Friday, December 13, 2013

Whither Shakespeare? Part IV - I Pull a Book from the Family Library


By the time I was 10, my family had moved from Toronto to Montreal and finally to Hamilton, Ontario. Wherever we lived, overstuffed bookshelves covered every available wall.  One book from the family library is a leather-bound volume entitled The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.  It is in my hands now. The front cover detached from the binding years ago.  The book is held together with elastic bands.

As a child, several things thrilled me about this volume.  Opposite the title page is the "Jansen" portrait of Shakespeare.  Under the portrait is a reproduction of Shakespeare’s signature.

At the back of the book is a handy index to all of the characters in Shakespeare’s dramatic work.  Most of all, though, I loved the inscription.

“To our dear cousin, Sid,
His life is gentle, and the elements
So mix’d in him that nature might stand up
And say to all the world “This is a man!”
George + Abe  25/1/46

My uncles, George and Abe, adapted these lines from the final passages of Julius Casesar.  After hearing that Brutus was dead, Antony says, “His life was gentle." and "This was a man.”

Sid was my father.  By January 1946, Sid was living in New York City recovering from serious war injuries.  He travelled to Ottawa for my aunt’s wedding, January 20, 1946.  My mother, Mary, and her brothers met their cousin, Sid, for the first time.  It was love at first sight for my mother, although no one in the family knew this for several years.  Mary thought cousins were not allowed to marry, so she kept her feelings secret, even from Sid, who was also head over heels for her.  George and Abe seem to have been impressed with Sid as well and presented him with this book before he returned to the US.

Shakespeare was a young 52 when he died in 1616; my father, an even younger 43, when he died in 1969. Uncles George and Abe died within the last few years, both in their late 80s.  For me though, my father, my uncles, and Shakespeare will always be together within the covers of this book.

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