7/19/09
By Tom O’Malley

My Shakespeare comes to Buffalo every summer, and he brings his friends along. They are a raucous bunch — from John Falstaff, who carries the whole world somewhere between his belly and his wit, to the sleepwalking Lady Macbeth, whose bloody hands just never come clean.

I look forward to my Shakespeare’s annual visit because he touches every corner of this town with his antic wisdom, and those who invest a few hours with him in Delaware Park are sure to come away with more than just an evening’s entertainment. This investment pays dividends in beautiful language, serious humor and rekindled genius that will continue to teach all of us to recognize the limitless potential in the world.

In 1592, my Shakespeare was the toast of London. His plays attracted all sorts of people, from the glorious Queen Elizabeth I to Jimmy the oxcart man who grubbed a living in the cobblestone streets of England. Everyone is welcome in my Shakespeare’s world. When the Globe theater announced a new play by Stratford’s favorite son, it was “must see theater” for citizens of every class.

In 2009, the tradition continues. Pick any summer evening and you are likely to see folks from every spectrum of Western New York society. In 1597 there were, of course, the luxury boxes, where one could sit, wine and dine, and occasionally glance over at the stage and see how the story was unfolding. If you happened to be educated, so much the better. Shakespeare loved to sprinkle his plays with quips from the classics and allusions to tickle even the most erudite in the audience.

On the opposite end of the spectrum were the Groundlings. For two copper pennies they could get into the Globe, enjoy an apple and hurl its core at the stage if the performance wasn’t up to snuff. The Groundlings’ seat was on the ground, thus the appellation. What they may have lacked in education they made up for in their enthusiasm. Sometimes the Groundlings found their reactions an integral part of the play.

What is there in my Shakespeare’s world for modern Groundlings? Plenty. First of all, Shakespeare in Delaware Park is free. In the 400 years since Shakespeare put quill to parchment, the cost of admission has actually gone down! This in itself seems miraculous, but it is true. Of course you will be encouraged to put money in the coffer during intermission, but no one will twist your arm or pick your pocket.

Then there is action. Sword fights and battles abound. Shakespeare did not have access to the electronic wizardry of Lucas and Spielberg. But he did have a direct pipeline to the greatest special effects machine ever invented: the human imagination. In an age that worries about the abuses of power and personal freedoms, “Julius Caesar” speaks directly to us as if it were written last week.

And modern Groundlings will take a special delight in the fatal march of destiny that touches all of the characters in my Shakespeare’s world. “The Tempest” begins in a storm at sea. But we are reminded that such tempests are nothing compared to the tsunamis that reside in the human heart.

In the end, we still need to welcome my Shakespeare today. His plays and poems are filled with the stuff of life: comedy, tragedy and most importantly love. Think about that while sitting on your blanket in the park. Let the music of his language pluck the harp strings of your soul.

My Shakespeare is back in town. Grab a blanket and pull up a piece of the ground. There ain’t a bad seat in the house. And by evening’s end, my Shakespeare will be yours