“Why Shakespeare?” I was once asked to explain my passion for his words and universality. Ben Jonson, his fellow playwright back in 17th century England, said it so well: “Soul of the age! The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage…” He declared on Shakespeare’s death in 1616….. that “He was a man for all time…”
Indeed he is! Imagine the black hole it would have created in the world these last few hundred years if ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare‘ had never existed.
It was a great day when “The quality of mercy is not strained…” was first spoken in ‘The Merchant of Venice’… And the timeless truths in ‘Hamlet’, including: “This above all, to thine own self be true, And it must follow as the night the day, Thou can’st not then be false to any man”.
His plays exemplify his own advice in ‘Hamlet’ to hold “as t’were the mirror up to Nature …to show virtue her own feature…and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure”.
Shakespeare’s characters and situations are always recognisable, give delight and never hurt – very civilising! E.g. in ‘Henry V’, the brief, gracious farewell the English captains take of each other before dispersing for the battle of Agincourt. Or when Isabella, despite feeling wickedly betrayed, goes down on her knees to plead for the life of her betrayer in the closing scenes of ‘Measure for Measure’. Such enacted instances have great harmonising power.
Anniversary events at the School offer good opportunities to dive more deeply into Shakespeare’s works. Hearing and actively engaging with the words bring plays alive, a focus which continues with the Shakespeare Study Group at Mandeville Place. Looking at a play each term, everybody takes a fixed part or reads round in turn; and again, in reading round together, the weightier introductory commentaries are much better assimilated and understood.
What follows is a recognition of universality and often joyful feeling of illumination. The loyalty with which people come to these sessions, often from quite long distances, and their visible happiness on departure, reveal Shakespeare’s power.
“With his command of language, he expresses the inexpressible.”
“He reflects the human condition…exercises our intellect and emotions.”
Don’t miss out. Pick up a play, gather some friends and start reading!