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.
"Among the things that have long fascinated people about Jesus and explain his enduring appeal is his method of dialogue and teaching. "He asked a lot of questions and told a lot of stories in the form of parables. In fact, parables form about a third of Jesus’ recorded teachings. The Gospels were written decades after he died, so his questions and parables clearly left a deep impression on those who bore testimony to him....
"Some of Jesus’ questions were rhetorical; others were meant to challenge or even provoke. In some cases, Jesus used questions to parry attacks by religious authorities who set traps for him. In others, he used questions to enter more fully into the lives of others and to help people look at the state of their hearts. He asked people about their fears and their faith. Jesus used questions to free a woman caught in adultery from condemnation and to inquire whether people considered him to be the Messiah. He probed deeply into questions not many had asked before him, like “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
---(Peter Wehner, long-time White House consultant and writer, in the NYT last week about Jesus Christ’s method of teaching by asking questions.)
"Would that I could mention all the illuminating details in this biography, for example, why Wells praised Black Americans so highly, saying, 'I took a mighty liking to these gentle, human, dark-skinned people,' and 'Whatever America has to show in heroic living today, I doubt if she can show anything finer than the quality of the resolve, the steadfast efforts hundreds of black and colored men are making today to live blamelessly, honorably and patiently, getting by themselves what scraps of refinement, beauty and learning they may, keeping their hold on a civilization they are grudged and denied.''
-- "How H.G. Wells Predicted the 20th Century," Charles Johnson, NYT Book Review, Nov. 19, 2021. ***".
...the monsters arrive."
"They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.
"Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry."
---The great Margaret Renkl, from Nashville, one of my favorite NYT bylines, Oct. 26, 2021.
(She describes our Long Island enclave to every decibel, every stink.)