Shakespeare in the Park in the Dark with a Knife

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!

48 Comments Shakespeare in the Park in the Dark with a Knife

  1. lightningflash August 5, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    I think it’s so sad that Shakespeare has all of the fun trounced out of him. He was a dirty, DIRTY man who was obsessed with sex and fart jokes. All of a sudden, school makes him all erudite and high-falutin’.

    For example, the play “Much Ado About Nothing” references ladyparts IN THE TITLE. “Nothing” – literally, no thing – was a euphemism for bajingo back in the day. And the plot revolves around whether a girl has had premarital sex or not. In modern parlance, it might be titled “Big Brouhaha About Pussy.”

    SOOOO glad you enjoyed it! I love Greenstage, and I thoroughly enjoy the Seattle Outdoor Theatre Festival, which I missed this year. Maybe a big group will go next summer?!

    1. scearley August 5, 2010 at 9:56 pm

      But since the language now requires that these jokes are explained, that puts them in the same conceptual space as symbolism.

      1. lightningflash August 5, 2010 at 10:02 pm

        Perhaps. I’ve always found that once the explanation is given, I can continue to enjoy the play, and other works of his because the context was there.

        But then, I’ve always appreciated symbolism too, although I hate how it gets beaten into the dead horse in school. I think it’s often subconcious on the part of the person who created it, and it can be interesting to discuss (not always, though). But I think it really says more about the person doing the interpretation than what the author intended.

    2. admin August 5, 2010 at 10:01 pm

      If it doesn’t have siamese twins in a jar, it’s not a festival.

      1. lightningflash August 5, 2010 at 10:03 pm

        Let’s analyze the symbolism of this statement, and what it says about you 😛

        1. scearley August 5, 2010 at 10:24 pm

          “jar” obviously refers to vagina.
          “Siamese twins,” however, is not the obvious “penis” or “dildo” or other sexual implement. In this case, we need to realize the emphasis on Asian culture and note that the author is clearly referring to fireworks.

          So to translate the symbolism for the class, the sentence would read “It’s not fun until I shoot roman candles out my twat.”

          1. lightningflash August 5, 2010 at 10:26 pm

            You sure she isn’t talking about some DVDA? Perhaps from Siamese men?

          2. admin August 5, 2010 at 10:27 pm

            SHUT UP, BOTH OF YOU.

          3. scearley August 5, 2010 at 10:34 pm

            I’m trying to hold a class on symbolism. Those kinds of outbursts do not promote a positive learning environment.

          4. admin August 5, 2010 at 10:35 pm

            That’s almost exactly what my english teacher said to me as well.

    1. admin August 5, 2010 at 9:56 pm

      It’s like they captured my life on film.

      1. playmoby August 5, 2010 at 10:03 pm

        Steven could be classified as a giraffe and I bet you $10 he would put you on his shoulders and carry you around so YOU could be taller than everyone else. 🙂

        1. admin August 5, 2010 at 10:07 pm

          I don’t have the levels of insurance required to pay for breaking someone’s shoulders with my ass.

      2. scearley August 5, 2010 at 10:20 pm

        You might want to watch his YouTube channel. Though you may also be pissed that someone’s taken the job you want.

        1. admin August 5, 2010 at 10:30 pm

          Nah, I have zero talent for that sort of thing, better that someone else does it.

      3. mschilepepper August 6, 2010 at 9:12 am

        With my ex-BF Jim, we used to go to movies on weeknights a lot, and if we went into a theater with just a couple people in it already, we’d purposefully go sit in front of them, just to be dorks, and then laugh and move. Sometimes we’d get full-on spluttering protests before we’d start our giggling. Difference is, we didn’t STAY there!

  2. nicolemarieh August 5, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    i <3 junkbucket, i had a great time at shakespeare with everyone, and i <3 shane! im glad you gave shakespeare another chance.

    1. admin August 5, 2010 at 10:35 pm

      I’m going to put Shane in my pocket and keep him there.

      1. nicolemarieh August 5, 2010 at 10:39 pm

        as long as you promise to let him out to play with the rest of us once in awhile =)

        1. admin August 5, 2010 at 10:42 pm

          …I suppose.

  3. princessgeek August 5, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    I got an “F” on a paper for saying that Sylvia Plath’s “Sow” was about a

    wait for it


    apparently its about her mother. Sure seems like its about a Sow. I mean why wouldn’t she call it “My mother is a fucking sow” if it was about her mother? She assumes too much of her readership, methinks.

    1. admin August 5, 2010 at 11:27 pm

      Hmm. I have never heard that interpretation of the poem before. Having re-read it, I don’t buy it. You don’t deserve that “F”!

  4. geniusinmaine August 5, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    You just summed up why I hated most of my high school English classes.

    1. admin August 5, 2010 at 11:30 pm

      I understand they’re trying to foster critical thinking and a greater appreciation for literature but they’re going about it in the wrong way. I HATED, HATED “Their eyes were watching god” in school. Loathed it. The material was presented in such a way that it would have been difficult for me to NOT hate it.

      Without all of the classroom bullshit, I actually really do like Zora Neale Hurston as an author.

  5. ghost_light August 6, 2010 at 1:01 am

    Shakespeare in the Park in the Dark with a Knife

    Re: symbolism.

    Boy, today is just my day to share embarrassing stories.

    I also hated all required reading in school until we got to Shakespeare. I lurves me some Shakespeare and I was a total nerd about it.

    One day we were paired up up to read and interpret the symbolism of some of the sonnets. I was paired up with one of the sex-mad Shakespeare haters who basically approached with arms folded, daring me to make this cool.

    As we read our sonnet through the first time, we hit the line (this is from memory and could be slightly wrong) ‘the lily which is glided on’.

