Thursday, December 17, 2009

Shall I compare me to a summer's day? Go ahead, compare me

In a remarkably vibrant film, Venus, in which Peter O'Toole portrays Maurice, an aging disaster of an actor, there is a scene that touched you even more so than the others. It is s cold, rainy afternoon in contemporary London, surely late fall, possibly even into the winter months. Maurice is out prowling the streets, at the tail end of an impossible romantic tangle in which he has allowed a young girl with whom he is hopelessly infatuated to use his apartment wherein to have sex with her boyfriend. On his walk, O'Toole (Maurice) ambles into a deserted outdoor theater where, we are led to imply, he has performed in earlier days of his career. Today, Maurice, on the mend from prostate cancer surgery, steps out onto the stage of the empty theater, its seats covered with fallen leaves and crumpled papers, all of which have been tumbled about by the caprices of weather.


After a moment, Maurice begins to recite Shakespeare's Sonnet Number 18:

Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And oft' is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd:
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

For a moment, he is thinking of and addressing this impossibly unattainable object of his desires, but then, you can see his axe, his instrument, his talent clicking into place and the remaining lines are spoken to them. This is who he truly is. This is him now, showing us in the reading of a mere fourteen lines what qualities of voice, timing, love, understanding, and craft mean and, literally give life to him.

On any number of occasions since you saw the film, you have paused in places alone or with an audience composed only of Sally, who is busy sniffing and scouting. You have at times indulged the conceit of attempting to imitate O'Toole, but even at those times he shines through and reminds you that there is nothing in it for you to imitate him, rather think what there is to simply utter those lines as coming from you, which is in essence what you have in your toolkit. This is a direct riposte to the concept of rejection at any level. You quite naturally are open for an audience but the sine qua non is that you have a toolkit, a you as opposed to an imitation.

There are many who would not otherwise give a whit for Shakespeare, let alone his Sonnet Number 18. You might for a moment or two change that. Or not. Your vision is of O'Toole being this elderly shell of the man Maurice has become, reciting fourteen lines during the course of which his entire being is alert, supple, in tune, which is what you hope for each time you set out, find the stage, step forth, expel that first word. We're talking eternal summer here, the eternal summer of story.

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