|Antares as the Fool @ 1982 (photo montage by Hari Ho)|
In 1982 my friend Maureen Ten (who has since relocated to Sydney) decided she wanted to stage a freewheeling version of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. She insisted that I take on the role of Feste, Olivia’s Fool, and I immediately agreed, since I have always had a soft spot for Maureen.
Rehearsals dragged on for months and more than a few began to regret committing themselves to this project – but finally the play opened and ran for less than a week at the British Council Hall. It was a resounding success!
People loved it, some returning for a second or even third performance. I suppose it was the unexpected blend of styles that made the whole thing flow better than it felt to the cast, while rehearsing it in fragments. Maureen kept pretty much true to the spirit of Shakespeare but playfully allowed individual performers’ quirks free rein. Needless to say, the utterly muhibbah and motley cast managed to insert a great deal of local flavor and humor into the production.
As Feste, I had to come up with tunes for three songs. I was still in my Bob Dylan phase, down to my frizzy hairdo, so I played the songs on my guitar with a bit of harmonica – accompanied by a bit of flute played by an expat named John Moore on two of the songs.
Recently, I felt prompted to resurrect my songs from Twelfth Night and, thanks to Google, easily found the words online. While re-learning to sing them, I was struck by the apparent simplicity, yet nonchalant profundity, of Feste’s first song:
What is love? ‘Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies not plenty;
Then come kiss me sweet and twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.
O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O stay and hear; your true love’s coming,
That can sing both high and low:
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man’s son doth know.
Feste poses the age-old question, “What is love?” – and then proceeds at once to answer: Love’s reality dwells in the moment, in the now, not in some imaginary future. Just as one laughs at a joke immediately - not minutes or hours or days later – the moment is all we truly know, the future is unknowable and predictions are unreliable. To hesitate and postpone brings no reward – be spontaneous, obey your impulse, do it now, while you still can, before the years weigh down on you.
Feste then addresses his Muse directly: whatever your heart desires is right before you, not some other place – and true love encompasses the entire spectrum, from the sublime to the ridiculous. All yearning, all desire ultimately leads to union (sacred and/or profane) and meaning and purpose converge when One finds the Other. This arcane knowledge has survived countless generations: it's always NOW and it's only about LOVE!
That’s powerful wisdom compressed into what could easily pass for just a frivolous ditty sung by a Fool. No wonder the Bard of Avon still speaks to the human spirit after so many centuries. In that one simple song is all the sage advice one need ever heed. Eckhart Tolle says more or less the same thing in his ground-breaking book, The Power of Now, but not quite as elegantly or concisely.