The Groundling couldn’t let today go by without wishing William Shakespeare a happy 444th. There are celebrations this weekend in Stratford-on-Avon and at the Folger Library in Washington DC and elsewhere, when there will undoubtedly be a rush of tourists eager to engage in further bardolatry. In my own modest way I intend raising a glass of fine Australian wine in his memory this evening; something I suspect he would have approved. Maybe I’ll even recite a quick sonnet … number 14 perhaps?
To me, fair Friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters’ cold
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride;
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn’d
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah! Yet doth beauty like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceiv’d;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and my eye may be deceiv’d.
For fear of which, hear this thou age unbred, –
Ere you were born, was beauty’s summer dead
OK, so it’s been longer, much longer than 3 years since I first laid eyes on Will’s works, but they seem as fresh and green now as ever.
I reckon my first experience was in Grade 9; back then you actually got to study Shakespeare … lots of Shakespeare … at quite a tender age. Indeed I think I recall reading snippets in my primary school readers, but perhaps I am mistaken. I fell in love at the age of 13 with his works … that year it was Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar, and in my senior high school years King Henry IV (I) and The Merchant of Venice. We got to read the plays out loud in class; it was the best time in the week for me. The love affair continues unabated.
I’ve acted in half a dozen or so of the plays, directed as many again, seen most of them, and many several times; travelled to Shakespeare Festivals world-wide … there are plenty more to see … and even started one in my home-town. I’ve been to Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, visited his burial place in the Stratford on Avon Church and noted the warning not to disturb his bones … OK. When I get to London, I love to walk round Southwark and visit Shakespeare’s Globe … yes, like Stratford-on-Avon it’s madly touristy but hey, seated on those bum-numbing oak benches at the Globe, squint through your eyes at the stage on dusk on a summer evening and it doesn’t take much imagination or effort to feel the power!
Am I bardophilic? … perhaps … but there’s nothing quite like even the most average Shakespeare play (or movie) and a few lines of a sonnet to get the actorly pulse racing or the audience fired up. A Shakespeare role challenges and rewards like no other.
I’m sure something he wrote in another sonnet about his work living on into time was a quite conscious bit of strutting on his own behalf, nicely couched of course in romantic praise of the one to whom the sonnets were penned … no don’t get started!
So long as men can breathe and eyes can see
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Happy Birthday Will!