I know this is a little late for a New Year’s post but I’ve been kind of busy 🙂
This year we decided to do family night for various reasons. We passed on several invitations and decided to just stay in, get some Chinese food, maybe binge watch some shows and play some board games.
Skip past the bingeing (on both Chinese food and High School The Musical The Series) and nobody really wants to dig into a cutthroat game of Monopoly, so I get an idea. I go get my Shakespeare Trivial Pursuit cards! We never get to play this, but I’ve got an idea. I’ve got all my family here. I know what I think they know. So I pick cards, and I read the questions I think they know the answers to, to see how much they’ve learned over the years. Keep in mind that recently we’ve been to Stratford, been to the Folger twice, seen several plays, and they’re all old enough at this point to have studied at least some Shakespeare in school.
They did surprisingly well! Questions on Romeo and Juliet were the most obvious and came out like homework questions. But the real fun was some of the non answers…
“What is the nickname of visitors to the Globe Theatre who stood for the whole performance?” “Oh! Potatoes!” “What?” “It’s something about potatoes! Isn’t it? Something like that.” “Groundlings?” “Right, yes. Groundlings, potatoes. Same thing.”
“What are the names of Hamlet’s ‘friends’ who are summoned by Claudius?” “Oh! Oooo! Umm… something…. hydro something…..” “Guildenstern!” “Yes! Hydrostan and Guildenstern!” “??? Are we in chemistry class?”
And my favorite one…
“What play was being performed in 1613 when the Globe caught fired and burn down?” “Macbeth!” “No.” “Hamlet.” “No.” “Tempest?” “No. You’re just guessing.”
At which point my son, my youngest, who hasn’t taken his face out of his phone, says, “All is true.”
There’s a pause. My girls are waiting. I look at them. “Henry VIII, also known as All is True. He’s exactly right. I just have no idea how he knew that.”
He looks up, realizing he’s the center of attention now. “We saw that one.”
“No, we didn’t,” I tell him.
“Yes we did,” he says. “It opens with a fire.”
It’s at this point I realize he’s talking about the movie All is True, about Shakespeare’s life in retirement, which we saw earlier in the year, which indeed does start with the Globe burning down. Hey, whatever works for him!
I wish I could remember more of their answers, it was a good time indeed. Nobody knew that Prince Escalus has a name. But they remembered that “I know thee not, old man” is said to Falstaff, that the Folger is in Washington, D.C. and a whole bunch of other “that was definitely not on any homework you ever had” questions. I was pretty pleased with the results! Hope we get to do it again soon.
P.S. – My son really likes that scene, I overheard him playing Youtube clips of it before he went to bed last night. He also asked me if he should watch the entire movie or if he’d be bored. I thought he still might be a little bored, but agreed that there’s some good battle scenes.
UPDATE: Fixed typo, of course the Globe didn’t burn down 7 years after Shakespeare died, my brain must have been thinking I was talking about the Folio.
Just a quick test to run the blog through its paces and see what’s still working and what broke. I was hacked on New Year’s Day (thanks to Bardfilm for quickly spotting it) and in the ensuing flood of restorations and updates it looks like more than a handful of things has changed out from under me.
If you see stuff that looks weird, please let me know, either here or on Twitter!
Back in November, I had a bit of a reality distortion moment as I found evidence that a story I’d always told as having happened in 2008 actually happened in 2004. Specifically, we’re talking about a production of The Tempest that I took my kids to see. Their first one, in fact. The one I use as the foundation when I tell people about my kids’ relationship with Shakespeare. Only, if it happened in 2004, I only had one kid.
But I was right after all! Looking through old pictures this weekend I found more from that production, with my other two kids clearly included. I knew I wasn’t losing my mind. These pictures were, in fact, dated 2008. That gave me an idea I should have thought of in the first place. I used my own darned search function…
And look what I found. August 2008. I actually posted about it several times both before and after the show, it was quite a milestone event for me.
I have several different filters that collect Shakespeare references across various sites – Google, Reddit, etc… The signal/noise ratio is about what you’d expect, but I do find some good stuff often enough to keep doing it. Most of it lately is memes. Typically bad ones (hint – if you think your meme is funny, take two seconds to check your spelling rather than rushing to post it for karma? it’ll be that much funnier when you can include in your audience all the people that don’t think you’re an idiot.)
But lately it seems like the world has been taken over by two quotes in particular:
“You are a saucy boy” – Lord Capulet in Romeo and Juliet
“What, you egg!” – Murderer in Macbeth (stabbing optional)
No, seriously. Just looking at the front page of my Pocket queue today, here’s the links I found:
Using “egg” as an insult has always been one of those amusing things about Shakespeare that was a little off. But these days it’s become clear that saucy boy and egg have teamed up (usually with some stabbing at the end) and I’m just wondering where this came from? Was it a reference to a show I’m not watching? It’s getting pretty tiresome.
There’s no easy way to say that. There’s a starkness to it. A simplicity, and inevitability. There’s a reason why, when defending the universality and relevance of Shakespeare’s work, I typically start by saying, “Hamlet’s father died.” It is something we all have faced, or will face. Shakespeare faced it. His characters faced it. Now it’s my turn.
Though I talk a lot about my kids I rarely talk about my parents, and that’s not going to change today. They’re not Shakespearean characters, and it would be making this event all about myself to try and paint it as such. I know grandparents that are CEOs and sit on boards of directors. My mom’s purpose was much simpler. Drop her in the middle of a pile of grandchildren who would inundate her with “Look what I made!” and “Watch me dance!” and “I got a good grade on my report card!” and she would, forever and ever, tell each one how proud she was, and how much she loved them. And that was more than enough. I could say that we’re all going to miss that, and that will be true. But also … they know. People have faith in a variety of different things, but my children have never doubted their Nanta loves them and is oh so very proud of them.
So then let’s talk about Shakespeare. I’ve thought for a very long time about what I would do when this day finally came. I’m not going to dig through my archives but long time readers may remember that I have, in recent years, said goodbye to my own grandmother, and several aunts. So the question of how Shakespeare can bring some degree of comfort at a time such as this has come up from time to time. And here I am this week putting my own beliefs to the test. I believe that Shakespeare makes life better.
I’ve always known a quote here and snippet there that touch on this moment. There’s Cleopatra’s “Give me my robe, put on my crown, I have immortal longings in me.” Or Hamlet’s “I shall not look upon her like again,” if you’ll forgive my pronoun switcheroo. We could do this all day, grabbing a line here or there that catches a bit of the feeling that goes on. I hadn’t realized, until I found a link to that Bobby Kennedy speech, that “Cut her out in little stars and hers will make the face of heaven shine so bright,” could also work here.
Then there’s the longer pieces that allow you to pause for a moment and just kind of soak it in. That feeling that you want to just curl the pages up around you like a blanket. I found myself staring at Sonnet 60 the morning it happened:
Like as the waves make towards the pebbl’d shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown’d,
Crooked eclipses ‘gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.
I spoke of this to a friend, who suggested that sonnet 71 is nice as well:
No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell;
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O, if (I say) you look upon this verse,
When I (perhaps) compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay,
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone.
Together we joked that you have to brace yourself for Cymbeline, it’ll bring you to your knees if you’re not prepared. I’m only copying part of it here:
Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
And lastly, because this post is getting a bit long, we have the Constance’s defense of grief in King John:
Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
I don’t care who you’re mourning, you know exactly what Shakespeare’s talking about here. Knowing that passages like this exist makes me feel bad all over again for people that don’t “get” Shakespeare. Yeah you do, it just hasn’t clicked for you yet. When it does, he’s there for you.
I know this has been a bit of a ramble but it was always going to be. In my day to day life I don’t have much Shakespeare content. I decorate my life with Shakespeare, sure. People know me as the Shakespeare Geek, and they expect that I’ll have all the answers in Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy. But do I expect any of my friends or relatives to quote Shakespeare at me at a time like this? Not really, no. Do I expect that I could use one of the above examples to try to explain how I’m feeling, and hope that they know what I’m talking about? Also not really, no.
So here I am, just kind of shouting into the universe where I know I’ll be heard. Thanks for listening, and for your years of support. Shakespeare makes life better because it’s Shakespeare that brought me right here, right now, to have this platform to express these words. Death is inevitable, and life going on equally so, but how it goes on is up to us.
If anybody has favorite quotes for times such as these, feel free to share in the comments. To be honest I’ve been thinking about maybe putting together a collection for exactly that purpose. Open book randomly, find comforting words from Shakespeare. I know I could have used that this week.
I’ve wished “flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” to many people over the years, but now I’ve seen it with my own eyes. My mom was big into angels in her final years. We could have called her Angel Geek. Her life was decorated with angels, from the jewelry she wore to the decorations on her walls, to the theme of any personalized stuff we got her for the holidays with the kids’ names on it. In her final days one of my cousins brought in a small Christmas tree decorated entirely with angels. As people would come to visit they were encouraged to take an angel home for their own tree (I have three on my tree right now). So the next time I say it I know that I know one personally, and that she loves her grandchildren very much and is oh so proud of them.