How Shakespeare interpenetrates English literature- not just the verse but the literature as a whole! Too readily we take his genius for granted. The comment comes as I see the arrival of daffodils that perhaps above all, for us in Britain betokens after harsh winter the spring and the idea of renewal.
The Winter’s Tale is a wonderful late Shakespeare play, for it brings together in the one package, tragedy and spiritual restoration both a reminder of the tragic period (Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Lear) and the post-tragic period of the last plays ( eg. Pericles, The Tempest). In its first half King Leontes in the middle course of life destroys an apparently happy married life when he is seized by an irrational jealousy which leads to the imprisonment of his wife, the death of his young son and the abandonment of his baby daughter; yet Shakespeare is not content to let the play end there. Reconciliation, restoration, rebirth is possible beyond irrational destruction; as shown in the second half of the play.
For in exchange for the claustrophobia of a court seized by madness we are introduced to a world of pastoral. Perdita , the lost child, comes forth to offer us a new beginning when she acclaims the flowers of spring, especially those that come first:
O Prosperina For the flowers, that (frighted) thou let'st fall From Dis's waggon: daffodils, That come before the swallow dares, and take The winds of March with beauty.
Shakespeare emphasises the bold splendour of the flowers standing out against the all too frequent “winds of March”. Later Wordsworth would take these same flowers and reflects again upon the flowers’ beauty and the hold of that beauty upon our minds.
It is a wonderful poem which should be known in all primary schools:
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake , beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance. The waves beside them danced but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed- and gazed- but little thought What wealth the show to me had brought: For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon the inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; and then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
When I say Shakespeare interpenetrates English literature I do not necessarily mean Wordsworth here was influenced in his poetry by what Shakespeare had written on the subject. It is that it is as if Shakespeare contains the developments that occur in the poetry and the great novels and that would certainly include the great Romantic development from the late eighteenth -early nineteenth centuries.
So remembering what Shakespeare and the Romantics did for daffodils we herald the start of April.