Thursday, 28 April 2016

Shakespeare - how do you spell that?!

Next Tuesday, 3rd May, sees the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare in 1616.

So much about the Bard of Stratford is a mystery. 

Recently I enjoyed reading Bill Bryson’s book on our nation’s most famous playwright.  Bryson tries to unravel the age old theories about ‘who’ he was – addressing the claims that maybe all these wonderful words actually flowed from the pens of men like the 17th Earl of Oxford or the 6th Earl of Derby.  In the end Bill Bryson puts his money on Shakespeare – no one else!

Another mystery is the spelling of his name.  We have six signatures in his own hand and each one is different!  Amazing isn’t it – the man who wrote Hamlet couldn’t remember how to spell his own name!  Actually it isn’t as simple as that – as some of these are just abbreviated signings – even so, none of them are in the form we use today!  They range from W.Shakp to W.Shakspeare.

His death is another puzzle.  He reached the age of 52 – which was quite an achievement in 1616 when the average Londoner died around 35years.  The Vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, said:
"Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted." It’s now thought that was a case of the clergy putting two and two together and coming up with five – not the first time that’s ever happened!!

I loved reading Shakespeare  at school and I’ve always been grateful that my ‘O’ Level play was the Merchant of Venice with that wonderful speech about the double blessing of mercy spoken by Portia.

It’s the power of words I like so much.  Shakespeare’s ability to encapsulate wisdom in the most memorable of one liners!  I wonder if he would have made a good preacher – perhaps not, he was I suppose the writer of the words said by others.

Here are just a few of my favourites:

All the world a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances  

Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,
Which we ascribe to heaven
(A comment I think about us sometimes needing to answer our own prayers!)

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.
Words without thoughts never to heaven go
(Maybe a commentary on the nature of prayer?)

And one I love very much:
The man that hath no music in himself
Let no such man be trusted
!!

Words matter – they matter a very great deal.  So many of our aspirations and values can be expressed in art and music yet we often (not always) feel we need to make a verbal commentary on these.  Words speak for themselves – well, apart from the fact that we can interpret the in a myriad of ways!

I’m so glad Jesus was a preacher.  The words that speak of his message in say, for example,  The Sermon on The Mount or The Parables are priceless, beautiful, comforting and provocative.  Us preachers spend a lifetime seeking to reflect their truth and inspiration to our modern day congregations.

It was a later playwright to Shakespeare, one Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who in 1839 gave us that wonderful phrase: The pen is mightier than the sword – and I, for one, believe that wholeheartedly.

So, what of my favourite lines from Will Shakp – or however you spell his name!!

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself


Thank you Mr Will Shakespeare for leaving us so very much in your gift of words.

Best wishes,

Ian

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