The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust commissioned her to write three poems as part of its 60th Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival. Wendy has kindly agreed that four of her Residency poems can be posted here, accompanied by recordings of her reading them.
The first is her commissioned poem about Shakespeare.
She’s chosen to recall her first ever visit to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1961 when she saw, among other sites and productions, As You Like It. Vanessa Redgrave was a famous Rosalind, but the poem is about the Jaques, played by Max Adrian.
It’s a perfectly turned Shakespearian sonnet which evokes theatrical memories, the excitement of a young person seeing Shakespeare performed, character criticism, and shows how the effect of seeing Shakespeare in performance can stay with us even after over fifty years.
Her poem, which she read at The Shakespeare Centre last Sunday, is illustrated by a photograph of Max Adrian from the archives of The Royal Shakespeare Company which are cared for by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
IN MEMORY OF MAX ADRIAN 1903-1973
It’s sad to think the actor never knew
About the teenage girl who saw him play
In As You Like It long ago and who
Can still recall his face and voice today:
His Jaques dignified, aloof and dry –
No bellowing, no sawing of the air,
Nothing that could offend the author’s eye
Or ear, if you imagined he was there.
More than fifty years have passed since then
But when I read the text it’s him I see,
And when I watch it on the stage again
Jaques doesn’t stand a chance with me.
Max nailed the part and no-one else will do.
And that, it’s possible to hope, he knew.
by Wendy Cope
(reproduced by kind permission of the author)
Listen to Wendy read her poem by clicking ‘play’ on the bar below: