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Anne Arundel 100
’Twas a Merry Band of Bard-o-philes
by Zach Pajak ’09, English major
Throughout my midsummer’s dream-come-true study tour through Shakespeare’s Britain last summer, I kept a journal to capture my thoughts on the Bard. Recently, re-reading the journal, I found myself reliving the reverence I gained for both Shakespeare’s timelessness and the communal “act of faith” his plays call for. Re-reading also reminded me of how powerfully the experience affirmed that teaching is my vocation.
Below are some journal passages that, I hope, begin to communicate the journey’s wonder:
July 2nd, 2008—The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Globe Theatre, London. (Shakespeare wrote most of his plays for the original Globe.)
Entering the reconstructed Globe, we enter a negotiation, spoken and unspoken, among past and present. As we take our seats throughout the three-story-high, open-air Elizabethan playhouse, we hear an occasional airplane from London Heathrow Airport slowly drone through the evening sky. Camera flashes of light illuminate the fire sprinkler system, subtly threaded throughout the Globe’s oaken beams, timber columns, and thatched roofs. The audience chatter steadily lowers to silence as an actress in Renaissance costume enters the playing space; she recites a rhyming sonnet that tells us to please turn off all cell phones and electronic devices.
Once Merry Wives begins, “now” and “then” are brought most powerfully hand in hand. As Windsor’s community plays jokes on its clown, Falstaff, the actors welcome our engagement in the trickery, sharing in our laughter as a lovely early modern orchestra further harmonizes our emotions to those of the characters. Any feelings of being in the literal and figurative shadows of the playhouse disappear; our shared enjoyment in Shakespeare’s timeless humor rejuvenates us as we now become half the community of both the Globe and Windsor.
July 9th, 2008—Paul Edmondson’s Lecture “Shakespeare in Performance,” Stratford
“It is required you do awake your faith.” Paulina says these words in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale before restoring the petrified Queen Hermoine back to life. Shakespeare Centre director Paul Edmondson says to us, “I honestly believe these words must be inscribed over the entranceways to every performance space. Theater itself offers new realities, emotions, and worlds to anyone prepared to enter them. As people from all over and with different life experiences come together and invest faith in building a play, our entrance into the worlds they create is only possible if we do awake our faith.”
Edmondson shares with us that The Winter’s Tale was the first Shakespeare play he ever saw as a young boy. Though his mother had to explain most of the play to him, he understood the final, mystic scene. He remembers Paulina’s simple, monosyllabic words; silence and stillness, he says, followed every line. Shakespeare’s words, Edmondson tells us, “allow the human breath—broken, particular, incongruous—to pass through them. This genuineness takes us straight to the heart of the play.”
July 11th, 2008—Revisiting A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford
Though we saw Midsummer as a group on Monday, I see it today by myself. I’ll never forget my introduction to Shakespeare as a six-year-old boy: my family happened upon an old film version of Midsummer on television, and we followed along in our Shakespeare’s Complete Works. During my years at St. Mary’s, I’ve delved further into the play through friends and mentors Professors Beth Charlebois and Michael Ellis-Tolaydo, the latter of whom directed my performance as Francis Flute in the school’s fall 2007 production. Now, I re-experience the play in the town that lives and breathes the Bard. The gratitude I have for this Dream is endless.
And, tonight, I perhaps awake my faith more than ever before. In “Pyramus and Thisbe,” the play-within-the-play, mechanical Robin Starveling attempts to personify the moon from behind a Chinese paper lantern; the Athenian court of spectators rudely talk amongst themselves during his speech. Duke Theseus commands, “Let us listen to the Moon.” Upon hearing this, the hairs on my neck raise; I realize, because an actor personifies the moon, we do not question Theseus’ orders to listen to something that otherwise, from our earthbound realities, can only be seen. We have stepped into a different reality; we may actually listen to the moon. Even “Pyramus and Thisbe,” as art, dissolves the bounds of the senses and enters us into a world beyond ourselves. I have awakened my faith, and I do not wish to wake from this Shakespearean Dream.