Posted by: Brad Nixon | July 7, 2018

My Bounty is Boundless as the Sea … Summer Shakespeare

Not many humans are remembered for more than a couple of generations. Even among those whose fame or notoriety persists, only a scant percentage of even famous people remain widely known, often only in a particular culture or nation. Whether they were politicians, criminals or artists, usually only one or two key accomplishments account for their lasting fame.

Just over 400 years ago, a sometimes actor-promoter-poet-playwright died, mourned by some modest number of people who knew him in the London of King James.

Today, not only is that long-ago writer remembered, but one can quote any number of the lines he wrote and have them recognized instantly, around the world, by millions of people. His works fill books, whole shelves of libraries and countless web pages, translated into umpteen languages. Most importantly for a playwright, his works are still performed. Not just occasionally, but constantly, in endless rotation, perhaps thousands of times in a year. They’re performed in grand theaters, school gymnasiums, community centers and — in scores or hundreds of places, now that summer’s here — in parks, parking lots and fairgrounds.

If some other writer fits that description, I don’t know who it is. I refer to Shakespeare, of course. Almost certainly you know of a place, perhaps in your town, that features Shakespeare in the Park, Shakespeare Under the Stars, Shakespeare on the Green or some other seasonal venue for the Bard’s work. Here in Los Angeles, one of several companies is a long-running series named Shakespeare by the Sea (SBTS). Each summer they produce two Shakespeare plays and stage them in about a dozen locations.

Merry Wives Brad Nixon 1423 640

I shot that photo of SBTS’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor earlier this evening in Point Fermin Park, a location I’ve featured in a number of posts over the years. It’s on the route of one of our regular walks and gives SBTS its name, because of its dramatic location on cliffs above the Pacific.

Pt Fermin Catalina Brad Nixon 5732 (640x480)

How much better can life be for two former English majors who long ago sat through the same year-long Shakespeare class together than to stroll along the ocean at sunset and encounter John Falstaff and his gang?

Shakespeare’s ubiquity, the ability of his work to endure into a day when the language has shifted, and the fact that theaters, gymnasiums and city parks are full of ordinary people who want to see his plays — not just scholars or devotees of theater — is remarkable. Very few artists attract such a consisted following from the general public. I’d be hard-pressed to name a single one with the drawing power of Shakespeare. Yes, when museums have shows devoted to Van Gogh or Monet, or treasures from King Tut’s tomb, the public line up. But just once. Most of Shakespeare’s 39 plays are in almost constant production, somewhere. Granted, not as many may show up for Cymbeline or Pericles as for Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet, but those less popular plays do get produced. Remarkable.

As an English major, I’m an easy mark. I’ve read all but a handful of the plays at least once, and I’ve seen a large number of them on stage since that day Mrs. Drake took her high school English class to see The Comedy of Errors at Playhouse in the Park in Cincinnati. But millions of non-English majors go, and there’s no indication the Bard has lost any of his currency. He’s in constant demand.

I don’t have any deep insight to offer beyond what I hope is some appreciation of the human spirit. A million things can divide us, drive us apart, make us feel that there’s no such thing as a human community or shared spirit in the world. Shakespeare, somehow, gives us at least a spark of the divine fire that’s reflected in all of us. That’s what I thought as we headed back along the bluffs that were growing dark under the sunset glow in the western sky.

Point Fermin view Brad Nixon 1426 640

What’s your favorite Shakespeare play? Where do you go to see Shakespeare performed? The best Shakespeare production you’ve ever seen? Leave a comment.

The line in the title of this post comes from Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is speaking in Act II, sc. ii.

 

© Brad Nixon 2018


Responses

  1. Asking which Shakespeare play is favorite is like asking, “Which of your children do you love most?” Thinking about it, I realized that none of the histories are among my favorites. Hamlet and Macbeth would go on the list, and Midsummer Night’s Dream.

    Romeo and Juliet would make the list, too, particularly in its incarnation as West Side Story. My favorite production of that gem actually consists of studio takes done with Bernstein conducting. And of all of those takes, this one, with a Jose Carreras and Kiri te Kanawa duet, is sheer perfection. Watching the interaction among the musicians, the vocalists, and Bernstein is just fabulous.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My favs are A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth.

    Query: meaning no disrespect to The Bard, but do you think the fact that English is the most spoken language on the planet could have something to do with his widespread and enduring popularity?

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    • I think that’s a worthwhile question. I trust that some number of libraries hold a significant number of dissertations on that topic. Probably some fascinating correspondences between the spread if Shakespeare, colonization and the dissemination of English. OR the devoted fan of W.S. might assert that English is so popular precisely because there IS a Shakespeare!

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  3. Was he Britain’s greatest genius? If not, Newton, Darwin, Turing, or whom would you rank at the top?

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    • That’s an excellent question. Well, how does one go about COMPARING geniuses in different fields? Probably something that simply can’t be done. If there’s a scheme by which it COULD be accomplished, it would require an inordinate amount of knowledge about not one but multiple disciplines. A handful of writers might stand equal with Shakespeare, but few. Same for physicists and Newton. It’s not easy to argue against Sir Isaac as the preeminent British genius, though. Once you start publishing your blog, it’s a topic you should explore, because it’s clean over my head. Thanks for the stimulating idea.

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      • I feared the answer would require mixing apples and oranges. Especially apples. Although IQ tests are a 20th century phenomenon, perhaps there is a way to comparatively measure intelligence across time. Someone must have devised such a measure by now.

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      • Apples, indeed. I’m not certain that when one measures “genius” it has anything to do with pure IQ. I’ll bet you’re right, though, and someone has some sort of a scale. I wish I had the IQ to understand what Newton’s up to with his *Opticks* and all that, but it’s a road not taken for my brain.

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