The Love Boat Goes to Verona

This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending opening night of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona on Boston common.

After last year’s middling Coriolanus, I didn’t have high hopes for this (…that may also be the comps brain talking since I’m not sure I could work up the energy to have high hopes about anything right now).  Especially after reading that the concept was “rat pack”.  I just wasn’t sure things would work out; Two Gents is a notoriously difficult play to make read to a modern audience, Shakespeare on the Common is notoriously not the sum of its parts for whatever reason, and Boston weather patterns make outdoor evening theatre a gamble at best.

But somehow, despite all this, the cosmos aligned and it was truly a production worth seeing!

Jenna Augen’s Julia was absolutely adorable (even in the face of a tragic act-one kerfluffle in which Mimi Bilinski, her Lucetta, failed to come onstage at her cue and left poor Augen to live out the actor’s nightmare: scrambling to cover for a co-star while under the pressure of rhymed iambic pentameter).  She had some sauce and spice and a decidedly different take on the Act V reversal (which I won’t ruin for you since I want to encourage you to go see the show).

our blanket: a still-life.

our blanket: a still-life.

Rimo Airaldi’s Speed and Larry Coen’s Launce were a comic duo that actually made sense.  They played the jokes to a T and, despite any misgivings I had about an older more august Speed, I was quickly charmed into their clutches.

Rick Park’s Duke of Milan is the best I’ve ever seen.  His portrayal of an incensed father in III.i (the scene during which Valentine is outcast) was real enough that I truly believed he would kill Valentine (Andrew Burnap) if given half the chance.  And this, my friends, caused dramaturgical magic.  Because the threat of death was so real, Burnap was able to launch into the most transcendent rendition of the “what light is light” speech that I have ever heard.  I, the notorious curmudgeon, was moved to tears and could only be revivified by the liberal application of the annual CSC signature Ben and Jerry’s sundae (this year’s creation: the Crabbe Bag…. Eat one.  You won’t regret it.).

In terms of the concept, it worked a lot better than I expected it to.  The outlaws in the woods became Wild West clowns/menaces and Act V devolved into a road-runner style farcical chase complete with door-swinging and dance-hiding.  Because of this, the general tone of disingenuousness led to a ready acceptance of the notoriously hard to stage Act V reversal.  Well done, CSC.  Well done.

I have only two complaints.  The first is that there was no fight director or violence coordinator billed in the program while I certainly saw some onstage violence.  If you need to understand the importance of this, let me guide you self-promotionally to the following youtube interview with some people who know what they are talking about in this regard.

The second is that in order to serve the concept, the director chose to include a liberal amount of extra-textual music numbers.  Julia burst out with “fever”, Launce sang “ain’t that a kick in the head?”, etc.  These music numbers, though well executed, slowed the pace of the first act to a crawl.  It would have served just as well to include half the number of musical interludes and I think it would have kept the audience more engaged not to be bursting into non-Shakespeare song every ten to fifteen minutes.

As I said, on the whole this was a very good rendition of a hard-to-perform piece.  If nothing else, it’s a free evening of entertainment, the common is beautiful this time of year, and you can enjoy your own picnic libations with some good company while waiting for curtain.

Though if you, like me, get the sudden urge to fox trot when any of the rat pack tunes are played by a live jazz band, be prepared to bring some dancing shoes.

Breaching the Breech

Earlier this week, I was able to attend a reading of Much Ado About Nothing presented by the Hub theatre company at Boston’s own Trident booksellers.

I’ve come to be wary of staged readings of Shakespeare.  By and large, I think that this forum works better for the tragedies (the comedies often rely upon too much physical humor/movement to make land in a staged reading, and the histories are already confusing enough without mixing in the complications of double-casting and no costumes).  For that, this was an enjoyable and low-key evening of theatre.

One thing that really got me thinking was the casting of a lady Leonato.  I’ve seen this trend developing lately (Actor’s Shakespeare Project cast a lady Duke of Milan in their Two Gents earlier this year).  We’ve seen in recent years (and I will blame this majorly on Julie Taymor) many female Prosperos, but to see this trend of making Shakespeare’s august noble characters in positions of power who are volleying politics by marrying off their daughters turned into women begs some complications that have to be re-examined.

