Shakespeare, “Soul of the Ages”

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely Players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His Acts being seven ages.”—As You Like It

Shakespeare, “Soul of the Ages”

Behold! Who dreams in this troubled slumber? Ah, ’tis a scrivener lost in thought. He reads too much of the nonsense writings of others concerning William Shakespeare, a man I knew well.

Hark thee now. His youngest brother Edward, my eldest brother Cuthbert, and I belonged to the same company of London actors. Amidst our troupe, Shakespeare and I were shareholders in Blackfriars and  The Globe, where I played Julius Caesar in 1599. This would later lead me to play Hamlet, my signature role.  Could it be true that my characterization of Hamlet still influences the actors who play him today? Alas! I digress from my purpose: clearing the untruths and confusion from thy thoughts.

Prithee, allow thy mind to imagine Will’m if you will—Did I make a pun? Ah! I overindulge myself. When the cock crows at dawn, I must begone.

John and William Shakespeare, Ambitious Men

William was the eldest son of John and Mary (née Arden) Shakespeare. An ambitious man, his father improved his social rank through hard work as a maker of leather goods, such as the stylish gloves of my day. He hawked his wares on Thursdays at the local market in Stratford. Eventually, he became prominent in Stratford, serving officially at civic affairs and guild meetings.

As the eldest, Will was expected to pick up his father’s trade. Yet, unbeknownst to his father, his son nurtured other aspirations for himself. But to his credit, he lent himself to his father’s craft for a time.

William Shakespeare Married Anne Hathaway

At 18, William married Anne Hathaway in 1582 from the nearby village of Shottery. He walked the mile and a half to her village to court her. Her father, Richard, was a yeoman farmer. It should come as no surprise that the Hathaway and Shakespeare families were acquainted. Although William never said so openly, I surmised the fathers had more to do with arranging the marriage than the locals knew.

Anne was 26, eight years older than her future husband, and carried his child. Was it not one of your countrymen who advised men to marry older women? Across the centuries, people made much ado about nothing. Tongues wagged like the tail of an excited dog. So, countless hearsay arose over her age and pre-marriage pregnancy.

Shakespeare Manifests His Love for Anne

Free thy mind of these rumors and chatter, for I say Will loved Anne. She bore him three children: Susanna and the twins Hamnet and Judith. For her, he erected New Place, an imposing house—the second-largest in Stratford. It had ten chimneys and thirty rooms. Neither Will nor Anne had much time to themselves. How could he possibly have lived a supposed libertine lifestyle in London?

His evenings were consumed with writing with a quill pen by candlelight. He wrote thirty-seven plays, 154 sonnets, and two narrative poems during his lifetime. And his days, they afforded him even less time. Shakespeare filled them with stage performances, directing, rehearsals, investing money in theaters, buying land in Stratford, and caring for Anne, the children, his siblings, and aged parents.

In addition to his plays and the insights their characters revealed of human nature on the stage, his contributions to the English language remain unmatched in the history of literature. And it should also be noted that he had an enterprising spirit for words and business. I always said he inherited his ambitious drive from his father.

Salacious Rumors Surrounded Anne

And what of the alleged indiscretions ascribed to Anne? Forget them. They were baseless rumors that sullied her good name. She filled her daily life with chores: She managed the household diligently—overseeing its maintenance, cooking, nurturing three children, and attending to William’s family. As a child of a farm family, hard work and long days were no strangers to Anne. And she harbored ambitions akin to William’s. She ran cottage industries at New Place under her guidance. In her epitaph to her mother, Susanna hailed her as a priceless gift.

I sense the cock’s about to crow. And lo, the dawn breaks. I should impart more, such as the enigma of the “second best bed” and William’s omission of Anne from his will. Perchance, I’ll visit thee in another dream.
Farewell, scrivener! Consider these parting words: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” —Twelfth Night.

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Honoring Veterans on Memorial Day

On Memorial Day, Pause and Reflect on the Fallen

Memorial Day holds a special place in my heart and mind, where I gather my thoughts in a solemn assembly of two classmates who gave “the last full measure of their lives” to the American ideal.

As a child, I thought and played as a child. I spent the day surrounded by family and relatives at a lake cabin or resort. My cousins and I devoured grilled hot dogs smothered in ketchup and mustard and ate dill pickles and potato chips. We threw Frisbees, played catch, fished, hula-hooped, and played whatever other kid activity came to mind.

While we entertained ourselves, my Aunts and Uncles relaxed on lawn chairs or at picnic tables butted end-to-end with red gingham plastic tablecloths. My Uncles enjoyed beers and operated several charcoal grills, and my Aunts set out a banquet of homemade picnic foods. As they relaxed, they talked and talked, poked fun at their follies, and laughed until their sides ached and tears welled up in their eyes. But the show-stopper came when they hula-hooped after a few hours of social drinking. To see woozy grown-ups gyrating put us children in stitches! Of course, we begged them not to stop.

That was my childhood memory of Memorial Day. So if death and taxes are certain (Ben Franklin), then change is inevitable, and in time, Memorial Day took on a solemn face for me and others. Awareness comes in many colors. A wake-up call sounded recently when a combat veteran said those who died in uniform didn’t give up their lives so Americans could get a day off work. When Wayne Champion and Reinhard Schnurrer, two high school classmates, died in combat in the Vietnam War, my Memorial Day memories abandoned me.

Remembering Classmates Killed in Combat

So when Memorial Day approaches, Wayne and Reinhard come to mind. I’ve personalized their memories, which in a broader sense, solemnizes a portion of the day. Others display American Flags or wear a red poppy flower, a symbol of “Remembrance” and hope for a peaceful future, and show support for the Armed Forces.

Wayne and Reinhard graduated in 1966. Sometime after graduation, they enlisted. And after military training, they wound up in Vietnam, where they died in combat. They would never hug their parents again. They would never celebrate their twenty-first birthdays, marry, have children, walk a child down the aisle, see grandchildren, hold them, or bounce them on their knees. They would never celebrate an anniversary. On Memorial Day, they would never again be among Americans who remember those who died on battlefields but be among those so honored.

There are plenty of ways to honor the fallen. Many plant flags at veteran grave sites or visit a national cemetery. Even if you’re busy, set aside a moment at 3 p.m. local time to participate in the National Moment of Remembrance. It began in 2000. The Remembrance asks Americans to pause briefly in silence and reflect in their way. Wayne and Reinhard, if you’re listening, I remember you and share your memory with classmates who knew you.

Memorial in Jacksonville, North Carolina, for American servicemen and women who died in the Vietnam War. Rick Graf pays tribute to two high school classmates who died in combat.

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