I often forget that Shakespeare was apparently born (1564) and died (1616) on the same date – St. George’s feast day, in fact.
If I were in London today, I would pop into the National Portrait Gallery for a quick salute to the so-called Chandos portrait, named for the dukes who owned it.
It is far more vital than any reproduction; the luminous eyes pick you up when you enter the room and keep a curious watch until you exit stage left (or right).
He is watching you, as he observed the mortals in his world, as he made artistic deductions about the people of his time and the myths of the past.
There is always something to learn about Shakespeare – considering that some people think he is an amalgam, a composite, an alias. Fact is, he was a living, breathing presence – an actor and playwright who walked the streets of London.
Then there is Marie Mountjoy.
I recently picked up a terrific book, “The Year of Lear,” by James Shapiro, published in late 2015, about the tumultuous year of 1606, a year of near revolution, a year of intrigue, a year of creativity.
One thing is documented: the playwright who had real status with the court and playgoers alike, when day was done, trekked back to Silver St. on the north bank of the Thames, and resided in the home of the Mountjoys, Christopher and Marie.
Never heard of them before, even though my life is forever enriched by my exposure to the great Shakespearean tradition at Hofstra University.
According to Shapiro’s book, Marie Mountjoy and her husband – from a Huguenot family escaped from France -- apparently did not get along; but she could converse with the star boarder who wrote in his room.
There was a dispute over a dowry to a Mountjoy daughter; Shakespeare, not a lawyer but an entitled property-owner from Stratford, counselled his landlady.
That is all Shapiro, a renowned scholar, wrote on the subject. But with a name like that and an active imagination, one could imagine that the friendship went beyond that – particularly with the landlady’s name straight out of Wycherly’s 1675 play, “The Country Wife” (Mistress Fidget, Harry Horner, Mistress Squeamish and, in one recent version, Margery Pinchwife, played by, be calm, my beating heart, Helen Mirren.)
Speaking of dirty minds, the tabloid, the Daily Mail, speculated about Shakespeare and Marie Mountjoy in 2007:
On Shakespeare’s birthday and death day, my wife turned up the all-day program on WQXR-FM – music with mostly Shakespearean themes: Delius, Beach, Gounod, Mendelssohn.
In this barbaric epoch, could Shakespeare have fun with a Trump, a Bannon, an Ivanka, a Pence, a Palin, a Flynn, a Kellyanne, a Spicer? You betcha.
Happy birthday, dude.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.