Last night, I attended a graduate class at Boston College. We discussed King Lear, particularly in light of textual materiality and performance history. I woke up this morning to find out from the New York Times about a very special performance of King Lear:
In the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, one hundred displaced Syrian children put on Shakespeare at the direction of Nawar Bubul, a 40 year old Syrian actor (click here to check him out in a link provided by the NYTs). These refugees all face an uncertain future, and, as Ben Hubbard put it, for many of the children “it was their first brush with Shakespeare, although they were already deeply acquainted with tragedy” (check out the article here).
It is the first of April, the first day of National Poetry Month, and I find this bit of news noteworthy and relevant for a few reasons. Much like poetry, it is easy to see this story as a glimmer of “the brighter side” of things, something to help us make political reality palatable, something to dwell briefly on before moving on and allowing grim (foreign) reality to sink back into obscurity. But, like good poetry, this Syrian Lear isn’t a Band-Aid. It isn’t a balm. It isn’t a sound-bite. It is a reminder, a painful one, and not just of the crisis in Syria and the suffering of its innocent victims.
Poetic drama can serve as a reminder that (sometimes) we can transcend our circumstances, can come to terms with our suffering and that of others. But it doesn’t fix anything. The only way to fix anything is to take action, and that can only happen when we look it square in the eye. Good art can only take you halfway on that path.
The first poem I will post will be from the Bard himself. Normally I am not a huge fan of Shakespeare’s poetry (I find the 30-plus plays more than enough). But here is his Sonnet 30, a musing on the ephemerality of life, on regret, on mourning, and, ultimately, on comfort derived from remembrance. The link to the poem can be found here.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanished sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.