– By J.S. Porter
O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a
king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams.
His nutshell was probably small –
Ovid, his Metamorphosis, Plutarch, his Lives, and Holinshed, his Chronicles, along with Montaigne’s Essays, the Bishops’ Bible and a handful of other books, likely including ones by Cervantes and Chaucer, “maybe a dozen volumes at most, but infinite in their riches.”*
From such smallness came planets and solar systems, galaxies and universes,
what flesh does to flesh and how flesh thinks, feels, dreams and acts.
Contrast with Hitler’s library consisting of approximately 16,000 volumes
where largeness shrinks into a nutshell of obsession and venom.
*Jonathan Bate, Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare
April is National Poetry Month and April 23rd. is Shakespeare’s birthday.
I can’t think of a better poet to celebrate this month than the poet-playwright William Shakespeare.
Just re-watched Shakespeare in Love directed by John Madden, with Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson and Judi Dench. The 1998 British-American romantic comedy-drama was written by Marc Norman and playwright Tom Stoppard. It garnered seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, and Best Supporting Actress Judi Dench.
The movie wonderfully catches the quickness of Shakespeare as a poet-playwright and the chaotic, precarious nature of being a working man of the theatre.
In his letter to the Swedish Academy explaining why he couldn’t attend his Nobel Prize ceremony, Bob Dylan talked about Shakespeare. Not his first reference. Remember “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” from Blonde on Blonde?
Well, Shakespeare, he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells
Speaking to some French girl
Who says she knows me well
In his letter, Dylan tells the Academy how workaday the lives of playwrights and musicians are. Dylan’s concern is often what chord to use in a song or who’s available to be a band member. Shakespeare, he says, would have worried about skulls – where to get one for Hamlet—and who would be available to act a particular part. Practicalities override theories and speculations.
Recently Door County artist Skye created a text-based installation of Dylan’s best-known songs reproduced on large banners hanging from the atrium walls at the Wisconsin Museum of Art. The show was called Shakespeare in the Alley.
I’m currently reading The Year of Lear by James Shapiro. I’m reduced to teenage superlatives – Wow! Awesome!