June 2, 2011

Till It Be Morrow

Life moves in circles.  It loops around back on itself all the time - leaving us to find ourselves in an old familiar place again, or seeing an old familiar face again.  I really believe that people's paths always cross again.  I find it comforting that the world really can be small.

Last week I saw a poster around Uni advertising a presentation about Shakespeare and The Globe Theatre. There's always dozens of posters advertising dozens of talks around a Uni with 20,000+ students. But this one caught my eye. It caught my eye because I LOVE Shakespeare.  I'm no expert, I haven't read all the plays or memorized the sonnets, but I have a great appreciation for Shakespeare and I've enjoyed every experience I've had with him (via his plays, of course).  My mom thinks perhaps my grandmother always wanted to be an actress. She loved Shakespeare. She quoted him here and there at the perfect moment and we often recalls Gram's moments of Shakespearean wisdom. Come the 15th of March, I remember her as I say, "Beware the Ides of March" all day.  She had two huge golden-leafed volumes of Shakespeare plays and sonnets that my mom now has.

I remember reading Julius Caesar when I was about 12 years old.  Who would have a class of 12 year olds read Julius Caesar?  An older nun, that's who. Named Sister Marheineke.  Perhaps the best teacher I've ever had.  I've thought a lot about why she was the best teacher I ever had - and the conclusion I've come to is because she expected greatness from us.  It wasn't an option. We would be respectful, we would learn challenging vocabulary, we would read Shakespeare.  She was tiny and frail and at least 70 years old. We were rambunxious, possibly obnoxious, hormonal pre-teens. Some of the boys towered over her.  When she entered the class, small but fast and fierce, we stood to greet her. We learned 5 new vocab words per day and memorized 1 classic poem per week. She sporadically threw out the question, "How observant are you? How observant are you?"  We were to raise our hands and tell her something new we'd noticed around her classroom or school that day or that week.  Sometimes we'd all choke with laughter as a brave student would venture, "Sister, those books over there are new." And she'd reply "Those books have been there since 1962."  But her quizzes taught me to look around, to OPEN my eyes, to observe, to notice. And this might just be why I am a social anthropologist today.

When we read Julius Caesar with Sr. Marheineke, we were to read a portion at home the night before, read that same portion out loud in class, then listen to it again on an old record she had.  Three times, interspersed with discussion and explanation, and a room full of 12 year olds understood Julius Caesar and couldn't wait to see what happened next.

I read more Shakespeare in highschool and enjoyed every part of it, thanks to Sr. Marheineke's foundation.  And later, when I was 19 and an exchange student to London, I read Romeo and Juliet for a third time.  But actually, this time, I didn't read Romeo and Juliet, I experienced it.  With Patrick Spottiswoode, director of education at The Globe Theatre.  Patrick didn't teach Shakespeare, he brought it to life.  I remember as if it was yesterday (and not 14 years ago, my goodness!) sitting in a dark, warm classroom with all the other American exchange students, mesmerized by Patrick Spottiswoode. He was bringing two lines of Romeo and Juliet into the modern reality of a group of 19 year old exchange students, far from home possibly for the first time in their lives. Many, including me, with a boyfriend or girlfriend left behind.  Those two lines were:

Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.

Previously I might have thought, "yeah, yeah, two young love-birds who don't want to say goodbye, blah blah."  But Patrick asked, "How many of you have experienced new, young love? The excitement of it!  How many of you might miss your boyfriend or girlfriend back home while you study here?"  And he proceeded to pretend he was one of us, on the phone to his girlfriend, back home in Colorado. He held his hand up to his ear like a phone, demonstrating one side of the conversation: "I love you too... I know, I miss you too... I could just talk to you all night, maybe take the phone to bed with me! Ha!.........  I know, but we should hang up now........ No, you hang up first......... No, you hang up first!.......  I love you too..........  Oh, maybe we can talk just a little longer?.........."  On and on this went, the silences filled with shy, sweet listening to his 'girlfriend' on the other end.  ".......No, you hang up first....... I know, I love you too..........  Maybe we'll just talk another minute........."

So THAT is what Juliet meant when she said, "...parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say goodbye till it be morrow"!!  You could have heard a pin drop in the room. He had us gripped. When understood this now.

We didn't have time to bring each and every line of Shakespeare to life like this in our classroom.  But this made me realize each line of Shakespeare has this much depth and beauty, has this much suggested within it.  Genius.

In Patrick's class, I also got to play King Lear for five minutes.  I rehearsed my lines for WEEKS in preparation of my five minute monologue.  I memorized those lines quickly, but that was just the beginning. Memorizing was easy.  As I repeated them in my head, in the grocery store, on the tube, drinking tea or beer...  I repeatedly had "light bulb" moments as I understood more and more of what those lines meant. Once I was in the shower rehearsing out loud to myself, thinking I had not only memorized it all, but finally understood it fully, when I had another epiphany, "Oh my gosh! THAT'S what he's saying!!!!"  I don't remember the lines anymore but I remember this moment of realizing one could study five minutes of Shakespeare for weeks, months, years, and still uncover more of what King Lear meant when considering his daughters' betrayals.

As a class, we attended a performance at The Globe - a year before it's 1997 official reopenning.  We stood in the peasant's area - I stood at the foot of the stage, which came up to about chest-height. I got to lean my elbows onto the stage, see the expressions on the actor's faces, the drops of sweat.  I didn't notice I also had to stand for three hours.  I could have been floating.

So, things are busy now and I almost didn't look at the details of the poster advertising the talk on Shakespeare and The Globe Theatre. But I did.  And the presenter.... was Patrick Spottiswoode.  Heartbroken and dismayed, I realized I had another commitment at the same time that I could not get out of.  But I went to the last ten minutes of his talk, intending to sneak in unnoticed. But as I stood outside the door, I realized i couldn't go in.  It was obvious he had his audience enraptured in a moment of Shakespearean Glory and I didn't want to break the spell by walking in. I knew the power of that moment.  So I listened from outside the door.  And when he finished, I went in and said hello. And, Thank You.

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