    “Holy crap,” said I. “Do you know what that could mean?” She did not, so I began to tap dance as best I could around the way some flowers are shaped like girly bits and GLIDING on them could be…

    “No way!” She gaped at me. “Shakespeare is talking about sex!?!”

    I assured her that he was and we spent the rest of the time allotted to us wringing ever drop of naughtiness we could out of that sonnet. We were over the moon, she could not believe Shakespeare was dirty, I was just thrilled to have someone else excited about Shakespeare.

    Then, as we were getting up to give our report, I gave the sonnet one more quick read.

    The word was not glided. It was gilded.

    1. admin August 6, 2010 at 2:01 am

      Re: Shakespeare in the Park in the Dark with a Knife


      That is a GREAT story. What happened to your report?

      1. ghost_light August 6, 2010 at 2:44 am

        Re: Shakespeare in the Park in the Dark with a Knife

        I whipped somethig out of my ass while she folded be arms is what II remember, but she had to have helped. I do remember her explaining what happened

  6. ermac August 6, 2010 at 6:52 am


    1. admin August 7, 2010 at 2:36 am


  7. lady_sotha August 6, 2010 at 12:06 am

    All I have to say is… Fuck Mrs. Jacoby. She is the worst Lit teacher I ever had, and she made the books suck. It took me almost 10 years to take a Lit class in college, and the prof I had was amazing and he erased all the negative feelings I had about classic literature.

    1. admin August 6, 2010 at 1:00 am

      Ask Double A, he was in that class with me. He actually called out “Uh, I think that’s reaching” when she spouted some particularly inane piece of symbolism. She told me that I was a bad influence on the class. I think she hated us both.

      1. starladear13 August 6, 2010 at 2:28 am

        God, I hate that woman, I really should get over it considering that it was 13 years ago. And yeah I’m pretty sure she did hate you and Aaron.

        1. admin August 6, 2010 at 3:10 am

          hahah remember that website that we had about how much she sucked?

      2. lady_sotha August 6, 2010 at 4:03 am

        He does nothing but complain about her. And yes, I am not surprised if you were both bad influences. To this day he is a crass, sarcastic asshole, but he’s honest to a fault.

        And I think deep down inside, Mrs. Jacoby hated everyone. I got an A in her class and I think she still hated me…

        1. lady_sotha August 6, 2010 at 4:03 am

          Wait there was a website dedicated to her suckitude? If it’s still up I would LOVE to read it!

          1. admin August 7, 2010 at 2:36 am

            hahaha our parents made us delete it. It was hosted on geocities (RIP) and had flying monkeys EVERYWHERE.

          2. lady_sotha August 7, 2010 at 6:38 am

            Lame but understandable. I hate to say it but everybody deserves some privacy…

            Still, I would’ve liked to have seen it. I’ll have to ask the husband if he ever viewed it.

    2. gray_jedi August 9, 2010 at 3:55 pm

      Throwing in with the Jacoby hate here. I transferred into her class halfway through the year, right after the class had finished some Dickens book, and I still had to take the test on said book. WTF. I can also directly attribute my hatred of Transcendentalism (FUCK YOU THOREAU) to her class.

      And, oh god, American Players Theater! I saw The Merry Wives of Windsor, and all I remember is the Endless Goddamn Hike To Our Seats. Yeah, there’s a great way to captivate high school students who already don’t want to be there.

  8. dslartoo August 6, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Shakespeare is one of those playwrights whose work can be utterly ruined for the watcher for life if the players are garbage. The right actors and actresses can make a world of difference. “Macbeth” is one of his better works, but again, only if you have a decent cast. I know no other playwright who is so vulnerable to this. What does that say about Will? I don’t know.

    For something a bit different, try out the film “Shakespeare in Love”, which is sort of Shakespeare without really being Shakespeare. It’s one of my favorite films, and it’ll get you to look at his works in a different light.


    1. admin August 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

      I think my last roommate made me watch that movie, but I zoned in and out of it. I’ll give it another shot on your recommendation. 🙂

  9. stationary_jew August 6, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    Symbolism is pushed way too hard in high school lit classes, to be sure, and I don’t doubt that your teacher was terrible about it. But I don’t think it’s valid to say “Hawthorne would call bullshit on the symbolic subtext” when THE TEXT of The Scarlett Letter keeps saying, “This thing here? That’s a symbol. You got that, right?”

    1. admin August 7, 2010 at 2:38 am

      Yes, there were things he insisted were symbolic, however not EVERY SINGLE PIECE of vegetation was symbolic and my presentation was a LOT of made-up crap that even he would have objected to.

  10. technophobe1975 August 6, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Overuse of symbolism sucks every bit of life out of material leaving it dull to the extreme.

  11. poetrix618 August 6, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    Here, you have captured the very reason why I didn’t go for a doctorate in English and then on to teach at a university.

    Having to write ludicrous mumbo-jumbo about a great work of literature (that stands on its own anyway)would make me laugh and then barf. Well, maybe I could have used the experience after all: Mood lightener and diet plan in one!

    I do appreciate thoughtful, warranted commentary on literature and art, but that’s rare. A lot of the doctoral theses I ran across at my college library were fit only for toilet paper.

    1. admin August 7, 2010 at 2:40 am

      I’m afraid I’d roll my eyes out of my head if I had to write another paper explaining hidden messages that I don’t actually believe are there.

    2. poetrix618 August 6, 2010 at 11:04 pm

      …oh and for some odd reason, I aced Shakespeare in college. It does take a close eye and some concentration to read, but it’s easier once you get used to it.

      King Lear actually made me cry.

  12. hallucinas August 7, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    Random: DBP Michelle (spee) is in town and invited me out to see Shakespeare in the Park here in portland last night.

Comments are closed.