had meant to write this post yesterday, but, after spending two days getting to know a stomach virus pretty intimately, I had a lot of work to catch up on. So, as Friday’s are supposed to be for Features I am going to make this Friday all about Shakespeare. Why? Firstly, because, ahem, look at the blog name. Secondly, because sometime this week, the world’s greatest playwright was born. This is a big deal for all of us literary geeks. No one person has influenced literature, and our culture, more than William Shakespeare. Plays, poetry, prose, movies, theater…all of it would not be what it is today without Shakespeare’s influence. Actors, poets, writers…we all have been touched by his hand. He was, and still remains, a genius. His words echo throughout history, and remain as moving and as passionate today as they were 450 years ago.
I was raised in a family that did not appreciate art and beauty the way I always have. My family on both sides are as country and down to earth as it gets. Thick country accents, definite Texas drawls, and a love for jeans and t-shirts mark my families. I was the one who stood out. I loved dressing up. I loved the ballet and opera and classical music. I LOVED reading, and I read a lot, everything I could get my hands on. And I was made fun of often by my sisters and my stepdad. I got called a snob and told how I thought I was better than them. Not that I acted that way. If it wasn’t country then it was uppity and snobbish, and (incredibly) looked down on. I just liked what I liked and I couldn’t help it. I loved beautiful things, especially beautiful words. I was on a head-on collision with Shakespeare from the beginning, and when the crash happened I fell in love very hard.
Romeo and Juliet was probably my first introduction but I have pretty vague memories of it as I was a young teen and thought it was pretty stupid to kill yourself instead of finding some other way. I thought it terribly romantic, though. But, ultimately stupid. Teen angst, even as a teen going through it, I just didn’t get. Romeo and Juliet was our first meeting, but the fall came when I read Sonnet 116. That was it. I was in love. Up until that time I had been into Byron. (She Walks In Beauty is still my favorite.) But, that sonnet…it was stunning. I then began reading others, and then I read Hamlet. At the time I read it, the Mel Gibson version was being released onto the silver screen. There was no better way to cement it in my heart than that. Helena Bonham Carter’s Ophelia is my favorite to this day. And Glenn Close, well, do I need to say anything? She is such a consummate actress that anything she does is a work of art. I feel lucky to have been inducted into the fold in this manner. Hamlet is so close to my heart, still, that I have a hard time deciding whether it, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or Much Ado About Nothing is my favorite. I’m almost certain that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my favorite but that’s only because I chose my personal email address, back when the internet was small, from it and several chat identities back then as well. I still have the email but have definitely changed the rest. Much Ado About Nothing…well, Beatrice and Benedick are my favorite characters, and Kenneth Branagh’s version is still my favorite. Although, Joss Whedon’s is absolutely fantastic. Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry still has me crying with laughter. He just delivers the lines ” oh, that he were here to write me down an ass! But masters, remember that I am an ass, though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass.—No, thou villain, thou art full of piety, as shall be proved upon thee by good witness. I am a wise fellow and, which is more, an officer and, which is more, a householder and, which is more, as pretty a piece of flesh as any is in Messina, and one that knows the law, go to, and a rich fellow enough, go to, and a fellow that hath had losses, and one that hath two gowns and everything handsome about him.—Bring him away.—Oh, that I had been writ down an ass!” so believably. See? Hard decision.
