Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Magpie 46

This week's prompt reminds us of the very important part gloves played in the life of William Shakespeare.
This bumpkin from a country town, who had started out on life’s ladder on one of its lowest rungs, went on to become the most prominent playwright of the London theatre as well as the greatest figure in the history of English literature.
You don’t usually hear much about his dad’s career, but in its own way it too was amazing. John Shakespeare, an illiterate farm laborer, was driven and ambitious. His business -- making gloves -- became successful.

There was a need on the part of the English gentry for gloves, exquisitely made gloves, often of white leather, and John specialized in such items.
He was known as a “whittawer,” someone who whitened leather, but that was just one of the irons in his fire; he came to be what we would call an entrepreneur, involved in quite a number of money-making deals. He must have achieved, over the years, a certain degree of literacy.

And he began climbing the local social and political ladder. He was on the town council; one of the first positions the town gave him was as ale-taster – which sounds like a joke, but it was a serious position. Everyone drank ale (you shouldn’t drink the water), so it was important that it be of safe quality.
John S. went on to rise rapidly: from making gloves to chamberlain to alderman and right on up to the highest rank, bailiff. The bailiff was the equivalent of mayor of the town.
What a time that must have been for his son! 11-year-old Will must have stood in awe when his dad prepared to go to the guild hall. The bailiff didn’t just stroll to work; this was Elizabethan England, which meant ceremony. John Shakespeare would wear his expensive scarlet gown and official ring and would wait by the door for the arrival of two colorfully uniformed sergeants, who would then escort the mayor through the streets, the whole town watching in admiration.
John had moved on up; he could now apply, and he did, to the Court of Heralds in London to be granted the coat of arms that would make him a gentleman.
But he never got it. Something happened.
What happened is one of those fascinating Shakespearean mysteries. Young Will Shakespeare was 13 or so years of age and had to stand by and watch as his dad’s marvelous career crashed and burned. And no one today is sure why.
The records show that his parents began selling things, including the acres of land John had received as dowry, and before long they didn’t have anything else to sell. Shakespeare senior was unable to pay his debts. The man who had been mayor of Stratford didn’t go to church – although church attendance was a legal requirement for everyone – because his creditors could get at him there. He didn’t even pay the four pennies a week for poor relief, which he had always paid before.
There are theories. When it comes to the Shakespeare story, there are always plenty of theories.
John had become an alcoholic, and spent most of his time dead drunk – except there isn’t a shred of evidence for such a supposition. A gambler? No evidence. He had a stroke, a heart attack? Again, no such evidence. He was a secret Catholic who had decided to proclaim his religious belief openly (which would have been a fatal mistake, politically speaking, in that Puritan town as well as in Elizabeth’s Protestant England)? But that too is just a guess. Or perhaps he was the victim of a general recession -- sounds familiar – the market for beautiful gloves having dried up.

Fortunately for his son, young Will, the grammar school, the King’s New School of Stratford, one of the best schools of its kind in the country, was free.


"X” is for “Extraordinary”
[I cheated a little – the word doesn’t actually begin with “X.” :-)]
This is the story of an extraordinary play. Authors of most dramatic works ask their audiences for what is known in the trade as a “suspension of disbelief.” They say, in other words, “Try to believe that what I’m telling you actually happened – or could have happened.”
But with this play, Will Shakespeare doesn’t expect you to believe a word. Because the plot isn’t just extraordinary; it’s actually kind of nutty.
Yes, the creator of the greatest, most searingly powerful dramas ever written – like “King Lear,” “Macbeth,” “Hamlet” and “Othello” – was capable of kicking back and just having a bit of fun.

The bit of fun Our Will came up with is titled “The Comedy of Errors.” It’s as though he cooked up a holiday pudding and stuffed it with puns, slapstick, wordplay, mistaken identities, and any other wildly farcical device he could think of.
Check out this story.
The “hero,” if that is the word I want, is named Antipholus. Quite an ordinary name, wouldn’t you say? I’m sure you have a number of friends named Antipholus, as who among us hasn’t?
Well, this guy has a twin brother named – also – Antipholus. Again, nothing unusual about this. Just another case of twins both named Antipholus.

Well, the first Antipholus has a servant named Dromio. Here things begin to get a little odd, because the second brother also has a servant who is also named Dromio, and who is a twin brother of the first servant.
Are you with me so far?
So you have two chaps who look exactly alike and with the same name, served by a couple of servants who also look exactly alike and with the same name.
The only way we can tell the twin leading characters apart is if we call them “Antipholus of Syracuse,” because that’s where he’s from, and “Antipholus of Ephesus,” because that’s where he lives.

