Once again, I'm happy to welcome David Blixt, who has recently released four of his books, including VOICE OF THE FALCONER, the long-anticipated sequel to MASTER OF VERONA. Today, David talks about his relationship with Shakespeare and the Bard's influence on his work. Take it away, David!
I always hated Shakespeare.
They made me read him. In junior high, it was Julius Caesar. In high school, first it was Romeo & Juliet, which was cool only because we wasted a week watching the movie (the Zefferelli, not the DiCaprio). The next year it was Henry IV Part One, to which I said ‘you’ve got to be kidding’ and scraped through the test by listening to class discussions.The Bard of Avon and I were not friendly. So how did I happen to write novels exploring both his life and works?
It started my senior year, when I had a choice between a reading-Shakespeare and an acting-Shakespeare class. I’d already done a lot of acting by then, so it was a no-brainer. The teachers chose Romeo & Juliet to do that year, mainly because they had a Juliet in mind (fellow author Francesca Delbanco). I remembered from the film that Mercutio was the best part in the show, and after auditioning against the rest of the class, I landed the part.
Somewhere in the middle of rehearsals, everything clicked. My teachers had been holding out on me all these years. You don’t read Shakespeare – you perform him! It’s not literature to be scanned, but language to be spoken by real, living, breathing people.
Thus started my love affair with the words of Shakespeare.
|David Blixt, performing|
High school led to community theatre and college shows, then professional outdoor productions. Today I’m a Shakespearean actor, something I would never have believed. I’ve performed over 40 full productions of a dozen of his plays, including leads in MACBETH, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, TWELFTH NIGHT, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, A COMEDY OF ERRORS, AS YOU LIKE IT, EDWARD III, JULIUS CAESAR, and HAMLET. I’ve played stages like The Goodman, the Shakespeare Theatre of DC, and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, prodded by world-famous directors beside incredible internationally-renowned actors.
So Shakespeare gave me a career. Then he did me one better and introduced me to my wife. Jan and I met playing Kate and Petruchio in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, giving us banter material for the rest of our lives.And then, as if all that were not enough, Shakespeare got me to write a book.
Once again it all starts with ROMEO & JULIET. I’ve developed strong opinions about that play, and I suddenly found myself dared to put up or shut up. It was my first time directing Shakespeare. I read old versions of the play and Shakespeare’s source materials. I poured through the whole text in a way I’d never done as an actor. Poking around for lines to cut, I found something. I found a cause for the famous Capulet-Montague feud. I may not be the first ever to see it, but I’ve certainly never heard it anywhere else. It’s oblique, and doesn’t really affect the action of the play, but nevertheless, once the idea got hold of me I couldn’t let it go.
Thus a book was born.
It was going to be a short book, romantic and sad, just to get the idea out of my system. So I started to do a little research, mostly about Verona – the history, the culture. I discovered some facts. At the time the tale of the star-cross’d lovers supposedly took place, a few interesting people were in Verona. Dante, the father of Renaissance literature. Giotto, the father of Renaissance painting. Petrarch, the poet who technically started the Renaissance by finding Cicero’s letters. So in a very real sense, the Renaissance began in Verona at the start of the fourteenth century.
I then settled in to read Dante’s Divine Comedy, something I would have bet money against at any other point in my life. Halfway through Purgatorio Dante knocked my socks off by mentioning a feud between the Capelletti and the Montecchi. Capulet and Montagues, anyone?
Yet, both in the histories and Dante’s work, one man’s name kept cropping up. A man who stood above all his peers, outshone the luminaries of his day. Giotto’s patron, Dante’s friend. A man fit to be a tragic hero of one of Shakespeare's plays. His name was Cangrande della Scala, but he was better known as the Greyhound of Verona.
Suddenly the feud became a mere backdrop to a larger tale, revolving around this incredible man. Because he reminded me of someone, a rogue I’d fallen in love with the first time I played him. A character I’ve been asked to perform more times than any other. In the play, it’s said that Mercutio is both a cousin to the Prince, and ‘the Prince’s near ally.’ The Prince in the play is named Escaulus, the Latin version of della Scala.Cangrande was related to Mercutio.
So it came full circle. The real people of Dante’s time met the characters of Shakespeare’s Italian plays, allowing me to explore one of the most enigmatic characters the Bard ever wrote. That first novel became two, then three. THE MASTER OF VERONA. VOICE OF THE FALCONER. FORTUNE’S FOOL. And next year I’ll finish up the current arc with THE PRINCE’S DOOM. O, the plans I have laid…
I read somewhere that when Alan Alda met Donald Sutherland, he simply took the other man’s hand and said, “Thank you for my life.” If Shakespeare were alive today, I’m sure that’s what I’d have to say.
But I'd start by telling him how I'd always hated him.