Kage Baker loved William Shakespeare. It is not going too far to say she adored him, expressing admiration for his works, his philosophies and even his person on just about every level of affection. She even wrote a cameo for him into her Company series; although, in typical Kage humour, she portrays him as a dedicated gardener rather than the king of playwrights.
This is not to indicate she doubted William Shakespeare’s authorship of the plays attributed to him. She did not. In that centuries-long acrimonious debate over who wrote Shakespeare’s plays, Kage was firmly on the side of the glover’s boy. It just amused her to add some facets to his character, to make him more of a whole man and less of an icon. She knew a lot of retired actors and artists, and was full well aware that homely pastimes like gardening are how the larger-than-life hold on to their humanity.
She also knew, first-hand and from the cradle, how the satisfaction of a steady life can appeal to one who has wandered in the groves of Art. They are desperate lands, those groves of Art … the wood outside Athens, the forest of Arden, Propero’s Isle – they’re all grand places but mighty short of dependable heat and clean linens. Eventually even the best writer in the English language might grow tired of that damned Muse of fire, and long for a bit of life where his meals came on time and a man might take a walk in his own garden in peace.
One of Kage’s own peculiar habits as a writer was to make safe places in her work for people she loved. So she wrote a scene where the retired Master Shakespeare is comfortably ensconsed in the best house in Avon (which he did eventually buy, you know); proud of his poetry, embarrassed at having been an actor, satisfied at having pulled off a trick that was magic even 500 years ago: making a living by writing.
In other scenes and other stories, she even made Shakespeare literally immortal. He survives the end of the world, the collapse of civilization, the Singularity: or whatever it was Kage actually saw in her own head, that ascension/assumption/metamorphosis she described at the end the Company books.
What she actually wrote down, I know, was some pale reflection of the Ouroborous-gears in her mind – one of the reasons Kage gives a rundown on everyone’s fate at the end was to give her overpowering personal vision a shape other people could see. Also to avoid what she called “the Entwife error”: because it bothered her to the end of her days that Tolkien never explained what happened to the Ents and their wives … the only other clue I have to go on is that she maintained that the world ended frequently – but no one ever noticed.
At any rate, she made sure the folks she most cared about survived, even the ones who didn’t notice that Reality had turned the page to a new chapter. William Shakespeare was one of them.
Today is William Shakespeare’s birthday. Forty years or so ago, it was also- mirabile dictu! – the Opening Day of the Renaissance Faire in Agoura. Kage and I spent a happy hour or so on what was called the King’s Truss Bridge, which spanned a ditch (although it was a loudly singing stream bed that early in the year) leading from the Lower Faire to the Upper … we had baskets full of stalks of Sweet William, and we handed them out to the passing customers, crying: “Welcome to Pleasure Faire! Wear Sweet William for William Shakespeare’s Birthday!”
The customer laughed and tucked the flowers into the hats and hair and camera straps. We handed out flowers, and kissed selected young men, until we ran out. Of flowers, anyway …
Then we went off to sit in the shade of the oaks, and drink ale, and toast Sweet William, and watch Greg Probst and David Springhorn perform the weirdest Pyramus and Thisbe in the rolling world.
Good times, in the morning of the world.
That wacky Pyramus & Thisbe has a cameo early in Molly September. Unforgettable!
Kage adored it, and kept it in mind in all the various odd theatrics she put into her stories, too. And it was one of the root ideas in her novella “Rude Mechanicals”. One of the best things ever at Faire, I think – especially on the Oak Bough Stage, with the wild pink roses blooming in the stream bed, and the cries from Gaming Row coming down from Brewers Hill beyond …