Shakespeare and Co

February 23, 2010

Shakespeare and Co.

On Sunday, I attended a marvellous, BAM, Old Vic & Neal Street production of Shakespeare's The Tempest at Brooklyn's BAM theatre on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. The Old Vic is a famous London theatre, located not far from Waterloo Station that derived its name from the original Royal Victorian Theatre established in 1833. The National Theatre of Great Britain under Sir Laurence Olivier was housed at the Old Vic until 1976 when it took up residence at the newly built venue on the South Bank. The present Old Vic theatre company's artistic director is American actor Kevin Spacey.

The Bam Harvey Theatre built in 1903, and though restored to a certain extent has a feeling of decay about it. The 900 seat theatre was packed. The two-hour play was performed without an interval, leaving me decidedly uncomfortable. But it was worth it; the play was imaginative without taking outrageous liberties with the text or setting. The music was also enchanting as Ariel sang, "Where the bee sucks, there suck I"; "Come unto these sands", and "Full fathom five they father lies", and so on.

One forgets how many words, phrases and sayings in the English language we owe to Shakespeare's fertile imagination. Some words he coined himself, or if he did not invent them he was the first person recorded to have used them. Here is a random sample:"assassination" [Macbeth]; "bedroom"[A Midsummer Night's Dream]; "countless" [Titus Andronicus], "fashionable" [Troilus and Cressida]; "frugal" [The Merry Wives of Windsor]; "laughable" [Merchant of Venice]; "lonely" [Corialanus]; "useful" [King John].

As for sayings and phrases, I cannot possibly better the summary given by Bernard Levin [1928-2004], a British journalist, whose long-time companion was Arianna Stassinopoulos (now known as Arianna Huffington) [from Enthusiasms, 1983]:
"If you cannot understand my argument, and declare ‘It's Greek to me', you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger; if your wish is father to the thought; if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise -why, be that as it may, the more fool you , for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then - to give the devil his due - if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then - by Jove! O Lord! Tut tut! For goodness' sake! What the dickens! But me no buts! - it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare."