Merely Players

Back on his 465th birthday I rambled on about the birth of my love of Shakespeare – a love that has continued unabated to this day. Today while visiting the Guardian website – about the only news site I got to these days and even then … but that’s another story – I came across this wonderful video: The Quarantine Players Project.

Well-known names from the British theatre join with theatre goers from around the world to deliver three of the iconic soliloquies in a way that gives them new life and, for me, new depth of meaning. “The Guardian and Shakespeare’s Globe put out an open call for theatre fans to record their own renditions of the speeches. More than 500 submissions were received for the project, which was produced by Jess Gormley, and a selection were edited together by Noah Payne-Frank.”

At a time when emotions are often close to the surface I find these are amongst the most moving of passages despite their familiarity. Never have I been so aware of where I am in those Seven Ages as I creep towards the sixth. And Prospero’s farewell is all the more powerful for that connection to my first brush with Shakespeare.

The word for April 8th is:
Soliloquy /səˈliləkwē/: [noun]
1.1 An act of speaking one’s thoughts aloud when by oneself or regardless of any hearers, especially by a character in a play.
1.2 A part of a play involving a soliloquy.
Middle English from late Latin soliloquium, from Latin solus ‘alone’ + loqui ‘speak’.
Or that conversation you have with your dog or cat in which all the grievances of life are addressed.

456 Years Old

… but who’s counting?

A collage created to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Earle Grey Shakespeare Company’s Festival.
The leaves were from a mulberry tree in Trinity College Quadrangle that was purported to be an offshoot of the tree in Shakespeare’s own garden.

Though there is no recorded proof, by tradition April 23 is commemorated as William Shakespeare’s birthday. There is a record of his baptism on April 26, 1564 and the custom was for a new born to receive the sacrament within two or three days of the mother giving birth so the 23rd is as good a date as any. Also it happens to be the Feast Day of England’s patron Saint, the Blessed George – so why not celebrate the two at the same time. Though given that the poet is also recorded as having died on April 23rd things could get a bit awkward when planning the party/wake.

The main dining hall at Trinity College in Toronto named after it’s founder Bishop John Strachan. It was were I had my first taste of Shakespeare.

I saw my first Shakespeare play when I was ten years old the summer of 1957. My father and I headed out one Friday night into a wild July storm to see, appropriately enough, The Tempest performed by the Earle Grey Shakespeare Players. For some reason I thought it was at Hart House only for us to trudge the five blocks from the Bloor Street streetcar stop in driving rain and be redirect by the porter across the U of T Campus to Trinity College. We arrived at Trinity looking like two drowned country mice. My father was a saint! Normally the performances were outdoors in the beautiful quadrangle but that tempest outside meant The Tempest moved inside to the mock-Tudor splendour of Strachan Hall*.

Earle Grey’s troupe had to be one of the last actor-manager companies in Canada, if not in the English speaking world. He and his wife, Mary Godwin, were English actors who had immigrated to Canada in 1939. They were thespians in the old style and there was nothing Freudian or modern about their productions. Both their manner of playing and productions would probably seem quaint, and sadly perhaps laughable, today as even back in 1956 a new style of playing Shakespeare was taking hold miles away in the little town of Stratford. But they were honest attempts at performing Shakespeare in an uncluttered simple manner. According to Grey his only concept was “to produce historical accurate plays according to the author’s intentions …” and in that to my 10 year old eyes he succeeded.

A performance from 1954 when the north terrace of the Quadrangle was open. It is obviously one of the earlier scenes as the sun has not set yet. Mary Godwin can just be made out wearing the Terry cloak.

I can’t honestly say how good or bad that production of The Tempest was, it was long ago and I was ten years old but it was theatre and it was exciting. No doubt Grey’s Prospero was of the old declamatory school and his farewell to his art probably throbbed of the theatrical but I was captured. So much so that I convinced my long suffering father to take two friends and I to see The Taming of the Shrew two weeks later. That night there was no rain, we were under the stars, Kate was tamed, and my love of theatre and Shakespeare deepened.

Construction of a new residence building on the North side of the quadrangle moved the stage to the West in 1957. It gave more playing area and an expanded repertoire proposed. However two years later a new Provost at Trinity decided that the Festival was no longer of financial benefit to the College and Earle Grey and his company found themselves without a home.

