I really liked the idea of contributing to http://birthday2012.bloggingshakespeare.com/, but failed to get my act together last week. So here’s a belated post.
Shakespeare has been looming quite large for me in recent weeks. I’ve been re-reading 'The Tempest' as homework for an AHRC research project I’ve been contributing to (http://digitalcopsandrobbers.wordpress.com/). I was invited to the energy-fuelled version of Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Lyric Hammersmith. *And* I chanced upon a Globe Theatre production of Othello on Sky Arts with a mesmerising performance by Tim McInnerny as Iago.
This isn’t that unusual actually. Every few weeks or months, something about Shakespeare tends to intrude into my life (and yes, I know how wanky that sounds). In the last few years he’s cropped up in a Twitterplay I helped write, a really good film I saw, a really good book I read, a place I visited...
This is rather the point about Shakespeare. If you’re someone who’s trying to make a living from any kind of writing and/or performing, he looms large. Sometimes he looms in a threatening way – (thinks: I will simply never be as good as him at what I do). On good days, perhaps, it feels more like a steadyand reliable pulse that beats on in the background of a writer’s life. He’s always there. There’s always another one of his works that is relevant to what’s happening to you right now.
And yet the most striking thing about Shakespeare for me is how bloody surprising he is whenever you do go back to him. He’s just so damn fresh and experimental; he’s so quick to set up really interesting situations and dilemmas for people who have character traits and personalities that you instantly recognise; so good at using language to create a mood, set a scene or match the action.
And then he’s prepared to take scenes and plotlines and whole plays off into crazy places that somehow seem acceptable and *real*, and that offer the potential for all kinds of endings, happy or sad. Quite often I finish reading or watching a play and think: 'I wonder what could have happened to that character?' - even though I *know* what happened to that character because Shakespeare told me.
I guess that’s why I keep returning, and why I keep getting surprised. And in that way he sets the bar so very high. It spurs me on. Happy (Belated) Birthday.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!