• Last Update 2022-05-16 12:40:00

Remembering Shakespeare – his works live on

Features

By Swarna Wanniarachchy Pilapitiya
 
Born in the village of Stratford-upon Avon in England on April 23,1654, actor, poet and playwright William Shakespeare would become the world’s greatest literary icon.  His parents were from well-to-do farming families and the pastoral surroundings in which he grew up influenced his whole life greatly.  Stratford was a beautiful village, its landscape full of birds, flowers, trees and gardens.  
 
His poems are thus full of nature:-
“There’s a willow grows aslant the brook
  That shows his hour leaves in the glossy stream,
  There with fantastic, garlands did she come
  Of corn flowers, nettles, daisies and long purples”
-Hamlet
 
In ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, he’s full of praise for the simple woodland birds, 
The ousel cock so black of hue,
            With orange-tawny bill
            The throstle with his note so true,
            The wren with little quill. …...
           The finch, the sparrow and the lark,
  The plain song cuckoo grey
  Whose note full many a man doth mark
  And dares not answer……….nay!
……………………………………………………………...
And,  “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows
  Where oxlips and the nodding violets grow
  Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine
  With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine”
 
At the age of eighteen, Shakespeare married Anna Hathaway eight years his senior. Their  daughter Susanna was born six months later followed by twins Judith and Hamnet.  But it was in London where a new middle class was springing up, that Shakespeare made his name as a playwright.  
 
Shakespeare was a master in learning about human nature and society.  He mixed with all classes of people, and was backed by a natural genius for observation and comment.  
 
Apart from his plays, Shakespeare also wrote a different kind of poem called Sonnets, 154 in number.  Every sonnet had fourteen lines, every alternative line rhyming together and the last two lines rhyming together.  Up to now nobody knows actually why he wrote these and for whom.  It is believed they were penned for a handsome young man of high rank or for a “dark lady” he loved.  These beautiful poems made Shakespeare more popular as a genius lyric poet.  
 
In “Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s Day?”  he beautifully expresses his love:
“Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines
  But thy eternal summer shall not fade!”
He presents anything with skillful diction and artistry.  
 
In all his plays he gave an important place to women  - queens, princesses or ladies of high rank.  Though it is not possible to talk about them all  - we can see that the important qualities he admired were purity, honesty, innocence, dignity, faith, pride, intelligence,  sincerity and true love.  
 
He also very sympathetically portrays how women suffer in the hands of brutal men as did Desdemona in ‘Othello’.  A heroine who sacrificed her life for love was Juliet in ‘Romeo and Juliet’.  Hermione in ‘Winter’s Tale’ who found solace due to her patience and purity,  Perdita found and saved by a shepherd, Viola one of the most admired and beautiful characters created by Shakespeare, Paulina of unbelievable faith, sincerity and brevity, Olivia who cried for an unrequited love, and Cleopatra, a volatile queen admired for her exceptional beauty and royalty.  He also shows us women like Gertrude and Lady Macbeth for whom we have little sympathy. 
 
He went so deep into the heart of man and society.  Today we come across the same type of happenings politically as well as socially. He showed the world what disaster can be brought to a country by the rule of foolish, stupid and selfish rulers.  Do we not see it today in the world?   
William Shakespeare died on April 23rd 1616 ( coincidentally his birthday) and was buried in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. The epitaph written by himself inscribed on his tombstone says thus, 
“Good friend, for Jesus’s sake forbeare,
  To dig the dust enclosed here
  Blessed be ye man who spares these stones
  And curst be he who moves my bones.”
Countless people visit his grave to revere the memory of the greatest literary genius the world has ever known.   
 
 
 
 

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