To Be Or To Have Been : That Is A Different Question

(Warning, this is about as related to Shakespeare as any other turn of any of his phrases, but it’s as good a place as any to braindump something I’ve been thinking about.  I’ll try to make it as Shakespearey as I can. :)) There’s an expression among writers, I’ve lost the original source, that goes “I don’t want to write, I want to have written.” In a strangely ironic twist I’ve often found myself using a related example in regard to books when I’ll say, “I don’t want to read it, but I want to have read it.”  The author of these books is almost always Dan Brown, by the way. :)   I once pitched to a friend a similar concept for movies, where you could rip the audio track from a dvd, and then listen to that the same way.  For dialogue heavy movies you could still get the general plot, recognize the famous quotes, and be able to say that you are familiar with it. Even though you never saw it. I realize this morning that this philosophy could be extended to just about anything.  I don’t want to eat, I want to have eaten.  I don’t want to sleep, I want to have slept. I don’t want to do, I want to have done. Is it the journey, or the destination?  Hamlet’s question is deeper, but precisely because we can’t experiment with it.  We can’t both be and not be and then decide for ourselves which is better, we can only hypothesize about it. In its own way, my question is quite related to his.  After all, doesn’t “to be” imply some level of awareness, of actually paying attention to your own life?  If you’re just going through the paces, always considering the future at the expense of the present, are you really “being”? I don’t really have anywhere I’m going with this, just wanted to throw it out there. I’ve had times when I’m awful at this, and I was reminded of it when speaking of audiobooks and I told the story of how I used to listen to them and 2x speed in the car for exactly the above reasons – I wanted to have read it, but not to read it.  Reading is supposed to be enjoyable, and yet here I am deliberately shortening that portion.  It’s just not right.

Queen Judi

[ Ok, that’s something of a meaningless title but I thought it went well with my post from a minute ago about King Hapless. 🙂 ] Just how good is Dame Judi Dench?  Who else could reprise a role 48 years later? That’s precisely what’s happening at the Rose Theatre on March 20 when she takes on Titania once again, working with director Peter Hall – who also directed her in the 1962 version. In this particular instance I think I’ll let the original article speak for me, when it describes her as a “star that elicits affection from an audience busy purring its devotion from the minute Ms. Dench sweeps on stage.”  Yes, that’ll work. You know, until the moment when I went to look this up, I’d been under the impression that Dame Judi had played Queen Elizabeth simultaneously, both in Shakespeare in Love as well as in the movie Elizabeth, which was out in theatres at the same time.  I never saw the latter, obviously, as she is not in it.  Really weird trivia, though? I’m trying to figure out what special place in history Ms. Dench has, as I could swear there’s some sort of “award for playing the same role at different times” sort of thing that has to do with her and Queen Elizabeth.  So I google for it and end up on a question about “the only performers nominated for playing the same character in the same film”. Answer? Judi Dench and Kate Winslet – but for the 2001 movie “Iris”, having nothing (as far as I can tell) to do with Shakespeare or Queen Elizabeth. But now we get to play Six Degrees of Dame Judi, because Kate Winslet and she have both played Ophelia, who was also played by Cate Blanchett, who, you guessed it, played Queen Elizabeth in the 1998 movie.  Small Shakespeare world. One last thing – the “special place in history” that I’m confusing appears to be that Ms. Dench has the award for shortest amount of screen time – less than 8 minutes.  Because she’s just that damned good, apparently.  She’s like the Chuck Norris of Shakespeare.   Hey, that could be a fun series :)  Judi Dench’s Ophelia doesn’t drown, she walks on the water.

King Hapless

Quick! If somebody said “the most hapless of Monarchs”, in reference to a Shakespeare character, who are they talking about? All the fun is taken out of the question, though, when you get to the second half  : “This king is in the title of Shakespeare’s only trilogy,” and the answer is of course Henry, Apparently it was a question on Jeopardy. I’ve always thought it would be great for Jeopardy to do a Shakespeare-themed show.  They periodically have a category for him, which is nice, but if you really tried I bet you could fill up the entire board, twice.  And then we Shakespeare geeks could Tivo it and watch again and again and again and again …. UPDATE: As clarified for me in the comments, the answer of “Henry” is hardly sufficient, as Henry IV/V/VI refer to different people, AND Henry VI is actually 3 plays by itself.  So the correct Jeopardy answer would have been, “Who is Henry VI?” It was early and I was blatantly reposting without thinking.  Sorry for the lapse in quality, folks.  Go read the Judi Dench post that came next, I promise I actually researched all my links for that one. 🙂

