I often joke to my husband that he has to share me with William Shakespeare.
My first encounter with Will was neither auspicious nor ephiphanic. We had to read A Midsummer Night’s Dream at school when we were eleven years old; frankly I found him rather boring. However, we met up for another date five years later, having been re-introduced by a Scotsman called Macbeth. At the age of sixteen I had acquired the maturity to understand what this man, born more than four hundred years before me, had to offer. He wooed me with his stories, words, turns of phrase, imagery, revelations of inner psychology, doubt and ambivalence. I have never forgotten the explanation that the usurping king’s words ‘this my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnardine, / Making the green one red’ can be read more than one way. By the time I saw the play acted on stage (with Paul Scofield in the title role) I was well and truly in love.
Shakespeare has been a part of my life ever since then. I read him in private, savour the language, marvel at the huge range of characters and their exploits, enjoy the puns, and find myself amazed at his non judgemental abilities and how powers to coerce the reader and the playgoer. How can I love a villain like Richard III, when I know what a nasty piece of work he really is? How can I give credit to Henry V, when I am aware the dramatist is producing Tudor propaganda, whilst using the Chorus to countermand the plot? Can I really believe that non-identical twins, Viola and Sebastian, can truly be mistaken for each other? Do I truly accept that women like Mariana and Diana can take men like Angelo and Bertram to their beds, and that these men have no idea who is receiving their sexual favours? Like Coleridge I’ve learned to suspend my disbelief, especially when I see the plays performed, and find even more pleasure in the experience. My lover even surprises me when new productions of his works reveal things to me that I’ve never considered before.
Ours has not been a clandestine affair. My husband and friends and family are all aware of my double life. I came out to the world when I completed an MA in Shakespeare Studies at University College London. My friends need to remind me that there are plays by other playwrights and that I don’t need to restrict my theatre going to works written more than four hundred years ago by a man from a town in the West Midlands. My answer is simply ‘That in black ink my love may still shine bright.’