My friend Hilary Tate had a beautiful idea for subject matter for a blog. “Moments from Shakespeare,” seen through the lens of Sacred Theatre. Especially since many of the stories that demonstrate the Powers of Sacred Theatre in the book, To Be and How To be, are drawn from Shakespeare. The first one is here. A glorious moment of new life from The Winter’s Tale. Enjoy.
Shakespeare Moments That Illumine Our Lives.
This being still the days of bleak midwinter, I begin with The Winter’s Tale. One of the loveliest characters in the play, a little prince, says poignantly, “A sad tale’s best for winter.” And this miraculous wonder created by Shakespeare in the latter days of his writing career is one that tears the heart out of your body. It transcends sadness, however, with moments of high tragedy and low comedy, and carries any audience member alive to feel it into a world beyond imagining – a world of reconciliation at the highest levels, a world of forgiveness and bountiful grace. But not until everyone endures years of loss, sorrow, and unknowing.
First, imagine if you will, a beautiful, extremely pregnant, loving queen, whose spirit is one of an almost unbearable lightness of being. Yet moments into the play, her husband suffers a violent mental catastrophe, and is suddenly consumed with an overwhelming jealousy. The queen is wrongfully accused of terrible crimes, delivered to prison and delivered of her baby daughter there, and tried for treason. Then imagine that this child is cruelly torn from her arms, and carried away. Who knows where? Imagine how all this overwhelms the queen. And then she hears the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi declare her innocence. But her other child suddenly dies, her baby daughter lost, her beloved husband yet maddened with jealousy. She collapses, and is declared dead.
I know of no theatre piece that shows more exquisitely the nine sacred powers with greater clarity. Each character embodies a purpose for being; each is enacting an immense story; there is no escaping the present moment; there is enormous power in the places the characters inhabit. Each expresses truth from very different points of view; there is a desperate conflict; the audience onstage and off is utilized; and finally, after the lessons have been learned, an unbelievable celebration occurs.
And the moment of that celebration is the one that can illumine the bleakest conditions of midwinter, and even provide a possibility of hope for new life after the heartbreak of the earth’s most recent quake. For in The Winter’s Tale, all hope is utterly lost for sixteen years for the anguished and remorseful king, and his “dead” queen.
In the final moments of the play, the lost daughter is miraculously returned, recognized by her father, and restored to him – as is his oldest friend, from whom he had been estranged, and whose son is the beloved of the daughter. In the past, all this coincidence had to be part of the “willing suspension of disbelief” required of all theatre goers, but now that we know a little about the delicate yet insistent, unseen but very real fields and webs that connect us one to another, these scenes can be seen as beautiful enactments of the amazing proof of our interconnectedness.
All together they decide to visit a secluded temple-like place, to see the “statue” of the beloved queen. It is revealed, usually as a life-size presentation of unmatchable beauty. She stands before us, unmoving, but so like a goddess. The king is stricken to the heart, as are all the others.
Then the magician/wise woman who has taken care of the “statue” during all these lost years begins to lure her back to life. But first she says to the awestruck audience, “It is required you do awake your faith.”
She then invites music to sound, and speaks an incantation. “Music; awake her; strike! ‘Tis time. Descend. Be stone no more.”
The music plays and slowly, slowly the statue begins to move, to look at those gazing at her in wonder, to begin recognize them, and touch them with beautiful eyes. Hesitantly, she steps from the pedestal and embraces her husband, overcome with joy, and in a vast outpouring of love, remembrance, and forgiveness. Then she approaches her daughter. The daughter, also overcome with love and wonder, kneels. The queen’s first words: “You gods, look down, and from your sacred vials, pour your graces upon my daughter’s head.”
And life returns. The queen, one of the faces of the great goddess, lives again, loves again; her daughter, and her king, both fully restored to her.
No matter what sorrow pervades, no matter how long the years of dead and bleak winter seem to be, Shakespeare reminds us that a moment of possibility will come, “welcome as is the spring to th’ earth,” when we may chose to breathe again with life, step gallantly, if tentatively forth, to ask a blessing of grace for all the children, and walk, once more, into the waiting arms of love.
But, it is required you do awake your faith.