Sitting down to write about Shakespeare is like a toddler confidently announcing his neurosurgery skills while wielding a knife. But it was his birthday this week so I feel the need to focus on the Bard. I’ll never win this fight but he is the worthiest of adversaries.
I’ve always loved words and the effect they can have as we stumble through life. Bookworm childhood was my story and then, when the terrible teens struck, I found him. Just in time.
The 1989 RSC production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Belfast’s Grand Opera House quite honestly threw me to the ground and shook me awake. It was as if my eyes had opened for the first time to see all that life had to offer. And obsession was the inevitable result. Any time we went to visit my aunt in England, I begged Dad to drive me to Stratford upon Avon whereupon I would traipse around the streets, visit the grave in Holy Trinity, watch the swans and buy teeny tiny copies of the plays so that they could always be in my pocket. I bought pencils and pencil sharpeners and bookmarks. I even got a sweatshirt with RSC emblazoned on the front and wore it every day. I painted a watercolour of Anne Hathaway’s cottage. I think I had some real friends in school too.
Astonishing to think of this glover’s son first sharpening a quill. What possessed him? How did he create such worlds when he (doubtless) had never travelled far? Most of all – how did he know so much about life and love and loss? He wrote through the Black Death, he wrote for a Queen and then a King, he wrote as his 11-year-old son lay dying. He wrote words beyond compare. Could he have imagined his ink-stained hands reaching this far into the future? Over four hundred years, centuries of change and humanity rolling ever on, and still his words endure.
I’ve stood in the room where he was born, sat in Anne Hathaway’s garden, read in the alcoves of Shakespeare and Company in Paris, gone behind the scenes at the Globe theatre in London, stood on Juliet’s balcony in Verona, even walked the Danish banqueting halls in Elsinore with Hamlet, and still I don’t feel like I know the writer. He is remote yet close, real yet intangible. No sooner have you grasped onto him than he flits away.