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

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

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Sonnets Show Shakespeare Was a Practicing Catholic

Jane Belvedere, a scholar at Holy Cross College in River City, Indiana, has uncovered the final proof of Shakespeare's Roman Catholicism. It is hidden in his sonnets.

 Catholics during the Protestant reigns of Elizabeth I and James I were subject to severe oppression which could include imprisonment, and which, at a minimum, involved prohibitions against harboring Catholic priests or attending Catholic mass. Devoted Catholics who refused to attend English church services were also subjected to steep fines. It is likely, then, that a Catholic, including possibly Shakespeare, would have hidden his religion from the general view.

Now, this hearty evidence of Shakespeare's Catholic leanings has been bolstered by

Monday, March 12, 2018

"A Wrinkle in Time" Minus Shakespeare

I can't say Ava DuVernay's film version of A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L'Engle's famous children's space-travel novel, is a bad movie, because it isn't. Its plot is engaging, its actors are skilled, and its visual effects only seem lacking to a viewer who cares more about spectacle than story. And not only does DuVernay get some things about the much-loved tale right, she does the original author one better in a couple of particulars.

However, by the end of the film, a true Wrinkle-lover must conclude that DuVernay didn't understand the book. And since all roads lead to Shakespeare (at least, on this blog), I will say that this director's failure coherently to express L'Engle's central theme is tied to her erasure of Shakespeare. Specifically, she cuts the allusions to Shakespeare's Tempest with which, in the last third of her book, L'Engle clarified her heroes' dilemma.

But let's start with the praise. (Warning: spoilers ahead.) Although the film has received some criticism for clunky special effects, it is in fact lovely to watch, full of color not only in its alien-planet scenes -- which feature, among other things, a green

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Shakespeare Quiz

Here's how this Shakespeare quiz works. The questions contain two facts and one falsehood, or two correctly quoted lines and one incorrectly quoted line, or several falsehoods and one fact. You get the answer right if you identify the falsehood or the incorrectly quoted line or, in one case, the fact. You get extra points if you can not only identify the incorrectly quoted line, but can quote the line correctly. You'll have to quote it to yourself, though. The drawback is that you have to score your own test and you get no reward beyond the satisfaction of knowing more than most other people do about Shakespeare. That should be enough, though. It is for me.

The answers are at the bottom. Don't peek.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Shakespeare Frog

For this month's post, I considered many heavy Shakespearean topics, most of which arose in my mind in the wake of my last post, on sexual coercion in Shakespeare, and the discussions it engendered. "Creepy Dads in Shakespeare" was one topic I entertained. Another was "Do You Have to Be Egyptian or a Goddess To Have Unmarried Sex in Shakespeare and Not Have Everyone Call You a Whore?" But I abandoned both these topics. There is plenty to say about the first, but who really wants to read about creepy dads, much less write about them? And the second poses a question whose answer -- "Yes" -- is shorter than the title. So, in the end, I decided to write on a theme which is not ghastly, not creepy (though it hops), and not too troubling except, perhaps, to amphibian enthusiasts. The topic is Shakespearean frogs.

Where are the Shakespearean amphibians? And what are they? Well, this post would be much longer than I intend to make it if I discussed all the animals Shakespeare and his fellow Elizabethans thought were amphibians but weren't (otters, for example, and dolphins), and the symbolic uses they made of them. For

Monday, January 1, 2018

Sexual Coercion, Category Clarification, and Isabella

These days we could do with some reasonable definitions of flirtation, consensual erotic activity, and consensual sex. All these are things that happen between two people. (Sorry, I'll only be talking about pairs here.) Flirtation happens between pairs who are interested in erotic intimacy, as well as between pairs only one of whom is interested in erotic intimacy while the other just feels like flirting. Consensual erotic activity can include not only flirting, but touching implemented by one person and not rejected by the other. A pass can be accepted or deflected. If it's not deflected, it's accepted. Hopefully it's enjoyed, but acceptance doesn't mean enjoyment.

Sex occurs between people who both want to have sex, as well as between pairs of whom one wants to have sex and the other doesn't feel like it but does it anyway, or is ambivalent but has decided to do it anyway, or is enthusiastic about it at the time although s/he will be disgusted by it later. (Shakespeare wrote a sonnet about that. Such sex is "past reason hunted," and then "past reason hated.") Consensual sex also happens (a lot) when one person is agreeing to it only because s/he is