I like Shakespeare- naturally

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It’s Shakespeare’s 400th deathday. Shakespeare has been my touchstone since I read Macbeth for (what was then) O level. I think I have read every play once and seen all but two of the plays he definitely wrote.

My memories include LC Knights declaim

“Come not to me again, for Timon hath made his everlasting mansion,

Upon the beached margin of the flood”

Stark bollock naked.

I have seen Kenneth Branagh as Henry V and Anthony Sher as Richard III, I’ve watched films , been to play-readings and even acted in a few (people still remember my Bottom).

And I had three amazing years reading English Literature at Cambridge alongside Tilda Swinton, Emma Thompson and many other wonderful thespians.

So to have a year – as we are having – where I can watch and listen to Shakespeare almost all the time- is seventh heaven for me.


Bard stiff

Where I live in London is directly opposite where Shakespeare’s summer theatre- the Globe would have been and where the reconstructed Globe is. I walk over the Wibbly -Wobbly Bridge to get there. My flat looks down on the Cockpit pub which claims to be the site of Shakespeare’s London house (which he bought to let). Right beside me is Playhouse yard where Shakespeare’s winter theatre was (probably where the Apothecaries’ Hall is today.

Up the road is the Barbican Theatre where the Royal Shakespeare have been performing the cycle of great History Plays this winter, opposite the FT below Southwark Bridge are the remains of another theatre Shakespeare wrote for- the Rose- it has recently set up as a theatre overlooking the space where the Rose once was.

Shakespeare is alive today, we are Bard stiff and loving it!


Why naturally?

Samuel Johnson described Shakespeare as the poet of nature- it was not meant as a compliment. Johnson preferred the classicism of John Milton and the clever wit of Alexander Pope, which showed how far mankind had come from our natural state. Johnson could not however dismiss Shakespeare who he was always coming back to as a touchstone.

When I think of Shakespeare, I think of the natural state of man, because he told stories of things that seem entirely natural to us. His language is heightened but it is not poetic, even accross 400 years , it still bears the emotional thrust and the complicated nuances of thought with which it is written. The language dwells on the mind like a photograph capturing moments that seem super real.

LC Knights, a 70 year old, long-haired, angular man stood before us children naked and declaimed and no-one tittered; it was Shakespeare what had done that! It seemed entirely natural that Timon should rage against misfortune in this way, but only the words suspended our disbelief. When the lights went out and Knight hurried off stage, our disbelief was over!

Super natural

I go to the theatre to laugh and cry but most of all to be enthralled. Within the walls- whether of the Globe, National, the Barbican , the Rose or even (too rarely) at Stratford, I am taken out of nature into the super natural world that Shakespeare’s language and genius for drama creates.

My favourite theatre of all is beside the Globe, in the Sam Wannamaker playhouse, this little space shows Shakespeare’s indoor plays by candlelight. This winter I have seen Pericles (Prince of Tyre), Cymbeline, the Winters Tale (3 times) and The Tempest. These are the great final plays and together – in such a setting – they have taken me away from auto-enrolment, funds transparency and the fate of DB pension plans into a different- super natural state of things.

Happy death day Will Shakespeare!

I heard David Tennant say on the TV last night that he didn’t care who Shakespeare was. I agree. Anthony Burgess wrote a great little book called “Nothing Like the Sun” where Shakespeare lives in Stratford with his son (Hamnet) living the language of the plays. He uses a word “Spurgeoning” to describe water eddying under a bridge- after the Shakespeare critic who identified some obscure lines in Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece.

Some years ago I was watching water flowing under Windsor Bridge and went home to write a blog- “Spurgeoning” ( felt the words flowed like the river- reading it again I’m not so sure!

These are the kind of weird things that Shakespeare’s language does- it colours my grey imagination, makes me alive with wonder for words and phrases and – as all poetry does- turns musical in my head.

I hope that if you read this blog today, you will have been touched as Shakespeare has touched me. I can really say that Shakespeare has made my life much richer by his plays (and poetry). Thanks Will Shakespeare, I don’t know who you are and don’t want to. But you – your aesthetic, your words and your understanding inform everything I do.

Here is Shakespeare’s eulogy by another  Johnson (Ben not Samuel) . I have put in bold my favourite lines and phrases.

TO draw no envy, Shakespeare, on thy name,
Am I thus ample to thy book and fame;
While I confess thy writings to be such
As neither man nor Muse can praise too much.
’Tis true, and all men’s suffrage. But these ways         5
Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise;
For seeliest Ignorance on these may light,
Which, when it sounds at best, but echoes right;
Or blind Affection, which doth ne’er advance
The truth, but gropes and urgeth all by chance;         10
Or crafty Malice might pretend this praise,
And think to ruin where it seem’d to raise.
These are as some infamous bawd or whore
Should praise a matron. What could hurt her more?
But thou art proof against them, and, indeed,         15
Above the ill-fortune of them, or the need.
I, therefore, will begin. Soul of the age!
The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage,
My Shakespeare, rise! I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie         20
A little further, to make thee a room:
Thou art a monument without a tomb,
And art alive still, while thy book doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.
That I not mix thee so, my brain excuses;         25
I mean, with great but disproportion’d Muses.
For, if I thought my judgment were of years,
I should commit thee, surely, with thy peers.
And tell how far thou didst our Lyly outshine,
Or sporting Kyd, or Marlowe’s mighty line.         30
And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek,
From thence, to honour thee, I would not seek
For names; but call forth thund’ring Aeschylus,
Euripides, and Sophocles to us,
Paccuvius, Accius, him of Cordova dead         35
To life again, to hear thy buskin tread
And shake a stage; or when thy socks were on,
Leave thee alone, for the comparison
Of all that insolent Greece or haughty Rome
Sent forth; or since did from their ashes come.         40
Triumph, my Britain! Thou hast one to show
To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time!
And all the Muses still were in their prime,
When, like Apollo, he came forth to warm         45
Our ears, or, like a Mercury, to charm.
Nature herself was proud of his designs,
And joy’d to wear the dressing of his lines,
Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit
As, since, she will vouchsafe no other wit.         50
The merry Greek, tart Aristophanes,
Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please;
But antiquated and deserted lie,
As they were not of Nature’s family.
Yet must I not give Nature all! Thy art,         55
My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part.
For though the Poet’s matter Nature be
His art doth give the fashion. And that he
Who casts to write a living line, must sweat
(Such as thine are), and strike the second heat         60
Upon the Muses’ anvil, turn the same
(And himself with it), that he thinks to frame;
Or for the laurel he may gain a scorn!
For a good Poet’s made as well as born;
And such wert thou! Look how the father’s face         65
Lives in his issue; even so, the race
Of Shakespeare’s mind and manners brightly shines
In his well-turnèd and true-filèd lines;
In each of which he seems to shake a lance
As brandish’d at the eyes of Ignorance.         70
Sweet Swan of Avon! what a sight it were
To see thee in our water yet appear,
And make those flights upon the banks of Thames
That so did take Eliza, and our James!
But stay, I see thee in the hemisphere         75
Advanc’d, and made a constellation there!
Shine forth, thou star of poets, and with rage
Or influence, chide, or cheer the drooping stage;
Which since thy flight from hence hath mourn’d like night,
And despairs day, but for thy volume’s light.         80

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen, Director of First Actuarial, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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1 Response to I like Shakespeare- naturally

  1. Martin says:

    According to Wikipedia it is actually 400 years since his death on 23rd April 1616. Date of birth unknown.

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