Happy Shakespeare Day! We are celebrating the great man’s life and influence on English language today.
If you wanna have your own personal Shakespeare party, I highly recommend you to download The Love Book App and have Damian Lewis read Sonnet 130: My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun directly to your ears! Or if you want to party with us here then let’s travel back to a special Shakespeare party kicked off by a certain Damian Lewis!
Better yet, get the app and party with us, too 😀
April 23, 2014 Wednesday. I have to sit in front of my computer all day at work so I just let myself indulged in everything Shakespeare for occasional procrastination, from finding out about words that we owe to him, e.g. bedazzled, fashionable, pageantry to New York Public Theater’s celebration tweets with favorite Shakespeare quotes and verses, and to a extremely special birthday party at Guildhall Library — Complete Reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnets — kicked off by a certain someone 🙂
Yeah… The cherry on the birthday cake is Damian Lewis starting the celebrations at Guildhall Library reading the first five sonnets! You know, Damian can read the phone book, and I can listen to him all day, but him reading Shakespeare’s sonnets — those words that are as powerful as they were first put on paper in 16th century — is quite fantastic. And, thanks to YouTube we are able to hear them here across the pond 🙂
Damian is, of course, no stranger to Shakespeare. He played Romeo in Birmingham Rep’s Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet in Hamlet in the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, London, as a young graduate of Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Then he did his Broadway debut as Laertes to Ralph Fiennes’ Hamlet in Almeida Theatre’s production in 1995. Damian also performed as Posthumous in Cymbeline and Don John in Much Ado About Nothing with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He also brought to life a lovely Benedick on BBC’s “Shakespeare Retold: Much ado about Nothing.” Finally, Damian took on the role of Lord Capulet in the 2013 Romeo and Juliet movie.
Back to the birthday party… When Damian arrives on stage to commence the all-day sonnet marathon, he cracks up the room first as he introduces the sonnets he would read, setting a relaxed, happy tone for the day 🙂
Sonnet I, the opening sonnet, is particularly important, because it looks both to the past and the future. It does not only deal with one’s vulnerability in the face of passing time, but also sets the tone for the “procreation” sonnets —exact number is 17. Shakespeare tells us that the clock is ticking, it is inevitable that one ages and loses his beauty, but one has the ability to have his youthful beauty live on in the next generation through procreation.
From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thy self thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel:
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament,
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content,
And, tender churl, mak’st waste in niggarding:
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.
Damian talks to a reporter at the event about the great influence Shakespeare had on the use of English language:
“The renaissance in Europe was largely a visual one and here our renaissance, I believe, was in words, in language, less so in the visual arts, and Shakespeare was at the forefront of that. He redefined our language. He was irreverent, playful, witty, punning and versatile with words. ‘Budge an inch, dead as a doornail, it’s all Greek to me… These are all Shakespearean words, phrases that we use today that he invented himself… And I think it’s central to who we are as Brits. We have an irreverence, a playfulness, we have satirical, ironic with our language. We enjoy wordplay, we enjoy the use of words and we’re known for that around the world. I think Shakespeare is hugely responsible for that.”
Damian also does a beautiful and romantic throwback to his drama school years: “My introduction to Shakespeare was in the second year, most emphatically, when we were taken on this incredible trip to Italy to do a workshop with some Russian and Italian students. And we rehearsed in Hamlet in Tuscan Hills in Montalcino… Extremely spoiling, romantic way to really explore and investigate Shakespeare’s greatest play arguably, Hamlet, with a wonderful Russian director called Vasili Skorik who twiddled his rosary beads repeatedly as we rehearsed and consecrated medieval church on top of this medieval Italian town on top of this hill, Montalcino, it’s glorious…” Awww… You feel the nostalgia in this personal throwback It is almost a tribute to those sonnets dealing with the inevitable passage of time for the human kind. Yet, Sonnet V gives us hope:
But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.
You can hear Damian reading Sonnet 1 as well as bits from Sonnet 2 and 5 in the video below along with some of the conversation I transcribed above.