All’s Well That Starts Well, an article in the Trinity College magazine recounts the story of how a casual stroll along Philosopher’s Walk led to the beginnings of the Festival. It paints a colourful portrait of Grey, Miss Godwin and the company of actors, aspiring young actors, artists, and volunteers that struggled to bring Shakespeare to the Toronto of my childhood and the school rooms of Ontario. It also tells of the melancholy demise of the company that by 1959 appeared to on the edge of better funding, a more adaptable stage and expanding audiences when it lost its home at Trinity College. That and the move of audiences who they had introduced to Shakespeare to the more professional and adventuresome Festival in that little town outside of Toronto. And I must admit I was amongst those who headed off to the lure of Christopher Plummer and Eileen Herlie in Much Ado About Nothing in 1958. Grey and Miss Godwin attempted to find a new home for their Festival but finally gave up and returned to England.

They had left behind a legacy that unfortunately is largely unknown today but tonight at dinner we just may raise a glass not only to the Bard on his 465th birthday/413th death day but also the pioneering couple who planted the seed of my love for Shakespeare and the theatre.

*While researching this post I uncovered the possibility that it was the opening night and there were problems with the lighting in the temporary venue. I seem to have a vague recollection of flickering lights and a period of darkness during the Masque scene.

The word for April 23 is:
Bard /bɑːd/: [archaic noun]
1.1 A professional poet and singer, traditionally one reciting epics and singing verse in praise of princes and brave men.
1.2 A poet
Middle English of Celtic origin from Scottish Gaelic bàrd, Irish bard, Welsh bardd. In Scotland in the 16th century it was a derogatory term for an itinerant musician, but was later romanticized by Sir Walter Scott.
The Bard of Avon (or simply The Bard) is a fairly recent compound noun appearing somewhere between 1880-85.

Lunedi Lunacy

In a comment on a recent in-depth posting on Shakespeare by my friend Debra in deepest darkest Alberta someone mentioned a piece by Robert Benchley the American humourist, journalist, and actor. Benchley is perhaps best know for a telegram he sent to his editor when he arrived in Venice. “Streets flooded. Please advised.”

In the following little vignette he out-scholars the scholars.

SHAKESPEARE EXPLAINED

Carrying on the System of Footnotes to a Silly Extreme

PERICLES
ACT II SCENE 3

Enter first Lady-in-Waiting (Flourish, [1] Hautboys [2] and[3] torches[4]).

First Lady-in-WaitingWhat [5] ho![6] Where[7] is [8] the[9] music?[10]

NOTES:

1. Flourish: The stage direction here is obscure. Clarke claims it should read “flarish,” thus changing the meaning of the passage to “flarish” (that is, the Kings), but most authorities have agreed that it should remain “flourish,” supplying the predicate which is to be flourished. There was at this time a custom in the countryside of England to flourish a mop as a signal to the passing vender of berries, signifying that in that particular household there was a consumer-demand for berries, and this may have been meant in this instance. That Shakespeare was cognizant of this custom of flourishing the mop for berries is shown in a similar passage in the second part of King Henry IV, where he has the Third Page enter and say, “Flourish.” Cf. also Hamlet, IV, 7: 4.

2. Hautboys, from the French haut, meaning “high” and the Eng. boys, meaning “boys.” The word here is doubtless used in the sense of “high boys,” indicating either that Shakespeare intended to convey the idea of spiritual distress on the part of the First Lady-in-Waiting or that he did not. Of this Rolfe says: “Here we have one of the chief indications of Shakespeare?s knowledge of human nature, his remarkable insight into the petty foibles of this work-a-day world.” Cf. T. N. 4: 6, “Mine eye hath play’d the painter, and hath stell’d thy beauty’s form in table of my heart.”

3. and. A favorite conjunctive of Shakespeare’s in referring to the need for a more adequate navy for England. Tauchnitz claims that it should be pronounced “und,” stressing the anti-penult. This interpretation, however, has found disfavor among most commentators because of its limited significance. We find the same conjunctive in A. W. T. E. W. 6: 7, “Steel-boned, unyielding and uncomplying virtue,” and here there can be no doubt that Shakespeare meant that if the King should consent to the marriage of his daughter the excuse of Stephano, offered in Act 2, would carry no weight.

