Ah, Master William Shakespeare, who died four hundred years ago, as of today… The man who went about promising immortality – or at least eternal fame – to fair youths, through his poetry… Although, as it turned out, it meant that the poetry, and not the youth’s name, would be read by eyes not yet created and rehearsed by tongues to be. Our own, for instance, four centuries later.
Because here we are, reading, and rehearsing, and admiring, and asking questions, and translating, and staging, and doubting, and if you say “theatre”, most people will picture in their mind Hamlet with the skull, or Romeo climbing Juliet’s balcony… If he can see it all, he has cause to be satisfied, this Will Shakespeare from Stratford, who was born to glove-making, and ended up throwing is name and his poetry across the centuries.
Who knows what he thought, as he lay feverish in his second best bed – because perhaps the best room at New Place was kept for important guests? – and wondered… He had moved crowds to tears and laughter and fury, he had made Gloriana laugh, he had serenaded a young peer in sonnets, and there he was, dying a prosperous merchant, having drowned his books, like Prospero. He was no longer the man who had written of tongues to be, he knew well that, for the most part, plays were eagerly consumed, and then went out of fashion and died… He must have wondered, at least once: What will remain of me? Not of the owner of New Place, but the London poet…
I doubt that, even in his wildest imagining, even in his most fevered dreams, he could have guessed the long tale to come, of decline and rebirth, of rewritings and sanitizations, of worship and misunderstandings, of doubts and staging, staging, staging… And I doubt he could have imagined my Little Shakespearean. I told you about him, didn’t I? Well, a few nights ago, the little fellow (all of ten!) watched Shakespeare in Love with his mother, and… “Romeo and Juliet!” he chirruped when Will began to write. He knew the story, he remembered speeches, he tried to refuse to go to bed until the end, because he loved the tale about the tale he knew.* And he wanted to know: won’t there be more readings of the Paper Stage?
And there will be, of course: people gathering together to read Shakespeare’s plays aloud, and little boys joining in as eager as you please. Because of the stories. Because of the words. Because of theatre.
Which means, it seems to me, that if he can see it all – if his soul wasn’t changed into little water drops, to fall into the ocean, ne’er to be found, as his more fiery contemporary once wrote – he has cause, every cause to be satisfied. Tongues to be indeed, Master William Shakespeare, who died four hundred years ago!
* He also recognized Kit… “Marlowe? The one of Faustus?” And, after some consideration: “Which one wrote better?” A question his mother suggested he should ask Clara. I’m waiting for it the next time we meet.