In respect of the Bard…

With the Silent Eye’s annual workshop just weeks away and based around the idea of a fictitious final play by William Shakespeare, we decided to take a trip to his birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon to pay our respects. With his back to the river and surrounded by some of his most memorable characters, the Bard surveys the life of the town, watching from his pedestal as he would have watched in life.

It is said, although there is no record of either event, that Shakespeare was born in Henley Street, on 23rd April, St. George’s day in 1564 and died on the same day in 1616. It is plausible, as although records were not kept in those days of births and deaths, his baptism was recorded on April 26th 1564 and his burial on 26th April 1616, at Holy Trinity Church.

His father was a successful glove maker and his mother the daughter of a land-owning farmer, so although he was born into the working classes, it was as the son of a tradesman that William grew to know the world. Through his father’s business doubtless the lad would have had a window on other levels of society and, coupled with a decent education and a curious mind, the seeds would have been sown early that would one day lead to the glove-maker’s son being hailed as the greatest playwright in the English language.

There is much debate about the body of work attributed to Shakespeare, with some believing it to be all his own, while others suggest Francis Bacon may have been their author. Yet the plays read as if they were well-rehearsed, the characters are rounded, written with empathy and complexity, the dialogue is polished, not merely dead words upon a page.

We decided that the versions of Shakespeare’s plays that have passed down to us through literary history read not as first drafts, but as finished versions… tried, tested, performed in front of an audience, with all the jokes and ad-libs of the actors recorded. They could be authored by a single writer, or the result of collaboration with other writers… but read more as if they are simply a recording of the combined work of Shakespeare and his theatrical company. Not that it matters. The literary entity now known as Shakespeare has left us a body of work unmatched.

In England, we all had to ‘do’ Shakespeare in school, and most of us hated it with a passion. The archaic use of language hid the beauty, the multifaceted wit passed us by, and as teenagers, few of us are equipped to appreciate the depth of perception and understanding of humanity shown within the pages of the heavy tome. My own love of Shakespeare came when my class was studying Henry IV (part one) for ‘O’ level; the Prospect Theatre Company were playing that play at the Grand Theatre in Leeds, and our teacher organised a mass visit. I was fifteen.

Prospect played Shakespeare with the absolute minimum of props and in doing so captured something of the feel of the original performances. I will never forget looking down on the empty stage, where a single chair portrayed the royal court with such power. ‘Less’ was definitely ‘more’ and that one scene taught me a lot. Prince Hal was played by a young Timothy Dalton, and brilliantly played too, and the exchanges with Falstaff, as well as the humour and the antics with a recalcitrant sword, brought the words to life. I finally understood what all the fuss was about. The next day was Saturday and I was back at the theatre on my own, clutching my ticket to see Part Two.

Knowing the stage-doorkeeper at the Grand through dancing, I went backstage after the performance and was lucky enough to meet the whole cast… far smaller than you would think, with well-known actors taking multiple roles. They were, without exception, very kind. They answered the enthusiastic questions about the play and their own love of the Bard, signed autographs…. and between them, ensured my lifelong love of Shakespeare. I went home, took down the dog-eared family copy of the Complete Works, and started to read.

There are no books with nothing to teach, even if they are so bad that they only teach how not to write. But reading through the plays, poems and sonnets was an education in human nature and emotion, a real revelation to the teenage mind that still saw good and evil, love and hate, lassitude and passion, all in black and white. Black ink on white paper brought colour to my vision of the world and taught me how much I had yet to know of life. So it was with genuine respect that I stood beneath his statue and paid my respects to the Bard.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com
This entry was posted in Books, England, historic sites, Life, Photography, Stuart France and Sue Vincent, theatre, travel, writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

53 Responses to In respect of the Bard…

  1. You’ve inspired me to read him again. I’d LOVE to visit his birthplace but know it cannot happen for awhile. Thank you for lending me your experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: In respect of the Bard… – The Militant Negro™

  3. rohini99 says:

    My absolute all time favourite. Thanks for that glimpse back into my own past, remembering how I fell in love with his words, and extraordinary insight into human nature.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. rohini99 says:

    Reblogged this on FictionPals and commented:
    A nostalgic trip back to William Shakespeare, definitely my all Time favourite writer.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I do hope to visit there someday. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. How beautifully and clearly you write about the enormous value Shakespeare’s work provides. I was hating him at school too (what a surprise) until we started studying Twelfth Night and the RSC had put on a production with Judi Dench, Richard Pasco and other illustrious RSC names. My parents took us to see it at the Aldwych. I immediately saw what all the fuss was about. I saw Prospect productions too – great company.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh memories of our boat trips! We were so lucky to be able to moor opposite the theatre and then walk into town. Great post Sue.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Running Elk says:

    15. Citizens Theatre. Hamlet. Andrew WIlde in a psychiatric ward. Converted! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Mary Smith says:

    Seeing a performance does so much more than any amount of reading in class. For me, it was The Merchant of Venice. Look forward to hearing more about your visit to Stratford.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Darlene says:

    In Vancouver, we have Bard on the Beach and a group of us have attended at least one play every year for the past 20 years. They are superbly done and with few props. I have seen more than 50% of his plays and love them all. I have yet to visit Stratford Upon Avon but should rectify that soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Jennie says:

    I just sent this post to one of the finest English professors, and lover of Shakespeare, in the US.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. frenchc1955 says:

    Thank you so much, Jennie, for sending me this post, and thank you Sue for writing the post!

    Liked by 4 people

  13. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    This is a lovely post about Shakespeare from Sue Vincent!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. dgkaye says:

    A riveting telling Sue. Thank you. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Sue Vincent takes us down memory lane for most of us who attended school in the UK… As part of our English Literature exams at 16, a Shakespeare play was mandatory. Mine was Julius Caesar. As Sue says, there is a little controversy about William Shakespeare and his works… but whoever participated in the writing of this amazing legacy that has been left us, it has stood the test of time. Fascinating read… #recommended

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I have always loved Shakespeare, Sue. My mom used to take my brothers and me when we were very, very young to the Shakespeare theater in Connecticut, and we were mesmerized. I’ve read most of his plays and in college acted in several productions with utter joy. When I get to England someday, I will visit Stratford-upon-Avon and bask in the artistry. Great post! Thanks for sweeping me away with your memories. 🙂

    Like

  17. Your post took me back to my teen years, when I fell in love with William Shakespeare after reading Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. The Bard’s gravestone epitaph from Macbeth gives us but a glimmer into the insights his works have left for readers through the ages. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

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