I wish my father were here today, to do justice to the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. No man ever loved English literature more, and Shakespeare most of all.
My father would be more than 90 now if he had lived to see this day. I have no doubt at all he would still be able to recite the immortal soliloquies from the great plays, and other memorable passages.
They were that engraved in the fabric of his soul, an integral part of the man he was, so much so that, so long as he could take another breath, nothing could erase them. For all I know, he may be reciting Shakespeare at this eternal moment somewhere in Paradise.
Or maybe he was there just now, standing beside me, looking over my shoulder as I searched the web for the King’s “band of brothers” speech in Henry V, to refresh my memory.
I can almost feel him tapping my shoulder, telling me not to bother, that he knows it off by heart.
I would say, it’s hard to imagine a world without Shakespeare, isn’t it Dad? And he would certainly agree. Surely no artist has done more to enrich human life “for all time,” as his friend Ben Jonson said.
One of my most cherished memories is of my father taking me as a boy of 11 to see the movie version of Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar, starring Marlon Brando as Mark Antony. I’ll never forget how excited he was about Brando’s performance as we left the old Odeon movie theatre on Queen Street West in the Parkdale area of Toronto that night.
He spoke of the moment when, left alone with Ceasar’s dead body after discussing funeral arrangements with Brutus and Cassius, Mark Antony addressed his murdered friend and mentor:
O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever livèd in the tide of times.
“What passion Brando put into it. You could even see the spittle coming from his mouth as he said, ‘thou bleeding piece of earth,’” my father turned and said to me, in his own passionate way, virtually childlike with enthusiasm, as he put his hand to his mouth with a descriptive flourish.
Dear God, the things that might have been, “for he was likely, had he been put on, to have proved most royally,” as Fortinbras says about Hamlet at the end of that immortal tragedy.
Bruce Frankland McNichol, born June 17, 1923 in Toronto, Canada, died August 14, 1970 in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A., knew tragedy. He was, in a way, the very embodiment of it in life. I don’t doubt that was part of his insightful understanding and appreciation of Shakespearean tragedy.
But he has more than enough reason now to feel proud of the family he has in this world – children (Susan, David, Brian, and Philip), many grandchildren and great grandchildren, even great, great grandchildren who carry his likeness, intelligence, spirit and talent into the future.
That is a form of immortality, of course. No wonder many cultures in the world worship ancestors. No wonder so many of us are taking such a keen interest in our genealogy.
Hear me, my children, they thus know we value them. And so will I know. Never doubt that.
I probably didn’t fully realize it at the time, but I see it so clearly now: my father not only essentially took me to a Shakespearean play, he also paid me the compliment of talking to me about it afterwards on the level of someone who appreciated it as much as he did. I can remember being fully engaged.
That was a wonderful gift you gave me that night Dad. I don’t know if I thanked you for it properly then; but I thank you now.
Oh, how I miss you, more than ever.