Let me start off by saying that this has nothing to do with the quality of the acting.  So far, every august Lady I’ve seen in these roles has been fantastic.  But there are a few innate gender issues that you simply can’t escape when you have a woman playing a man’s role in this way.

I will limit my discussion here to Leonato because expanding it would get us into too-long-to-blog territory.

Even when we modernize Much Ado, was have to deal with a few dramaturgical truths.  Any “modernized” production of Shakespeare still needs to face the text because, well, you can’t ignore it.  If you ignore the text, why are you doing Shakespeare?

Dramaturgical truth the first: We’re in a world that has defined gender relationships.  This is made true by Beatrice’s show-stopping speech in Act Four.  She laments that she is powerless in her situation due to her gender.  As such, even if we drag the show into

In case you're not sick of these shots yet; Rosalind and Touchstone from As You Like It... TALK about gender issues

In case you’re not sick of these shots yet; Rosalind and Touchstone from As You Like It… TALK about gender issues

“modern” or semi-modern times, we must still be in a universe with distinct gender boundaries.

Dramaturgical truth the second: We’re in a world where marrying someone is a play for political power.  We know this because of Leonato coaching Hero before the dance (“Daughter, remember what I told you: if the prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer”).  For that matter, we’re in a world with a very defined social hierarchy dealing with characters who have title and standing (A Prince, the Count Claudio, etc.).  Leonato is a part of this world; as a wealthy landowner he can host the Prince and his entourage and even seems to have some standing amongst them.  However, he is not blind to the opportunities which may present themselves while the Prince is a guest in his household.  Marrying his daughter to the Prince would do wonders for Leonato’s social standing and, while he’s not a cut-throat social climber like (for instance) Lord Capulet, he does have an awareness of society around him.

Dramaturgical truth the third: Gender relations and transgresses upon them make up a large portion of this play’s plot.  While we are dealing with wedding and wooing, the play’s major conflict also consists of Hero’s supposed trespass against her duties as a good daughter.  It is a very different scene when she and Beatrice are the only women onstage attacked and defended by the men around them than it is if Leonato becomes Leonata.  In the first case, we clearly see the gender divide that Beatrice laments in the scene to follow.  In the second, we wonder why it is that Beatrice can’t fight the gender roles just as Leonata did and assert her own authority.  In this way, giving Leonato a sex change very clearly negates Shakespeare’s text.  It gives us a world that no longer makes sense, a world that fights the text itself.  Unless a director can find some way to extratextually justify Beatrice’s speech, an audience is left wondering what the big deal is.  And, honestly, any play which needs to make extratextual additions or clarifications is edging into shooting Horatio territory.

Dramaturgical truth the fourth: By making Leonato a woman, we are left with a few historical heritage questions.  Though it’s true that a woman who had become a widower would have been allowed to keep her husband’s estate and have some power over running it, pretty much any man who came along could have found some way to run rampant over her power there and disenfranchise her.  In Much Ado, we have several examples of power hungry men who have everything to gain from Leonata’s estate (the most ready example is Don John the Bastard who could just as easily have ruined everyone’s plans by semi-force-wedding Leonata as he did with his elaborate bed-trick scheme… also: the wedding would have been more permanent).  By making Leonato a woman, it leaves unnecessary loose ends.  Does Leonata end up with Don Pedro at the end (it’s the easiest solution to Benedick’s closing suggestion of “get thee a wife”)?  This director made that particular choice, but that particular choice has its own complications.  What does that mean to the government of Messina?  What does that mean to Leonato’s estate?  Has Claudio then, thereby, inadvertently become much more than he deserves by wedding Hero?  Does this mean that Don John is going to now target Leonato’s line in the obviously ensuing war since Leonato, Hero, and Claudio now stand between himself and his brother’s kingdom?

I think, at this juncture, I’ve sufficiently proven my point.  Cross-gendered casting is not something to be taken lightly (even if you have an awesome cast!).  In the event that you would like to proceed with something like this, make sure you also have an awesome dramaturge to help you think through these issues before you give some poor theatre scholar a headache.  If you don’t have an awesome dramaturge, I happen to know one (hint: it’s me).

This is only the first in a series of readings that Hub is putting on this summer at Trident.  They’re calling the series Beer+bard and despite my over-thinky nit-picks, I do highly recommend that you check them out.  The next is going to be Henry IV i on June 17th at 7PM; come hungry for food and Shakespeare!

Happy Birthday, Will!

Tuesday was Shakespeare’s “birthday”.

I put “birthday” in quotation marks because, much like most things Shakespeare, we don’t know precisely when the man was born.  Early modern birthing and burial practices being what they were, we can hazard a guess.  Since April 23 is as good a day as any, it pleases us to tell ourselves that this is the day upon which our Will was born and, as such, we should celebrate him on that day.

To celebrate, I was invited to speak on a panel by New Hampshire’s Seven Stages Shakespeare company.  The panel was held in the most adorable little bookshop in Portsmouth (Riverrun books) and consisted of a wide array of experts: Hope Jordan, the first official slam poet master in New Hampshire; John-Michael Albert, Portsmouth’s outgoing poet laureate; myself; and a much more senior Shakespeare scholar, Dr. David Richman.  Our conversation was focused on The Phoenix and the Turtle, the role of poetry throughout time and poetry in general, but what it really made me do was remember my roots as a Shakespearean.

I’m certain that by now anyone who follows this has 100% assurance of my devotion to Shakespeare as a lifestyle.  This life choice is a debt that I owe to my amazingly brilliant Grandmother who decided that no grandchild of hers would be bad-mouthing the bard and made it her business to forcibly subject me to well-performed pieces until I learned to love them.  Since then, I’ve used her method several times on others whom I’ve wanted to instill a similar Shakes-beat into and I’ve actually found that this is the best way to convert the unfaithful.  There is, without a doubt, something about Shakespeare that touches us as human beings and, while reading it can be dull and unfulfilling, seeing it performed by anyone who has an ounce of sense and talent is something the human heart can’t forget.  We’re beings of music and stardust, metaphor and poetry.  We’re beings of emotion: love and anger, jealousy and hate, yearning and hope.  It’s all in there; every last bit.  Anything you could want or hope to feel as a human is something you will find in the canon, it’s simply a question of knowing where to look.

It would be strange of me to try and explain how Shakespeare has affected my life since I live every moment with the man.  Would I have a life without Shakespeare?  Well, sure, but it would be a completely different life.  He’s managed to creep inside my soul and speak from the darkest places there.  But here’s the thing: the more I learn about Will, the more I realize this fascination isn’t one I feel alone.  Throughout history many great men and women have felt the same; I’m in the company of Goethe, Jonson, Müller.  I’m in conversations with John Quincy Adams, Isaac Asimov, and Neil Gaiman.  I’m haunted by Voltaire, Sarah Bernhardt, and John Keats.  Shakespeare studies is inclusive; it touches just about every other major course of literary study to some extent, and it’s written all over the history of the theatre.  Because of Shakespeare, I have something to talk about with most people in my extended field (both the arts and humanities).

Shakespeare’s the great communicator and the great equalizer.  When I need to say something but can’t quite find the right words, I often turn to him for help.  When I am feeling something overwhelming, I often remember how his characters dealt with similar feelings (…though generally refrain from enacting their often bloody and complicated solutions; I have enough trouble in my life without running mad, baking people into pies, or crafting over-engineered schemes to manipulate the people around me and then wondering why they don’t work/how they could have possibly worked so well).  Shakespeare’s there at my best and my worst and, these days, is often the catalyst for such moments.  I rely on him to be a constant source of inspiration; a heartbeat to my work.  He’s with me at every conference and he’s coached me through the end of every semester.  When I feel like giving up, he alternates glowering at me and encouraging me.  He keeps me motivated and excited.  He calls me back when I’ve wandered too far astray, and he tells me to play the field when I’m being too clingy.

Shakespeare, right now, is my life.  And I am so grateful to have the opportunities which allow this.

Here’s a few snippets of the panel.  Watch, enjoy, and bid a big happy birthday to my man Will.  Also, if you were interested in how some other internet denizens have chosen to celebrate Shakespeare-day, you should check out the e-card that the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust put together with folks around the world (myself included) available here.

