Over the last week quite a few posts I have read and conversations I have had have had reference to Sonnet No. 18. You know, the one everyone knows (well, they should).
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Honestly, I don't read much poetry. And I haven't even read a lot of Shakespeare's sonnets. Just a few. But god. Such great beauty. Despite the over exposure.
In the movie Venus, Peter O'Toole recites the sonnet 18. You simply have to hear him. (Link via Shoefiend). The man needs to get his Oscar. He really does. I've said it before; I really do want him to win this year. And yeah, he knows all the sonnets. All 156 of them. In the interview O'Toole says that the sonnets are his "life companion", finding them "endlessly informing, endlessly beautiful..." I have spent the last year or so reading up Shakespeare’s plays and now I want to go out and read up all the sonnets.
I also found myself nodding along in agreement to what he said about Shakespeare’s plays ... "...in that there are twelve plays or so that are sublime and matchless and the rest are, in my money, rhetorical and boring..." When it comes to literature I don't think anything matches Shakespeare’s tragedies in their language, the examination of human faults or even just the emotions you feel while reading the plays. The grief you feel at the end of King Lear. Or the exasperation while reading Hamlet. Or the numbness at the blood bath at the end of Macbeth. But then there are also plays like Titus Andronicus and Troilus and Cressida that left me completely under whelmed.
Saw Laurence Olivier’s Richard III this week. It was a bit difficult not to think of Ian McKellen’s take on the play, especially for the first twenty minutes or so, but Olivier had me hooked after a while. His Richard was interesting - a huge (prosthetic) nose, a high nasal voice and only a slight limp. There’s no point comparing the performances by Olivier and McKellen. They are both excellent - and very different.
The DVD also had a one hour BBC interview with Olivier about his life, career and his take on some of his most famous Shakespeare roles (Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard, Henry and Othello). It was very interesting and informative. It was amusing to hear Olivier dissing Titus saying the role was painful because it demanded perpetual moaning. How he felt Othello’s greatest fault was his self deception and how tiresome it was "blacking up" for the role (how politically incorrect would it be to say something like that now??). Or how Macbeth can be played well only once you have reached a certain age and lived life.
I think that’s true for most art. Age and experience brings richness and nuance. Youth might have innocence on its side but it’s also a tad bland. Old might not be gold, but it has its advantages. And then some old things are timeless.
Look at Shakespeare. Whether it’s reading the Bard or watching a good adaptation of one of his plays being acted out. One of life’s greatest pleasures.