Shakespeare's Birthday at the Garrick Club

Description

Speech given at the Garrick Club (22 April 1854).

Creator

Dickens, Charles

Source

O'Dowd, James. 'A Shakespeare Birthday: A Reminiscence of Charles Dickens.' Pall Mall Magazine (April 1906): 423-28.

Date

Type

Bibliographic Citation

Dickens, Charles. 'Garrick Club' (22 April 1854). Dickens Search. Eds. Emily Bell and Lydia Craig. Accessed [date]. https://dickenssearch.com/speeches/1854-04-22_Speech_Shakespeares_Birthday_at_the_Garrick_Club.

Summary

'He began by saying that we were met to celebrate an event, a great event. Not, as some thought, merely the birthday of a dramatist and an actor. We met on that day to celebrate a great deal more. We met on that day to celebrate the birthday of a vast army of living men and women, who would live for ever with an actuality greater than that of the men and women whose external forms we saw around us, and whom we knew ourselves – types of humanity, the inner working of whose souls was open to us, as were the faces of ordinary men.

To-day was born a Prince of Denmark, who would live for ever as the type of man whose mind was "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought," and whose life-story was fore-shadowed by his appearance from the moment he came before us as "a broken glass of fashion, a mould of form," pale and worn with weeping for his father's death, and remotely suspicious of its cause, and not with "his hair crisply curled short as if he were going to an everlasting dancing-master's party at the Danish court," as "most Hamlets since the great Kemble have been bound to do." A Prince of Denmark who will live for ever, even though he be remembered by no more than the words that ask, [quotes from "Whether 'tis nobler to "a consummation Devoutly to be wished"].

On this day was born not only this lasting embodiment of deep insight into life and its problems, but also "Laughter holding both his sides." On this day was born Falstaff, who, like one who takes the chair on such an occasion as this, has to be the cause of speaking in others. And on this day the famous Justice Shallow, who, though you may not admire his qualities, will live in the memory of all who laugh at him, and all who try to personate him on the stage. "'Tis the heart, Master Page, 'tis here, 'tis here. I have seen the time, with my long sword I would have made you four tall fellows skip like rats."

But on this day, that saw the birth of Justice Shallow, as well as of the "merry knight," that "mountain of flesh," of whom Prince Hal said (as we all would now say had Falstaff not been born): "I could have better spared a better man," there was also born Queen Mab: [quotes from "She is the fairies' midwife to "as they lie asleep"].

And on this day was born that weaver who felt as out of place among fairies as "a lion among ladies": [quotes from "God shield us! A lion among ladies" to "a man as other men are"].

On this day, too, was born Macbeth, the type of all who show how the first fall into evil leads even men capable of noble thoughts down, eventually, into the lowest depths; Macbeth, who said: [quotes from "If it were done" to "jump the life to come"].

To-day was born a certain Signior Benedick of Padua –that is, not the Benedick of this or that theatrical company, but the constant occasion of merriment among the persons represented in Much Ado about Nothing: "all mirth," as Don Pedro has it, "from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot"; and who may well inspire mirth in all.

This day was born a Duke who, exiled from the "painted pomp" of his "envious court", could utter words teaching what I hold to be a vital truth, "above all, that nothing is high because it is in a high place, and that nothing is low because it is in a low one." This is the lesson taught us in the great book of Nature and the lesson uppermost in the mind of that inspired man who tells us that there are –

Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

Today was born a villain, for whose birth we may yet be glad, because he was not the ordinary villain of the stage. For Iago can be portrayed without "frowning, sneering diabolically, grinning, and elaborately doing everything else that would induce Othello to run him through the body very early in the play" Shakespeare's Iago is a man who could and did make friends, who could dissect his master's soul without flourishing his scalpel as if it were a walking-stick; who could overpower Emilia by other arts than a sign-of-the-Saracen's-Head grimness; who could be a boon companion without, ipso facto, warning all beholders off by the portentous phenomenon; who could sing a song and clink a can naturally enough, and stab men really in the dark – not in a transparent notification of himself as going about seeking whom to stab.

On this day was born the ideal embodiment of woman's passionate love, to whom her lover in his passion idealised as the sun at the dawn rising to – [quotes from "Kill the envious moon" to "And none but fools do wear it"].

And on this day was born a fool, not dressed in vestal livery, but dressed in motley, who "laid him down and basked him in the sun, and as quoted by the melancholy Jacques (whose words are in-woven in this tablecloth before me: "All the world's a stage") described, for all time, the qualities, the privileges and the duties of the satirist of him who, like this fool, "should be so deep contemplative" as to make the sage "ambitions for a motley suit." "Invest me in my motley: give me leave to speak my mind, and I will, through and through, cleanse the foul body of whole infected world, if they will but patiently receive my medicine."

In like manner Dickens dealt with many more of Shakespeare's characters, each time acting and speaking the lines with consummate art and skill.

Dickens went on to say that this was also the birthday of the English novel. "Every writer of fiction, although he may not adopt the dramatic form, writes, in effect, for the stage. He many never write plays, but the truth and passions which are in him must be more or less reflected in the great mirror which he holds up to Nature."

Furthermore, he reminded us that it was the birthday of some of those present –of Compton, of Vanderhoff, of Wallack. For their art and fame would not have been but for the birth of whim whose birthday they were celebrating. He would go further, and say that it was the birthday of that club. For if there had never been a Shakespeare there never would have been a Garrick, and if there had never been a Garrick there would never have been a Garrick club.'

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Citation

Dickens, Charles, “Shakespeare's Birthday at the Garrick Club,” Dickens Search, accessed June 25, 2022, https://dickenssearch.com/speeches/1854-04-22_Speech_Shakespeares_Birthday_at_the_Garrick_Club.

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