Afterwards

It’s difficult to know what to say in the wake of tragedy.  This kind of thing effects different people in different ways and, not being someone gifted/cursed with a great deal of empathy, it’s double difficult for me to come to any conclusion about something appropriate to relate.

The last lines of Shakespeare’s tragedies are generally attempts by his very human characters to break the impossible tension of the play’s events.  Often these words are uttered over a stage strewn with corpses; the trail of ruin that true tragedy leaves in its wake.

Instead of trying to come up with something to say myself, I thought I’d take a moment to survey these lines for you in hopes that they will provide something more profound than any axiom I could utter.

Stay safe, everyone.

“My rage is gone;
And I am struck with sorrow. Take him up.
Help, three o’ the chiefest soldiers; I’ll be one.
Beat thou the drum, that it speak mournfully:
Trail your steel pikes. Though in this city he
Hath widow’d and unchilded many a one,
Which to this hour bewail the injury,
Yet he shall have a noble memory. Assist.” –Aufidius, Coriolanus, 5.6

Aufidius, seeing Coriolanus dead, feels sorrow for his nemesis.  His tenderness towards Coriolanus and willingness to honor his mortal enemy in death shows a true humanity to Aufidius; the man, not the soldier, closes this show.

“Let four captains
Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage;
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have proved most royally: and, for his passage,
The soldiers’ music and the rites of war
Speak loudly for him.
Take up the bodies: such a sight as this
Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.
Go, bid the soldiers shoot.” –Fortinbras, Hamlet, 5.2

This one has given me particular cause for ire over the years due to directors purposefully misinterpreting it to mean “take Horatio out back and shoot him”.  I’ve already expounded upon why this is a bad idea so I don’t feel the need to hammer it home here.

“The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.” – Albany, King Lear, 5.3

Perhaps the most profound of the end-tags; I’ve always had a special fondness for this one since it can apply to not just a tragedy, but also to many other aspects of life when politics is involved.  For example: it was an utterance first delivered me by a professor when we were in conference before a talkback with an important director whose work we had just seen.

“Gratiano, keep the house,
And seize upon the fortunes of the Moor,
For they succeed on you. To you, lord governor,
Remains the censure of this hellish villain;
The time, the place, the torture: O, enforce it!
Myself will straight aboard: and to the state
This heavy act with heavy heart relate.” – Lodovico, Othello, 5.2

Lodovico’s instinct to take charge of the situation and his burden to inform the people of what has transpired is a burden that many leaders will feel during such times of crisis.  Having to stay strong for other people makes us strong within ourselves.  Lodovico, rather than break down completely, takes it upon himself to be a pillar for the people.

“A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” – Prince, Romeo and Juliet, 5.3

Perhaps one of the most famous last lines, owing perhaps to the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet portion of Complete Works of Wllm Shkspr [abrgd]…. Or maybe that’s just how I remember it.

My most profound sympathies go out to the people effected by yesterday’s events.  Stay strong, Boston.

Feelings, Nothing More than Feelings

Here’s something that folks don’t normally talk about: studying art can be extremely emotionally draining.

Investing one’s full self into anything is draining.  If you have a career which you are passionate about, you will go through phases of utter and complete investment (of course followed by “down time” to recover yourself in order to push for the next accomplishment… it’s inevitable; we can’t give 150% of ourselves at every single moment).

When your career is centered around dealing closely with bodies of artwork that you, personally, find meaningful, it means that every reading or encounter with that artwork has the potential to move you.  I’m not saying it will; simply that it might.  And when you are dealing with art on a daily basis from a critical perspective, there are some things you must read at certain times.  You can’t avoid it.

But, being a human being, you have a personal life outside of your work.  And sometimes your work and your personal life clash in an unpleasant way.  This is particularly upsetting when you may be going through an emotional crisis.  In his book Will and Me (a great read, by the way, for anyone who has a remote interest in Shakespeare geekery), Dominic Dromgoole admits that certain plays of Shakespeare tend to find him when he is emotionally available to them (he specifically mentions reading Hamlet after the death of his father).  This kind of personal connection to the work brings new revelation both about the piece in question and about one’s self.  Really, I can think of no better guide to the human spirit than my man Will.

