A happy Christmas to readers of this blog. The best Christmas present for me has been to learn that a Brexit deal will be confirmed later today. Not that I don’t regard the leaving of the EU as an historic mistake, but Europe will anyway continue to be our main trading partner, holiday destination and cultural cousin.
This has been an unprecedented and dreadful year. It is still unclear how we will emerge from it or how long the global economy will take to recover. It is safe to say that most of our lives will change. Perhaps the more fortunate among us will pause, reflect and be a good deal less frantic in ‘getting and spending.’
I thought I would write something about Shakespeare’s four great late plays, Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. There are brief passages of Pericles which are wonderful, but it is likely that only a corrupt version has come down to us. It is rarely performed although I have twice seen performances which were enjoyable and indeed in the recognition scene between Pericles and his daughter Marina is extremely moving. Cymbeline is too long and unwieldy, and is perhaps most memorable for its dirge, ‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun.’ I saw Judi Dench as Imogen, and the play had its moments but my main emotion, when it ended after four hours, was of relief. Tennyson was found dead with an open copy of Cymbeline in his lap. It is said it was his favourite play, and certainly there is a freedom to some of the blank verse which is technically interesting. The Winter’s Tale has risen in estimation, perhaps more than any other play of Shakespeare’s, in the last hundred years. Rightly so, the reconciliation scene between Leontes and Hermione, is extraordinary and I have a particular love of Act 4, scene3. The exchanges between Perdita and Polixenes where they debate the difference between nature and art, are witty and weighty. Nature was of course spoken of with endless shades of meaning in King Lear, and another link back is to As You Like It, with the tensions between court and country life. And finally the greatest of all these late plays, The Tempest, which is Shakespeare’s formal leave taking from his profession of playwright. The themes of healing, reconciliation and forgiveness are very much present in these late plays, and a mythic generality replaces the intense psychological realism of earlier plays, particularly the tragedies.. If you wished to make the case for Shakespeare being a Christian, the three plays to consider in my opinion are King Lear, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. But as Arnold said in his great sonnet on Shakespeare, ” Others abide our question. Thou art free.”