Saturday, September 1, 2018

Aretha: A More Successful Emilia

On Tuesday I was scrubbing the kitchen floor and listening to NPR when the Michigan state news came on. It was broadcast from Detroit, where Aretha Franklin music was playing and people with pretty good voices were singing along, as they stood in line for the open viewing of Aretha's mortal remains at the Wright Museum of African-American History. Because getting in that line seemed like more fun and more important than scrubbing the floor, I went and jumped in my car and drove to Detroit. Once there, I was struck by the fact that almost everyone in the line which snaked around the building was female. If the crowd on Tuesday evening was a fair sample of the crowd during the two days of the viewing, I'd say 95% of those who came to say goodbye to Aretha were women.

That's not to say there weren't plenty of men there. There were just so many more women! This made sense to me, listening to the songs cranked out by a local radio station broadcasting from the site, enlivening the crowd, who were mostly singing

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Shakespeare's Second Daughter's Second Book

My first novel, pictured to the left, was about Shakespeare's younger daughter, Judith. Not much is known about Judith, except that she was a twin, got practically stiffed in her father's will, married the local vintner at 31, endured a scandal connected with her new husband's prior relationship with another woman (whom he'd gotten pregnant), and outlived all three of her children. She was born in the sixteenth century and she died during the Restoration.

Let me say that again. She was born in the sixteenth century and she died during the Restoration.

I know, you want dates. Here they are. Judith Shakespeare's life spanned the years from 1585 through 1662. At the age of 77, when she took her last breath, she'd lived through the second half of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the entire reign of James I, the full tragic reign of his son Charles I, and the first two years of the reign of Charles II. She was born two years before

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Just a Conventionally Magical Scottish Play


The only reason I wrote "Scottish Play" instead of Macbeth in the title of this post is that I can't figure out how to make Blogger italicize titles. It has nothing to do with the bad luck idea, which has gotten way out of hand, with some people thinking they can't say the name of this play anywhere at any time without getting hit by a bus or struck by lightning. I'm superstitious, too, but let's not take it too far. It's only inside the theater that saying "Macbeth" is bad luck, and even there you get an exemption if you are actually rehearsing or performing the lines from the play.

Hmm. That's funny. My keyboard just jammed and a storm is whipping up from nowhere and -- ha ha, kidding.

Anyway. The purpose of this post is to provide a short review of the recent production of Macbeth by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which performed the play in their smaller space, known as the Yard. CST's productions are generally excellent, but this production had the added draw of being co-directed by Teller, one-half of the magician duo Penn and Teller. (The other co-director was Aaron Posner.) Having

Friday, June 1, 2018

If Shakespeare Was a Proud Boy, He Had a Reason

I read recently about a group of mostly white mostly American mostly young mostly men who call themselves the Proud Boys. They are proud of being mostly white mostly American mostly young mostly men, even though not one of those things was accomplished by any one of them for himself. They're also proud of their Western heritage, even though they had nothing to do with creating that, either. And they describe themselves as "Western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world." So, they claim to have made the modern world, even though the modern world was here when they arrived.

Ever since I was a child I have been puzzled by people saying they are proud of things they had nothing to do with. I grew up hearing people say someone should be proud of this or that, or that they themselves were proud to be Americans, black, women, New Yorkers, or what have you. At the same time, I was hearing in Sunday

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Modern Terms Shakespeare Would Have Mocked

It's time to complain about new things people say that I don't like. I know Shakespeare would have mocked them, too, because in his plays he often made sport of trendy Elizabethan ways of speaking. One awesome* example can be found in Measure for Measure, where the clown Lavatch riff ons "O, lord, sir!," an all-purpose phrase which empty-headed Jacobean gentlemen used just to "be talking" (to quote Beatrice from Much Ado about Nothing). Another example occurs in As You Like It, where Touchstone lists, for the benefit of faint-hearted gallants who want to avoid sword-fighting challenges they've incurred, the many applications of the word "if" to escape the final showdown. ("Much virtue in 'if'," Touchstone concludes.) And there's another instance in Hamlet when Hamlet, in conversation with the "waterfly" Osric, parodies Osric's use of grandiloquent words. When Osric gets befuddled trying to follow him ("Sir?"), Hamlet and Horatio just snigger.

I'm not Shakespeare, alas, but here are my versions of "O, lord, sir" and Osric-speech for 2018. As my title suggests, most of these examples come from radio, TV, and internet, but I've heard people use some of them in regular conversation, too. To quote Shakespeare, "Stop" (Hamlet, 3.3).

Monday, April 23, 2018

Happy Birthday, WS!

Yesterday was not Shakespeare's birthday, but by 9 a.m. I had already seen two references to Shakespeare in the New York Times book section. One mentioned a review of a new novel based on the plot of Macbeth. The second cited a review of a new book whose title, "The Life To Come," is also taken from Macbeth. And I was only at the Table of Contents. A couple of hours later I heard a radio journalist describe a drama of conflict between Rwandans of the Tutsi and Hutu tribes, lovers who came from two villages "both alike in dignity," a quotation from Romeo and Juliet. And later in the day my neighbor told me that learning to read financial spreadsheets in her new job was a "sea change" for her. I don't know whether she knew she was quoting Ariel in The Tempest.

Shakespeare is with us every day. It's no wonder that last month a French foreign minister, asked whether France planned to "punish" Britain for implementing BREXIT,

Monday, April 2, 2018

Shakespeare's Gardening Tips

Readers, I didn't want to leave my April 1st post on the front page all month for fear even more people would believe it than already did. So, since it's at least supposed to be spring though it isn't in Michigan, I'm bringing back this post from two years ago, especially for gardeners.

We don't know what kind of gardener Shakespeare was, but we know he could talk like one. Judging from his plays and poems, he knew the names of 5,364 species of plants and herbs. (I made that number up.) The scholar Carolyn Spurgeon wrote that for Shakespeare, "One occupation, one point of view, above all others, is natural . . . that of a gardener; watching, preserving, tending and caring for growing things, especially flowers and fruit" (Shakespeare's Imagery, pub. 1935). She was right. So, in this growing-season, it might be worthwhile to read what the Master Gardener had to say on the subject.

First of all, I should say that Shakespeare believed the Master Gardener to be God. And as a good monarchist, he thought the king of a domain should imitate God and act like a gardener to his subjects. But we can read past the political allegory of his famous "King as Gardener" comments in Richard II and derive some helpful tips about actual gardening. In the relevant scene, a wizened old gardener tells his