Well, long story short, the Syracuse guy shows up in Ephesus looking for his bro, whom he hasn’t seen in many years. He sends his servant to deposit some of his money for safekeeping. Later the other servant named Dromio shows up and, thinking it’s his boss, tells him to come home to dinner since his wife is waiting for him.
The Syracuse guy thinks his servant is playing a joke on him, so he whacks the fellow upside the head a couple of times, which is what one did with servants in those days. Things are made worse when he asks Dromio about the money he was supposed to have deposited and the servant claims to know nothing about it.
There are fine scenes where Antipholus of Syracuse has a great time going “home” and having dinner with a woman who believes she is his wife. And his servant Dromio of Syracuse learns that he too has a wife in Ephesus, a kitchen-maid who is a rather large woman, to put it mildly.
He describes her as "spherical, like a globe; I could find out countries in her buttocks." He claims he has discovered America "upon her nose all o'er embellished with carbuncles.” (This, by the way, was the first reference by Shakespeare of America.)

Things get wild and crazy as the plot develops. Les freres Marx never made a film of this one, but they should have.
If you’d like to get the whole story of the play, including how the “right” Antipholus arrives home to have dinner with his wife and finds himself locked out – while his lady is in there doing God knows what with some other man – along with a wide variety of other ludicrous deeds, exploits and situations, read the play. Or better yet, see it. There was a wild, far-out version done by the Flying Karamazov Brothers that is truly hilarious.
That’s “The Comedy of Errors,” Will Shakespeare as gag-writer. :-)

Friday, December 24, 2010

My Entry for "Writer's Island" and "Manifesto"

At this Christmas time I’d like to celebrate by telling the story of the real Santa Claus, the fat guy in the red suit who lived way up there in the north somewhere.
Because the truth is – and I should shout it from the housetops, or perhaps publish it as a manifesto – he wasn’t like that at all!

Check this out: it’s very hot, the sun’s beating down; we’re in the tropics. There’s a beautiful beach and the ocean, it’s the Mediterranean, is dazzling.

This is what they call the Turkish Riviera, and the name is justified; it can hold its own with the French Riviera.

Reason I’m telling you about this place is that some years ago I was in this tropical paradise and had a chance to meet the real Santa.
Everyone knows the theory that ol’ S. Claus lived up in the Frozen North with Mama Claus and a houseful of industrious, non-union elves, not to mention a stable of reindeer, and that Santa always lived there.
Not true.

Fact is, Santa Claus was originally Saint Nicholas, who lived in the fourth century and who never saw the North Pole (and maybe never saw any snow). He was born and raised right here in the hot, sunny Turkish Riviera, though the name would not have been familiar to him. Some years ago I was there working on a tourism-promotion project for the Turkish government and I thought it would be interesting to show Santa’s real home, where he was born and raised.
As for the actual saint, Nicholas, he had been famous for his generosity, for the way he gave gifts to the needy.
Well, he should have; he was a saint. :-)
He became known throughout the Christian world.

He wound up in Holland, where they changed his appearance somewhat -- he put on weight and began wearing a bright red suit. They also took his name and sort of Dutchified it: St. Nicholas became Sinterklaas. When the Dutch lived in New Amsterdam, back in the 1600s, they celebrated Christmas with Sinterklaas and all the English folks living around them thought the old fellow was sort of cool so they adopted him for their Christmas too.
They couldn’t quite pronounce “Sinterklaas” however; the closest they could get to it was “Santa Claus.”

So somehow the old fellow had metamorphosed from a 4th-century saint from the tropics to a corpulent chap in a red suit who lived at the North Pole where it was usually pretty chilly but nevertheless he was always smiling about something.
One day I was standing on that beach, working, when an Orthodox Christian priest approached and asked if I would like to see the bones of St. Nicholas? Of course, I said.
He returned with a small case, beautifully made, lined with satin, that, he assured me, contained some of the bones of the Saint.
I was aware of the thousands of kids who go to see Santa at Christmastime and here I was getting to see the real Santa.
For a fleeting moment I thought of saying that I wanted a pony for Christmas, but I couldn’t be sure Orthodox priests had a sense of humor.
I close with a loud, raucus "Merry Christmas"! to all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


"W" is for "Waiting"

Specifically, waiting for the plumber.
Ever see the play titled “Waiting for Godot”?
The characters in that production sit around and wait. There’s not much action; they just wait.
I was reminded of this classic of the modern theatre when I phoned recently for someone to come to the aid of my unfortunate kitchen sink. Though usually of a reasonably sunny disposition, it had suddenly acquired a malady of some sort that caused it to gasp, groan and hiccup in a highly disturbing manner.

