If you’ve read this blog long enough, you’ve probably figured out by now that the man after my own heart in literature was John Milton rather than William Shakespeare. I wrote my dissertation on Shakespeare in the schools because circumstances compelled me to, not because I wanted to. Having said that, however, let me also say that the task of reading Shakespeare and writing about his work was a happy one. As McCartney said about Lennon, I say about the Bard: the boy was good. Here we are, hundreds of years after he lived and worked, and we are still quoting him, still turning to him occasionally for insight or inspiration on all sorts of topics or issues. We may be blase about it; we may know or believe in the twenty-first century that Shakespeare does not or cannot fill every emotional need we have, but still; the man’s work was so sharp, of such breathtakingly high quality that when we do turn to him, he can still stun us, still stop us dead in our tracks and force us to focus on what he has to say.
In that wonderful final scene of Will Penny, Will comes up with all sorts of reasons why a relationship between him and Cath Allen wouldn’t work: he’s too old, too frail, too unskilled to begin a new and completely different life with her and the Button. In response to all of the fears he has about what could happen, he can only cry, “How’s love gonna stand up to that?”
Cath, who has stood there and fought for her man just as surely as Lon fought for his girl in Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook, replies, “It’s supposed to, isn’t it?”
Shakespeare has an answer for these two. He has an answer for all us, in Sonnet # 116:
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”
Shakespeare’s answer is that love is not only supposed to “stand up to that,” it actually does. Love–the real deal, however we define it–is steadfast and unshakeable. It lasts as long as Time does, and does not alter with our frail flesh. At its best, its perfection does indeed cast out our fear, and makes possible some remarkable things in our lives. Will Penny was at least granted a glimpse of what love was meant to be like, but he could have had so much more. He could have–and did have–love itself in his arms for awhile, that state we seek and celebrate on Valentine’s Day, but he let it go because he believed he wasn’t worthy of it, wasn’t equal to it. He was wrong, of course. If we desire love, we are worthy of it, and we can be equal to any of the challenges it may bring, at any time, at any place, or at any stage of our lives.