I love it when I get more Shakespeare than I expected.
Typically I start my work morning from the company kitchen doing various “sit at the computer” chores, like following up on emails or paying some bills. Today I was finding video of the 2012 London Olympics because they used Caliban’s “Be not afeard” speech in both the opening and closing and I’d told my daughter’s teacher I would send links.
While I am doing this, a couple of coworkers sit down and we start to discuss Shakespeare – led by them asking me questions, not me boring them. The conversation goes something like this:
“I read my share of Shakespeare, but never The Tempest.”
“Yeah, it’s a later play, probably most famous because people think of it as the last thing Shakespeare wrote. But it’s also the one that fits the fairy tale model the best, so it’s what I used to introduce my kids to Shakespeare.”
“Sure. It basically goes once upon a time there was a little girl who lived on an island with her father, a powerful wizard. She learns that she is a long lost princess. One day pirates crash land on the island, and she meets a prince who promises to take her away to live happily ever after.”
“Seriously? That’s the plot of The Tempest?”
“Well, there’s a lot more to it than that. But for a five year old? Sure, that’s about it. That works better than there’s this guy, see? And his uncle killed his dad and slept with his mom. That only works with Lions. And his best friends are a meerkat and a warthog!”
“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?”
“Exactly. If you hadn’t guessed I’m one of the ones who thinks there’s more *not* Hamlet in Lion King than is Hamlet, but I understand why people think that. Uncle kills the king, son has to reclaim the throne? Fine, done, Hamlet. But that doesn’t mean everything else is automatically a parallel. R & G were spies sent by Claudius to take Hamlet to his execution, they weren’t his best buddies going off on adventures and learning about life. If you want to play that angle, Shakespeareans suggest it has more to do with Henry IV.”
“That’s the one with Falstaff, right?”
“Exactly. One of Shakespeare’s greatest unknown creations. If you haven’t studied Shakespeare, you probably don’t know Falstaff. People know the title characters, your Richard III, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and so on. But there’s a case to be made that Falstaff is one of Shakespeare’s best.”
<fast forward as I bring up the big finish to Chimes at Midnight, the “I know thee not, old man” scene>
The two I’ve been speaking with agree that this is a very fine bit of acting, and we start wrapping it up to get back to work. Another coworker, who I do not normally have much contact with, has come in for coffee on the tail end of that and makes a curious face, wondering what he missed.
“Oh, just some morning Shakespeare,” I tell him.
“Sorry I missed it,” he replies. He then makes his coffee while rambling about imitating contagious clouds or something. I assume that he is trying to sound Shakespearey. People do that to me sometimes. “Mine coffee thus needeth more sugar!” and what not.
“Cool,” I say when he looks at me for a response. He leaves.
I fire up Open Source Shakespeare and check something. Son of a gun!
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder’d at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
He was quoting Henry IV Part 1! I messaged him to confirm that I had to look up his reference, that I had totally missed it. He apologized for getting the quote wrong.
I’ve worked here three years, that’s the first time he’s made a Shakespeare reference. I wonder how many others I’m surrounded by on a daily basis? It’s kind of exciting never knowing when random Shakespeare’s going to come at you unexpectedly.
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