As much as my family teased me for my ‘snobbery’, the one thing my mom and stepdad did for me was order a set of Classics (books) for me when I was about 13. These included Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, War and Peace, The Odyssey, The Arabian Nights, and, of course, The Complete Works of Shakespeare in 2 volumes. I read through both volumes, though, at the time, I did not understand much from the language. But I understood the emotions, and the musicality of the language helped me understand more than I thought. I read through both books several times and eventually I learned to understand much of the language, especially once I got into high school. From these books I learned I love his tragedies. Hamlet, Coriolanus, MacBeth…such sadness and anger. I love his comedies. Much Ado, A Midsummer, The Taming of the Shrew…the wit and sensitivity, and love. I love his histories…the people and the wonderful monologues that are etched into popular culture to this day. Who does not know ‘to be or not to be”, “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers”, “o Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?” And let’s not even try to count the many movies that quote Shakespeare in them. The Postman with Kevin Costner and Will Patton comes to mind for a start, as does Gnomeo and Juliet (which my kids love). But it’s his sonnets that I love the most. One sad thing (sort of) is that in the course of the years, these two volumes lived with my mother and at some point almost the entire set of these Classics disappeared into space and time. Except, The Odyssey, War and Peace, The Canterbury Tales, Divine Comedy, and Volume Two of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. This volume contains my Coriolanus, read when I was in my teens and twenties, The Winter’s Tale, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Cymbeline, and my sonnets. If I’d had to lose one this would not have been the one I wanted to lose. But then, happy happy joy joy, at the public library book sale this past March, I came across the best find ever. I found a copy of the first volume of this set. The cover is different but it is the same editors, though a different publishing company. What’s more is the book came to my local library from a city I lived near when I was a little girl. I love when Fate takes a hand and sends your love back to you. See, volume one contains Much Ado and A Midsummer and King Henry V (St. Crispin’s Day monologue). I can’t tell you how fast the tears came to my eyes. Though it is not the exact same book in cover and publishing company, it’s still the partner to the original and I feel as if I have my books back together again.
Do you want to know a secret? I have never seen a live stage production of any Shakespeare play. Not one. I’ve never really been in a position to go. Life and kids and finances have all sort of interfered. The closest I have gotten was going to see them at the movie theater. One of my goals is to actually get to London and see one. And can you imagine seeing one in The Globe? Oh.My.Gosh. I am actually laughing right now because I just thought of something funny. I was relatively recently sent a pic of someone famous (not saying who-I am avoiding karma-I wear a big bullseye lately-in a good way, but still trying not to test it) who was sitting in the middle of a theater. I was supposed to be noticing the person. “Supposed to” mind you. Have I ever mentioned how completely oblivious I can be? I took one look at the picture and immediately felt my pulse speed up and my heart pound. I literally squeaked and fangirled. Because I didn’t notice the person at all. Nope, I noticed the background. It was The Globe Theater. THE theater. Oh my god! The Globe! I fangirled over a theater. (I am nothing if not completely hopeless.) But, you guys, it was The Globe! When I was telling my friend Tracy about the situation we both agreed I was probably one of the few people we know who would have seen it and known it from the inside (nope, not the outside of the theater-the inside-and the only movie I’ve ever seen showing a replica of it was Shakespeare In Love, a very long time ago), even though I’ve never been. I’m probably one of the few who fangirls over a theater, too. But, seriously, it was The Globe! Where Shakespeare’s plays were performed. Where royals and commoners watched his plays. Where he spent most of his time. Definitely visiting The Globe someday.
When I was 17, I tried writing a poem based off of Lady MacBeth. It sucked, but I did it anyway. And now, I look back at it and think how dull my life would have been if I had never fallen in love with Shakespeare. There is just something about The Bard’s words that just captures my heart every time I read his work or hear it read, and I fall in love all over again, not that I’ve ever fallen out of love with him. And I may not go around quoting him, but there are some loves that are so true you must take them deep into your heart to ponder and wonder and treasure them forever. Then, when the need arises, you pull it out to comfort your soul, and it doesn’t ever disappoint.
Happy Birthday, dear William, from one of your many lovers.
P.S. A few of my favorite lines by The Bard:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.”
― William Shakespeare
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
― William Shakespeare, Henry V
“Of all the wonders that I have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
(Act II, Scene 2)”
― William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
“And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything. I would not change it.”
― William Shakespeare, As You Like It
Would you have me
False to my nature? Rather say I play
The man I am.
His nature is too noble for the world:
He would not flatter Neptune for his trident,
Or Jove for ’s power to thunder.
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,—
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
King Richard II