Every time I have encountered a play of Shakespeare’s in this way, I have been absolutely

a shot I took of working in the hotel lobby while at CDC... sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do

a shot I took of working in the hotel lobby while at CDC… sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do

astounded at how accurately his characters behave in circumstances similar to mine.  I have continually wondered at how one man could encapsulate such a great spectrum of the human emotional experience (as, by the way, have countless other scholars – this is one of the arguments that the heated authorship debate is based in).  Whomever Will was, I can assure you that he knew things about living; he knew people, he knew pain, he knew heartache, he knew love, and he knew desire.

So how is it, then, that we are able to compose ourselves through whatever it is we’re dealing with and focus past it into the work that’s presented itself to us?  Certainly a degree of critical distance is helpful – if you can view the text before you as text rather than an emotional journey, it will help you to detach.  If you can focus on the minutiae of what’s going on rather than give a general reading, it can assist in this; when you’re looking at the mechanical functionings of something, it’s much more difficult to become attached to an artistic whole.

Put your theory glasses on.  Try and put the piece in context and then pull it out of context.  Deconstruct the art; really break it down into nuts and bolts.  Again, if you’re looking at pieces, it’s harder to become emotionally involved with it.

If you really can’t see past the big stuff, take a moment, walk away, deal with what you need to deal with (I find that journaling is generally good for this), then come back.  When you come back, make it business.  Change out of your pajamas if you have to (yes, I know, the cardinal sin of academia: working in real-people-pants while in your own home).  I find it’s a lot more difficult to invest emotionally while wearing pants.

Remember this: at the end of the day, this is your job.  You may love it, you may be devoted to it, it may overflow into many other aspects of your life, but it’s what pays the bills.  Show me an engineer that weeps over robots on a daily basis, think about how ridiculous that is, then remind yourself that getting caught up in your work (while very easy to do) is equally ridiculous.  It’s not sustainable, healthy, or good for you in any way.

….This does not, by the by, mean that I will be able to restrain myself from weeping every time I reach the end of King Lear.  It does, however, mean that I’ll at least acknowledge the ridiculousness, allow myself to be human, and eat more ice cream when I’m working on Lear.

Games People Play

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:*

not sure if I've introduced you to the latest addition to my desk ornaments; mini Will!

not sure if I’ve introduced you to the latest addition to my desk ornaments; mini Will!

 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.

Malaise

At the moment, my life is pretty much the picture of what I would generally describe as being “my ideal life”.

I’m involved in two productions: Twelfth Night (my group’s pilot experiment in communal theatre) is in rehearsal and I’m getting to do some awesome, wacky, fun things with some really neat, smart, talented individuals while simultaneously dreaming about a bright future on the Boston theatre scene; and Measure for Measure (my debut as a dramaturge which, for those who are keeping track, I’ve been working on actively since last June) is in its last week of rehearsal before it opens next Thursday.  I’m TAing one class

Rehearsal the other day; we have a show! From a script that I made! From Shakespeare!

Rehearsal the other day; we have a show! From a script that I made! From Shakespeare!

(Modern and Postmodern theatre) with a professor from whom I’m endlessly learning things and with whom it’s a pleasure to work.  I’m in a class that’s got me constantly thinking, constantly on my toes, and constantly studying for comps.  I’m keeping up on my awesome side-projects (Offensive Shadows has just started recording our episodes on Love’s Labour’s Lost which is a joy to discuss as it’s one of my favorite plays).  I’m living, eating, breathing, bleeding, and sweating theatre.

I guess call me a classic case of “grass is always greener” syndrome, but I’m so tired right now that I’m having trouble enjoying any of it.  I haven’t had a decent break in who knows how long and every time I do manage to eke out a few hours away from my desk that time seems to fill with unexpected trips to the theatre (which, don’t get me wrong, I love but aren’t much of a break for me).  What’s really got me shaken is the fact that’s is very early in the semester to be feeling this way; all of my big projects are on the distant horizon (with the exception of one lecture that I’m working on prepping; the first of two for my TAship this semester).  If I’m working like this before my projects hit the hot zone, where am I going to find time for my projects when I actually need to work on them?

I’m not the only one feeling like this either.  From speaking with some of my cohort, it seems that a general malaise has overcome Dance and Drama at Tufts.  I guess I could blame it on February; the long (but surprisingly so-far easy) Boston winter; or maybe the Genocide course that most of my colleagues are taking (nothing will make you feel awful about life quite like being bombarded with consistent reading about genocide).

out my window.  Nemo does not look awful.  Yet.

out my window. Nemo does not look awful. Yet.

To hammer home the point that all I do is work and there is life outside my apartment, I am currently hunkered down in my office while outside begins the great blizzard Nemo which some stations are predicting will be one of the worst in Boston’s history.  Most normal people I know have been given today off or have a half-day and this extends into tomorrow thus effectively creating a three-day-weekend for the gainfully employed.  I, however, took this opportunity to stock up on library books and non-technology research (in case we lose power) and plan to spend the next few days holed up on my sofa working.  With any luck, I may be able to plow through a bunch of my to-dos while the rest of the Northeast goes sledding.

…The one concession I will make to snow is the potential creation of a snow-tomaton in my near future.  Because making a snowman out of the accumulation from my driveway is way easier and more enjoyable than shoveling it out.

Here’s hoping accomplishment can bust through my malaise.  If not, I at least hope you have a good weekend.  Stay warm and dry!

A Shakespearean Dramaturge’s Lament

Okay, fine, I’ll admit it.  While pinterest has done many wonderful things for my life (I have yet to find a recipe on there that isn’t absolutely mouth-watering), it has caused one bone of deep contention between myself and the internet.

The internet is the new vaudeville.  Anyone can put anything on it.  Sometimes these things have worth (in entertainment value, educational insight, or just general human connection), and sometimes they don’t.  What pinterest has made me keenly aware of is the proclivity of “quotes” on the internet.

I say that in quotes because, in my experience, most quotes on pinterest are either misattributed, made up, or just plain wrong.  Since a quote’s value lies in the validity of its speaker (if it didn’t, we’d just call them “words” or “phrases”), such mistakes render the quotes useless.  Or, if not useless, just a collection of words that anyone could have uttered.  And, really, who wants a collection of words said by no one? It’s like wearing a fake Tiffany’s bracelet and calling it the real deal (all zazzle and no genuine maker’s mark).  It’s like eating yogurt with aspartame in it (all appearances and no substance).  It’s like reading an abridged version of a classic novel (all editor’s opinion and no true literary value).

Perhaps most disturbingly, this trend feeds into the mindless trope of unwary internet denizens that everything one finds on pinterest is true.  Even the savvy surfer can be taken in by pretty words and a big name.  And this, my friends, discourages critical thinking, encourages false facts made true, and overall proves a thorn in the side to those of us who know better who now have to content with gaggles of would-be quoters.

I could have let it slide if not for the constant misattribution to Shakespeare.  Oh, sure, it happens all the time.  Just about everyone in the field of space and time ever has made a mistake like this.  But I’m not talking about the little mistakes, I’m talking about the ones that grow and propagate and sell themselves on t-shirts.

The plays attributed to Plautus are divided by the Roman philologist Varro into three categories: those definitely by Plautus, those possibly by Plautus, and those most certainly not by Plautus.  In that vein, I would like to present to you a list: famous quotes definitely by Shakespeare, famous quotes that are kind of Shakespeare’s, and famous quotes definitely not by Shakespeare.

Famous Quotes Definitely by Shakespeare

“The course of true love never did run smooth.” – Lysander, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1.1

“To be, or not to be: that is the question.” – Hamlet, Hamlet, 3.1

“Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.” – Antony, Julius Caesar, 3.2

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits

The Great Globe itself

The Great Globe itself

and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…” –Jacques, As You Like It, 2.7

“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?  If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” – Shylock, Merchant of Venice, 3.1

Famous Quotes Kind of by Shakespeare

“Alas, Poor Yorick; I knew him well.”

