Saturday, 23 April 2016

Just My Bill


The top picture is of one of my top happy places – Top Withins on the moors above Haworth where I was on Thursday. Inside my imagination I have a top happy place and his work is my BBF. I’ve been aware of today’s date approaching (23.04.16) for many years. Cervantes died 400 years ago. Every year it’s St George’s Day. Every year I celebrate it as Shakespeare’s probably birthday (we know he was baptized on 26th April and that was traditionally 3 days after the birth.) What we DO know for a fact, though, is that Shakespeare died on this day in 1616, probably dying without ever realising how globally recognised his work and ideas would come to be 400 years later.

The James Plays by Rona Munro

Weirdly, but somehow aptly, I’m spending a marathon day at the Lowry Theatre in Manchester watching three modern history plays about James I, James II and James III, three medieval kings of Scotland. I’ll be catching up on the radio and TV recordings of the Shakespeare celebrations in the coming weeks. Later in the year I’m looking forward to the RSC’s Cymbeline, Hamlet, King Lear, The Two Noble Kinsmen and The Tempest. And Lily James, Richard Madden, Meera Syal and Derek Jacobi in Romeo and Juliet.  But that’s later in the year.
Lily James, Richard Madden, Meera Syal and Derek Jacobi in Romeo and Juliet and images from The James Plays by Rona Munro
For today I’ll blog my favourite sonnet and a guilty secret. My favourite sonnet speaks for itself – and I’ve recited it internally and externally on many occasions. My guilty secret is that whenever I see or hear a particular song from the ground-breaking musical Showboat, a profound piece of theatre, in my opinion, I don’t think of vulnerable Julie’s lost heterosexual lover, Bill (click here for Ava Gardner singing it brilliantly), I’m thinking of My Bill, Mr Billy Wobbledagger (William Shakespeare – thanks for being in my life, Bill.)

Sonnet 29

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet, in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
        For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
        That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Ava Gardner as Julie in Showboat

Bill – music by Jerome Kern, original lyrics by PG Wodehouse, revised lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

I used to dream that I would discover
The perfect lover someday
I knew I'd recognize him if ever
He came 'round my way
I always used to fancy then
He'd be one of the god-like kind of men
With a giant brain and a noble head
Like the heroes bold in the books I've read

But along came Bill
Who's not the type at all
You'd meet him on the street
And never notice him
His form and face
His manly grace
Are not the kind that you
Would find in a statue
And I can't explain
It's surely not his brain
That makes me thrill
I love him because he's wonderful
Because he's just my Bill

He can't play golf or tennis or polo
Or sing a solo or row
He isn't half as handsome
As dozens of men that I know
He isn't tall or straight or slim
And he dresses far worse than Ted or Jim
And I can't explain why he should be
Just the one, one man in the world for me

He's just my Bill
An ordinary man
He hasn't got a thing that I can brag about
And yet to be
Upon his knee
So comfy and roomy seems natural to me
Oh, I can't explain
It's surely not his brain
That makes me thrill
I love him because he's, I don't know
Because he's just my Bill