What an autumn! So far, a bit of everything. Flood, shutdown, a bunch of good new movies, The War of the Roses all over TV, soft-ware in the way of the nation’s health, Shakespeare sneaking around, Christmas coming with maybe another shutdown. And, as if all that were not enough, on this Saturday evening in autumn, the CU football team took the field to get trounced again, this time sporting pink shoes, pink gloves and pink accessories! Surely a contest to be remembered in infamy.
But, Betty and I avoided the worst of that Saturday evening, by sneaking through the homecoming festivities as the score piled up on the pink ladies over in the stadium, to get to quite another sort of event on our beloved old University Hill.
In the Lutheran church there on Euclid, three stylish real ladies from the Shakespeare Oratorio Society --Shirley Carnahan, Anne Sandoe, and Giulia Bernardini-- and four members of the excellent Boulder Renaissance Consort, took the stage to deal with a bunch of Shakespeare’s women. Their audience was sparse, but the performance was thick and luscious.
The three women offered quick, hit-and-run fragments of scenes, speeches from Shakespeare’s grande dames in which they challenge their world-- or are destroyed by it-- all punctuated by bits of antique instrumental music.
Svelte, unabashed, commanding, all in black, with their authorizing texts in their hands, the women set about causing the place to sing with their steadily intelligent, finely designed, intimate performance.
I’m glad to say that I have of late come to realize that Shakespeare is a good deal more than the conventional, sit down and watch-em-through productions of his plays. I see now the great dramatist coming at me from every angle. A bit as small as a couple of his words together can set me off into a reverie of another world of experience. I must resist cataloging the myriad ways I now believe that Shakespeare gets to us, even to those who may know nothing of the plays. Jane Austen has her Crawford in Mansfield Park say:
Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is part of an Englishman’s constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them everywhere; one is intimate with him by instinct. No man of any brain can open at a good part of one of his plays without falling into the flow of his meaning immediately.
Perhaps that consciousness is not so vivid with us 200 years later and across an ocean of space and experience. Perhaps I should be worried that this sense of Shakespeare at work in our lives is steadily diminishing -- and I am. But, for the moment, I want to stand with Austen.
I want to say that on Saturday night, with my hearing loss and my seat where an unfortunate echo developed, I had to fall back on my memory of the words these impressive women were speaking, on my memory of the situations in which the words occur. This said, I sat back and enjoyed a most wonderful spectacle. I watched Shakespeare-- and his characters-- take bodily possession of the women. I saw them bend to the words and heIp each other to sing. I heard it in their bodies. I believe the New Age word is “channeling”. In any case, something true was going on: Shakespeare in the muscles, in the sinew, in the bone. I might have said, “in the bowels”.
The words I could not hear accurately became an abstract, a music to my ears that made me want, like Caliban, to sleep and dream to hear it again. I filled in for what I could not hear from the good fortune of my memory.
The ladies at a stroke took me into the play at hand, opened it up in its fullness in an instant of realization. I needed no more.
I have spent a lifetime worrying about audiences, every audience, everywhere, what they are getting and what is passing them by; their satisfaction has been my professional responsibility. But, this night, with so few folk to worry about, I decided just to let go and take my pleasure where my instinct led. I deployed my memory of the plays and their unforgettable characters-- with the ladies’ urgent prompting and visual seductions-- and was in their thrall all over again. And only a few hundred yards from where Betty and I first encountered Shakespeare so long ago.