A plague on all our houses — that’s how this year began. One that has been spent, somewhat like Lady Macbeth, obsessively washing hands, and fretting whether all the sanitisers of Arabia would be enough to detox the house. But, upon my troth, enough time has been spent indoors, mulling over the question: To mask up or not to mask up. And so, enter, followed by wild hope, the vaccine. But, zounds, what is this plot twist? The second person in the world to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot outside clinical trials is none other than William Shakespeare. Not he, the bard from Stratford-upon-Avon, but his frail, blue-eyed 81-year-old namesake from a British town only about 20 miles away.
An efflorescence of puns has greeted this Shakespearean inoculation. If this was a play, should it not be called “The Taming of the Flu”? Others have dismissed it as much ado about nothing. But there is a second “gentleman of Corona” — 87-year-old Hari Shukla, a Briton born in Uganda, also in the queue to get a shot. And, though temporarily overshadowed by a shower of Shakespearean wit, 91-year-old Margaret Keenan remains the first recipient of the vaccine.
It is apt that we turn to Shakespeare. The 17th century dramatist wrote his best plays at a time Britain was ravaged by plagues. As we have often been reminded this year: He spent his quarantine writing King Lear, what did you do? But no, Shakespeare is too joyous to be reduced to the propaganda of efficiency. Death, disease and plagues might be the undertow in his plays, but they do not overshadow the many-splendoured human drama of life. Today, both the William Shakespeares and the frailest of the elderly readying to reclaim their life from the virus leave us with hope: All’s well that ends well.