Over the years I have learned the hard way that whatever gifts I may possess, and there sure aren’t many, plumbing – dealing with pipes, fixtures, drainage, hydraulics, etc. – isn’t one of ‘em. So I phoned a pro to do the job.
After a while the plumber calls back and tells me he’ll be at my place the next morning some time between 9 am and 12 noon.
I work out a rapprochement, one might even call it an entente cordiale, with my sink, which agrees not to erupt and overflow for the next 24 hours, as long as I promise to get a plumber to ease its gastric distress.
The next morning I sit home for hours waiting like a person condemned to house arrest. I don’t have that little ankle bracelet, but outside of that the situation is very similar. I wait.
The time slowly advances from 9 am to 12 noon. Pas de plombier – no plumber.
The guy calls around 12:30 to apologize, seems he’s running a bit late, but he’ll make it by 2. As good as his word, he shows up around 2 o’clock. Evidently he had been too busy all morning to call. So I had lost an entire morning waiting, during which I could have done something I’ve been intending to do for years: reading “Moby Dick.”
It’s remarkable. I got to thinking of the business I ran for a number of years. If I ever called a client and said I’d come to his office for a meeting, say, next Tuesday and that I’d be there some time between 9 am and 12, just for starters I would probably never get to see that client again – not even from a distance.
If on top of that, I show up there Tuesday afternoon at 2, bright-tailed and bushy-eyed, security would have been called to escort me out of the place before I really got in.
So come on, plumbers, painters, carpet cleaners, refrigerator repairmen, give us a break. Mention a time when you plan to show up and then make an effort to arrive at least within an hour of that time. If you see you’re not going to be able to make it, remember that great invention of Alexander Graham Bell (you know, the chap who invented the Graham Cracker) and give us a call.
I don’t want to have to read “Moby Dick” while waiting for you because I know how it turns out – the butler did it.
Ever have a waiting-for-the-plumber experience?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

An Entry for "Writer's Island" and "December"

“Come in, come in, Colonel. Sit down. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
“The pleasure is mine, Ma’am. I hope you’re comfortable here in the hotel.”
“Oh, yes. The Forum is a great hotel. By the way, we’ve known each other for quite a while; call me Anna.”
“Oh, no, Ma’am. I mean, the General’s wife…”
“Couldn’t we forget all that General’s wife thing for a while? I feel almost as though I was here on vacation. You see, Colonel, I know Bratislava well; I went to school here as a teenager. And now, here I am staying at the famous Hotel Forum.”
“Ma’am, I do apologize for bringing this up, but Major Hertzog has put out an official proclamation doing away with the old name of this city, Brato...”
“Yes. Since March of ’39, this city has a new name, a proper German name: ‘Pressburg.’ That is the only name that we can use when referring to this city in either conversation or in writing.”
“And that is on the orders of – Major Hertzog?”
“Colonel, I’m a little puzzled. My husband placed you in command here until he arrives next month. You certainly outrank a major. Why is this Hertzog giving orders?”
“Well, Ma’am, it’s a bit complicated. I realize you are new to the army and it must be confusing at times. It’s just that this is the way things are done”
“Is Major Hertzog SS?”
“Yes, but that has nothing to do…”
“I see. I think I understand. Don’t worry; I’ll say no more about it.”
“Perhaps that would be best.”
“Look at this picture, Colonel. Someone slipped it under my door back in Berlin. We were told that the Slovaks welcomed us when we came in ’39. Now here’s a picture of a woman who was forced to give the Nazi salute and she was crying as our troops marched in.”
“No, not at all, Ma’am; that’s a famous picture. Those are tears of joy.
She’s thrilled at our triumph. She is happy at the thought of her country becoming part of the Third Reich and that it will last for the next thousand years.”
“I see.”
“Is there anything else I can do for you, Ma’am?”
“Well, yes, Colonel. There is something; I wanted to ask a favor of you. I thought it wouldn’t be difficult – (she laughs) – but that’s before I heard about Major Hertzog! You see, I have a friend here in…uh…”
“Yes. Her husband has been arrested and is being held somewhere here in the city; they won’t tell her where. She swears he has done nothing wrong. This woman is an old school friend of mine, a very close friend, Colonel. I wonder if you could allow the man to be released to go home. After all, it is December; it would be wonderful if he could be with his wife and family for the holidays."
“I would certainly like to be of help, Ma’am.”
“It would mean a lot to me. It’s why I made the trip here.”
“I’ll submit the request to the proper authority and we’ll see what can be done.”
“The proper authority – that would be Major Hertzog?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“And that means there is little chance that this will happen?”
“Very little.”
“Perhaps there is a way that you could do this without having to bother friend Hertzog, without having to notify him of it?”
“Perhaps I should explain. I could easily do this. I could sign a paper and your friend’s husband would be home with her in a couple of hours. But Ma’am, I would be a dead man! Do you know how the SS handles people they regard as traitors?”
“I have tried not to think about it, actually.”
“Well, think about it for a moment. They use a hook, a huge sharp meat hook that they place here, see, right under the chin – and they HANG YOU LIKE MEAT!”
“Good heavens.”
“If I may offer some advice, Ma’am. Take the sightseeing tour of the city and then go back to Berlin and plan for what you might do when the war ends – and it looks like that might not be all that far in the future.”
“The news has been so bad lately. Colonel – do you think we might lose?”
“I bid you good day, Ma’am.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


