There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray,
love, remember: and there is pansies. That's for thoughts.
Ophelia, Hamlet (IV.5)
Today (April 22) is Earth Day and the birthday of one of the most vibrant human beings I’ve ever known; she is no longer palpably gracing this earth, but her spirit rages on, still shouting eloquently to all fortunate enough to have known her, urging us to work for something bigger and grander than our own petty personal agendas while seeking more than a bit of joy in the process.
Tomorrow (April 23) is Shakespeare’s birthday and the first anniversary of this blawg.
So much to celebrate—the planet, remarkable people, social justice, literary genius, redemption, renewal, responsibility—so little time.
But by a mere fortuity, I happened to receive a gift rather remarkably suitable for the day. By listening to the radio at an odd hour, I was able to catch a portion of a brief interview with Laura Bates, who has just published Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard. The book is a memoir about the transformative effects of this literature professor’s decision to teach Shakespeare to inmates in a super-max prison facility in Indiana. Can’t wait to read it and be inspired. Meanwhile, Professor Bates suggests that “A wonderful thing to do on Shakespeare's birthday, I think, would be to take a look at any passage from Shakespeare from any play and maybe read it with someone who has not been introduced to Shakespeare before. Your own children, possibly a youngster in the family, or if you have access to prison, of course, to go in and maybe introduce it to someone who hasn't read it there, or maybe just a student, just to find some way that Shakespeare can relate to each of us, really, today.” I concur.
Professor Bates’ story reminded me of a fantastic experience I had several years ago, meeting and seeing Rick Cluchey perform. Cluchey is the founder of the San Quentin Drama Workshop, which was largely dedicated to producing plays by Samuel Beckett. Cluchey founded the group while he himself was in prison. He and his company did such an impressive job that Beckett eventually saw Cluchey perform and came to see him as a principal interpreter of his work. Here is an article that discusses some of that fascinating history. And, apparently, Cluchey is still touring the world, doing his bit to keep Beckett’s work alive. See, e.g., this recent announcement from his hometown paper.
Perhaps the best way to honor the compendium of remarkable things I am celebrating these days is to remember that those who have been deemed the “worst of the worst” can recognize the “best of the best;” and in that possibility is much reason to want to see that the Earth and its most verbose, violent, and tender species finds a way to prevail after all. Although Hamlet didn’t quite see it that way, remembering is one way to see that “[t]he native hue of resolution” is not “sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought;” such that “enterprises of great pitch and moment . . . turn awry,/ And lose the name of action.” (Hamlet, III.1). Remembering is a form of action.