Sunday 4 December 2016

Poetry - Ulick O'Connor: Chasing a rainbow with the Bard 400 years on

Published 04/09/2016 | 02:30

Irish stage star: Dermot Walsh with Lynn Ashley at the Theatre Royal, Stratford in 1962
Irish stage star: Dermot Walsh with Lynn Ashley at the Theatre Royal, Stratford in 1962

This year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. I have not referred to it, simply because I find it hard to write what I want to say. After all, he is the greatest of them all and I get the shivers trying to find words to express what I feel.

  • Go To

I played, at age 12, the part of the clown, Launcelot ­Gobbo in Shakespeare's ­Merchant of Venice at school at St Mary's Rathmines.

The lead was played by Dermot Walsh who was a winger on our first 15 U-18s (and who later on became one of the leading Shakespearian actors in Britain with his magnificent interpretation of King Richard in the television series Richard the Lionheart).

The part of Gobbo needed a tiny whippersnapper so they had to come to the junior school to find one which happened to be little me. The only way I had of staying on the stage with Dermot and grabbing the attention was each time I crossed the stage I threw a somersault. It could be said I sprang to success. Anyway, it left me with a love of Shakespeare.

Had Shakespeare an Irish connection? Certainly his character Captain MacMorris, the Irish soldier in Henry V, used Gaelic phrases that show an acquaintance with our ancient tongue. When Shakespeare takes a fantasy trip in plays like A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest, at times he could be WB Yeats chasing a rainbow.

As a Catholic in Stratford, Shakespeare would undoubtedly have met outlawed Irish priests on the run from the King's cavalry. The great English poet critic Matthew Arnold thought the Celtic connection in Shakespeare was huge and maintained that lines in the plays "are drenched and intoxicated with the fairy dew of the ­natural magic of the Celt".

Prospero's last speech in Act IV of The Tempest could be the talk of an Irish druid on the Hill of Tara having a chat with the ancient Gods. The last words of the speech are probably the best known of Shakespeare, summing up of what he thought of the cosmos.

from... THE TEMPEST

"We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep"

Say it to yourself but be careful you don't slip off into the suburbs of fairyland.

Prospero: These our actors,

As I foretold you, were all spirits, and

Are melted into air, into thin air:

And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,

The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous places,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.

William Shakespeare 1564-1616

Indo Review

Read More

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment