Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Launching One's Self from the Balcony : or : Goddamit Where is the Rose?

I find England literary and historically thrilling and Saturday was one of those days when the thrill reduced me to ecstatic silence. Three months ago I decided to see the last night of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Hamlet in Stratford Upon Avon and I was determined not to do it alone.

Half the shelf outside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

So I ruthlessly organised seven other people to come with me (I say ruthlessly because no matter how many emails I sent out about the minutiae of it's organisation no-one ever replied to them bar Sue because she is organised) and all was good for my scheduled three hour perve-fest on Toby Stephens as Hamlet.

It was a great pleasure to step off the train surrounded by a gaggle of friends instead of by myself, take possession of our own private inn instead of having to hang in the B&B lounge room by myself,

Half the shelf outside our inn, The Queens Head.

have dinner by the consensus of 'god we have 30 minutes and we can't decide' instead of 'which place has a corner booth I can hide in' and parade into our bank of seats like a shelf of sophisticated Shakespearian groupies instead of a single, sad Toby Stephens stalker.

The full shelf - Lizzie, Jen, Sue, Louella, Me, Matt, Monica and Jacinta.

We settled in - seven faces turned to me and variously asked if I was possessed of a rose or a bra to throw at my object of affection, or whether I would be launching myself from our balcony seats to the stage below. I don't think anyone realised that my pleasure in Mr Stephen's presence on the stage would take a more cerebral form.

The lights dimmed and one of the best experiences that can be bestowed on a bibliophile was nursed into being – the exhilarating thread of literary and historical continuity snapping into place between my heart, my mind and the players strutting and fretting their hours upon the stage. Hamlet is a particularly powerful play to illustrate the progression of a literary influence from birth to fruition. As each minute passes, as the iambic pentameter passes from gibberish to intelligible forms, and the familiar story unfolds before me, the mind starts ticking over.

With the settling of the language I am no longer fighting for meaning, and the mind can reach beyond each word and race down new avenues of understanding. Shakespeare's words are so adaptable and porous that each performance brings a new combination of lines, a different actor to absorb and be absorbed by the role. As I experience each new Hamlet I find new feelings, thoughts and knowledge rising from the depths of my soul and mind to ride, like dolphins, beside the powerful machine that is the familiar dialogue.

This gradual expanding of the connections between ideas and feelings forms a kind of plateau on which lights start to flare into life. As the play progresses a line will make my head twitch with recognition – 'this mortal coil', 'each dog will have it's day', 'the quick and the dead' – and the shape of my internal knowledge landscape becomes illuminated by Shakespeare's presence in the most basic of my life tools, my ability to communicate.

I quote Shakespeare every day without fail, both consciously because 'methinks the lady doth protest too much' fits the occasion, because I am looking for Flat 2B and it follows that I must ask 'to be or not to be', or with one of the countless Shakespearian phrases that peppers everyday life.

As the play climaxes and Denmark's sweet prince gasps his last breath on the heap of Denmark's dead court and courtiers, I have ridden the wave that is the movement of the inspired written and spoken word, I have travelled from the heart of the artist's private ocean back to the shores of my own mind and knowledge. The marks of a beloved wave's passage will remain until the next tide of experience washes over it and rearranges the pebbles and grains of my accumulated knowledge.

And Toby really was as attractive on stage as he was on screen and I could barely hold myself back ...