Today, I’m posting a mere day ahead of time because I’ve so many things to attribute to my beloved Bard.
First, a few stories to tell…
The first memories I have to centre on old Bill Shakespeare are from grade school when my parents acquired some cassette tapes of classical piano music. I fell in love with this version…
… and then, in seventh grade, I got to see the film version, starring Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting. I was hooked completely. My English teacher couldn’t teach me enough about this wonderful playwright who had ensnared my imagination!
In seventh grade, we covered Romeo & Juliet, Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, and a bit of the Scottish play. I tried to wrap my brain around some of the others in my free time, but my 12-13 year old self wasn’t ready for it.
In tenth grade, we took almost a semester out to study the Bard, and during this time, we were able to watch multiple film versions of multiple plays AND my English teacher–Mrs. Mary Clarke–took us to the Richland High School production of Macbeth! They did a fabulous job with it, and to this day, when I read the beginning lines with the Three Witches, I get chills as I remember the first line coming from right behind me (I had an aisle seat) and the three working the crowd as they made their way to the stage. Also, in those few months, I would work with a friend of mine named Jennifer and we’d plan this crazy modern rendition of the Macduff/Macbeth fight scene and we’d practice it and take the whole class to the cafeteria to perform it… and I’d lose my nerve and remember all my lines, but chicken out on the footwork with the toy tommy gun. *blush*
It went better when we were studying Romeo & Juliet and our teacher asked that we pair up with a partner and do a scene from the play. My best friend and I did the scene while Romeo was hanging out with Mercutio and Benvolio, waiting on the Nurse to bring word. The banter was amazing, and our rehearsals on the phone leading up to our performance, was nothing short of involved. When I hear the word “pink,” I still mentally riposte, “Pink for flower,” and then hit back with, “Why then, my pump is well-flowered!”😀
My senior year of high school, I decided I wanted to be an actress, and I auditioned for a Dallas acting studio, utilizing the monologue Lady Macbeth gives in Act I Scene V, lines 37-58.
” Give him tending;
He brings great news.
The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood;
Stop up th’ access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
Th’ effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief! Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark
To cry “Hold, hold!”
Great Glamis! Worthy Cawdor!
Greater than both by the all-hail hereafter!
Thy letters have transported me beyond
The future in the instant.”
My second year of college, my irritating Creative Writing teacher, Ms. Cuyler Etheredge, was leading us through poetry… and of course, no-one does poetry like old Bill! While covering iambic pentameter, she had us write what she called responsive poetry. Still amazed by the above monologue, I wrote the following:
O! Thy cloak of midnight slides in curls down thy
Small back as the evil curls upon thy lips;
The rails of thy arms raise gracefully to thy sister the
Moon! Yea, Diana is thy mother, and the Furies thou
Hast called upon to eat at thy soul, to take the very
Contents of thine own soul; they art thy servants
And having arrived to darken to pitch that
Which thou callest thy heart, thou hast called them also
To sup on that which thou callest thine own kindnesses,
To get drunk on thy breasts stale wine!
My lady! O, my queen!
Darest not this horrible deed! Staineth not thy
Sweet hand; staineth not the soul of thy husband!
Thou doth plan for thine own purposes and care not
A wit for the king . . . care not for thy husband that shall
Be thy king; yea, even now thou knowest the darkness
Of the deed thou wouldst perform.
Hurry not to thy chambers; bescreenest thyself not from the
Very heavens that thou callest not upon.
Plan not this deed; I beg of thee.
Lady of Glamis thou art! Lady of Cawdor
Thou shalt be! Happier with these thou wilt be
Than toppling to thy death on thy flagstone steps, dear lady.
Part of the above poem appears as one of David Blackthorn’s in The Covenant. I’ve always been proud of that piece of artistry. I attribute my love of poetry and my use of poetry as a tool to suck out the bad emotions and record the really good times, to old Bill.
That same year, I fell in love with another author called James O’Barr, who wrote another tragedy centred around love: The Crow. Eric Draven’s love of Shelly Webster seemed so close to Romeo & Juliet, but it was so much darker… and so much madder that I fell head over feet for it. I immersed myself in the music of The Crow (O’Barr was a big fan of Joy Division and The Cure) and in Edgar Allan Poe, and of course, old Bill’s tragedies.
Enter 1996… and Baz Luhrmann… and Leo and Claire.
Ye gods, I loved that adaptation. It was flashy and perfect and somehow, it made Bill’s words seem normal-speak. I saw it in theatres so many times. I bought the soundtrack and the score– both of them! Of course, after seeing this in theatres, I went on a binge of film adaptations. I watch a ton of Branagh in those days.
Over and over, Bill haunts my words. As I wrote my own stories then and even now, references to Shakespeare seep into my writing. Characters who love him, obsess over him like I do.
The second novel I ever published, Butterflies are Free, was a nod to Romeo and Juliet in that my guys are star-crossed, and while they do say the three words, they also say, “R & J, my love,” to signify the depth of emotion they feel. Of course, The Covenant gives us David, who tells Jonathan that he ranks over The Bard.
Then, of course, there’s a famous long-running sci-fi show, aired on BBC since 1967, that when renewed in the early 2000’s did a show to include old Bill… and J.K. Rowling. It was awesome. I loved it entirely.
And then… enter this wonderful idea to celebrate good old Bill, my Phai and Jen, and a story I tried to write a few years ago… and all of a sudden, I’m writing about Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Nothing has ever felt this good… nor this right. Truly, no-one has ever been able to sum up life in all its light and dark, quite the way he always has. Not for me.
To tie this up, especially since I have a big habit of running on at the mouth, I will end with one of his most iconic lines. Taken from Macbeth, Act V Scene V, lines 19-28:
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Happy birthday, Bill. I’m so glad to have known you all these years.