“V” is for “Virago”
Dictionary: “A noisy, domineering woman; a shrew.”

As you probably know, Will Shakespeare wrote a play titled “The Taming of the Shrew.”
It’s strange that a work like this has been performed so often in our time; the feminist revolution of the past century or so would seem to have rendered portions of the play – shall we say, unpalatable? – for today’s audiences. But there have been plenty of staged productions, as well as Broadway musicals and major motion pictures (“Kiss Me Kate,” for example).
Here’s the story. Kate is angry. She has quite a bit to be angry about. She’s the eldest daughter, but she feels she has always been treated as second-rate while her younger sister, Bianca – who is regarded as more beautiful as well as “nicer” – receives attention and admiration from everyone. So Kate has become sharp-tongued and quick-tempered and has been known to throw stuff about during a tantrum.
The father, Baptista, had the problem all fathers of that era had: he must find suitable husbands for his daughters. He felt that it was important that Kate, the eldest, be married first, but of course the problem was that any potential suitor who got to know Kate took off as soon as he could and was not seen again.
So Baptista’s rule was, no one could court (or marry) Bianca until Kate was married.
That’s the situation when our hero, Petruchio, arrives in town, openly planning to get married, assuming he can find a reasonably attractive female who also has a hefty dowry.
Well, Kate fits that description, but locals warn him that the girl is impossible. But Petruchio, who can be as loud, boisterous and eccentric as Baptista’s oldest daughter, disregards everyone who warns him of her shrewishness.

When he goes to Baptista’s house to meet Kate, they have a tremendous duel of words. (Above, the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton version.) Katherine insults Petruchio repeatedly, but he tells her that he is going to marry her whether she agrees or not. Hearing this claim, Kate is strangely silent, so the wedding is set.
One gets the feeling that Katherine really has a deep-seated sense of insecurity, which is probably the cause of her shrewishness, and that she actually rather likes the idea of marrying this brash young man.

Petruchio does all kinds of wild stuff to prove he’s the boss. He shows up at the wedding under the alfluence of inkohol while wearing outlandish clothes, and he plays tricks on his new wife. Today’s audiences tend to feel a bit uncomfortable during all this; it is clearly abusive behavior.
But it’s the final sequence that is the hardest to take. Petruchio has succeeded in taming the shrew. His wife has changed greatly; she has become passive and submissive. When he orders her to drop what she’s doing and come to him, she replies:

“What is’t your honour will command wherein your lady and your humble wife may show her duty and make known her love?”
Petruchio replies: “Kiss me, Kate, since thou art become so prudent, kind and dutiful a wife.”
So we are left with a question. Is the play titled “The Taming of the Shrew” an indication of what William Shakespeare thought an ideal wife should be to have a good marriage? Or is the play actually his attack on the hypocrisy of the customs and practices of his time?
Your opinion?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Magpie 44

This week’s prompt of a sled immediately brought to mind a strange, curious passage in the play “Hamlet.”
Hamlet’s dad, the late King, is of course dead as the play begins. However, he has returned as a ghost to encourage his son to seek vengeance for his murder.
Problem is, young Hamlet, who has not as yet seen the spirit, can’t be sure that the phantom is really his late father.
His friend Horatio, however, has seen it, and is convinced it is the ghost of the late King. He was on the guard-platform of the castle when it appeared.
Sentinel: “Is it not like the King?”
Horatio: “As thou art to thyself. Such was the very armor he had on when he the ambitious King of Norway combated.”

