Keenan and Shakespeare tread the boards

Scene from Romeo and Juliet
A scene from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

The interminable wait for the Covid19 vaccine seems almost over, the United Kingdom leading the pack, while other nations are hot on their heels playing catch-up. 90-year-old Margaret Keenan was the first to receive this long-awaited shot in the arm at her local hospital in Coventry on Tuesday, December 8, 2020. Mark this day and mark it well, for it will go down in our history books as mankind’s latest version of Vaccine Day, or V- Day as the wordsmiths have already dubbed it. Not awfully original, but V-Day holds a special resonance in the United Kingdom, the Brits having rid themselves of another pestilence – a short, megalomaniacal Austrian with delusions of grandeur, a funny, toothbrush moustache and an Oedipus complex. Nurse Mary Parsons holds the bragging rights for being the first to administer the injection. Normally, the nurse in question would be of scant importance to the public at large, but this being a landmark moment in the history of modern medicine, every single detail will be meticulously recorded for posterity. Nurse Parsons, you are as much a celebrity as your nonagenarian patient. Latest reports indicate dear old Maggie is feeling fine and fit as a fiddle.

As if all that was not cause enough for unrestrained joy and good cheer with Christmas and New Year just around the corner, professional scribes in Britain were over the moon with the next beneficiary of the vaccine. A gentleman going by the name of, wait for it, William Shakespeare. Aged 81, this patient from Warwickshire bearing a famous English name, became yet another senior citizen to be administered the Pfizer vaccine to fight the deadly virus that has been, literally, plaguing all of the human race for the best part of 2020. What is more, Shakespeare received his jab, again at a hospital in Coventry not twenty miles from Stratford-upon-Avon, which I need hardly remind you, was the birthplace of the immortal playwright of the same name. Social media have been quick off the blocks with inane vaccine jokes inspired by the Bard’s plays. ‘The Taming of the Flu,’ and ‘The Two Gentlemen of Corona,’ to cite just two examples. I can add my own humble contribution to this dubious list, namely, ‘Julius Sneezer,’ and ‘Coronalanus.’  An apocryphal tale has it that people asked if Margaret Keenan was patient 1A, then was William Shakespeare patient 2B or not 2B? Excuse me while I turn away and retch. More godawful puns and word play can be expected from a country that gave us Shakespeare, the playwright, who may well be turning in his grave, with all the mauling his words are being dealt. I fully expect journos and advertising copywriters to not allow the grass to grow under their feet. They must all be rushing to the nearest pub to celebrate and get as ‘Tight-as-Andronicus.’ You see, it’s catching.

Since both these fortunate recipients were inoculated with the magic vaccine at the University Hospital in Coventry, it is more than probable that they met over a nice cup of tea at the hospital canteen. I cannot place my hand on heart and swear to the precise nature of their conversation, in the event of their having met, but talking to a couple of nurses who were standing by in case of an unlikely emergency, I was able to glean that the two VIP patients were happy as an exaltation of larks (as I’ve heard it described), chattering away like a couple of garrulous magpies. I only have the nurses’ word to go by but the following exchange appears a very credible possibility. One thing puzzled the nurses and others who happened to overhear the animated exchange between the two spavined citizens, which was the strange way in which they spoke. It was not like the way normal people conversed these days. It was slightly worrying, but amusing as well. Worrying because of the nagging fear that the vaccination might have in some way discombobulated the two old-age pensioners. Amusing because they appeared perfectly at ease speaking in this strange tongue.  It was also to be noted that the two of them spoke in a slightly louder volume than normal, as if they were trying to throw their voices from a stage. The term stage whisper springs to mind. Naturally, more and more people, including other doctors and visitors, curious onlookers and passers-by, stopped in their tracks to take in the entertainment. The vaccine appeared to have taken effect. Only too well.

Margaret Keenan – ‘Forsooth William the Younger, it is December, the cruellest month of the year / Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sunny vaccine of Pfizer.’

William Shakespeare – ‘But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east and Margaret is the sun / Thou art truly sagacious, my dear Margaret the Elder / Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths / Our bruised arms hung up for monuments / Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings.’

Margaret – ‘By the pricking of my thumbs, or do I mean my arms, something wicked this way vanishes forever, the dreaded Covid19 / How now, you secret black and midnight germs / Do your worst / It will pass me by as the idle wind.’

William – ‘As to that, dear Margaret, if I may make so informally bold to address you thus, pin thy ears back and hearken / Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow we keep peering at in anticipation, our eyes optimistically peeled / As all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death / Out, out brief Covid, you are nothing but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And is heard no more.’

Margaret – ‘Thy words flow like divine treacle, gifted William / To inject, or not to inject, that was the question / Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous Covid / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles with the magic vaccine / And by opposing end them / ‘tis a consummation devoutly to be wished / To sleep, perchance to dream.’   

William – ‘I can see, noble Margaret, that your native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought / But fret not / The vaccine is slowly taking hold / The inevitable pain will give way to immeasurable pleasure.’ 

Margaret – ‘You mock me, William.  At my age, what pleasure can I hope for? / With no wish to hurl insults at you, wishing pleasure on me at my age causes pain / It is like a tale told by an idiot / Full of sound and fury signifying nothing.’ 

William – ‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks. Reflect well, wondrously wrinkled Margaret / Sweet are the uses of adversity which, like the toad, ugly and venomous / Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.’

Margaret – ‘Thou art veritably a philosopher, William. / And let me complete your thought process / And this our life, exempt from public haunt / Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks / Sermons in stones, and good in everything.’  

William – ‘Quite, quite. And now, balmy sleep beckons, tired nature’s sweet restorer / We most royally shall now to bed / To sleep off all the nonsense we’ve just said. Good night, sweet Princess.’

Margaret – ‘Good night, sweet Prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.’

William – ‘Oh, Margaret.’

Margaret – ‘Oh, William.’

At this tender moment, there was a rapturous round of wild applause from all the nurses, doctors and other spectators who stood around hooting and whistling in wild abandon. Romeo and Juliet magnificently reworked and revisited. The Director of the hospital came rushing out to see what the commotion was all about, but soon joined in the festivities. He approached Margaret and William and asked them if they can do a repeat at a later date to an invited audience. The unsung heroine and the hero looked completely blank. They seemed oblivious to what had just transpired, claiming they were just enjoying a refreshing cup of tea, discussing the possible side effects of the vaccine, Brexit and the fine weather they were having in that part of England.

Footnote: Word has just filtered through that the government of Great Britain has placed orders for an undisclosed quantity of that particular batch of vaccine from Pfizer, that has so energized 91-year-old Margaret Keenan and 81-year-old William Shakespeare to wuthering heights of literary and theatrical excellence. To the uncharitable accusation that our Maggie might have been a ‘crisis actor,’ one paid to promote the vaccine, she dismissed the frivolous charge in typical Shakespearean fashion. ‘A pox on you,’ she cried, in affronted indignation. ‘If it was good enough for one of our finest dramatic actors, Sir Ian McKellen, it’s good enough for me,’ she added. And a final word to all those who are about to take the vaccine. Think. For one, brief shining moment, you too could wax eloquent, if disjointedly, through the words of William Shakespeare, the genuine article from Stratford-upon-Avon.

Published by sureshsubrahmanyan

A long time advertising professional, now retired, and taken up writing as a hobby. Deeply interested in music of various genres, notably Carnatic and 60's and 70's pop/rock. An avid tennis and cricket fan. Voracious reader of British humour and satire. P.G. Wodehouse a perennial favourite.

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