Saturday, April 23, 2011

Shakespeare's birthday

The last time I (almost) wept in public was in Ashland, Oregon. Until recently my father and I have made an annual summer pilgrimage down to the Shakespeare festival in southern Oregon. We've seen many great performances there, and a few years back we saw "All's Well That Ends Well," one of Shakespeare's so-called 'problem plays.' The problem is painfully obvious: Why would the heroine go to such extremes to win back a man who is such a complete and absolute jerk? I had seen this play several times before, and had never been convinced. But the director of this performance was brilliant, and brought it all together at the end with a masterstroke.

At the close of the play, the servant showed a silent 8 mm home movie, a nostalgic flash-forward of the characters' future lives. Man and (very pregnant) wife, couple with baby, woman with toddler, man with young child, pre-teen writing in a notebook. While the audience watched the film, the servant read a sonnet.

Sonnet 17

Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were fill'd with your most high deserts?
Though yet, heaven knows, it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life and shows not half your parts.
If I could write the beauty of your eyes
And in fresh numbers graces,
The age to come would say 'This poet lies:
Such heavenly touches ne'er touch'd earthly faces.'
So should my papers yellow'd with their age
Be scorn'd like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be term'd a poet's rage
And stretched metre of an antique song:
But were some child of yours alive that time,
You should live twice; in it and in my rhyme.

After some discussion with the cameraman, the boy walks up to the camera and shows it (and us) what he has written in it: All's Well That Ends Well. Not a dry eye in the house.

On our way down to Ashland my father and I had stopped in Eugene to visit with a former colleague of mine who was, like the heroine of the play, very pregnant with her first child. This was right after an economic slump decimated our department. Stressful times, but we were weathering the storm well and it looked like maybe everything was going to be okay. My colleague and her husband were about to start on a journey that my wife and I were getting close to completing. My wife had given me two wonderful sons, we raised them, and they were turning out to be great human beings. If I told anyone how much I love my wife, no one would believe me (including her, I'm afraid). But just look at what we made, she and I!

For Shakespeare's birthday we toasted the bard with sack and reminisced about the best performances we've seen and our favorite plays. I read my favorite sonnet, Sonnet 17. And it felt for a moment that maybe, just maybe, everything was going to be all right.

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