In Competition No. 2944 you were invited to imagine what characters from Shakespeare’s plays would have made of this year’s fulsome celebrations of the 400th anniversary of his death and supply a verdict on behalf of one of them.
How would the Bard himself have reacted to all the fuss, I wonder. In the expert opinion of Professor Gordon McMullan, director of the London Shakespeare Centre at King’s College London, he would have welcomed the publicity but been ‘baffled by the celebration of him as a person because at that time they didn’t have our obsession with biography or the idea that plays are a reflection of the life of a writer’.
Here’s what you thought some of Shakespeare’s creations would have made of it all. First word goes to Caesar by way of Alan Millard, who gets to stuff a prize of £30 in his codpiece. The rest are rewarded with £25 each. Carolyn Thomas-Coxhead, Brian Murdoch, Josh Ekroy and W.J. Webster are unlucky losers.
I, Caesar, have much cause to feel aggrieved
That he, four centuries on, should still be praised
When but two Acts and one short scene he gave
For me to strut and fret upon the stage;
Brief was my time, and brief my speeches too,
‘Et tu, Brute’ my piteous epitaph
While he bequeathed to lesser men than I
The best of all the great soliloquies;
As constant as the northern star I shone
Yet, though my time to shine was all too short,
The crown I was denied I offer him
And shall my future with these words ensure:
Long may men mark his anniversary —
So long as he lives, he gives life to me.
Tomorrow, and the next day, and the next —
This sycophancy makes me sick at heart.
Four hundred years, but still he will not die!
The brains are out; that should have been an end,
His candle brief as any other man’s,
And yet this walking shadow struts and plays
Upon the stages of this idiot world,
Disgorging nonsense to the crack of doom.
I’d sooner greet four hundred bloodied Banquos
Than hear the name of Shakespeare once again.
Could I but see the fellow here before me,
He’d know the meaning of ‘incarnadine’,
For I’m no stranger to the art of murder;
But how to kill a man four centuries dead?
This ghost will plague us with his foolish rhyme
To the last syllable of recorded time.
To mourn, or not to mourn, that is the question,
Whether it is better to mark a death
Or let the matter die? When many years
Have passed in that great sleep where none can speak
Should memories be awoke and feasted on?
Is not his script memorial enough
Without the overwhelming tide of dross
And myriad forms of tasteless entertainment
That do besiege us? Cannot his fine words
Do homage to his passing, noble words
Untarnished by the modern frippery
That would dishonour them? If homage must
Be done to our great playwright dignity
Must play the major role, the play’s the thing
To show his talent and surely it should be
The greatest of them all, that features me.
Sir, is thy wither’d reputation still
The sinecure of fools? Four hundred years?
Let thy remains remain yet ’neath their slab.What hast thou done for us, who bear thy cubs,
This distaff to thy spear? Scant lines i’ faith
Are written in that ledger, wretched toad.
Kate winks, most oily lord? Yet she surrenders,
As must we all, or perish, so thy quill
Insists, as it comes pell-mell down each page,
With bile for ink. Lady Macbeth must die,
As adders must, or rats, their names unknown.
These japes, sir, and attendant other flaws,
Thy misdemeanours botch’d up by thy tongue,
That most uncivil lizard, call for whips.
No safe redress be ever elsewise found,
While women dance thy death upon this ground.
I will name you the degrees of commemoration.
The first, the Play Meticulous;
The second, the Cast Celebritous;
The third, the Exegesis Egregious;
The fourth, the Translation Norwegious;
The fifth, the Sham Anachronistical;
The sixth, the Outing Scholastical;
The seventh, the Subsidy Governmental;
The eighth, the Perplexity Experimental;
The ninth, the Travesty Popular;
The tenth, the Romp Globular;
The eleventh, the Revival Pedantic
The last, the Sexing-Up Frantic.
But when the audience were gathered
They bethought them of an ‘Ah!’
(There is much virtue in an ‘Ah!’)
To fête? how much to fête? — that’s the big question.
Whether it’s too elitist, now, to offer
the unabridged First Folios, played uncut,
or in reduction what an infant craves —
mere puppetry, the dance of jiggling dolls —
and, recomposing wreck them. To hack, rewrite;
yet more — for from such entertainments there might come
not dreams but dreadful nightmares, fantasies
to clown and crack all sense. Where’s the respect
that makes such macaronic stuff from art?
Should playwrights bear the shock of comic strip,
the cartoon’s slur, corruptions laser-lit,
which all the desperate and unlettered make
to secure funding? No, I’d rather bear
the Will we have, not pitching enterprise.
Arts Councils do make cowards of us all.
No. 2947: Olden but golden
You are invited to submit a poem singing the praises of old age (16 lines maximum). Please email entries (wherever possible) to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 4 May.