Year of Wonders


These are days you’ll remember.

— Natalie Merchant

While 2020 is the year everyone wants to forget, I’m among the lucky few who think it’s a year of wonders.

With so much time on my hands to paint, I feel I’ve reached a fresh plateau unimaginable only twelve months ago.

Plagues have been kind to artists before.

In late July 1606, part way through a season that would soon premiere King Lear, Macbeth, and Anthony and Cleopatra, William Shakespeare was ordered by London’s Privy Council to shut down his theater.

The plague had returned to London. The Privy Council was worried that audiences would be “pestered together in small rooms where infection may rise and grow, to the great hinderance of the commonwealth of this city.”

Rather than lay off the troupe, Shakespeare urged his actors to flee hot-spot London for a tour of the provinces, where they could strut the stage while staying safe from the dreadful disease.

But country villages were sleepy places; and many of the days and weeks the actors spent in them were spent idly.

Shakespeare, however, chose to capitalize on the downtime, using it to write three new plays, as recounted by historian James Shapiro in The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606.

Thanks to the plague, 1606 was a very good year for the bard.

Indeed, no other of his remaining life would be as fruitful a year.

How about you? What are you doing with your time?

These are days you’ll remember.
When May is rushing over you with desire
To be part of the miracles you see in every hour.
You’ll know it’s true that you are blessed and lucky.
It’s true that you are touched by something
That will grow and bloom in you.

— Natalie Merchant


NOTE:  Sixty years after Shakespeare wrote his pandemic plays, another Brit, Sir Isaac Newton, penned Principia Mathematica, modern science’s founding text, while in hiding from the plague. A year later, the British poet John Dryden named 1666 the Annus Mirabilis (“Year of Wonders”), a name that stuck.

Above: Pear and Apple. Oil on canvas board. 10 x 8 inches. Ships framed and ready to hang.