SHAKESPEARE: ANY LINE FOR A DRINK

In the din of humanity that swept through the saloons of Frisco, Utah in 1881, a small, relatively insignificant little man with expansive white hair appeared. Nobody knew him by name, so the burley miners and general roughnecks gave him a nickname as they often did for anyone who didn’t venture their own identification. Since this diminutive person spoke in the heavy English dialect typical of a native of London or the southern British Isles, the name “Shakespeare” came naturally.

Other mining camps had placed the moniker on such men. Silver Reef had its own “Shakespeare”, but little is known regarding that gentleman. Frisco’s “Shakespeare”, on the other hand, became quite a fixture in the mining camp.

It was obvious from his speech patterns that the little man was cultured and learned – even the vest and formal attire he wore spoke of his refinement. It was also obvious from his thick accent that his education had been in one of the noted English universities – Oxford or Eden perhaps. He never ventured to identify his background, however.

He had only one obvious failing – a taste for fine wines and liquors. But when he was sober, sitting at his designated table in the corner of Pete Lawrence’s saloon, his mind was keen and his reasoning far ahead of his listeners. His knowledge of literature and especially the works of the great bard of the river Avon dictated his name.

He quickly became respected by those who frequented Pete’s place. His understanding of the mind of man made him the center of counseling for many troubled miners. Still, it seemed at times that his own troubles, which he brought with him to Frisco, weighted heavy on his own shoulders. And his drinking didn’t seem to alleviate them.

He would start late in the afternoon, sipping slowly at first, holding the goblet up to the light to test its color – his white hair carefully combed and brushed.. But as the evening wore on his drinking would increase and he would finish a bottle by gulping it down. Soon he would be face down on the table; his hair tumbled over his brow.

When he first came to Frisco he had money to buy his own drinks, but soon the funds were depleted. Now his advice and wisdom came only when a drink or two were offered, and later in the evening the wisdom was not as wise as before.

As his clientele dried up he turned to his knowledge of literature. In the constant roar of the saloon he would stand surrounded by grinning faces and quote the lines of the great cavalier poets of two centuries past. “Why so pale and wan fond lover? Prithee, why so pale?” He would close his eyes and speak in rounded resonant words that were generally meaningless to the miners. His gestures flayed from his waving arms as his full mane of hair fell to his shoulders. And the drinks flowed when he paused between stanzas. His orations continued until his eyes turned to glass and he tumbled headlong into a heap on the floor.

Then one cold and snowy winter night, when the miners had grown tired of his mumbles, and Shakespeare had demanded more drinks, and passed out sooner than before, two miners hauled him out into the alley behind the saloon and he froze to death — his hair covered with a blanket of snow.

They buried him in the corner of the cemetery and nobody in Frisco really missed him.

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