My memory of the genius of a playwright, poet and actor, the one and only Bard, goes back to my high school days where my initiation happened through the play As You like It. Our English teacher made an excellent narration and assigned a role play for a group of girls and it was indeed with bubbling excitement I came to be a part of it. Completely bewitched by the play as a teenager, my life’s mission became the purchase of his complete volumes. I tried my best to lay my hands on more of Shakespeare and grabbed and borrowed booklets from my friends.
While Romeo and Juliet led to my shedding silent tears, Othello and Hamlet got me some spine chilling moments. Julius Caesar spurred me on to practise Anthony’s speech-the finest example of rhetoric-in front of a mirror umpteen times until I finally got an opportunity to wax eloquent on stage. Compelled by Brutus not to speak ill of him, the speech by Anthony was so well worded, stressing and lingering on key sentences that the very people who had been turned against Caesar by Brutus and his men, realised the goodness of their deceased king.
My progression into college happened with the Bard alongside me. When a mono-acting competition was announced, I jumped into the foray donned as Lady Macbeth in a flowing gown-made from a sari by my friend’s mother-and rattled off words of the queen-gone-mad. Three decades plus have not blotted these memories of my adolescent spree with Shakespeare. How apt are his words, “To thine ownself be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man!” Can this be compared to a saying from our own Upanishads, “…Residing in your true nature is better than understanding or practice”?
What about, “All the world’s a stage, and all men and women merely players. They have their exits and entrances; and one man in his life plays many parts”? It seems, knowingly or not, he concurred with the Gita which says, “As the same person inhabits the body through childhood, youth and old age, so too at the time of death he attains another body”, which is almost like saying that man or the self passes through life and beyond in various roles.
Yet again our reverent saint Purandaradasa wrote, “Control your wily tongue which is always wagging to speak ill of others…”, whereas the Bard of Avon, who interestingly was born in the very year the aforementioned venerable saint passed away, has said, “Be checked for silence but never taxed for speech.” The former’s words touched on philosophy; the latter’s on pragmatism suiting his times.