Happy Birthday/RIP: William Shakespeare
Today, Thursday, is the anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth in 1564, or his death in 1616, or both.
Preparing for this double event, I have just finished reading “Shakespeare,” by Anthony Burgess, with lavish illustrations, a treasure that seems to have been a college textbook of one of our children.
My lasting impression of Shakespeare is the so-called Chandos portrait, believe to be of the bard, but without proof. All I know is that when you walk into that room in the National Portrait Gallery (closed now for three years of repairs) you see the smirk on somebody’s face, and an earring glittering on his left ear.
I am more than willing to assume it is Shakespeare, thinking of a good writing day he just had, or an assignation ahead of him, or both.
My fascination with Shakespeare stems from having attended Hofstra College from 1956-60 when the absolute best thing on campus (with all due respect to our great sports teams) was the annual Shakespeare Festival, on the stimulus of the school president, Dr. John Cranford Adams, a major authority.
The school had a Globe theater, installed every March. I can still see an undergraduate named Francis Ford Coppola with a hammer tucked into his overalls, working on the sets, and I see a classmate – now known as Lainie Kazan – playing one bawdy role or another.
For all the drama classes I took, and the performances I witnessed in the John Cranford Adams Playhouse, I am still learning about Shakespeare.
Burgess quotes Rev. John Ward’s notebooks as saying that, in retirement in Stratford, Shakespeare had a “merrie meeting” with Michael Drayton and Ben Johnson and ate too many pickled herrings and drank too much Rhenish wine. “He sweated, took cold and died.” He was 52.
Lately, much has been made that Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” in 1606, during a major plague. (The Guardian had an article yesterday, citing James Shapiro as the source, and that more than works for me.)
If he could write during a plague, what are mere scribblers like me doing with our time? Blogs? I don’t think so.
Burgess is very good on innuendo and gossip. In this book I learned that Shakespeare took a room for many years in a place run by one Marie Mountjoy. Given my dirty mind, I can only think that if she did not exist Shakespeare would have created her.
Also, I don’t know why it took me so long to discover that a noted writer named William Davenant was rumored to be the illegitimate son of Shakespeare, who often passed through an inn in Oxford where Davenant’s attractive mother worked as a hostess. Davenant himself seems to have advanced the rumor.
Shakespeare clearly lived a busy life, however slight the documentation, and I have no doubt he wrote all the plays attributed to him.
Today, my wife and I plan to watch the latest offering by the National Theatre of London, currently closed down, of course. “Twelfth Night” was filmed during a live performance in London recently, and we saw it at the Kew Gardens Cinema in Queens.
One of the quirks of this version is that Malvolio has switched genders from male to female (Tamsin Greig.) Given that young men played all the female roles during Shakespeare’s time, this is not such a big leap.
Looking out from the Chandos portrait, the smirk and the earring seem to twinkle even more brightly. Shakespeare lives.
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(Link for "Twelfth Night" below, 2 PM Eastern.)
(The trailer for "Twelfth Night," starting today at 2 PM, Eastern. Donations are welcome.)
4/23/2020 11:27:18 am
George, do you find in your retirement that you are reading more biographies and autobiographies than any other genre? I certainly am. There’s something about having lived to retirement age with my professional life concluded and my child rearing days long behind me, that attracts me to other lives. As The NY Times always asks, what books are on your night table. Glancing at mine now, I see books about Susan Sontag, Mike Nichols, Richard Holbrooke, Keith Hernandez, and David Lynch. Biographies all.
4/23/2020 03:26:39 pm
Roy, definitely more history and biography than fiction. Life is too fictional -- disturbed man elected president? -- to choose fiction,
4/23/2020 12:41:32 pm
I still remember looking out the window of my English class in Barnard Hall and being surprised to see a man dressed in medieval garb ride by on a horse across the quad in an event leading up to the Shakespeare Festival.
