Who was Shakespeare, really? Greg Bell asks the question in his book, Looking for Will: My Bardic Quest With Shakespeare, a collection of poems, stories, and remembrances about the years Bell performed as the Bard himself, onstage and at popular Renaissance Faires.
Besides being an author, Bell is (obviously) a Shakespearean actor. He currently facilitates the Green Poets Workshop at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, California. Not too long ago, when he suffered a five month stay in the hospital, “poised at the doorway of the Undiscovered Country,” he made a decision to “buck up” and write about his quest to find the character of the great author. The resulting book overflows with love and lust. Early on, Bell tells the story of his extended stay at Stratford-Upon Avon, where he absorbed, meditated upon, and lived Shakespeare as much as he could. He was young, single and free, and his heart led him to explore.
Greg Bell happens to look a bit like Shakespeare, at least as far as we know, and he used this to advantage along with his writing and acting talents in his one-man play, Alms for Oblivion, which he excerpts in the book.
“The impulse to write Alms for Oblivion…was to address the authorship question and connect the dots about how such achievements by Shakespeare might have been possible. I will unequivocally say that Alms would not have been possible without my experience of [the Renaissance] Faire, providing an enormously rich and paradoxical context of Living History….”
Thus, for Bell, playing Shakespeare onstage is inextricably combined with performing the role at the Renaissance Faire. And, I daresay, vice versa.
There’s a nostalgia to this book—a longing for the freedoms, sexual and otherwise, of youth (think 1970s!), and of the Faire itself. Bell’s poems and remembrance tell how the performers come to know each other, love each other, and become a temporary family, just as the cast of any play will do. Family can be lost, as well:
That you are mother to my son befriends
the meaning of the world’s nativity,
betokens hope for what the future sends
and lends a blessing to eternity;
and this derives a grace for youth well spent
in lease of Time’s accrued prosperity,
nor any capable to circumvent
but lays the debt on our posterity.
This you do know, but do you know as well
your mother had a daughter, she a jewel
beyond the ken of aught that I can tell?
Tis she that o’er my heart did once hold rule
a she that once was fair, and kind, and true
That she is she I tell myself is you.
In Looking for Will, Bell chronicles a lifelong journey toward a life-changing role. As an “archaeologist of the invisible,” he mines Shakespeare’s relics as well as his own, with poems that sing in a young man’s heart, at last written down by his older self.
A little book with a big heart, Looking for Will: My Bardic Quest With Shakespeare is a perfect companion for the lovers of both fine words and Faire.
I’ll be interviewing Greg Bell, along with authors Maggie Secara and Corey Holst, in an evening of faerie, fantasy, Faire and fun at Faire(y) Tales For Grown-Ups, May 26th at Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse. We’ll talk about why millions of people love to immerse themselves in stories and history, so much so that they dress as their favorite characters and join in anime cons, historic re-enactments, and Renaissance Faires.
Harp music begins at 6:30 pm with Hollienea, and the authors will talk at 7 p.m. Come join us!
The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire runs through May 22nd in Irwindale. We’ve scheduled Faire(y) Tales so you can come even if you’re a Faire participant or fan.
Petrea Burchard is a Pasadena photographer, blogger, voice-over talent and author. Her story “Portraits” is included in Literary Pasadena (Prospect Park Books, 2013). She contributes book reviews to Hometown Pasadena, for which we and our readers are very grateful. Find more Petrea doings, writings, and photography at PetreaBurchard.com and LivingVicuriously.
Petrea’s novel, Camelot & Vine, can be bought locally at the Pasadena Museum of History, Hoopla! in Altadena and the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse. The ebook version is available on Amazon.com.
Read Hometown Pasadena‘s review of “Camelot & Vine by Petrea Burchard.”
Other pieces in Hometown Pasadena by Petrea Burchard…
“Resolve to Write Your Story” through Petrea’s Story Kitchen series.
Book reviews in “What We’re Reading”:
The Diary of a Young Girl
The Buddha in the Attic
I Capture the Castle
“Classic Ray Bradbury”
The Grand Duchess of Nowhere
Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells
Out Stealing Horses
The Bell Jar
The Safety Godmothers
The Amado Women
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Without a Net
Parnucklian for Chocolate
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Honeymoon with My Brother
“On Writing by Steven King“
What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?
Black Water Rising
Running with Scissors
The Map of Lost Memories
The Goddess Lounge