This is one that’s almost Shakespeare.  The history of this misquote is something that would take a lot more digging than I’m prepared to do at the moment to dredge up, but we all know the classic scene from which it comes.  Hamlet finds the gravedigger comically going about his rounds and, upon grave-digging Ophelia’s final resting place, uncovers Yorick the Jester’s skull.  Hamlet takes the skull and famously laments, “Alas, poor Yorick!  I knew him, Horatio.  A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.  He hath borne me on his back a thousand times.” (Hamlet, 5.1)

If I had to guess, I’d say that some pop culture thing or other had, at some point along the way, need to utilize a Hamlet reference without another character onstage and, so, they altered the quote.  Unfortunately, since pop culture sticks, the misquote has as well.  Fight the system!  Quote Hamlet with integrity!

“This above all: to thine own self be true.”

One of my near and dear friends, when he was eighteen and stupid, went and got this tattooed on his body.  Ten years and one Master’s in English later, he was regretting the decision for this reason:

The problem with this quote isn’t the wording (the words are accurate), it’s the sentiment.  Though Polonious does say this to his departing son, it’s perhaps the least sincere section of the play.  Context is important.  Divorcing a quote from its context strips it of power.

We’re all guilty of doing this; everyone from Christmas card manufacturers to political speechwriters.  The authority of The Bard is unquestionable (thanks mostly to David Garrick) and, because of this, he’s called upon to support just about anything you can think of even when his words are removed from their greater context and, thereby, just words.

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

See above problem.  This quote, taken as one of the greatest utterances of the English language, is part of a letter written by a bunch of gamboling drunkards to trick a pious (if cranky) man into thinking that his employer is in love with him.  Hardly heroic words to live by, even if they are wise.

Sonnet 116

If I hear this read at one more wedding, I’m going to stand up and loudly declare the marriage invalid on the grounds of literary stupidity.  People, seriously, if you want something said at your wedding, funeral, or any other event of note, at least do your friggen research.

This poem isn’t a declaration of true love, nor an uplifting statement about how love is eternal and beautiful, but rather the words of a man upbraiding an untrue lover and telling the subject how things should be.  It’s Shakespeare saying: “if you were true loves, I wouldn’t speak these words to admit impediments, but obviously you’ve got some misconceptions about love… lemme clear those up for you.”

Really?  You want that read at your wedding?  Monkeys.

 

Shakespeare disapproves

Shakespeare disapproves

Constructions of the Internet; NOT SHAKESPEARE

“You say that you love rain, but you open your umbrella when it rains.  You say that you love the sun, but you find a shadow spot when the sun shines.  You say that you love the wind, but you close your windows when the wind blows.  This is why I am afraid, you say that you love me too.”

What, what, what are you doing?  First of all, this doesn’t fit any of Shakespeare’s meters.  Not a one.  So that would relegate it to a section of prose from one of the plays.  Okay, maybe.  There is some love-content written in prose (none of it would be this intense, but… sure, let’s go with it for a moment)

But let’s look at this a little more closely: the word “umbrella” is perhaps the biggest give-away.  It doesn’t enter the written vocabulary of the English language until 1609 coming from the Italian “ombrella” which is from the Latin “umbra” meaning “shade” and, at first, was used specifically to reference a means of shelter or protection.  It wasn’t used to speak about a portable version of this until 1611, and then it referred specifically to a sun shield (the early ones were made of leather and wooden hoops).  Not until 1634 do we have record of its usage as a word to describe an item used to protect against the rain.

Shakespeare died in 1616.  His last plays were written around 1613, but certainly no later than 1614.  Do you see the problem here?

NEXT!

“When I saw you, I fell in love and you smiled because you knew.” 

This one drives me nuts.  I really don’t know who started it, if it was a mistake, or if they were purposefully trying to give a poor Shakespearean a hernia.  This quote is MISSATRIBUTED; Shakespeare never said anything like this.  Not even anything I can bend to make fit this.  The quote is actually the work of Italian poet Arrigo Boito who did, granted, write the libretti for Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff… please PLEASE stop sharing this one around without giving the poor guy some credit.  Harumph.

“Expectation is the root of all heartache.”

I have no idea where this came from; it’s another internet construction with no basis in reality (much like the bonsai cat).  The word “heartache” only appears once in the canon (“by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to…” Hamlet, 3.1).  The word “expectation” is slightly more prolific and appears 26 times, but never in a context that is remotely near to what this quote is trying to say… it’s not even written in iambic.  This is clearly trochaic; a meter only used by Shakespeare’s magical characters (like Puck and the Witches), certainly not by any lovers ever….  HARUMPH!

