Or, Sir Tom, if we should ever meet.
How do I love him? How can I count the ways? I'd like to say he reinvented wit and brilliance for the modern stage, but I have to consider the possibility that this is a mite of an exaggeration. Still, there is "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" to consider, both stage play and film. All the rest of his amazing plays. My latest favorite "India Ink." What an achievement to have written "Jumpers" and "Arcadia" and the "Coast of Utopia" trilogy. Go down the list and stand back in awe. (Well, that's my approach, anyway.) And the most amazing thing of all: He is COMMERCIAL. For all that he's whimsical and demands a great deal of intellectual concentration from his audience, the audience is THERE for him, in great numbers, because he's clever, he's amusing, and he plays on our feelings at times so that we are helpless in his embrace but secure in his confident hands.
And then there is the film "Shakespeare in Love." What a delight. An enchanting experience that brings the audience into the center of the Elizabethan theater world. Some things never change ("I'm the money." "You may stay, but be silent.") This is beautifully delivered by Ben Affleck, the successful and egotistical Edward Alleyn, along with the following: "What is the title of this play?" "Mercutio." "I shall play it." And Rupert Everett as the witty, dark, but charming Kit Marlowe: "What are you calling it?" "Hamlet and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter." "Good title." These are some of the SUPPORTING cast, along with the great Tom Wilkinson (the money) and Geoffrey Rush. And Colin Firth, detaching himself from his Mr. Darcy image, to play a man who is so undesirable one could almost call him "icky." Colin Firth!
And, of course, there is the imagined presentation of the first performance of "Romeo and Juliet," with Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes bringing to life the best screen minutes I've ever seen of a play by Shakespeare, all the more poignant for the frame within which Stoppard has placed the performance. Stoppard has done magic, affirming all along, "It's a Mystery." He has taken the premise: What if the young Shakespeare has gone dry in more ways than one. What if he has writer's block and is also very low on sexual potency. What would he do in such a situation? See his psychiatrist, of course. And here we are, pretending the past was so much like the present. Pretending.
BUT. I have a very smart friend who assumed that everything in this delicious confection was true, ignoring the anachronisms, the author's finger pointing to the sign post: Isn't this fun? It's not true, but don't you love the flavor? And I ask myself, what am I doing in my plays? Aren't I presenting my own versions of Shakespeare ? Aren't I trying to pull together visions of him that are plausible as well as entertaining? Or moving? I write fictional stories about him based upon mere skeletons of historical facts. Not even skeletons, just a few bones. And yet I'm searching for the truth, for MY Shakespeare. Where is the REAL Shakespeare? Is he lurking in the plays he wrote? Well, yes, I think, in a way. But his plays are varied. His mind created different mazes for us to run, as his imagination ran them. Ultimately, I think the last word is that of Sir Tom: "It's a Mystery." Would we want it any other way?