Sunday, April 15, 2007

Shakespeare: Thou Art Free

A Tribute to Shakespeare on His Birthday on April 23

"Still constant is a wondrous excellence."
Sonnet CV

Shakespeare’s great plays and sonnets create such an amazing wonderland before which the meager story of his life is usually swayed with utter disbelief. An ordinary country boy, not so-well- educated, poverty ridden, raised himself to such a sublime stature to which even gifted minds fail to comprehend fully. His genius can hardly be explained, but it is apparent as ST. John Ervine observes in his introduction to the complete works of William Shakespeare that- “we cannot take him in our stride, observing all his points after a swift look, but must remain with him until we have learned his high features, when we will be content to stay for ever in his company because of the multitude of little pleasant corners in his work which are revealed to us only after much patient exploration. His own words suit best for his life-

His life was gentle, and the elements So mix’d in him, that Nature might stand upAnd say to all the world, “This was a man!”
Julius Cæsar. Act V Scene V.

Despite Shakespeare’s fame and celebration, he remains a mysterious figure concerning personal history. William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, allegedly on April 23, 1564. There is also great speculation about Shakespeare's childhood years, especially about his education. Nicholas Rowe, Shakespeare's first biographer, wrote that his father John Shakespeare had placed William for some time in a free school. However, what is certain is that William Shakespeare never ensued to university schooling, which of late has stirred some questions pertaining to the authorship of immense body of his works. To surmise the stature of the immortal Bard his own words is of immense value: - “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em” Twelfth Night ACT II Scene V. While he neither was born great nor was the greatness thrust on him, he had achieved what he is known and respected for.

Human being is not a systematic entity, whose hopes and desolation, pleasure and pain, ability and weakness, faith and inconsistency, emotions and spite, virility and deadness of soul, aspirations and disgust, are all neither determined by perceptible laws nor a subject confined to be gauged by trained intellect. Perhaps why amongst the great contributors to humanity fewer were learned scholars. Shakespeare may not be as great a scholar as other men of his time but he had realized all the shades and colours of human mind, which find no parallel in the history of English literature. His characters are not types but distinct individuals who represent one peculiar mind; and this multitude of characters are but projection of his experience of multitude of minds.

Shakespeare’s firm reason, a definite plan, and a will to organize have not been recognised rather he is known universally for his natural genius, imagination, brave ideas and gentle expression.

That is (this) pre-occupation with the actors’ works, vicissitudes merits and shortcomings, which run through Shakespeare’s imagery. Macbeth figures life as “a walking shadow” and man as the player who “Struts and frets his hour upon the stage.” “All the world’s a stage, and the man and the women merely players.” Shakespeare appeals to the common man for he believed as he writes in King Henry VIII:

“T is better to be lowly born, And range with humble livers in content, Than to be perked up in a glistering grief, And wear a golden sorrow.”

Talking of his literary career, we find the often-heard story that Shakespeare arrived in London around 1588 and began to establish himself as an actor and playwright. Robert Greene, a London playwright attacked Shakespeare, in 1592: evidently, because Shakespeare garnered envy early on for his talent. He referred Shakespeare as " upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide… is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country."

Putting aside the criticisms, he joined up with one of the most successful acting troupes in London: "The Lord Chamberlain's Men." The popularity of William and of the group raised considerably. After the death of Elizabeth I and the coronation of James I (1603), in fact, the new monarch adopted the company and it became known as the King's Men. Shakespeare's last two plays were written in 1613, after which he appears to have retired to Stratford. He died on April 23, 1616, at the age of fifty-two.

Shakespeare is believed to have produced most of his work in between 1586 to 1616, although the exact dates and chronology of the plays attributed to him are often doubted. He is counted among the very few playwrights who have excelled in both tragedy and comedy, and his plays combine popular appeal with complex characterisation, poetic grandeur and philosophical depth. Shakespeare’s forte seems to be life and animation. His characters created an illusion that they are living and true just because they, irrespective of their historical and romantic background, have a sure touch of humanity that makes them plausible keeping them within the range of our sympathy. He exalts the human weakness for he perceives the sublime in man-

"What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!” Hamlet
Act II, Scene II.

World civilization has witnessed a legacy of Shakespeare in form of his vast body of work, which will never again be rivaled. The incense of the literary petals he had left has endured four centuries and by no means, there seems any stopping yet. Even in death, he leaves a final piece of verse as his epitaph:

"Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbeareTo dig the dust enclosed here.Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones!"

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