All the world's a stage,One of the most inciteful and influential pieces of writing by history's greatest ever poet and dramatist William Shakespeare, the "Seven Ages of Man" was also an apposite binding theme for an evening dedicated entirely to The Bard, performed solo by one of our finest thespians Simon Callow, that we went to see on Monday.
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.
And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow.
Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth.
And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part.
The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
As Alice Barker says on The Upcoming online magazine:
"Shakespeare with a difference. How could one possibly do Shakespeare with a difference? Many have done Shakespeare with a modern twist and often done so with so-called funny anecdotes and modernisation of his work. But this was a celebration of the life of the greatest writer to have ever lived."And such a celebration! Weaving the factual life history of Mr Shakespeare with a multitude of well-chosen - and brilliantly performed (as one might expect) - examples of his work to illustrate and illuminate his "many parts", Mr Callow had us transfixed.
From the mysteries of the real-life Forest of Arden that must have impressed the infant William (interwoven with the "sprites and goblins" tales of young Mamillius from Winter's Tale), through his schooldays learning grammar and little else, to work and success, to his death at the premature age of 52 (thus escaping the fate of the senile King Lear: "Pray, do not mock me. I am a very foolish fond old man, fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less. And to deal plainly I fear I am not in my perfect mind. Methinks I should know you, and know this man."), we were treated to the full "seven ages" journey, his ups and his downs, his triumphs and his disappointments, his losses and his gains.
And his loves. There were two in William's life - the main one being of course Anne Hathaway, the older woman who taught him so much about (ahem!) passion (she was pregnant with their first child when they wed), and for whom it is presumed he wrote his greatest romances including Romeo and Juliet.
However, his other lover (to whom there was more work dedicated even than to Anne) was the "Fair Lord" - probably the extremely beautiful Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, who was William's loyal patron. For him, Shakespeare wrote the most wonderful piece of poetry in the English language, Sonnet 18:
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?Simply beautiful.
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
And with the mellifluous voice of Simon Callow reading it, even more so.
Here's a taster of the show Being Shakespeare:
Simon Callow: Being Shakespeare is only at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 15th March 2014 - so be quick!