Today is Shakespeare’s birthday and also the birthday of my third and final child, who was christened with waters from the river Avon where old Will lived. (My pals Jacquie and Lew brought some over in a tiny vial when they were in England the months before we dunked him.)
Old Will is the guy who brings me to Cambridge MA once a month to participate in readings aloud of his plays in their entirety if you please by a group so ancient and venerable Longfellow’s daughter belonged to it in the 1880s. Grave Alice herself or was it Laughing Allegra or Edith with Golden Hair. That’s from Longfellow’s “The Children’s Hour,” a poem whose first eight or ten lines every schoolchild in America once knew by heart in that golden age when we all walked to school, uphill, both ways.
I rarely feel grave when I am with these people. In fact I’m sometimes smiling so much I miss my cue. Except when I have a part that you’re supposed to sing because of how obvious it is that it was written as a song. The Wind and the Rain from “Twelfth Night” that’s one. And Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies, which I had to sing when I drew the part of Ariel in “The Tempest” Also,hilariously, Where the Bee Sucks There Suck I
Terrified at the prospect of having to sing all alone, in public, I got right to work scouring the internet until I found a CD with the songs of Shakespeare, played that sucker in my car for two weeks solid until I had both tunes memorized by playing it ten million times in my car. Where the Bee Sucks There Suck I, I’ll never forget it and when my turn came well I got through it but only because one person sand along with me who is British and has been singing these songs all her life.
At our last meeting we read Henry V which I missed because of our death. I was to play the part of Mistress Quickly, bawdy sort of wench who gets off more double entendres than Charlie Sheen did in the original Two and a Half Men. Choice role!
It’s all choice; everyone thinks so: We did an in-group survey the summer before last where we were asked to reflect on what the group means to us. One person cited “the Bard’s poetry and jaw-dropping use of the King’s English.”
A second person spoke of how “totally engrossed” he becomes in whatever character he is assigned to play “I try to figure out where I have seen this person before and what kind of a person he was/is and what I think is going on with him. That exercise is, in itself, diverting. Then the challenge of trying to pull it off in the actual reading occupies me fully. Added to that is the double enjoyment of the fellowship and of sharing in experiences which meant so much to my parents.” (His parents! And he is in his 80′s! )
And a third said he treasures “the warm, mutually-supportive, endlessly-interesting people who open their homes to each other and feed each other. (Should have said that we also feast hugely once the reading is done.) “I love Cantabrigian Yankees, who are gracefully frank or discreet as the case may be and appreciate pleasure, including the pleasures of disputation.. I love that we all are committed to a project of a ritual and aesthetic revelation of the noble and evil heart of mankind.”
Well said ! So here’s to that great old figure born on April 23, 1564. And here’s to the great-in-my-mind new figure who, even as a little boy, had a fine sense of theatre himself.
And now… Where the Bee Sucks, just so you can appreciate the challenge. I transformed myself into a youthful person for this performance. (We really good actors, we know how to do that.