Happy Birthday, Willy boy!
Back when I was living in Shanghai, I met up with the WitNit on one of his business trips to the city and he treated me to lunch (a memorably good lunch at a German restaurant), near the beginning of which I pressed him with “With the understanding that I don’t think it actually matters, convince me that William Shakspere did not write Shakespeare’s plays.”
The WitNit is an Oxfordian, somebody who believes that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford was the actual author of the plays that we call Shakespeare’s. Given that he studied the Bard extensively, I was curious to here the major points in de Vere’s favor, and to have answered the most obvious objections.
But, as I stated up front, and as he happily agreed, the question of authorship is of no real importance. The important thing is the body of work, regardless who authored it.
I’ve read less than half of his works, so I remain woefully ignorant, but my two favorites are Hamlet, largely for the language — the first time I read it as a teenager, I was amazed at how many common phrases came from that one play — and The Tempest, a highly amusing meditation on isolation, revenge, power, weakness, and knowing when to let go. It also has my favorite opening scene in Shakespeare, perhaps in anything, a contentious dialogue between a noble and a sailor in the middle of a raging storm.
On a ship at sea; a tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning heard
Enter a SHIPMASTER and a BOATSWAIN
BOATSWAIN. Here, master; what cheer?
MASTER. Good! Speak to th’ mariners; fall to’t yarely, or
we run ourselves aground; bestir, bestir. Exit
BOATSWAIN. Heigh, my hearts! cheerly, cheerly, my hearts!
yare, yare! Take in the topsail. Tend to th’ master’s
whistle. Blow till thou burst thy wind, if room enough.
Enter ALONSO, SEBASTIAN, ANTONIO, FERDINAND
GONZALO, and OTHERS
ALONSO. Good boatswain, have care. Where’s the master?
Play the men.
BOATSWAIN. I pray now, keep below.
ANTONIO. Where is the master, boson?
BOATSWAIN. Do you not hear him? You mar our labour;
keep your cabins; you do assist the storm.
GONZALO. Nay, good, be patient.
BOATSWAIN. When the sea is. Hence! What cares these
roarers for the name of king? To cabin! silence! Trouble
GONZALO. Good, yet remember whom thou hast aboard.
BOATSWAIN. None that I more love than myself. You are
counsellor; if you can command these elements to
silence, and work the peace of the present, we will not
hand a rope more. Use your authority; if you cannot, give
thanks you have liv’d so long, and make yourself ready
in your cabin for the mischance of the hour, if it so
hap.-Cheerly, good hearts!-Out of our way, I say.
GONZALO. I have great comfort from this fellow. Methinks
he hath no drowning mark upon him; his complexion is
perfect gallows. Stand fast, good Fate, to his hanging;
make the rope of his destiny our cable, for our own doth
little advantage. If he be not born to be hang’d, our
case is miserable.
Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare, whoever you were.