Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
I doubt there is anyone who has been disenchanted by their Times who has not wished to live in another time or another place. Hearkening back to a period of quietness, or simplicity and there are times when I have wondered where I would like to have been and in what age. Yet when I do I always come back to the same questions: would I like to live in a world where Plato has not thought about the world, where Shakespeare has not written about human ego, where Michelangelo has not carved human characteristics into marble. Do I want to live and never read the hundreds of minds that are open to me to read, to share their insights into life?
I find in every age many things that are admirable and even preferable to today but I cannot leave behind the history of thought. The great pain for every thinker in the world is not that we die, but that we will never know. Think of the things Aristotle would have loved to know that I know. Think of the things we will never know.
The human race is a builder; as much as chemicals build life, we build ideas. Some are very bad like infections but some are wonderful. I will never know all the wonderful ideas the human race will have, so I am loath to give up any of the ones I have inherited.
This is, apparently, going to be a fascinating century. A century in which the challenges of our science will force our ideas about ourselves and how we build civil society to make such a radical change, it could be described as evolutionary. Where it will become impossible for someone to draw conclusions about the universe and maintain them for their entire lifetime because the advances will be presenting new information not by the decade, nor by the year by in months and weeks.
It is, as the saying goes, a ‘brave new world’, words that were put into the mouth of a woman by Shakespeare who knew that in this life it is to the women that we have to look for intellectual bravery. Muscular bravery is for the men but the force that propels us to understand creation is very feminine.
I am of course always delighted to read academics when they tell me they think change is afoot (when has it not been?) and it is brave to foresee ninety years ahead, but the idea that we must evolve our thinking, how we think even maybe what we think about, seems to me to be key here. Because the battleground will become whether we decide the rational, provable and reasoned is all important or how we respond to what we what prove.
Religion isn’t dangerous because it believes in a god, it is dangerous because human beings are always ready to believe. Reason without ethics will never build us an evolved society.
I remember reading all my Shakespeare at school and being taken to Stratford to see two plays and watching videos of various productions and being struck by the whole ‘ethos’ that has arisen around the plays. Every generation must realise them anew, and some new productions are startlingly good though most are drab and uninventive (the greatest problem today is the fact that actors are trained mostly to do TV and film work so less attention is being paid to the timbre of the voice). One of the strangest things I hear is the way in which the natural ageing process of famous actors is tuned into the plays so you get to play King Lear when you are seventy.
Surely the brilliance of the actor is the thirty year old who makes me believe he is eighty?
But this drive to be of the moment, to revisit the classics and make them ‘relevant’ misses one huge thing, most people are not taught what makes the plays brilliant in the first place. Because I had been reading Shakespeare since I was ten due to my mother, I rarely had problems with individual words or the simpler parts of Elizabethan vocabulary. It doesn’t take much to make people understand five hundred years ago, it does take a little time.
The lilt of the language, any language, can be put into a child by the enthusiasm of the parents even as they are learning their vernacular. That understanding is a gift that will be with them all their lives and be a key to open up so much of the tradition of literature as second nature.
I tend to think that stage acting is real acting and film acting is not. The reasons for this are easily explained: on stage you have to hold an audience for two hours or more in real time. It is all down to how convincing you are. On film performances are created on the cutting-room floor and far too many film actors never change their personalities nor act at all, they are just a presence.
Yet of course it is the film actors who have all the fame, are feted as great actors and make a fortune. Some are good actors but you only know it when you see them on stage.
I have looked askance at much of the world and realise this observance of actors holds true in many places. To such an extent that now when I hear someone being extolled I look at them closely and wonder if they are truly worthy or just lucky or have played the system. It is rather a pessimistic view of human society to be so disaffected but I have no trust of other people’s acceptance of what true talent is because too many people are merely playing the populace for the money fame is worth.
Our finest leaders no longer emerge because they will have nothing to do with modern politicking, masterly Artists don’t sell because they are not part of a movement, and even at the lower end of the career market manipulation gets you further than real talent.
Every thinker from Cicero to Shakespeare has seen the same thing in society. The reality is the second-rate has always held sway.
They don’t go together do they. When I was twelve and reaching what the Catholics euphemistically (and ironically) call ‘the age of reason’ we had a small black and white Bush TV and Olivier’s Henry 5th was on one side and Barbarella was on the other. They crossed over and I wanted to see this sexy space adventure but mum won and we watched Henry 5th, with me deciding to follow it in the text and call out ‘they cut a bit there’, every so often.
When it finished and we all went to bed I sneaked out and put the TV back on and watched the last half of Barbarella. I never thought Jane Fonda was a beautiful woman but I think I enjoyed it. I did not know for years mum heard me and decided to let me watch it anyway.
Of course when I went to school I had the best of both worlds because I could pretend to be salacious about the film and yet I did not find it so difficult to read the modern text of Shakespeare. Today I wouldn’t even think of watching Barbarella. I have seen Henry 5th in several forms and would be in the play in an instant if someone was putting it on nearby.
I am guessing the unexpected moment when one really chooses one’s path in life probably comes and goes without us noticing that much. I am not sure at all it was my Barbarella moment, but then none of us might be.