Anyone tired of basketball yet?
Thinking about Shakespeare, I startled myself with the recollection that he is a playwright. Plays are dialogue – no mediation, no winking narrator, no adverbs, no ‘saids.’ Aside from the occasional aside, and the inescapable entrances and exits, Shakespeare provides few stage directions. Those he includes are concise and essential. Story grows through his characters’ voices rich with subtext, timbre, semi-tone. Shakespeare’s heroes, lovers, villains and fools? They’ve got voice. And that’s what I’m after.
Where did he find these people? Did they spring from his brow like Zeus’s headache of a daughter, Athena, fully formed and ready for battle? Did they appear late at night dictating soliloquies, as he scribbled them on foolscap and battled drooping candles and eyelids? Did Lear arrive one day, full of officious bombast, clutching a tattered map, trailing fools in his wake, demanding to be taken seriously, demanding that Mr. Shakespeare take note as he tore his kingdom into unequal thirds, then rough halves, then irreparable pieces? Did the bard crouch in a garden, by the light of th’inconstant moon, as he eavesdropped on young lovers, whoever they were, doffing those most precious and daring items – their names? Was he folded into the crowd of friends, Romans, and countrymen who attended to Marc Antony’s refrain that Caesar was ambitious and Brutus is an honourable man? Did he lend his ears to borrow their words? How? How did he don that invisibility, that mutability, which allowed his characters to speak through his pen?
I want to read more. More Shakespeare, more Wallace Stevens, more Virginia Woolf, more Ernest Hemingway, more Jean Rhys, more Emily Dickinson, more Keats, more writers who know how to breathe voice into words, words, words; how to entice characters to sit down at the kitchen table and tell tales that would cure deafness.
Which is all another way of saying that it’s time for me to come down from my tree. It’s been a lovely summer, but the leaves are changing colour and the branches will soon be bare. I’m packing up my picnic and going hunting instead. I’m searching for characters, but I won’t find them by declaiming loudly with a self-important tone. They’ll never speak the rude truth, or even tell it slant, if they believe I’ll post it on a weekly basis for general inspection before they’ve gotten it right.
It’s all about building trust, they mutter into empty teacups. Perhaps with a top-up of orange pekoe and another round of Jaffa cakes they might, just might, let me in on their dreams, desires, weaknesses. But first, I’ve got to be quiet and listen. And I need to stock up on Jaffa cakes.
So I’m away for now. Perhaps we’ll meet in another forest. Thanks for stopping by my woods.