Saturday, December 1, 2018

For Shakespeare, Being Is Behaving

I'm getting tired of the truistic (my invented word) argument that Trump's golem-like behavior (sorry, that was an insult to golems) "taps into" some pre-existing anger and racism in the American psyche. "It has to be there first before it can be exploited," I hear, over and over, in various formulations. What does that mean? What has to be there first? The human capacity for evil? With this I agree, but it's no great discovery, or shouldn't be.* Evil isn't regional. The idea that there is some special pool of racism in the collective American heart, or in any heart, is dumb. There is naturally a human capacity to hate and fear other people who seem "different from us," and who seem likely to try to take something away from "us" (whoever "we" are). It's always been easy for some demagogue to get power by

Thursday, November 1, 2018

"Expose Thyself To Feel What Wretches Feel": Mark Twain's Shakespearean Fiction

Last month I plucked from our shelves a Mark Twain novel I had somehow never read: The Prince and the Pauper. Perhaps because its pair of protagonists were adolescent youths, I'd thought it, like Tom Sawyer, was a book for boys. I found out it wasn't, any more than Huckleberry Finn or A Connecticut Yankee was designed for children. That is, unless Twain intended kids to read his graphic description of women being burned at the stake for heresy, which I doubt.

The Prince and the Pauper is a work of social criticism set in mid-sixteenth-century England. Superficially, the plot is that of a fairytale. A prince (in this case young Edward, son of Henry VIII) and a London pauper, of inexplicably identical appearance, meet by chance, spend a morning together, and at one point exchange clothes, after which circumstances drive them apart. Since no one will then believe their claims that they are not who they're dressed as, the pauper spends some months living as a prince -- and, soon, a king -- while the prince endures the hardships of poverty. Eventually the true young king's public revelation of a secret only he would know, and the pauper's weariness of royal life, ensure that order is restored. In relying on comic accidents and feigned and mistaken identities, Twain was imitating the tricks of Shakespearean comedy. But the book isn't comic. Twain

Monday, October 1, 2018

Words and Phrases I Hate That Shakespeare Would Have Too

It's time for me to list more words and phrases that people should stop using because I don't like them. I will explain what is wrong with them, and why Shakespeare would also not have liked them.

1. Saying a person is a synonym. Here's an example: "Sacha Baron Cohen is synonymous with irreverent humor." No, he isn't. What if I said to you, "A lot of my students are very good at . . ." and then I shoved Sacha Baron Cohen at you? Would you accept a 6 foot 3-inch, bizarrely disguised person as an acceptable alternative phrase for "irreverent humor"? No. You'd run away, terrified and confused, and for good reason. There is no way a living,

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, the Interregnum, and the first two years of the reign of Charles II. She was born two

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