It is with great sadness that I have to write of John Van Gulik’s passing. He was a brilliant, gifted student with great insight and enthusiasm for the things that really mattered in literature. He had a tough life but he brought his hard-won insights to every class that he participated in. I/we will miss him greatly. In the last week before his death I was working with him on his last essay. Last semester he had acted the part of Shakespeare’s Caliban in a group performance of “The Tempest” and brought Caliban to life on the stage in an incredibly original way. He seemed to KNOW the character of Caliban from the inside. You will recognize him in this amazing blue garb, striding at the centre of this collage and in the bottom right, being persuaded by Trinculo and Stephano to join their plot against Prospero.
During John’s last week I was working with him on an essay on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. This was the last assignment that he needed to complete in order to pass the unit on Shakespeare. His marks so far had been of a High Distinction level and his essay was also promising to be a High Distiniction. I am sure John most keenly appreciated the key lines in “The Tempest” where the central character Prospero reflects on the fleeting but precious nature of existence itself, mirrored in the life of the actor on stage:
Be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud -capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
But I think John would be best remembered -and would love to be remembered- by the lines in the “Epilogue” to the Tempest -often seen as Shakespeare’s own farewell to the theatre- in which the character Prospero asks the audience to clap their hands in order to fill the sails of the ship that he, Prospero, plans to sail back home to Naples
Now my charms are all o’erthrown
And what strength I have’s mine own,
Which is most faint. Now ’tis true
I must be here, confined by you
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got,
And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please.
John pleased so many of us, and his contributions to our classes and our lives will be sorely missed