This week marks 400 years since Shakespeare died. Like so many people, the stories and poetry of Shakespeare were woven into my life at various pivotal stages. They are there mooshed into my memories with glee and love and frustration. It’s not that I’m particularly clever or cultured in this regard – most of the time I’ve read Shakespeare I’ve had no idea what was going on, save for when characters offered pithy plot summaries to help slower dingbats like myself along. [See Macduff’s son in Macbeth: ‘He has kill’d me, mother.’ Claire: ‘Oh, okay, I see what’s happening now…’] Yet despite this, I probably know more about Shakespeare’s stories and characters than I do any other creation stories or mythology. In honour of his… dying… 400 years ago, here is a concise smattering of my Shakespearian memories.
- Playing the nurse in a year 9 production of Romeo and Juliet. Most of my lines were cut and when Romeo and Juliet first kissed the two actors audibly cracked noses while the rest of us watched like excitable backstage perverts.
- A versatile turn as ‘excess ensemble member’ in a full school production of Much Ado About Nothing. My contributions included tree-that-turns-into-naff-love-heart and profoundly-horrified-chamber-maid-in-scene-where-Claudio-is-mean-to-Hero. When appealing to my family for praise following the performance my grandmother informed me that I had looked ‘certainly and distractingly horrified by what transpired’.
- Falling asleep during the last section of a school excursion to see As You Like It and waking up to the entire cast gathered on stage singing a song in honour of the god Hymen. Snickers were not well contained by the entirety of rows R and S. Apologies State Theatre circa 2003.
- Putting in an excessively intense turn as Macbeth in a drama class Shakespeare competition (think Heath Ledger’s Joker meets the final scenes of Requiem for a Dream) then being affronted on finding that first prize was a Mars Bars. Or should that be Mars Baird?!!!*
- While teaching English to high school kids in rural China realising that the topic of the week’s set curriculum was ‘Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice’. The vocabulary words included ‘good morrow’, ‘Shylock’ and ‘a pound of flesh’, followed by the instruction to ‘use these phrases in a sentence.’ As in, Miss Varley does not know how to explain a pound of flesh to her poor confused students.
- Being forced to choose a subject called ‘Witches and Witch Hunting in Europe’ in order to finish my degree after all the other gender subjects were cut, then writing a final essay unpacking the gender politics of the witches in Macbeth. I spent two months in a dark, little visited corner of the library researching King James, familiars and masques. Then they gave me a degree. And here I am today. Coincidence?
- Memorising sonnet 105 for school. I can’t remember the purpose but gosh darn it I remember the sonnet:
Let not my love be called idolatry,
Nor my beloved as an idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse to constancy confin’d,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,
Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words;
And in this change is my invention spent,
Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.
Fair, kind, and true, have often liv’d alone,
Which three, till now, never kept seat in one.
Thanks Will. Happy 400.