Horatio: “And so frowned he once when in an angry parley he smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.”
According to the text, the late King had been in various battles – more or less something to be expected from a king – and was involved in a fracas with some Polish guys who were on a sled. The Elizabethans used what for us today is a politically incorrect term, “Polacks,” for Polish people, but it was the 16th century and they knew no better. :-)
In other words, the way the old King had looked during this battle on the ice, this skirmish on sleds, is exactly how he looked when he showed up at the castle as a spirit. So the ghost must be legit.

Whether he is an authentic phantom or some evil spirit just pretending to be the late King is a key problem, which Hamlet spends a lot of time trying to figure out.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


“U” is for “Unbelievable”
If you’re a student of history, you probably know about the Seven Years War – known to us Yankees as the French and Indian War.

And maybe you’ve heard of the Hundred Years War.
Well, today I’d like you to consider a different war, one that has gone on for at least two hundred years.

It’s the war between those who believe that William Shakespeare wrote the Shakespeare plays…
And those who say nope, it was somebody else.

It has even been claimed that it was Elizabeth the One who was the real playwright. After all, she didn’t have much else to do so she wrote thirty-eight plays. :-)
I’ve always found this an interesting subject because the anti-Shakespeare types present such a seemingly powerful case, yet the majority of the best-qualified scholars are convinced that it was indeed our boy Will who was the real playwright.
First off, let’s define our terms. People who believe that the playwright was Shakespeare are known as “Stratfordians,” because Will S. was born and raised in Stratford; those opposed to this belief are “Anti-Stratfordians.”
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s examine, first, the anti-Stratfordian argument: William Shakespeare could not have written the Shakespeare plays. Period.

Why not? Because Will was a humble bumpkin from a humble country town whose original humble position on the Elizabethan social totem pole was very close to the bottom.
This low-born country hick could not possibly have known how kings and dukes, not to mention earls, thought, spoke and acted. And the plays in question are of course chock-full of such eminent personages.
In addition, the real playwright knew Latin as well as some Greek, and had a working knowledge of French and Italian. Some kid from Stratford, whose father made gloves for a living, could know all this?
In searching about for the real writer of the plays, the “anti” types came up with a winner: Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Eddie de Vere was the perfect candidate; he had it all. Born and raised an aristocrat, he knew exactly how the royals, not to mention the nobles, talked and acted. And he was a writer. So the theory is that he wrote the plays but it would have been an embarrassment for someone in his position to acknowledge this, so it was given out that it was a fairly unimportant actor, guy name of Will Shakespeare, who was the author.
As you can see, the antis base most of their argument on class. Will was too low-class; de Vere was very high-class.
But when you examine this topic carefully, some interesting facts emerge. Eddie de Vere died in 1604, which is before about a third of the Shakespeare plays had even been written.
Shakespeare was indeed an actor, probably a good one. An actor then could act royalty, or any other high-born type, better than could a king himself. That’s true today too, of course; the greatest actors – Olivier, Gielgud, Branagh; the list goes on – were not born aristocrats, but any of them could “do” kings better than any of the actual sovereigns.

Will S.went to a school in Stratford that was one of the best schools of its type in the country. He got a remarkable education. The classes were conducted in Latin and the kids studied the great playwrights of ancient Rome and Greece. In addition, Shakespeare was perfectly capable of further educating himself in many different fields – the guy was a genius, after all.
Surely the members of Shakespeare’s theatrical company, over a period of some twenty years, would have known if their colleague Will had not been the real writer of the thirty-eight plays, but there was never one word, not one hint – ever – from anyone of that entire theatrical world as to such a possibility.

