Have you ever had a melody, or a line of poetry, or a quotation stuck in your mind? It happens to me quite often, especially with quotations from literature. I can be weeding in the garden whispering, ‘She was lost in her longing to understand’ (Gabriel Garcia Marquez); I can be stirring soup on the stove thinking, ‘At the still point, there the dance is’ (T.S. Eliot); I can be walking along the beach to the rhythm of, ‘He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life’ (James Joyce).
Sometimes, a quotation haunts me, creeping up on me at unexpected times, pushing itself to the forefront of my mind with an emotional insistence. Since I began writing, this has happened more and more, and I have learnt to stop and listen to the words, to consider them carefully – and then, to be inspired by them; because it is always my creative subconscious that has delivered to me these words, read once and then, often, half-forgotten.
While I was writing my new novel Legacy, the third and final book in my Andalucian Nights trilogy, I found myself pulled to Shakespeare. This is unusual for me; when it comes to classic literature, I most often gravitate toward French works, such as those by Stendhal and Flaubert and Hugo, which were the focus of my degree studies. The fact that I had Shakespeare on the mind intrigued me: I decided to explore.
These were the lines that haunted me:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts
(As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII)
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
(Macbeth, Act V, Scene V)
I was particularly puzzled by the Macbeth quotation; I write romance, after all, and Macbeth is a dark play.
With these quotes still echoing, I carried on researching and outlining my novel Legacy. Finally, still having done nothing with these lines and yet ‘lost in my longing to understand’, I began writing the book. And then I found myself writing the following exchange in my novel between the hero, Ruy, and his friend, Chico:
‘But if the night is romantic, who knows, ey? La luna, las estrellas y el amor.’ Chico sighed and winked at Ruy, the expression on his face full of innuendo.
‘I’ve told you before, Chico, romance is in the heart, everything else is theatre.’
As I read back the words, a warmth spread through me. Finally, I understood. The Shakespearean quotes were reminders of the metaphor of life as a stage: of the parts we play, sometimes willingly, sometimes without choice, sometimes in keeping with our own true character, sometimes acting indeed. Life can be dramatic, impassioned, full of ‘sound and fury’ – but it all signifies nothing; it is theatre, not truth.
In Legacy, Ruy understands that ‘all the world’s a stage’, and he has no intention of strutting and fretting on that stage as a player. He knows that while romantic gestures can be lovely, they are unimportant: ‘romance is in the heart’. And there: into my mind flies another Shakespeare quotation: Hamlet’s dying words: ‘The rest is silence’. Ruy faces silence unafraid with Luna, because he knows, to revisit T.S. Eliot’s words, ‘At the still point, there the dance is’.
I write romance, I love romance, but I agree entirely with Ruy: it is not lavish gifts or meals in fancy restaurants or nights out at the theatre (to play a part while watching others play their parts). Romance is two people alone in a moment, melting into each other. Romance is a single look, a touch of a hand, a word on the lips, a light in the eyes.
Romance is in the heart, everything else is theatre.