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: Grave Alice herself, or was it Laughing Allegra or Edith with Golden Hair. They’re the youngsters from Longfellow’s “The Children’s Hour,” a poem whose first eight or ten lines every schoolchild in America once knew by heart back in that golden age when we all walked to school, uphill, both ways ha ha.
I rarely feel grave when I’m 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 this one set of verses were written as song. The Wind and the Rain from the play “Twelfth Night” that’s one. Also 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 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. Where the Bee Sucks There Suck I, I’ll never forget i,t and when my turn came, well, I got through it but only because one person sang along with me.
At our last meeting we read Henry V which I missed because of the recent death in our family. I was to play the part of Mistress Quickly, a bawdy sort of wench who gets off more double entendres than Charlie Sheen did in the original Two and a Half Men. Choice role!
They’re all choice roles; 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.” Another 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 this man is in his 80’s! ) And a third person said he treasures “the warm, mutually-supportive, endlessly-interesting people who open their homes to each other and feed each other.” (I should have said that we also feast hugely once the reading is done.) “I love Cantabrigian Yankees,” he went on, “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 who it believed was born on April 23, 1564 and also died on that date in 1616. And here’s to the great-in-my-mind new figure who, even as a little boy, had a fine sense of theatre himself. (He’s the one in the pink.)
And now… Where the Bee Sucks There Suck I, 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. 🙂 ))