My belief, as a card-carrying Stratfordian, is that Our Will wrote the plays. I base this on a room-full of convincing facts, including a most important point: in spite of the large number of claims the antis advance, they offer nothing – not one single shred of solid, written evidence – to support their arguments. Their theories are, as the title of this post suggests, unbelievable.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Magpie 43

Carol: “From the outside it looks great, like a cosy country inn. But inside! In the immortal words of Bette Davis: what a dump!”
Bob: “I know. It’s not the Saint Regis. But it’s out of the way; no one’s going to know who we are.”
C: “Well, at the moment I’m not too certain who I am.”
B: “But I’m sure glad you’re here. When I first saw you, I thought you were the most attractive temp who ever came to work for our company.”
C: “Thanks, Mr. Brock – I mean, Bob. Here I am, already involved in a romantic interlude with one of the company’s executives. My business career is really taking off.”
B: “I love your sense of humor.”
C: “Good. Let’s see. What should we do? I suppose we can always sit on the couch and watch TV.”
B: “Oh, that. I tried it; doesn’t work. The wiring is faulty.”
C: “Ha. They should have named this place Faulty Towers. Look, I’m aware it’s a cliché, but I want you to know I don’t do this sort of thing often – what in God’s name is that!?”
B: “Oh, that’s Hepzibah. My wife’s dog.”
C: “You brought your wife’s dog!?”
B: “Long story. The short version is this: the dog-sitter couldn’t make it today and my family is out of town – and I certainly didn’t want to cancel our little get-together – so I had to bring her. I hoped you’d understand.”
C: “Of course, no problem. Every time I’ve been to a motel with a guy in the past he has shown up with his wife’s dog.”
B: [Laughs] “I knew you’d take it the right way. She’s a wonderful pup. Look at her, lying there in the corner. Real good. She won’t cause any problems.”
[Phone rings]
Bob: “Yes?”
Motel Manager: “Mr. Brock, is it that you are with a dog in the motel?”
B: “Uh, yes, I’m here with the family pet.”
MM: “No dogs is permitted in the motel.”
B: “Don’t worry; she’s very quiet, doesn’t bark and that sort of thing.”
MM: “No dogs is permitted!”
B: “H’mm. Maybe we can work something out. Suppose I pay you an extra fifty dollars for the room.”
MM: “The dog must be gone – in three hours. That should give you enough time to… Anyway, I’ll add additional charge to your bill.”
B: “Thanks. [Hangs up] Well, that’s one hurdle I’ve jumped over.”
Carol: “I’m sorry, Bob, but a dog is a bit more than I bargained for.”
Bob: “Look at her; you’d never know she’s there.”
C: “But that’s the problem; I do know she’s there. I don’t think I could, er, function with a dog in the room.”
B: “We’ll put her in another room, the bathroom.”
C: “Well, I’m no dog expert, no dog whisperer, but it seems to me if you lock up a pooch in a bathroom and close the door, she’s going to start howling.”
B: “No, no. She doesn’t howl; she’s no howler. At most, she might groan a little.”
C: “Howling, groaning. This is like when I was a kid in a fun house. Creatures appear from time to time, making scary noises.”
[Knock on door]
B: “Who could that be? I didn’t want anyone to know I was here.”
C: “I don’t particularly want anyone to know I’m here. I’ll be hiding in the bathroom, case anyone needs me. If you hear any groaning, it’ll be me.”
[Door opens]
Bob: “Mrs. Hansen! What do you want?”
Secretary: “It’s a family emergency, Mr. Brock. I didn’t want to bother you; I know you must be busy…”
B: “No, no. What is it? What’s the emergency?”
S: “Well, your wife and child returned early from Chicago and Mrs. Brock found that your dog has escaped. She phoned me; she wants you to come home right now to search for the dog.”
B: “Oh well, that’s all right. Hepzibah is with me. I’d like you to phone Mrs. Brock and tell her that I’ve taken the pup for an afternoon romp in the park.”
S: “The dog is with you, here in the motel?”
B: “Yes, I’ll explain it all later. No need to mention the motel. Tell her I’ll be bringing the dog home, after our romp in the park, in three hours. The park closes in three hours. Thanks.”
[Door closes]
Bob: “Wow. Another hurdle I’ve jumped over. This is like a track meet.”
Carol [Emerging from bathroom]: “Or a dog race.”
B: “Anyway, we can relax now. We’ve got everyone calmed down.”
C: “Except perhaps for me. Bob, I think we should chalk this up as a good try, but it didn’t work out. This is probably not what I should be doing anyway. Besides, there’s too much going on. I want to leave – before someone comes to check the whereabouts of your cat.”