Good Geek, Bad Geek. A Public Service Announcement

Somewhere along the line it became cool to be a geek about something.  At least I hope it has, as I’ve kinda staked my “personal brand” on it, obviously.  I’ve always preferred the term geek, I find it less pejorative than nerd, dork, dweeb and a few choice others. That doesn’t mean, though, that all geek habits are socially acceptable.  There is still such a thing (in my opinion), as “bad geek”.  A while back while out at a restaurant with the family, we ran into another family we know.  During whatever in the conversation the father makes a movie reference, I make what I think is the next line of the movie reference, and his maybe 10yr old son, complete with eye roll, loudly re-quotes my line with one word changed because obviously I’m a frickin idiot. Many things make this a bad geek moment.  Thinking, for example, that it is at all important who gets a movie quote right, and that it’s your job to correct somebody? Wrong.  Nobody cares.  It’s not important.  Teaching your child that this is an important skill to have?  Even more incorrect.  Lacking the social skills that enable you to understand how not to be rude to someone?  Strike three. I asked on Twitter recently what to call this idea – “if quoting Monty Python makes you a geek, what does correcting other people’s quotes make you?” I was surprised at the number of responses I got back: “It’s called awesome!” “How about soulmate?” “Ubergeek?” and other, entirely positive, suggestions.  I don’t know if I just phrased the question wrong, or if I’m the only one to point this out, but it’s not cool, and nobody cares. Don’t get me wrong, there are of course times when your superior knowledge of the subject is useful.  Such as, when the other person actually invites it.  Somebody starts out a quote by saying, “Oh, how’s that expression go, that one from Shakespeare about not being a borrower…” then of course you get to show off.  But when somebody in conversation says, “Remember what Shakespeare said, neither a borrower or a lender be.” and you feel a moral obligation to pipe in “NOR, it’s NOR a lender be,” then you kinda sorta need to go back to courtesy school, my fellow geeks. Am I guilty of this? I think I probably am, at times, but I try to be conscious of the problem and not do it.  My crime is more often in talking too much, not shutting up, stealing other people’s stories.  But I don’t find myself correcting people without invitation, for exactly these reasons. Dale Carnegie, in the classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, tells a story on this subject. While at a dinner party, a fellow guest quotes the Bible (“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends…”) and Carnegie calls him out on it, knowing for a fact that it is from Shakespeare.  After the argument becomes heated they agree to ask a third party, who turns out to be a friend of Carnegie.  “You’re wrong, Dale,” says the friend, “It is from the Bible.”  Later, Carnegie corners him and says “You know perfectly well that’s from Shakespeare.”

“Yes of course,” he replied, “But we were guests at a festive occasion. Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make the man like you? Why not let him save face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him?”

Had to be said.  Something to think about the next time you’re about to open your mouth and show off just how much of an awesome ubergeek you are, regardless of subject.

Caliban’s Hour

When I heard that Tad Williams, author of the excellent “Otherland” scifi series, had written a Shakespeare book?  I went on the hunt.  It’s pretty much out of print so I had to hunt a little farther than usual, but I did manage to find it. The Tempest ends with Prospero and Miranda leaving the island, Ariel released from bondage, and Caliban…. what? Left alone to rule the island? How’s he feel about that? Is it what he wanted? Flash forward 20 years.  Prospero has passed away, Miranda is married with kids of her own.  And Caliban has at last escaped the island and shown up in her room to tell his side of the story. The premise, is pretty neat.  It makes me think of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and all that “who is really the monster here” stuff that comes along with listening to the monster tell his side of the story. Unfortunately the execution turns out incredibly boring.  The book is written in second person – told from Caliban to Miranda.  I’m not a big fan of that style, it’s jarring to me to keep reading lines like, “I see by your expression that you do remember the place I’m talking about.”  Argh. No, no I as the reader do not.  Don’t do that. I’m aware that I am reading a book about fictional characters, third person he-said/she-said is fine with me. Now take that style and tell 20 years of story (more, actually) from the point of view of a character who didn’t even know how to speak for the first half of it.  Caliban tells the story of how he and his mother arrived at the island, and how they survived.  The amount of story that Williams has to backfill, since Shakespeare gave us none of it, is pretty hefty.  How’d they get there? Much like Prospero she was kicked out of town and put on a boat to starve.  Why?  Because she was a witch, not to mention pregnant. Who was Caliban’s daddy? Doesn’t say.  Why did she not teach Caliban language herself? Townspeople burnt out her tongue before they shipped her off.  Ah. How, then, does Caliban know all the details of the story, if she was not able to tell him and she died before Prospero showed up?!  Turns out that Prospero knew all about her from before she was sent off to the island, and knew all about her and Setebos. Imagine if you could remember when you were 6 months old, before you knew how to talk.  Now imagine trying to explain what you were feeling.  Worse, imagine a hundred or so pages of that. That’s what Caliban’s story is like. Truthfully it’s just not for me. The overwhelming feature that keeps pulling me back to Shakespeare is the essence of what it means to be human that he puts into each character.  It’s hard enough to do that with Caliban, it’s not like in this day and age we get a lot of feral children introduced to society who come to regret it.   It dawns on me that there’s a certain irony in comparison to A Brave New World, where the “savage” is actually the wisest character of the bunch, and he spends most of his time quoting Shakespeare! Here you’ve got a Shakespeare original and somebody putting a book’s worth of non-Shakespeare words in his mouth.

