My name is Caius Marcius, who hath done
To thee particularly and to all the Volsces
Great hurt and mischief; thereto witness may
My surname, Coriolanus…
I was in the Upper-6th. I still remember that Eng Lit class and reciting those words to a horde of A-level Volscians, many of whom really wanted to be Romans, and most of whom were entirely unimpressed by my lilting vowels and crisp, Olivier-like consonants. Shakespeare was my antidote to the interminable Dark Period of teenage angst. At school I could be a Roman, a Greek, a pauper or a king. One day it was virtue and beauty; the next villainy and treachery. There was infatuation and isolation; vengeance and pride; romance and melancholy; and hormonal virility with bouts of exotic cross-dressing trans-sexuality. I lived and breathed blank verse: I was Romeo, Richard, Malvolio and Hamlet. Tomorrow I would be Lear. But, for today, I was Caius Marcius. Continue reading →
On April 23rd 2016 – and probably throughout the entire year – we will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. By ‘we’ I mean not only England and the English, or the United Kingdom and the British, but all nations and cultures of the world where Shakespeare is a passion, pastime or of any scholarly interest. And that necessarily embraces the whole of civilisation. As the holder of the Guinness World Record for performing the Complete Works single-handedly non-stop (five days without sleep – never again), I’ll certainly be raising a glass or two to the world’s greatest poet-playwright.
My record still stands after 25 years, and has just been re-published in the 2013 edition of the Guinness Book of Records. I will forever be grateful to those fine English teachers I had at school – Roger Calvert, Daphne Cooper and Jean Tidy – who between the years that spanned my O-levels and A-levels introduced me to Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, Antony & Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Measure for Measure and King Lear. From the academic confines of the classroom to the emotional exuberance of the school play, I found my soul simultaneously steeped in dramatic greatness, lyrical beauty and profound wisdom: ineffable, noetic, passive – it was like a religious experience. Every visit I made to Stratford-upon-Avon became a pilgrimage: sometimes wrestling with darkness and devils, and then rejoicing with angels and ministers of grace. Continue reading →