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MY ENCOUNTERS WITH SHAKESPEARE


Statue of William Shakespeare
The entire volumes of the works of William Shakespeare, richly bound in hard cover, were gracing my father's office at home with its presence from the time I can remember. The books just stayed in the bookshelf as a testament to my father's ability to read, write and speak in English lest visitors have any doubt. Indeed my father was very proficient in the English language and he dotted his "i"s and crossed his "t"s with aplomb, no mean feat for a Nepali born in 1916. I stayed away from those books as they looked formidable enough with nary a picture illustration but pages after pages of printed words. Nobody else as far as I can remember took those books out of the shelves.

We know about expensive volumes of such classical books decorating many a Rana drawing room but the personal collection of Field Marshall Kaiser Shumsher J. B. Rana was legendary. He probably was one of the few Rana aristocrats of his time known to actually read some of the tome in his collection as he was keen to impress visitors with his sharp wit and chosen quotes from the classics. His personal collection was later turned into the Kaiser Library.

It was only at High School did I get re-introduced to William Shakespeare. Firstly it was through those Classic films with Laurence Olivier starring in the role of both "Hamlet" and "Richard III" did we start appreciating the plays of Shakespeare. Then came Class X where we did "Julius Caesar" in English Literature classes. Both the enthralling story and Father Eugene Watrin's knack of explaining the historical context held our attention. There never went an Elocution Contest without either the famous speech by Brutus defending the murder of Julius Caesar or its equally famous rebuttal by Mark Anthony recited on stage by our future thespians.

The real challenge for us was "Macbeth" our Shakespearean play during our Senior Cambridge year. We had to pass our exams on it. The burning ambition, the recourse to sinister, supernatural powers for the fulfillment of that ambition and the inevitable slide to madness and doom is as relevant today in power politics as it was in the time of Shakespeare's fictitious kingdom in Scotland. Macbeth and his lady filled our days and perhaps our nights too.

That was back in 1970 and we passed our Senior Cambridge examinations. Thereafter Shakespeare went into the recesses of my mind except when a brilliant movie like "Shakespeare in Love" came to us in video. It was in 2008, the year after my daughter Monica was transferred from New York to her present position at an investment bank in London, that I got re-acquainted with Shakespeare. I had accepted the plan to visit Shakespeare's home town with enthusiasm as I had missed such an opportunity several times before. I remember the weekend she had booked our trip to Stratford-upon-Avon very well as what was awaiting us there was a big surprise.

Shakespeare's Cottage, now a museum
Arriving in Stratford-upon-Avon after a train ride from London we were pleasantly surprised to find the streets festooned in celebratory flowers and ribbons as the town was marking Shakespeare's 444th birth anniversary. We checked in at the famous The White Swan Hotel located in the city center and one of the oldest inns reputed to have been started in 1450 A.D. The cozy, understated luxury of the establishment got us into the right mood immediately to start our quest for Shakespeare.

We witnessed the actual birthday celebrations the next day. The pageantry, the military bands playing, performers and artists doing their street jigs and the local community's participation in the day long joyous procession through the streets of this quaint town were great spectacles to behold. Ambassadors of many countries were invited and I was proud to witness the Nepalese flag fluttering from the flagpole in the main procession route. Shakespeare has touched the face of our Himalayan peaks too.

Procession in period costumes
Recently when I came across a biography of Shakespeare titled "Shakespeare Revealed" by Rene Weis, I could not resist buying and reading it. It was most rewarding to discover his hidden life and many loves and to get to know Shakespeare as more human than just the talented bard the world has come to adore. My encounters with Shakespeare continue to this day.

Another surprise for us, especially for my daughter Monica who graduated from Harvard University in 2006, was the plaque we stumbled across during our walks. The founder John Harvard's mother Katherine Rogers actually hailed from Stratford-upon-Avon. The family was well acquainted with William Shakespeare and his family. John Harvard emigrated to New England, USA with his wife in 1637. This was the jewel in the crown of my quest for the historical Shakespeare.

Monica at the house of mother of founder of Harvard University





Comments

  1. Thanks Subodh for taking us back to Fr Watrin days of Julius Ceaser and Macbeth. I remember Indian books that explained in simple English what each sentence meant in those plays. The explanations helped me to pass my Senior Cambridge exams although Father felt that the Indian explanations were not adequate.

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  2. Great piece, as always! You're such a prolific writer with a very distinct style of writing. I hope that, if time permits, you think of writing a book. Knowledge is meant to be shared, and the most effective way to do it, perhaps, is through writing. Meanwhile, Mr. Rana, please keep blogging, though I've noticed you've slowed down a bit lately.

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  3. Thanks Akash Bhairab and A Malla. I posted 2 blogs each in March and April. I hope you have read them. It is hard to find a subject matter without touching politics as so many people write and read politics these days it makes the head spin. And nothing gets done anyway.....

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  4. Wonderfully written again, your encounter with Shakespear from school days to your visit to Stratford - upon- Evon.This reminded me of a BBC run programme on Shakespear in Italy, where all Sicilian think that William was a Sicilian. They justify this by saying that he wrote Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliett and Julius Caesar in Ilatial style. The Italian think that one must be born and brought up in Italy to write with Italian passion. I believe the Indian think William was Indian as all good thing are Indian, in their opinion.If you are in Rome please do not forget to visit Roman Forum , where Caesar was assasinated.
    Narendra

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  5. so u did it, congrats ! its great to read a first hand account of Shakespeare's home :)

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  6. Dear Ranaji,

    Thanks for the picture updates you have been carrying on lately. I hope the bugs get solved and the pictures remain.

    With warmest regards,
    Uttam.

    ReplyDelete

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