Thursday, April 23, 2009

O for a muse of fire

I love Shakespeare. Not the "Gee, that Hamlet really is a great play" sort of love, but the squealing fangirl, "I have lines from The Tempest tattooed onto my back" sort of love. ( I do, actually. "We are such stuff as dreams are made on.")

The first time I fell in love with the way in which a story was told, rather than just the story itself, was when I first read Romeo and Juliet. I read it out loud to myself and I could hear the magic in the words: Mercutio's Queen Mab speech, the sonnet the two lovers speak upon meeting, the passion that burns through Juliet as she says:

Give me my Romeo, and when I shall die
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.


And I wanted to do that. To learn to use words in a way that mattered, that made things happen, that created beauty. 

But the thing that gets me most, as I think about my own writing, and what I want to do with it, is that Shakespeare continued to push, and to grow as an artist. I don't just mean that he improved from the "bad revolting stars" and dramatically schizophrenic Joan of Arc of I Henry VI. (I mean, he did. Except for a couple of glorious speeches, that's a fairly terrible play.) But that he changed the way he thought about language, and stagecraft, and tried new things. He could overcome a serious inability to render a coherent plot with a moment of utter transcendence -- the lost one found, the statue that moves. And he knew what I think is the most important truth of being an artist: that sometimes you must break your staff, and drown your books, o'erthrow all your charms, and stand before your your audience with only your own strength.

Happy Birthday,* Will of Stratford. Thank you.

(* Said with the understanding that 23 April was an 18th c. scholarly error that happened to match up nicely with the date of Shakespeare's death, and the feast day of St. George, and was close enough to the 26 April date of Shakespeare's baptism that it has become the default birth date as well.)

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