This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC 4.19.2014
For Russell Mitchell and Richie Nocella, who too soon were taken to be a part of the greater Cosmos, and to Steve Ferrera and Dr. Robert Wilkinson, who are still here. And a special shout-out to William Shakespeare, John Updike, and all my South Jersey high school students without whom this story could not be told.
Have I ever told you about the time I performed the “Tomorrow” soliloquy from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth live on the stage of the Folger Shakespeare Library? No? Well, that’s because up until last Sunday, I hadn’t done any such performance.
But now I can tell you the tale (and, no, you smart-assed Shakespearean scholars – it’s not a tale told by an idiot).
I performed the monologue as part of a day-long celebration at the world-renowned DC Shakespeare institution to honor what would have been William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday.
And, as you can see here, I even have visual proof, that, in the words of Macbeth himself, “I have done the deed.”
But my involvement with the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy actually begins more than 4 decades ago, which of course chronologically makes for a whole lot more than just 3 tomorrows.
In 1970, I was a 2nd-semester freshman at Villanova University. My English class was taught by Dr. Robert Wilkinson (who, unbeknownst to me at the time, would become a life-long mentor ). In the class were 2 of my best friends, Steve Ferrara, my Boston-speaking roommate, and Richie Nocella from South Philly. Richie, Steve, and I had all been randomly assigned to Dr. Wilkinson’s Freshmen Comp and Lit Class (a bit of fortunate fate that would change all of our lives) the 1st semester and had chosen him for our Spring Semester English course.
In our next class, we would be examining the John Updike short story “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth.” Obviously, Updike used the beginning of the Macbeth soliloquy for his title. So Dr. Wilkinson had assigned me to memorize the 74-word word soliloquy and deliver it to the class to start our exploration.
Piece of cake, I thought. And it would have been too, if it hadn’t been for the fact that my recitation happened to occur on what turned out to be the first beautiful warm day of a Main Line spring. So somehow Richie and Steve, now joined by the fourth member of our freshmen quartet, Russell Mitchell, decided to celebrate the arrival of warm weather by grabbing some quarts of beer and some smoking material and head to a small stream near our Havertown apartment.
Now, in my defense, I probably didn’t fully realize what Steve was suggesting. To this day, Steve speaks funny. You know the type – Pahk yer cah in the bek yahd. (I mean, come on, there are r’s in those words).
But no matter what the reason, I found myself partaking in the merriment and soon I was – what is the phrase I am searching for here – oh yes, stoned and completely wasted. However, I was confident that I could still deliver my soliloquy since at the time I was a keyboardist in a rock band and had performed numerous times under the influence of chemicals that made members of the audience appear to be things like crazy-colored, melting dragons spewing giant bubbles.
We arrived at class. Richie, Steve, and Russell positioned themselves in strategic places where they could best annoy me. Dr. Wilkinson summoned and I headed to the front of the room, where I proceeded to deliver the soliloquy in flawless fashion despite the best attempts of my trio of friends to distract me. But Dr. Wilkinson – did I mention he is one of the most brilliant men I have ever encountered – must have sensed something was awry. He asked me to repeat my performance. And this time, the outcome was decidedly different. I swear I thought I was beginning by repeating “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” but instead it came out something like “Tomershthis, ang Teropoly um tomomsie.” And it went downhill from there. Anyway, we all had a good laugh, I graduated Villanova with a BA in English, and we moved on with our lives.
After a decade as a reporter, I switched careers and became a high school English teacher. I found myself teaching Macbeth in my British lit class. And so, as I had been asked to do so many years before by Dr. Wilkinson, I had each of my Honors and Academic students memorize the “Tomorrow …” soliloquy and deliver it to the class. To make it more memorable, I tried to pair up performance with interest. A member of the baseball team could recite it standing at home plate. Members of the drama club could say it on stage. Classroom sweethearts could deliver it together. To this day, many of my students can still recite the soliloquy by memory when I see them. Of course, they then spoil the moment by pointing out that that is the only thing they remember from my class and exactly when did my hair turn gray.
Three years ago, I retired from teaching and instructional coaching and we moved to DC. But then I was asked by a friend to join him in educational consulting. Now I find myself splitting time between high schools in DC and Syracuse, working with teachers who teach in Twilight programs designed for students who are in danger of dropping out.
Last month, I was delivering an impromptu presentation to the teachers and students in Luke C. Moore High School in DC and, in the middle of the delivery, I used the “Tomorrow” soliloquy. While I was speaking the lines, I observed 2 teachers reciting them along with me. After the presentation, I discovered that one, an English teacher, had memorized the passage when he was a high school senior in Asia. The other, a math teacher, had been required to master the soliloquy when he was a 16-year-old student in Nigeria.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, that presentation served as a good rehearsal for my Sunday work on the Folger stage which you can view by clicking here.)
So that concludes my Tomorrow tale for now. I swear it all true except for the parts I made up. But does the story, as I always used to ask my students, contain any morals, messages, or meanings?
I think there are quite a few takeaways from combining Shakespeare’s original soliloquy with my several encounters with it over the decades. They include:
- Macbeth says the future “creeps” in a “petty pace.” He is wrong. The future doesn’t creep. One day you are delivering a Shakespeare soliloquy in your freshmen college class. In what seems like a brief passage of time (but is actually 4 decades) you find yourself delivering that same soliloquy on a stage.
- Macbeth calls life “a walking shadow” that after death is “heard no more.” Sorry, Macbeth, wrong again. Life is not a shadow, but substance. And memories allow our life stories to resonate through times that come long after we are gone.
- While it’s true that moments of our lives are “full of sound and fury,” they do not “signify nothing.” Our friends, our experiences, our memories all give meaning, not nothingness, to our lives.
- And perhaps most importantly, if 3 or more of your friends ever ask you to celebrate the warmth and beauty of a first warm Spring day, be safe, but take a chance. For whether you are an idiot or genius, there really is no telling how your tale will turn out.