Drawing by Gluyas Williams

4. Torches. The interpolation of some foolish player and never the work of Shakespeare (Warb.). The critics of the last century have disputed whether or not this has been misspelled in the original, and should read “trochies” or “troches.” This might well be since the introduction of tobacco into England at this time had wrought havoc with the speaking voices of the players, and we might well imagine that at the entrance of the First Lady-in-Waiting there might be perhaps one of the hautboys mentioned in the preceding passage bearing a box of troches or “trognies” for the actors to suck. Of this entrance Clarke remarks: “The noble mixture of spirited firmness and womanly modesty, fine sense and true humility, clear sagacity and absence of conceit, passionate warmth and sensitive delicacy, generous love and self-diffidence with which Shakespeare has endowed this First Lady-in-Waiting renders her in our eyes one of the most admirable of his female characters.” Cf. M. S. N. D. 8: g, “That solder’st close impossibilities and mak’st them kiss.”

5. What—What.

6. Ho! In conjunction with the preceding word doubtless means “What ho!” changed by Clarke to “What hoo!” In the original Ms. it reads “What hi!” but this has been accredited to the tendency of the time to write “What hi” when “what ho” was meant. Techner alone maintains that it should read “What humpf!” Cf. Ham. 5: O, “High-ho!”

7. Where. The reading of the folio, retained by Johnson, the Cambridge editors and others, but it is not impossible that Shakespeare wrote “why,” as Pope and others give it. This would make the passage read “Why the music?” instead of “Where is the music?” and would be a much more probable interpretation in view of the music of that time. Cf. George Ade. Fable No. 15, “Why the gunnysack?”

8. is—is not. That is, would not be.

9. the. Cf. Ham. 4: 6. M. S. N. D. 3: 5. A. W. T. E. W. 2: 6. T. N. I: 3 and Macbeth 3: I, “that knits up the raveled sleeves of care.

10. music. Explained by Malone as “the art of making music” or “music that is made.” If it has but one of these meanings we are inclined to think it is the first; and this seems to be favored by what precedes, “the music!” Cf. M. of V. 4: 2, “The man that hath no music in himself.”

The meaning of the whole passage seems to be that the First Lady-in-Waiting has entered concomitant with a flourish, hautboys and torches and says, “What ho! Where is the music?”

July 22 is Casual Pi Day – People in countries that write their dates correctly in the date/ month format celebrate Casual Pi Day on 22 July or 22/7. Go figure – repeatedly.

It’s Only Words

Honorificabilitudinitatibus – is the dative and ablative plural of the medieval Latin word honorificabilitudinitas, which can be translated as “the state of being able to achieve honours”.

“AND … ?” say both my faithful readers, with one eyebrow arched quizzically.

Well it is the longest word of the 31,534 different words used by William Shakespeare in his writings. (Yes dear reader not only has someone counted but they also calculated that 14,376 of those words appear only once and 846 are used more than 100 times.) And it has the distinction to only feature alternating vowels and consonants!

So how is it pronounced?

EASY FOR YOU TO SAY!

And the point of this tidbit of useless ephemera on a Tuesday morning would be?

Well to flaunt announce that I aced a Folger Shakespeare Library Ultimate Shakespeare Trivia Quiz. That including knowing in which play some poor bugger of an actor has to wrap their tongue around a word which takes less time to define than to pronounce.

It not be the best day to go down in the woods as July 9th is Teddy Bears Picnic Day! So many things I could say but I’ll just leave it there.

Lunedi Lunacy – More Shakespearean Jackanapery

It seems that the internet is being flooded with Shakespeareana to celebrate the good man’s birth/death whatever.  Some are educational – as witness my friend Spo’s comment on the previous post – others are pure jackanapery.  And no that was not one of the some 1700 words that the Bard of Avon added to our language – though it would appear that tomfoolery is!  So here are three little pieces of jackenapery that could very well pass for tomfoolery.

In the true spirit of the millennium generation I found this particularly amusing:

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And aside from the words he gave us there’s all those idioms – who knew he was the originator of the “knock knock” joke?

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And when it comes to insults – whoa did this guy know how to parry a thrust (as it were!).  And the best we can come up with these days is “BITCH”!

shakespeare-insults

Once again Happy Birthday you whey-faced rump fed playwright, you!  Sorry was that “playwright” thing a bit too much of any insult?

On this day in 1859: British and French engineers break ground for the Suez Canal.