At HP, I am involved in security, imaging, classification, anti-counterfeiting and printing-related research—not the type of subject matter you’re likely to find in historical nonfiction. But, recently, I picked up the book “1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare” (James Shapiro, Harper Perennial, London, 2005), mainly because any time I walk through a used book store I have this feeling that there is one book waiting there for me. One occasion is insufficient to prove this a general rule, but it was certainly the case in this specific visit.
The book itself is cleverly written, moving through 1599 (with the “cheat” of including the last week of 1598) while interweaving the dramatic events in Ireland (the doomed Essex on a Gaelic whack-a-mole), in the government (politics were no nicer then than now) and in Stratford (Shakespeare’s family’s home and Will’s sometime stop-over) with Shakespeare’s own personal drama.
One particularly notable event was the movement of the site of his dramas across the Thames from its previous home at “The Theatre”, in the Shoreditch neighborhood, to its new home, “The Globe”, in Southwark. To do so, a clandestine Christmastime misdemeanor movement of the actual posts and other assorted valuable wood from Shoreditch site was needed. Shakespeare and his troupe simply could not afford to build a new theater from scratch. Nor can you. You want a good start on your next career? Bring the posts with you. No blogging puns intended here. The point is, instead, about innovation.
And 1599 was, if nothing else, a year for innovation. As 1599 begins, Shakespeare has written – and likely played a small role in – his latest history play. Do you remember The Second Part of Henry the Fourth from lit class? You’re forgiven if you don’t. I don’t either. But, by the end of 1599, Shakespeare has redefined history, tragedy and comedy plays with Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar, and As You Like It, respectively. And this was just getting warm. He finishes with Hamlet, still arguably the greatest play ever written.
Julius Caesar had a big hand (and big head!) in making 1599 Shakespeare’s year of effective change.
That’s right. William Shakespeare went from Henry IV to Hamlet in ONE year. It doesn’t seem possible. Mainly because it isn’t really possible. Hamlet was already inside Will when he was slogging out YAHOO (Yet Another Historical Ode to Obviousness).
So, why was 1599 Will’s year of effective change? The year the change within him could express itself to the world?
Essentially, what Will had done is what every creative person must do. Believe in your best ideas, continue to develop them in spite of the external events, and always look for the signs that the world is ready at last to see the clarity of your ideas and value of your efforts. It certainly works in research. Our best ideas are those that we have been developing for years, even decades, waiting for the right moment for them to matter. We carry so many posts with us. It is hard work, and as time rolls on, there is more to carry. Nonetheless, it is worthy work, for in the end, when all those posts can be put in place, you can build – and maybe even change – the Globe.