4/23/2020 12:42:06 pm
4/23/2020 03:31:54 pm
Patrick: thanks for the tip. I'll try. I would say a horse and Shakespearean garb would catch your attention. best, GV
4/24/2020 01:08:22 am
4/24/2020 08:53:14 am
4/24/2020 09:12:11 am
Reply to Bruce: We love the Zefferelli version. Those actors were young -- young faces, young bodies, young emotions -- and the screen loved them. The market scene, wonderful.
4/24/2020 09:20:58 am
4/24/2020 05:32:17 pm
Bruce, I don't remember the actual meeting -- but the Dance at the Gym in the original movie West Side Story evokes tears every time I see it., We know the plot -- but to see the world through those two sets of eyes is to believe in love.
4/24/2020 09:17:12 am
Dear Altenir: so you watched Twelfth Night yesterday? We didn't get to it. Too much virus news, with Trump coming further unglued.
4/24/2020 03:57:19 pm
4/24/2020 05:35:34 pm
Bruce, it was Sport...or more specifically it was my good friend Al Silverman's collaboration with Sayers on the book that led to the film. Al got a lot of insight from a fairly private man..did a great job with it.
4/24/2020 05:58:03 pm
4/24/2020 10:31:30 am
Re: Coppola and HU, are you familiar with one of his early films, "The Rain People, with Robert Duvall, James Caan, and Shirley Knight (just passed away this week). Caan plays an addled former college football player who works maintenance at his former school. Coppola filmed a bit on campus (some shots of Caan raking leaves in the HU quad), and he used clips of a HU/Post football game to evidence the Caan character's playing days (when the football field was behind the Playhouse or Calkins, idk, before my time).
4/24/2020 11:35:14 am
I did not know that. When "we" were freshmen, I worked for the college as a student aide in athletic dept. Hofstra had 20 players...and after a few more injuries, was about onei injury from season being called off. But Maryland State, black school with a heart, ran the ball most of the game and saved our season. One lineman had a brain injury (you can only imagine the level of care) and wound up pushing a rake for the plant department. I was told recently that he eventually went back to school...got a degree....and was still "with us." I was shocked. That must be where Coppola got it. Caan went to Hofstra briefly but I don't think they overlapped. He and a football player/actor (Bob Spiotta, played tackle and Stanley Kowalski) formed Zoetrope later.
4/24/2020 11:41:36 am
4/24/2020 12:26:46 pm
Caan's character wears a couple of Hofstra shirts (for those in the know, as they only have an H.C. on them). Link below is to a couple of stills I found on a blog -- 2 of him with those shirts (one blue, one white), and the raking leaves scene.
4/24/2020 03:40:08 pm
4/24/2020 04:23:12 pm
4/24/2020 06:02:37 pm
4/24/2020 03:58:35 pm
One of the great things about past icons such as William Shakespeare is that the myths and the legends are both interesting and it is not necessary to distinguish between them.
4/24/2020 05:40:43 pm
Alan, I never heard of this -- a government agency wanted the Shakespeare/Bacon controversy settled once and for all.
4/24/2020 04:42:36 pm
4/24/2020 05:25:18 pm
4/24/2020 05:38:57 pm
4/25/2020 11:00:44 am
George-It was not a government agency that was looking into the crackpot theory about Sir Francis Bacon. Col. George Fabyan, an eccentric million who owned the Riverside Laboratories in Geneva IL, was a major proponent of the Bacon is Shakespeare theory. His employee Elizabeth Wells Gallup worked almost full time to prove the theory.
4/25/2020 01:39:54 pm
4/27/2020 07:02:10 am
4/27/2020 08:51:01 am
4/27/2020 09:38:20 pm
Hey! Good news! I did a Google search for the article about Dalkowski in which George is quoted -- and found, in the process, that George wrote a whole column about him. Did the too-modest Mr. Vecsey clue us in to this fact? Of course not. He's a rascal. But I'll now do what he declined to do: provide the link for the piece, which is very good: https://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/sports/baseball/19vecsey.html
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.