BY Carmen Anderson
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” One of my favourite lines from the many gems that have emerged from the tip of William Shakespeare’s quill. For some people, April 23rd is the feast of St George, who regularly featured in Shakespeare’s work largely as part of a call to courage in battle; “Cry-God for Harry! England and St. George!” Yet for me, as someone who loves theatre, April 23rd is much more important for being Shakespeare Day.
William Shakespeare is arguably the best, and definitely the most celebrated, playwright and poet of all time. It is thought that he was born on April 23rd, which is why it is appointed as Shakespeare Day: to celebrate the incredible body of work that he produced and the enormous influence his plays and his poems have had over the centuries.
His work made a significant contribution to English literature and it is still widely read and analysed today. Shakespeare introduced 100s of words to the English lexicon and there are phrases we use daily that would not have had their existence if Shakespeare had not made them up; words like ‘characterless’, ‘fashionable’ and ‘ill-tempered’ were once Shakespeare originals, as were ‘heart of gold’, ‘in my mind’s eye’ and ‘wild-goose chase’.
‘Characterless’, ‘fashionable’ and ‘ill-tempered’ were once Shakespeare originals.
Typically, Shakespeare Day is celebrated with a special pageant being held in his birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon. People come here from all over the world to attend special performances of Shakespeare’s plays, visit his home and generally bask in the beautiful surroundings of this Warwickshire town.
Gibraltar may not have produced a Shakespeare – yet – but we certainly love the theatre and have many talented actors, directors and playwrights among us. I am still frequently reminded of Humbert Hernandez’s performance in Murder in the Cathedral at St Michael’s Cave, of Elio Cruz’s tremendous contribution to Gibraltar’s literature as a playwright, and of the joy brought regularly to our community by the many theatre performances that take place throughout each year – we even managed a number of performances during 2020, the year of COVID-19!
It stands to reason, then, that there are many Shakespeare fans in Gibraltar, so I set out to uncover some of our favourite literary gems penned by Shakespeare.
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” (Macbeth). This is one of the author, Humbert Hernandez’s, favourite quotes from Shakespeare, a line that reflects on the fleeting nature of life, from The Scottish Play.
Director and actor, Angela Jenkins, is an avid Shakespeare fan and told me “I’m delighted that you are marking Shakespeare’s birthday. It’s something I’ve always been keen to do in Gibraltar, and did two events: the first in 2013 at the Garrison Library; the second in 2016 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death.”
Love him or hate him, Shakespeare is the undisputed master of the English language.
Inevitably, Angela found it difficult to pick a favourite Shakespeare quote, and gave me three, of which I had the equally hard task of selecting one. I chose this one from Romeo and Juliet: “Then I defy you, stars!”. This is the unforgettable moment when Romeo hears that Juliet is dead, and his heart breaks. Angela explained; “In my outdoor production, Dominic Brewer, the actor playing Romeo, delivered this line with such a depth of passion, despair, defiance, and heartbreaking lost love, his voice echoing around the natural amphitheatre, that it was like a stab to the heart of the audience; the birds and frogs stopped, and all fell silent”.
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks” (Hamlet). Writer, Rebecca Calderon, finds herself using this line a lot in everyday speech (bar the ‘methinks’). “It’s such a great way to throw doubt on someone’s sincerity” she said, “especially regarding the truth of a strong denial. Shakespeare is so clever; he pinpoints the everyday feelings of people in simple sentences.”
Director, Daniel Strain-Webber, quoted; “I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?” (The Merchant of Venice), while Louis Emmitt-Stern, actor, playwright and director, quoted this line from Titus Andronicus: “I have done a thousand dreadful things as willingly as one would kill a fly, and nothing grieves me heartily indeed but that I cannot do ten thousand more.”
Julian Felice, playwright, actor and director, told me that his favourite Shakespeare line is “Where stood Belgia, the Netherlands?” “Oh, sir, I did not look so low.” from The Comedy of Errors. Meanwhile, poet, Giordano Durante, clearly enjoys the more earthy elements of Shakespeare with this quote from King Lear: “A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave…” (It gets ruder from there!).
Jackie Villa, founder of White Light Theatre, said that her favourite Shakespeare moment comes from Merchant of Venice, the first of his plays that she read: “Mercy cannot be forced, it falls as easily as rain does from heaven Down to the Earth/earth. Mercy is twice blessed, it blesses the one who gives it and the ones who receives it, it is the most powerful when given by the most powerful people, it is looks better on a king than his crown does.”
Love him or hate him, Shakespeare is the undisputed master of the English language and in true bardic tradition, a purveyor of wisdom. So, we will let him have the last word; “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” (All’s Well That Ends Well).