When Shakespeare wanted to move his action on in The Winter’s Tale, he asked us to join him in a joke…a Shakespearean joke that is, don’t expect to split your sides.
A minor character, Antigonus, a Lord of Sicilia, has the unpleasant task of killing a new born baby but he cannot do it, he is too nice, so he abandons her on a distant shore. He puts the babe down and is then given an unseemly death: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” Two clowns come on the scene to find this grizzly sight and the abandoned infant who will grow into one of the play’s leading characters in the next act.
I don’t know why it stays in my mind but this little speech always come back to me at this time of year.
“Heavy matters! heavy matters! But look thee here, boy. Now bless thyself: thou met’st with things dying, I with things new-born.”
And then we are off, the action moves on and the next act opens as a celebration of nature and the power of humanity to renew itself.
It is like that now in my garden.
Those crocuses, or croci, planted in the wrong place but who cares, have been a spectacular and brave display but now they are fading, the earliest of them already lying withered like defeated soldiers whilst their colleagues steal one last moment in the sun.
All around them, are things new born.
Those daffodils, various shades of yellow and gold, are in their race for dominance but one, lifted from a large patch in my old garden, are quieter things. Small, delicate with the palest of yellow trumpets protruding from pure white petals, they have begun to bloom but sadly, only to be partially eaten by some kill-joy insect.
They have survived the move though and have claimed their new territory next to my Dutch Hyacinths. Welcome to your new home, unassuming but memorable bulbs.
In the battle for dominance which has begun in two terracotta troughs, a new mood changing plant has spread its wings. The first tulip, delicately orange, if that is not a contradiction in terms, is sitting in the middle of a field of blue. Those sensible, down to earth, Grape Hyacinths and the wilder, more excitable bell-like Scilla sibericum.
Some truly golden daffodils are about to join the fight and, in a week or so, they will probably win and create a wall of yellow before dying down and making way for some quieter plants just before I get bored by Spring yellow.
Not quite new born, but full of promise, are those bursting buds of late Spring and early Summer…..the Rhododendron luteum buds are unraveling complex parcels of sticky membranes and embryonic leaves revealing in true Shakespearean spirit the miraculous rebirth that is the story of this time of year.
My new cherry tree too is about to display its blossom. It is still tiny and will never be big but no less worthy of a Spring celebration when its flowers have their all too brief moment of glory. Some friends and some wine, at the very least, should welcome this moment, so well observed by those masters of ritual, the Japanese.
The roses, climbers designed to clad all three of my flint walls, are now showing their deceptively frail flush of new red leaves – their vigour has been unleashed and I can almost hear them begin their mountainous ascent.
No less thrusting or powerful are the aristocratic tulips planted in a large terracotta pot. Their leaves, so new and yet so strong have a luminosity which makes the wait for their blooms all the more exciting.
These things new-born will have their moment and then, in the manner of all things, they will wither and die. The wonder of Nature, even in my miniature space, is how, every year this goes unmourned as Spring turns into Summer. I am already excited about those roses and their frisky companions the different varieties of clematis. I will have to wait though, for Act Three.
james shapiro wrote a brilliant chapter on that very Shakespeare quote in his superb book, ‘1599’
I agree that it is one of Shakespeare’s finest thoughts….
My personal favourite at the moment, without wanting to sound too luvvie, is when Aguecheek in 12th Night says ‘I was adored once’ – it tells a whole lifetime in four words. He weren’t bad that Shakespeare you know…
Sometimes Shakespeare quotes stay with you even if they don’t carry their full meaning with them.
They can be like the half-remembered words of a popular song which retain a personal significance never intended by the lyricist.
I always remember a line from Measure For Measure too:
“Thou hast nor youth, nor age
But as it were an after-dinner’s sleep
Dreaming on both.”
I just looked it up to make sure I got it right and, give or take a few words, it is amazing how well I remember it from an impressionable reading from my school days.
What stays is not the high moral tone of the play but that half pleasant, half frightening image of one’s life seen through the surreal haze of a rather comfortable snooze after a hearty meal and a few too many brandies.
Shakespeare, I am sure, meant these phrases to linger on and to leave with us, like all great poetry, the kernel of his meaning.
I bet we all have half-remembered quotes floating round in our heads, holding very personal meanings to each of us regardless of the Bard’s original intentions.