365 Characters Somebody comes up to you and asks you to name a fictional character, for a project that they are doing.  Who do you pick?  Naturally I go skimming to see if anybody’s picked Shakespeare, and I see that the current entry (#255) is Ophelia. The project itself seems to be about artistic interpretation – a “portrait” a day. The concept of character is interesting, though.  At first I thought the artist wanted specific people (like, for example, Ophelia).  But paging through previous days I see generic ideas like “librarian” or “cook”. I flipped back to about 150 or so and did not see any other specific Shakespeare characters, but maybe somebody else in a different time zone (it’s late here and I’m sleepy!) can flip through the rest and see what other Shakespeare showed up.

Other People’s Favorite Quotes

How much of a Shakespeare geek am I? When I see a forum thread titled “Your favorite quote of all time?” I cruise through it looking for Shakespeare, even though in this particular case it’s very much a computer-geek board with little chance of Mr. Shakespeare showing up. At the time, I count 3 Shakespeare – all from Hamlet, and yet all different quotes.  That’s kinda interesting.

Mistress Shakespeare

Did you know that there’s actually two documented references to William Shakespeare’s marriage … to two different people?  Days before his recorded marriage to Anne Hathaway is another line, referring to Anne Whateley. Most frequently this is written off as clerical error or simple misspelling in a time when Mr. Shakespeare himself seems to never really write his name the same way twice. But what if Anne Whateley was a real person, Shakespeare’s true first love, and his marriage to her was unable to happen because he went and knocked up Anne Hathaway?  Could you get a book out of that premise? Karen Harper did.  Better than just a planned first marriage that did not occur, she goes all Romeo and Juliet and has Will and Anne#1 marry in secret, but then he has to go and do the shotgun wedding thing with that other hussy.  I’m not sure, reading this review, whether Anne#1 ever takes issue with her man knocking up some other broad, or if she’s cool like that. I suppose it’s a quaint idea, but as for the reviewer’s suggestion that “Shakespeare buffs need something new to mull over, and Harper provides it,” I dunno about that.  I’m sure it makes a nice story, and we do all love to map “real” stories onto Shakespeare’s archetypes for maximum effect, but how realistic would a “secret” wedding have been, really?  From everything I’ve understood about the time period, documentation and doing such things by letter of the law was very important.  Didn’t they even need special permission of some sort to waive some requirements in order to make the wedding happen in a hurry?  If it was at all as easy as grabbing a priest and saying I Do, I think they would have done that first and filled out the paperwork later. But then, I’m no expert in the historical side of things like Ms. Harper, so maybe this sort of thing happened all the time?

Ok, Who Needs A Reading Buddy? Just got an email from Ingrid, a fellow “tech geek with a love of literature” who wants to beef up her Shakespeare by doing a maddening one-play-a-day read through starting on March 1. She’s looking for folks who might be interested in reading along, in what I can only describe as something of a “speed book club”.  I can’t pull it off, I don’t have nearly the time or attention span to tackle such a thing, but I promised that I’d post her request. Anybody up for a month of Shakespeare?    She’s calling her project “38 Plays in 38 Days” and has a site up (linked) to track progress. Good luck!

Why No Love For Shakespeare In Love? It’s widely understood that Shakespeare In Love winning the Best Picture Oscar (over Saving Private Ryan and Life is Beautiful) is considered one of the top WTF? moments of Academy Award history (though in the above list it only makes #9). So, I have two questions.  First, do you think that’s valid?  I mean, we’re all Shakespeare geeks here, I’m sure we all have some amount of love for Tom Stoppard and the source material if nothing else.  Did you love the movie?  Do you think it deserved Best Picture? Second question, assuming I can count the above three as variations on a single question : If you agree that it did not deserve the award, why do you think it won?  Some sort of political wrangling going on that we’re not privy to?