I confess to having little fondness for the works of William Shakespeare. As with many classics, all of the joy was dragged out from it in school and flailed with whips and chains, driven away with promises of ever-more severe beatings should joy ever find its way back to the classroom.
Lest you think I wax overly dramatic, for example, we were required to read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”, a book which I thoroughly enjoyed. Then, I had to give a presentation to the class, explaining the symbolism of every single piece of vegetation in the entire book, because it was ALL significant. A blade of grass was not simply a blade of grass, it was a torturous metaphor. I will accept that the separation between the forest and Boston was significant (the untamed wildness of nature in sharp contrast with the rules of Puritan society, blah blah blah), along with the rosebush next to the prison door, and the seaweed that Pearl uses to make her own ‘A’, but aside from these three, anything that the teacher pulled out was a stretch. You can attribute any sort of ridiculous bullshit significance to ANYTHING if you twist it enough. Watch, I’ll do it:
Clearly the otters function as a proxy of the average ignorant citizen, pleased as punch to take in the bread and circuses of its time handed down to it by the overbearing masters. Here, we witness the first spark of conscious thought, the realization that there might be more to life than its base pleasures, and the full evolution of man condensed to a matter of seconds: from ignorant bliss to conscious thought to bold defiance by befouling the very earth owned by his “betters”. The music itself speaks to tastes of the bourgeoisie, taking and taking of the finest things, and serves to spark the conscious realization of the lesser man; that he toils so that others may have better things, leading him to act and say “if you would take from me, take all of me, not just the products of my labors but the bitter ends as well!” A revolution is foreshadowed as others awaken to the realities of their condition. This is a breathtaking work, one of the great clips of our time.
This is precisely why I have little to no patience for symbolism, because I was taught that any bullshit thing can mean any bullshit thing you want it to. No one is right, they’re just adding their own desires and crazy to the mix. Were Nathaniel Hawthorne in my class, watching my presentation, he would have pounded the desk, screamed “I DO DECLARE THIS IS HORSESHIT,” kicked over his chair, and stomped out of the room. N. Scott Momaday would have rolled his eyes and whispered apologies to Herman Melville, saying he never intended such egregious offenses as were attributed to his book lifting directly from Moby Dick, and furthermore clarified that his main character could have two dreams and not have them be interconnected to represent his ‘inner struggle’, because just like in real life, people dream about different stuff on different days, I mean, Christ, Mrs. Jacoby, just because you were batshit insane and hopped around in your pleather jacket like a goddamned flying monkey in excitement about the idea that Abel could be a bear and ALSO be a fish and, newsflash, bears eat fish, so clearly he’s got some self-loathing issues…YOU WERE WRONG. WRONG. ABOUT EVERYTHING.
Shakespeare was treated in much the same manner in school, the one bright spot being the class period we devoted to Shakespearean insults–the next day, we were not allowed to enter the classroom until we had taunted the teacher properly in Shakespearean fashion. I believe mine was “Thou goatish, helmet-headed harpy!”
My momentary delight was killed the day we went to see a local production of Macbeth out in the hot summer sun in the dustiest location in all of Wisconsin with the actors drawn from a pool of the least-talented people to ever do anything. I wouldn’t have trusted any of the actors with dull scissors. Every moment was torture.
I gave Shakespeare another chance last week Friday, with Greenstage’s production of As You Like It, featuring Shane Regan (my vice-dictatorial candidate), at Camp Long in West Seattle. You’d think that I would have learned from the last time I went to support Shane in something: it doesn’t matter how early I show up, some douche is going expend his douche potential energy to meet his douche destiny and plop down directly in front of me, rendering it impossible for me to see what’s going on. This time, I was the third person on the scene: I brought a blanket and a book and read for a couple hours before the show was set to start. I’d spread my blanket somewhere near where I presumed the middle of the stage would be–I didn’t know how far back they needed as I’d arrived before the cast, so I gave them plenty of room. Far too much room, as people started showing up with lawn chairs and parking them in front of me. Who brings a chair and then sits in front of people on the ground? Who does that? The final straw was when a woman rolled a man in an enormous electric wheelchair directly in front of me, expressing her concern that he might be blocking the sightline of the people in chairs next to me, with absolutely zero regard that the girl on the goddamn ground would now not be able to see a goddamned thing. Shakespeare could not have even begun to conceive of the obscenities that flew out of my mouth as I ripped up my blanket and stalked away.
Luckily, my friends had found a spot near the front on the edge of the grounds, so I was able to squeeze in there and cool my jets a little before the show started. Once it started, I was honestly surprised at how captivated I was by the performance–the difference between talented actors working for donations and several towns’ village idiots working for prepaid school field trip money was like night and day. It took me a few minutes to fall into the rhythm of the language, and occasionally lack of familiarity with the source material tripped me up, but I overall I found it light, funny, and an entertaining way to while away a summer evening.
After the show, I finally, finally got to meet Shane, who is a delightful human being and who will make an excellent vice-dicator when the time comes. I continued to hound him over a Junkbucket DVD–if I can get my hands on one soon, I intend to show it at the next Blood and Guts and Punch and Pie.
Should you be local and wish to see this play yourself, it’s on through August 14th at a few different parks.
They also indicated that this fall they’d be putting on Macbeth–maybe I ought to give that one another shot.
…is that two pages, Shane? I promised two pages!