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


“T” is for “The Tempest”

I’d like to tell you about a tragic event, a shipwreck that happened some years ago – quite a number of years ago, actually; it was in 1609.
A ship named the “Sea Venture,” which was on its way to Virginia, was caught in a tempest, something that we today would recognize as a hurricane, and crashed on a dangerous island, a spot feared by all sailors of that day because of the rocks that surrounded it – they called it the “Isle of Devils.”

The ship was destroyed on the rocks, but all hands – 150 people and one dog – got ashore and lived to tell the tale.
They had landed on, of all places, Bermuda.

I have to admit that the place has changed a bit since then.
At any rate, the ship’s passengers learned, since they spent months there, that it wasn’t an isle of devils at all; in fact, it was a pretty great place to spend the winter. There was plenty of food: all kinds of edible animals and birds, and the sea around the island was chock-full of fish. The future governor of Virginia was in that group, as was the future husband of Pocahontas.

The ship’s crew used the timbers from their wrecked ship to build a different, much smaller ship, which they named “Deliverance.”
They waited till spring to set sail for Jamestown, Virginia.
Try to picture this situation. It was assumed by everyone, after nine months passed, that the folks on the “Sea Venture” had all died, and then they sailed into Jamestown, hale, as the saying goes, and hearty.
It would be as though we in our time were to lose a large crew in a spaceship that crashed on the dark side of the moon, and then they were to arrive back home, half a year later, in fine condition.

The news about the Sea Venture, when it got back to England, created a sensation. Will Shakespeare read about it and sat down to write a play, named, as you may by now have guessed, “The Tempest.”

For the playwright, the island was a magical, mysterious and enchanting place…
And he filled it with magical, mysterious inhabitants.

The main character of this play is Prospero, who lives with his daughter on this island. In exile, far away from everyone, he has somehow managed to acquire the power of magic to help him in his daily existence.

Beautiful young Miranda, his daughter, sees the shipwreck. She will fall in love with a young man, a survivor of the wreck. Why shouldn’t she? He’s just about the only man she’s ever seen, except for her father.

“The Tempest” is one of the most original and wildly creative of Shakespeare's productions. The human and imaginary characters, the dramatic and the grotesque, are blended together in a genuine work of art. Some scholars suggest that Prospero is really Shakespeare; when he gives us his thoughts and beliefs, he is speaking for the playwright. Well, I suppose it’s possible.
At any rate, this is the last play Will S. wrote, so when Prospero “signs off” at the end, it does indeed sound like Shakespeare saying good bye.
Prospero: “I have be-dimm'd the noon-tide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds, and 'twixt the green sea and the azur’d vault set roaring war. But this rough magic I here abjure; I'll break my staff, bury it certain fathoms in the earth, and deeper than did ever plummet sound – I’ll drown my book.”
And some time later that’s just what William Shakespeare did: as in “The Tempest,” he drowned his book, writing no more plays and retiring to his home in Stratford.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Magpie 42

“What does it say?”
“What does what say?”
“On the cup. The words on the cup.”
“Oh. ‘Winner, First City-Wide Dance Contest, Huaraches, Texas.’”
“So it definitely says ‘winner’? Then we’ve got a problem.”

