Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon, at Night


During our stay in London last month, we made a day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon for two plays. Shakespeare is buried in Church of the Holy Trinity. Of course, in November, in England, the sun sets around 4:20 p.m. After the first play and an early dinner, the church was closed, and the sun had long set. But I walked with one of my daughters from the theater to the church, where I remembered, in a very dark churchyard full of tombstones, that Shakespeare’s grave is inside the church. I had been there, and made it inside, about two decades before. This time, locked out and sentimental, I was sure to put a hand on the church’s stone exterior. It was a good walk with my daughter from the theatre to the church and back—a good memory for us.

While I Was In The Courtyard With The Witches of ‘Macbeth’

From Act I, Scene III:

First Witch: All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!

Second Witch: All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!

Third Witch: All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!

Yesterday, students were practicing that scene in the outdoor courtyard of the humanities building. I was grading papers and taking in the October air.

The scene’s prophecies tantalize Macbeth with the promise of future power. Of course, most of us know how the rest of the play unfolds. Macbeth accepts the prophecies as true, and then he can hardly avoid the temptation to make them quickly become reality. Macbeth ultimately dooms himself with his belief in the prophecies and with his actions to bring about the witches’ forecasts.

While I graded a paper, the undergrads acted out the scene and read the lines.

And I recalled my own reaction to a prophecy I heard when I was 15 years old.

Not from three witches, but from one frog-faced man, an itinerant prophet who received from God new prophecies in King James English. He told me in front of the entire church service, in the YWCA meeting room, I would some day be a leader of young people, like the Old Testament Joshua.

The grown-ups in this room took the frog-faced prophet seriously, even if we didn’t tend to read the King James Version of the Bible. The prophet was given a microphone, and he roved around the front of the meeting room, casually preaching, really just commenting on spiritual living, while he looked at the congregants. He would feel drawn to certain faces, and he would ask them to stand up, and he would tell them what God was saying to them, as God spoke to him in King James English. Then he would continue the casual preaching until he felt drawn to another face.

People in my church believed in the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit. We were defined by that belief. If we worshiped God in the right way, if we believed enough, God would do miraculous things for us. We often sang a song from the Book of Isaiah: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” We knew human action would lead people astray, but proper faith and fullness of worship would bring God to our sides. God would heal us and bring us wealth and protect us from evil.

After the prophecy, after I had received a prophetic word, I had reassurance. No matter how poorly my life was going, God someday would make me a leader like Joshua. Even if I knew I was misbehaving, well, someday it would be part of the story of how God brought me to my heights.

God had a plan for my life. I had a future. I had a destiny. I saw new opportunities as starting points for rising to my calling as a great leader, but I rarely sought opportunities. I trusted the prophet’s words to be from God.

And so I doomed my future to waiting for God to act.

In the courtyard, I kept grading papers, and the students kept rehearsing, but I knew I had realized something about my life.

Dave Tennant and Catherine Tate in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

This evening we saw an hysterical production of Much Ado About Nothing at Wyndhams Theatre.

David Tennant (Benedick) and Catherine Tate (Beatrice)are masters of comedy in this production.

This take on the play is set in the 1980s. The set and costumes have a little bit of a Mama Mia! feel, and a pinch of beach music shows up.

I took my 9-year-old and 11-year-old, so I was a little concerned about some of the more sexually provocative moments in the play — yet those moments were still pretty much in the PG13 range. My wife pointed out my daughters had already gotten the basic idea from the film version starring Denzel Washington and Emma Thompson.

That’s not to knock this production, not at all. Tennant and Tate were very funny, and the play was oustanding.

More Shakespeare in London, via Tom Stoppard, Trevor Nunn, Kevin Spacey, and Sam Mendes

Generous in-laws are helping my two professions: teaching in an English Department and writing, rather timidly, mostly about beer.

Last night I saw Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard, directed by Trevor Nunn, at The Theatre Royal Haymarket. To summarize as simply as possible, the play focuses on two minor characters from Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who have a series of existential crises while Hamlet’s story happens around them.  I had neither seen nor read this one. I enjoyed the humor, and I engaged the philosophical anxiety underlying the play.

Tonight I saw Richard III by Shakespeare starring Kevin Spacey, directed by Sam Mendes, at the Old Vic. This production has some very interesting approach to the sets, staging, and so forth. I had seen a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Richard III about 15 years ago, and of course, this one was much different, but my real interest was in Spacey. His Richard was nasty, funny, ruthless and aggressive — in ways only Spacey can do it. Mendes was right, in his program comments: After seeing The Usual Suspects and Seven, he knew Spacey would make a perfect Richard III. Thinking about tonight’s performance, I would add Spacey’s roles in The Big Kahuna and maybe Glengarry Glenn Ross. It’s that kind of Spacey who comes out in Richard III.


Jowett: The apprehending spirit

One of the most precious endowments in the Christian life is an apprehending spirit, a healthy delicacy of soul, which can detect the hidden presence of the Lord. I think it is Bagehot who makes much of Shakespeare’s “experiencing nature,” a rich equipment of responsiveness which enables Shakespeare to enter into the lives of clowns and statesmen, of peasants and courtiers, or merchants and kings. Well, what we need as disciples of Christ is an experiencing nature, exquisite in its apprehension, which can discern the secret place of the Lord. “Thy grace betrayeth thee!” And if we are to have this fine scent for the things of the King’s gardens, we shall have to get rid of all our benumbment. Our spiritual senses may be deadened by sin, they may be blunted by formality. Prayerlessness makes us spiritually dull, while intercession makes us vigilant. Prayer makes us watch. We become alive unto God.

— John Henry Jowett, Friend on the Road and Other Studies in the Gospels, accessed through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Jacques Maritain, George Bernard Shaw, and Shakespeare’s ‘wounded humanity’

From a footnote in Jacques Maritain’s Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry:

“In Man and Superman, Bernard Shaw condemned Shakespeare on the ground that his philosophy was ‘only his wounded humanity.’ Well, I do not complain of being taught by the wounded humanity of Shakespeare about man and human existence, and many things which matter to me in the reality of this world.”

‘Oh proud death’ — of funerals and Fortinbras

My sister’s father-in-law died Friday afternoon following a heart attack. My brother-in-law gave an honoring and rhetorically powerful eulogy this morning, equal parts laughter and tears. Memories of the difficult years of his father’s alcoholism were leavened by the past 10 years of sobriety, reconciliation, and fun times with family.

At the very end of Hamlet, after all the main characters except Horatio have died, after Shakespeare has walked us through five acts of looking at death from practically every angle, Fortinbras enters the scene to see the lifeless bodies of Hamlet, Gertrude, Claudius, and Laertes.

“This quarry cries on havoc. Oh proud death …”

Today, that line went through my head dozens of times. “Oh proud death.” It is death that has taken pride in stealing a good man from his wife, his sons, and more grandkids than I can count at the moment.

Ed McAuley was a hunter and a heck of a storyteller and most importantly a Christian — his wife and sons have that Scriptural hope that they will once again see the man they loved.

Yet the funeral held an astonishing sting. While only a temporary gain, death’s accomplishment, today, felt irrevocable.

“Oh proud death.”