Steinbeck, Shakespeare, and the Maple River

This is a famous scene from Steinbeck’s Travel’s with Charley.
— Clay

Follow along as Clay takes us on a tour of the Maple River, and find out what this little North Dakota prairie river has to do with John Steinbeck and William Shakespeare.

Learn more about Clay's new one-man show by visiting Shakespeare: The Magic of the Word.


I'm on old Highway 10, I'm looking for the Maple River turnout. John Steinbeck came here on Columbus day, 1960 and he stopped after coming through Fargo at a little turnout on the Maple River. You see the Maple River right over here? It's just a tiny, little North Dakota prairie river. We're just crossing it now. I'm gonna turn, I think this has to be the place where John Steinbeck stopped to do his laundry and while he was here on Columbus Day, 1960, he had an encounter with a Shakespearean, with an actor who was an elocutionist who went from town to town giving performances in high schools and service clubs and churches. This is a famous scene from Steinbeck's Travel's with Charley. It's here I want to talk a little about what I'm doing with William Shakespeare. I've got my doublet on. Here's my cape. My skull — Yorick's skull, of course. And my bodkin. I'm going to do exactly what Steinbeck heard here in 1960. This has a particular importance because North Dakota is maybe the last place you would have expected a key chapter in Travels with Charley to have. But he stopped here, he regrouped here, he had that extraordinary and ironic encounter. After all, the itinerant actor said, "You seem like you might have some background in the theatre," and Steinbeck, incognito, denied it. And then, when the actor pressed, Steinbeck said, "Well, I've maybe done a little." He said, "How'd it go?" And Steinbeck said, "Flopped." The man said that his favorite passage that he recited in front of these school and church groups was the "Seven Ages of Man" speech from As You Like It. I'll be doing that speech and a whole range of other things around the country in my new one-man performance about Shakespeare. I'm not portraying Shakespeare, but I'll be reciting some of the great passages from his 37 plays including a focus on my favorite piece of literature in the world, Hamlet. It's a night of humor, recitation, commentary, some autobiography. It's meant to show that Shakespeare is accessible to everybody. Entertaining. Educational. With some, I hope, moments of deep insight and my own particular love of renaissance literature, Shakespeare, and above all, Hamlet.