“To me, fair friend, you never can be old.” (Sonnet 104)
We go back a bit, Will and I. It’s his 448th birthday today but my knowledge of him only goes back about 50 of those years.
I first met him as a child in the Queensland Primary School Readers. Little extracts or quotes from the plays littered the pages as my 8 years of elementary school tripped by. Back then the word ‘Shakespeare’ meant very little to me, although I came to recognise this quite exotic name in time.
I do recall loving poetry as a kid. Along with the person whom I came to learn was called ‘The Bard’ I loved Coleridge, Tennyson, Wordsworth … all the great English poets. They appeared in our readers along with Australian bush balladeers and romantics. These were a great introduction to literature, I must say. But, back to Will …
I really got to know him in high school. I think I studied … and I mean, studied … and learned how to learn lines in at least four of the plays. It’s a skill that has stood me in great stead. They were Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, Henry IV (I) and King Lear, although I could be wrong on this last one. The good Sisters of Mercy made us read the plays out loud – hooray – and learn great chunks of the speeches. I remember the thrill of standing behind my desk or in front of the room reciting away madly to the bemused faces of my classmates. I can still trot out huge passages of … Caesar. Needless to say, I adored these classes and learned to love language even more because of Will. During high school we were taken to the theatre to see productions of the plays or the Young Elizabethans visited the school with their travelling shows. I would get the tingles sitting in the audience for even the dreadful stuff. I was falling in love, you see.
By the time I got to Teachers’ College in the mid-60s, I was pretty much hooked on theatre and had decided that was where my life should be. I just had to save the money to run away to London, as most of us did back then, in order to study acting. I did, eventually, but not before working on a couple of the plays for the amateur Brisbane Arts Theatre: Julius Caesar (Portia) and backstage in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Shakespeare’s plays are windows onto other worlds – to those long gone in history and to those private worlds that still reside deep within men and women.
During my actor-training in London I played Helena in a rather hippie version of MND – lots of purple as I recall – and saw lots and lots and lots of Shakespeare: in the West End at the National Theatre (still at the Old Vic in the late 1960s-early 70s) and up at Stratford Upon Avon. I recall queueing from dawn and eating breakfast in the line to get standing-only tickets to that day’s performance of Peter Brook’s seminal … Dream. I’ve been back to Stratford a couple of times since. Touristy it may be, but it’s still magical, especially when the crowds are gone. Just walking in the Warwickshire countryside through harvested wheat fields under the wide, blue skies is sheer bliss. There are skylarks … Continue reading On the Occasion of Mr Shakespeare’s Birthday – or – Me and Will