I had a wonderful time up in Comox on Vancouver Island last week. I was invited to don my pantaloons again and speak to the Elder College there.
They are running a lecture series for seniors: ‘Great Cities of the World’ at certain periods in history. I, obviously enough, talked about Shakespeare’s London 1601.
Sheer indulgence on my part! I get to take a stage for an hour and a half and blather about the Bard. Of course I issued the disclaimer at the start: not an academic but an amateur enthusiast. However what I was able to give them, I believe, is the same that people get when they choose to pick up a novel rather than a history text. A more psychological look at a time. Seeing it through character, through the minds of those who lived there, then. I also wanted to do a tour of the senses – what would it have been like to walk London’s streets on one particular day in 1601.
So the first half was more fact based – tried to do a quick catch up of history, especially the late part of Elizabeth’s reign. What Shakespeare would have called ‘the form and pressure of the age’. I wanted to give people a glimpse into the mindset of the theatre goers of the time – a time very different from ours, a police state, where spies lurked on street corners and satire had actually been banned. A time when people went to the Globe not just to be entertained but also to have their concerns addressed. It would not have been a soap opera on the platform, nothing so direct. But within a play such as – ooh, I don’t know, Hamlet? - what is going on outside can be explored within the Wooden O. A surveillance state. Regicide and usurpation. And a man questioning his personal place set against those big events.
I explored all this terrain in my novel, Shakespeare’s Rebel, of course.
Here I did it live and, in the second half, took the audience as if they were out of town visitors hitting the city for a big event: the newest play from the quill of Master Shakespeare. Took them across the bridge from the city, under the gatehouse where the skull of that arrant rebel, the recently executed Earl Of Essex, has been picked clean by crows. To the Globe where, amidst the crunching of nuts, the popping of beer bottles, and the slurping of oysters a man walks out and says: ‘To be or not to be. That is the question,’ for the very first time.
Did I mention indulgence? It is where and when I would thumb a ride with Dr Who if he was passing. But since I can’t I can revisit the Globe in my own way. On a stage in Comox. Trying to speak the speech, not only trippingly on the tongue (as Will instructs the players) but also as if it is not a well known aria but someone working out something in front of us for the very first time.
So thanks, Elder College Comox for indulging me. I’ll don me pantaloons for you anytime!