Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

Star-cross’d lovers, shooting stars, moonbeams and Mars


WILLIAM Shakespeare was a champion of monumental excitement and remorseless discontent, of the majestic and the lonely, of the varied amazements and tortures of the human condition.

He invented most of the words in the last sentence for the English language is littered with 1700 words he created.

Today, April 23, which is also St. George’s Day, is celebrated as his birthday – 450 years ago in 1564.

The playwright and poet, who embodies the rambunctious romance of the Renaissance, is still the world’s most famous Brit nearly half a millennium after he entered the world.

Without him we wouldn’t have the pleasure of glorious words such as embrace, silliness, moonbeam, shooting star and hobnob. Or how about ‘honey-tongued’ from Love’s Labour’s Lost?

‘The long and the short of it’ (The Merry Wives of Windsor) is that we would be lost for wonderful ways to ‘break the ice’ (The Taming of the Shrew) and ‘wear the heart upon the sleeve’ (Othello) or ‘make short shrift’ (Richard III) and bid ‘good riddance’ (Troilus and Cressida).

And we wouldn’t have brilliant turns of phrase like ‘heart of gold’ (Henry V), ‘kill with kindness’ (The Taming of the Shrew), ‘star-cross’d lovers’ (Romeo and Juliet), ‘neither rhyme nor reason’ (As You Like It), ‘to thine own self be true’ (Hamlet) and ‘such stuff as dreams are made’ (The Tempest).

He even invented that classic joke structure in the Scottish play: ‘Knock, knock! Who’s there?’

It was his way of articulating the gamut of emotions that run through everyone at one time or another that ensured he would be remembered ‘forever and a day’ (As You Like It).

My favourite of Shakespeare’s sonnets (number 14) likens a lover’s soul to the power of the heavens and how with their death truth and beauty will cease to exist:

‘But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,

And, constant stars, in them I read such art…

…Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.’

Shakespeare’s works are littered with astronomical references. Indeed he saw art in the stars.

On the same day we celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, NASA has detailed a plan to launch a manned mission to Mars in just over 15 years’ time; an endeavour described as vital for the continued survival of the human race.

The Times reported that the space agency’s chief Charles Bolden outlined a series of “stepping stones” to the Red Planet that included “lassoing” an asteroid, using 3D printers for spacecraft repairs and growing vegetables in space ahead of a three-year return trip.

He said: “It is important to remember that NASA sent humans to the moon by setting a goal that seemed beyond reach.

“In that same spirit, the agency has made a human mission to Mars the centrepiece of its next big leap into the unknown.”

Now is the winter of our planet’s discontent. Perhaps our existence does indeed rely on journeying to the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.

To be or not to be? That is the question. Especially with the slings, arrows and outrageous fortunes that our world faces.

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but ourselves.


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A brief candle

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

From Macbeth by William Shakespeare (written around 1605)

A BRIEF candle will dim for a moment today as shadows crawl in slow motion over part of the planet.

The moon and sun will engage in a spectacular display which perhaps exquisitely illustrates the idea of the “cosmic dance” in Fritjof Capra’s book The Tao of Physics.

In North America today, at the Grand Canyon, is an eclipse which hasn’t been seen in America for 18 years.

As the moon moves across the face of the sun much of it will be obscured, leaving a ring of fire.

I was lucky to get the once-in-a-lifetime chance to stand in the midst of beautiful countryside in England back on August 11, 1999 and experience a total eclipse of the sun.

This is where, because of the moon’s position in relation to the Earth, all of the sun appears covered and a halo of light is seen.

The last one in the UK before that had been in 1927 and the next one will be in 2090.

I remember standing in a remote area surrounded by rainbow-coloured flowers and comforting trees with someone special as everything suddenly became quite eerie.

The scales tipped to the extreme as the moon began shielding us from the sun.

You don’t notice what’s there until it’s gone and up until the eclipse began the chirping of dozens of birds was a pleasant but unnoticeable part of the white noise all around.

Not only was it the bird song that stopped but it was as if traffic stopped and the breeze stilled too.

All was quiet.

Even brazen squirrels had vanished.

Shadows were dark cartoon versions of themselves.

A silent cold descended turning the pleasant summer’s day into a grey autumnal morning.

The chill that fell was perceived even by the person I was with.

It was in that void that you realised what is.

It was as if time stopped, and as a result of the emptiness you felt bereft in every cell of your body.

It was like a loneliness and sadness of Wuthering Heights proportions encircling every nerve.

I still to this day can feel it when I draw upon the memory. It was other-worldly but very much of this earth.

When time began again it was as if the clocks had been reset.

As everything else had gone during the eclipse, so too it seems had the breath from my body. My autonomic nervous system had switched off and forgotten to breathe.

As the sun’s rays drove the shadows away, I took what seemed like my first inhale.

Everything is in a constant state of flux – even during an eclipse where everything seems like it’s on pause.

But the quiet, still, wistful moments of the eclipse – when things aren’t as clear as usual – are perhaps when we can pause to rethink, recharge and reset.

Everything matters and nothing matters.

After all, life is but a walking shadow, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

* Please take a look at the Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research. It promotes and funds alternatives to animal testing in biomedical research and testing.

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