I’m pleased to report that I’ve read through Act II. I am, much to my delight, finding reading a pleasure rather than a chore. I hope that continues, but for this morning, All’s Well provided a sunny spot in another snowy, slushy, chilly winter day.
Reading aloud makes it even more fun as well as more accessible. This works well at home. My cat, Cleo (named for Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra; my first cat was named Shakespeare), is fine with this. It becomes more difficult at Starbucks, where I spend a lot of time. I was sitting sipping my iced green tea today with my head buried in this huge volume, whispering to myself. A sight, I’m sure.
The theme of marriage jumped out at me right from the start: As the Countess drops her son off at the King of France’s place, she laments that his leaving the nest is like losing “a second husband” (Act I, Scene 1) – hers has recently died. And then Lafew comforts her by urging her not to despair because the King’s hospitality will be so great that in him she will find “a husband” (I,1)- and that’s right off the bat. And indeed he is generous; he “pays” Helen for healing him when no one else could with Bertram’s hand in marriage. Bertram balks at being bartered thus and sends his new bride away without consummating the marriage. I’ll wait until the end to fully reflect on this particular theme; references to it abound and I’ll need to synthesize them. My own perspective – single, married, and single again – will no doubt impact my reflections, and that leads me to my focus today.
I saw a little Buddhist philosophy in Act I. Helen, while bantering with Parolles, notes that “You go so much backward when you fight” when he claims to have been born under the star of Mars. And later, when he suggests she find a good husband (there’s the marriage thing again) she explains: “Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, Which we ascribe to heaven. The fated sky Gives us free scope, only doth backward pull Our slow designs when ourselves are dull.” (both scene 1).
Now I read Buddhism here: non-harming. Karma (our own actions creating our destiny). But as I made copious notes in the margins, I realized that I read this because I am a student of Buddhism – so that is a unique perspective I bring to my reading of the play. We see everything though our own lenses. That may seem obvious, but it seems so worthy of mindfulness.
I looked out the window of Starbucks and initially saw another crappy day. We have all had enough winter. There’s nowhere else to put the snow. We got another 3″ today. UGH. But then I looked at the Saugatuck. It was frozen enough that the snow that fell stuck to the surface and created a very velvety white blanket with nary a visible wave, crack, or creature. It was breathtaking. And it will be 54 by Friday. Spring, surely, is on its way. And as Helen said, I could, right then, chose my perspective. I could decide to be angry at the snow, the winter, the weather, the meteorologists, New England and everything and everybody. Or I could be pretty happy to be sitting in a warm Starbucks reading Shakespeare, and staring at a Snow White Saugatuck. Our perspective does, indeed, shape our reality.
Also, this highlights one of the things I love most about Shakespeare (although it’s so very true for any art form) — it is everything to everybody. Would that we could know the true workings of his mind and every intention for every word he wrote (but alas wouldn’t that somehow spoil the fun?)–but we don’t and we can’t and that’s the beauty of it. It is so deep and so rich that it speaks to everyone in a different way, but to everyone in a universal way as well.