On May 3rd, lovers of literature celebrated the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. His detractors, on the other hand, wanted to dance on his grave while singing,
Ding, Dong! The Bard is dead. Which Old Bard? The Wordy Bard!
Ding, Dong! The Wordy Bard is dead.
Not everyone feels warm and fuzzy about the Bard. He has been the source of years of tears and failing grades for students who “just don’t get it.” In contrast, his aficionados eat, live and breathe his works. They develop hunched backs from lifetimes spent in library carrels pouring over his musty writings.
Which, if any, of his plays, come to mind when you hear his name? Romeo and Juliet? King Lear? The Merchant of Venice? Macbeth? Julius Caesar?
In high school, I studied Henry IV Part I and Macbeth. I remember nothing about poor Henry IV, but some famous quotes from Macbeth:
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”
Macbeth Quote (Act IV, Scene I)
When shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning, or in rain?
When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won”.
Macbeth Quote (Act I, Scene I).
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand?”
Macbeth Quote (Act II, Scene I).
In Teachers’ College, “Taming of the Shrew” was required reading for first-year Primary Education students. Dr Norman Budgey taught the course. After weeks of study, we watched the movie version in which Richard Burton pulls Elizabeth Taylor around by her hair.
As far as I can tell, our dear Will must have spent every waking moment writing by the dim light of a candle. It may surprise you to learn we use expressions from his writings every day. How many can you check off?
▒ All’s well that ends well. ▒ Be-all and the end-all. ▒ Neither a borrower nor a lender be. ▒ Refuse to budge an inch. ▒ Dead as a doornail. ▒ Eaten me out of house and home. ▒ For goodness’ sake. ▒ Good riddance. ▒ It was Greek to me. ▒ In a pickle. ▒ Neither rhyme nor reason. ▒ Own flesh and blood. ▒ Parting is such sweet sorrow. ▒ Seen better days. ▒ Sick at heart. ▒ Something in the wind. ▒ The short and the long of it. ▒ Set my teeth on edge. ▒ Too much of a good thing. ▒ Wear my heart upon my sleeve.
Early in his career, Shakespeare wrote a short, humorous play called “Comedy of Errors.” More than four hundred years later, we still use the expression “comedy of errors.” It describes a situation so full of silly mistakes and problems that it is actually funny. In “Comedy of Errors” two sets of twins, Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus, are the victims of mistaken identity.
A few years ago Glenn and I lived our personal “Comedy of Errors.” It was February and we were embarking on a two-week holiday to visit my family in Nova Scotia. In retrospect, I ask myself, “Who takes a holiday in Nova Scotia in the dead of winter?”
We caught the train in Cobourg, Ontario. After part of one day, an entire night and most of a second day, we reached Halifax. We collected our luggage, picked up a rental car and struck out for Lockeport, about 2 hours south-west of Halifax.
The trip from Cobourg to Halifax had been uneventful, just the way it should have been. The return trip was absolutely hostile. It began to unravel shortly after we left West Head for Halifax. In my little world, any trip that begins before daylight is a recipe for disaster.
The forty minute drive from West Head to Exit 19 at Liverpool, also the exit for Tim Hortons, seemed much longer than usual. As we drove along, I fell asleep with a large cup of coffee in my hand. You can guess what happened next.
I awoke with a yelp as I dumped the entire cup of coffee over my legs, soaking my jeans. When we reached the city, we stopped for breakfast at “Cora’s” on Lacewood Drive. I stood outside in the freezing weather, rooting around in the trunk for dry clothes.
Once in the restaurant, I made a beeline for the restroom. I was truly grateful for the large accessible toilet stall. I expect people in the regular stalls wondered what was going on. Was an entire family in the stall?
After breakfast, we drove to the Via Rail Station, returned the rental car and boarded the train. We spent an enjoyable day in the Dome Car watching rocks and trees, rocks and trees, rocks and trees, rocks and trees. We ate dinner in the Dining Car and retired to our room for a restful sleep.
Several hours later we awoke. The train was in darkness and eerily quiet. From time to time, we heard a sound that resembled a car engine turning over, but never starting. We were unaware that the train had broken down at the New Brunswick-Québec border three hours earlier. Naturally, it was one of the coldest nights of the winter.
Passengers in coach were freezing, but we stayed toasty warm in our bunks. The situation had reached the crisis point. Via Rail had placed a request for a fleet of buses to drive all the passengers to Montréal. Thankfully, at the 11th hour, the train started and they called off the buses.
We arrived in Montréal three hours late having missed our connecting train to Cobourg. Via Rail staff grabbed us and rushed us onto the next train heading west. Not a single person noticed that this was an express train. It did NOT stop at our station in Cobourg.
As a result, we had to get off the train at Kingston, well before Cobourg. A taxi was waiting to drive us the one hundred and fifty kilometres to Cobourg. First, the cab driver welcomed us. Then he went on to query whether his car would make the trip. Perhaps he should pick up a couple of litres of oil, “just in case.”
The Chrysler Intrepid worked just fine. We pulled into the Cobourg Train Station where our ride had been waiting for a few hours. At least our ordeal was over, or was it?
Where was our luggage? The agents in Kingston placed it on a train that did NOT stop in Cobourg. Via Rail staff took it off the train at Oshawa and loaded our luggage on the first eastbound train that stopped at Cobourg. Both we and our luggage were dizzy from all the activity.
We returned to Bobcaygeon without our luggage. Meanwhile, our daughter received a call from Via Rail. An agent informed her that a taxi would deliver Mr and Mrs Clark’s suitcases to Bobcaygeon. By midnight, our adventure was over. Both we and our luggage were safe and sound at home.
To what did we attribute these strange goings on? Character Development? God? The Big Ear? Bad Luck? Life? At least we survived the ordeal, just a little rumpled in spirit.
If we had to be characters in a Shakespearean play, we are thankful it was “Comedy of Errors.” It could have turned out much worse.
Ophelia jumped in the river.
Cleopatra died from snake bites.
Macduff chopped off Macbeth’s head.
Juliet threw herself on Romeo’s sword.
Desdemona was smothered to death by her husband.
We will choose a case of mistaken identity over death any day.
In the words of William Shakespeare,
“All’s well that ends well.”
PS: If Shakespeare is not your cup of tea, you could always check out The Canterbury Tales, a collection of 24 stories that runs to over 17,000 lines written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer.
Full seemèly her wimple pinchèd was, headdress pleated Her nose tretis, her eyen grey as glass, handsome / eyes Her mouth full small and thereto soft and red, and also But sikerly she had a fair forehead. certainly 155 It was almost a spannè broad, I trow, handsbreadth / I guess For hardily she was not undergrow. certainly / short? thin? Full fetis was her cloak as I was ‘ware. elegant / aware Of small coral about her arm she bare bore, carried A pair of beads gauded all with green, A rosary decorated 160 And thereon hung a brooch of gold full sheen shining On which was written first a crownèd A And after: Amor Vincit Omnia.
Pick your poison.
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