Lines on the Four Hundredth Anniversary
of the Death of William Shakespeare
Four hundred years,
that is one hundred years less than half a thousand,
that is a long time to be absent from the stage,
a long time for your plays to go on and have no equal,
still be performed, that first you wrote with your quill,
to scratch the letters in ink on the page.
You nailed the sonnet, remain the master of blank verse drama.
In honour of your name they should
plant four hundred oaks, fire four hundred cannons,
shoot four hundred arrows, race four hundred horses,
ring four hundred church bells.
Over the top that may seem,
but not enough for the one who gave us
Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, The Tempest,
A Midsummer Night’s Dream,
to name of your works only a few.
In my mind, when I think of you,
I see you sat in an inn, near the Thames,
by your theatre, the Globe,
drinking with your acting company,
no doubt partly discussing your latest play.
Strangely, you alone seeming not to be an actor,
aware of all you can see and hear around you,
with the genius to do what only you could do,
that is, put it all into words,
able as you were to give words to king and queen,
as much as to beggar, drunkard, thief.
All’s Well That Ends Well, as you wrote.
They joke now that your works are full of quotes to quote.
Writers cannot write like that now,
for people do not speak like that now,
not even in monologue.
Strange to think that Hamlet does not exist on the page,
like a character in a novel.
What we read are but the lines
for the actor to say in his way on stage,
guided by the play’s director.
And what we see on stage is not Hamlet,
but one interpretation of him
by one actor and director.
The words remain the same, however,
and it is them we remember.
“To be or not to be, that is the question.”
Hamlet understood that there was a choice,
when the root was found,
the skin shed from the bone,
when the truth made you outcast,
and on the bare stage you found yourself alone.
This April is chilly, wet, grey.
On its twenty third day
will be the four hundredth anniversary of your death,
William Shakespeare, Bard of Avon,
word smith of Warwickshire.