To Conclude…

Before you go believing things on the internet, tattooing things on your body, or uttering words at important life-celebrations…

FIND YOURSELF A DRAMATURGE!

“It is my birth-day”

Today is my birthday.

In recent years, it has become harder and harder to be festive on my birthday. During my Master’s (when I realized that this academia thing might actually be a lifetime commitment rather than a passing fancy), I resolved myself to come to terms with the fact that, for the rest of my life, I would be stressed out, over-worked, and over-wrought on my birthday.

Some years this sticks, some years it doesn’t.

It’s funny because, as I understand it, on birthdays you’re supposed to think back across the expanse of the year and have some thought about things you’ve done, accomplished, follies, foibles, adventures, etc. And maybe when you’ve done that, cast another thought forward to the things that you might accomplish in this year next. Since I’m still in the phase of my PhD during which landmarks are fairly mapped out and planned, I have the good fortune to be able to predict, with some degree of certainty, at least some of the things I will do before the world comes back around to December 11th once more. I will pass my German qual exam. I will study for (and pass) my comps. I will successfully execute my oral exams. And, at this point next year, I will be sitting pretty, poised for dissertation planning, and may (for the first time in many years) actually be able to relax on my birthday.

This year is not that year.

Today, I have a meeting, student final projects to look at, library books that will go into arrears if I don’t return them today, an article to track down, and mountains and mountains of writing to do. I didn’t even have time to wake up early enough for a run due to the absolute insanity that was yesterday (I spent thirteen hours on campus yesterday, left at 11PM and am doing the eleven-hour turn-around and will be back on campus at 10AM this morning…. ah the glamorous life of a theatre academic).

But I did get to partake of my new favorite birthday tradition: birthday Shakespeare. Last year, as a birthday gift, my ever-wonderful Partner in Crime took me to see Hamlet at the Gamm. The production was meh, but the point was to be able to sit back and enjoy something I love rather than worry about deeper issues (…of course, I did worry about deeper issues, but that’s just the way I’m wired). Last night, the cast of Measure for Measure treated me to the first (rough) run of the show. Some really interesting things going on and, if they continue to grow at a good clip, I think the product will be well worth the ticket price. I even had a Shakespeare-revelation while watching (this happens to me sometimes; the text hits my ear in a different way and things click into place and suddenly I understand something new about the show). So; thanks, cast!

So yes, I will be spending the day working. A lot. But the way I see it, this is paying it forward. Next year, oh sweet next year, I may even be able to take the day off entirely.

And so, dear reader, I leave you with this: have a wonderful day, think about Shakespeare for me, and have a watch of one of my favorite Shakespeare mashups: the muppets, Christopher Reeve, and Cole Porter:

On the Road Again

Hello, everyone!

I’m reporting to you live from Nashville where I have arrived safe and sound after a day of

take-off in Boston

travel which included (in no particular order): one big plane, one puddle jumper, chicks with guitars, writing, reading, copious amounts of coffee, and a ten-minute scramble to get from one end of O’Hare’s terminal H to the extreme opposite (on that note: I sincerely apologize if you were literally run over by a shortish New Yorker in a red leather jacket while innocently ambling your way through Terminal H today).

I’m wiped.

I’m here in Nashville to attend the 2012 American Society of Theatre Research conference. It’s a bigun’ with a whole lot of people from all sides of the theatre academic world; from Ancients to Contemporarists, from lowly graduate students to heads of departments. This mixing makes for an almost overwhelming environment and, even walking into the hotel, I could feel the excitement and anticipation in the air. Or maybe it’s just me.

Told ya. Chicks with guitars. Didn’t even have to leave the airport to find them.

I’m a little nervous as this is the biggest conference I’ve attended yet, but I have some good meetings lined up and I’m hopeful that I will learn a great deal, meet a great many people, and retain some measure of my sanity. Maybe even escape the hotel to hear some good music as the Country Music Awards are in town this weekend!

Have a great one, I’ll catch you on the flip side!