I have a confession to make.
I play games with myself.
You know when you’re waiting for something or someone? In those moments when you’re sitting in a stupid meeting that doesn’t really require your attention but does require that you at least look like you’re paying attention? When you are sitting somewhere unexpectedly and forgot to bring a book or something else to do?
In those moments, to push aside the implacable boredom, I play one (or several) of the following games with myself:*
1) I list Shakespeare’s works in alphabetical order. You would think that after years of doing this I would have the entire list memorized but, alas, my Swiss-cheese brain still requires kicking to churn forth these facts. I do know them, just not always in alphabetical order. I should make up a song or something a la the animaniacs…
2) Once I have that list (which, generally, I will write down as I go), I go through and try to recite the first line of each play. Some of them I have down cold (“Two households both alike in dignity”; “when shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightening, or in rain?”; “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York”), but there are others that aren’t quite so famous. Tell me the first line of Timon of Athens. Go on. Someday I’ll have them all committed to memory…
3) I will go through and recite (or at least call to mind) the most famous speech (or, sometimes, just a speech) from each play. If I don’t know one, I make a mental note to learn one at some point in the near future. Sometimes this resolution sticks better than others. I do have a speech from most of the most famous plays at least, and some of the more obscure ones. That ought to count for something.
4) If I’m feeling particularly perky, I will recite the last line of each play. This one is significantly harder though, again, there are a few that will always stick with you (“The weight of these sad times we must obey, speak what we feel not what we ought to say, the oldest have borne most; we that are young will never see so much nor live so long”; “That’s all one, our play is done, and we’ll strive to please you everyday”; “When I make curtsey, bid me farewell”).
So there you have it. If, in the near future, you find yourself speaking to me and my eyes get kind of glazed over, you have a pretty good idea of what I may be doing in my head. That or re-playing episodes of The Muppet Show, it’s kind of a 50/50 shot at this point depending on how brain dead I’m feeling from whatever research endeavor I’m currently working on.
*admittedly, I stole some of this from RSC director Dominic Dromgoogle and the methods he documents utilizing to pass the time as he traversed the English countryside while walking between London and Stratford in his memoir Will and Me. It’s a clever little book and gave me a plethora of demonstrations of how I’m not nearly as nerdy about Shakespeare as I could be… so I promptly then became about 10% nerdier. In any case, the book is very entertaining and I highly recommend that you check it out.