“I really don’t think you should be blaming me for this, Ken. I had nothing to do with it. This was Bill’s project.”
“Well, where is Bill? He should be here, for God’s sake.”
“He’s sick. Had to take the day off.”
“Very convenient. He was placed in charge of this project, given very detailed instructions as to how to handle it, and now it seems he’s screwed it all up and has gone off to hide.”
“I can get him on the phone, set up a conference call.”
“First let’s go over this carefully again. The whole point of this dance contest was that it would be great publicity for Mabel Carswell, who may be our next mayor. Her daughter Stella was to win and the two of them, Mom and daughter, would be writ up in our weekly Tribune and be seen holding the winner’s cup.”
“Right, and everyone understood that.”
“Evidently not everyone. Then, once the election was held, I was assured that I would be appointed City Manager. But now someone – Bill or you or whoever – has messed up and allowed somebody else to win! You simply can’t depend on people any more; that’s what’s wrong with this country!”
“Well, it wasn’t that they were allowed to win. That girl Sissie Hasenpfeffer and her partner were simply the best dancers.”
“What has that got to do with it? My job – and yours, as far as that goes – depends on Mabel’s daughter Stella winning that cup. Now, start thinking; how can we fix this?”
“Phil has an idea.”
“I never thought I’d be saying this, but okay, I’d like to hear Phil’s idea.”
“Well, that girl Sissie’s partner is named Martinez. Maybe, with a bit of luck, he could turn out to be an illegal alien.”
“No dice. Joe Martinez’ family has lived here since before the gringos arrived.”
“Okay then, how about this? Those cups only cost thirty-five bucks. We could buy another cup, inscribe on it ‘Special Award’ or some such thing and give that to Sissie and her partner. The winner’s cup would then go to Stella and Mabel would be happy.”
“But Stella didn’t win. An unimportant point to us, but it’s of great interest to the residents of our fair city.”
“Well, who let this happen? Who were the judges? Don’t they know anything about politics? We spent thousands of dollars putting this dance contest together for one reason, as support for Mabel Carswell’s campaign, and we didn’t blow all that dough to give an award to someone named Sissie!”
“Let alone someone named Hasenpfeffer.”
“Thanks, Phil. You’ve made your contribution. Now go sit over there.”
“Suppose we let it leak out that someone has stolen the cup, since it is so valuable. So the dance festival authorities, who are you and me by the way, have decided that the only fair thing to do is to acquire another cup and award it to both Sissie and Stella. They’ll be co-winners. Sissie will ultimately get the cup to keep and Stella in the meantime gets her photo op, holding the dam’ thing with her Mom for the local media.”
“You don’t know much about Mabel Carswell, do you? I have a feeling that the only thing that would mean anything to her would for her daughter to win – which is what I pretty well guaranteed her would happen. Way things are going, someone else is going to wind up as City Manager and I’ll be back to convincing folks that they may be able to save fifteen percent on their car insurance, like that little green rodent on TV.”
“Well, as far as I can see, that ‘co-winner’ solution is all we’ve got. How about it, Phil? Have you got anything else to suggest?”
“Well, in tight situations like this it was always encouraging for me when I remembered what my Dad used to say: when the tough get going – or when you go getting tough – something like that, whatever – but it was always encouraging.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


“S” is for “Shylock”
A New York theatre critic recently wrote: “A snoozy Broadway season has been bolted wide awake by the arrival of a play drenched in juicy timeless issues -- racism, revenge and romance for dollars.”

“Forget that the work is 400 years old. The cause for cheers is the stirring version of ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ starring Al Pacino, a supernova you already know, as the moneylender Shylock, and Lily Rabe, a rising star you should, as the heiress Portia.”
No matter what you think of Al Pacino playing Shakespeare, “Merchant” is a fascinating play. But what the play means is even more interesting.

After all, the plot is fairly well known. Shylock is a Jewish moneylender who lends dough to a Christian, Antonio, setting the security at a pound of Antonio’s flesh if the loan isn’t repaid on time.

Later Antonio, bankrupt, can’t pay back the loan so Shylock demands his pound of flesh. At the trial, the beautiful leading lady of the play, Portia, switches gender to play a “doctor of law” who tries to save Antonio’s life, arguing for mercy in a famous speech.

Portia: “The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

Shylock, however, “wins” the case and gets set to collect his pound of flesh. But Portia, at the last minute, points out that the contract only allows Shylock to remove the flesh, and not one drop of blood, so Antonio’s life is saved and the money-lender is defeated.
(By the way, the actual “merchant of Venice” is Antonio, not Shylock.)
As I suggested, what the play “The Merchant of Venice” has meant to audiences throughout the past few centuries is kind of fascinating. Is it an anti-Semitic play? Does it reflect not only the general anti-Semitism of the Elizabethan age but Will Shakespeare’s own anti-Semitism?
Or is it Shakespeare’s plea for tolerance?
The history of the play’s productions is of interest. In some versions Shylock has been presented as a cruel caricature: heartless, hateful, greedy. In others, he is a more sympathetic character.
The Nazis, by the way, loved the play. At the beginning of World War II, “Merchant” was playing in numerous German cities. They changed it a bit: Shylock’s daughter, who was of course Jewish, did not marry a Christian, as Shakespeare had written.

A question that has often been asked is, what did Will Shakespeare feel about the character he created named Shylock? Will lived in a society – 16th-century England – that was, from our twenty-first century standpoint, almost incredibly anti-Semitic. So his Shylock was seemingly greedy and heartless, as his audiences would have expected, but it’s worth noting that in the play the money-lender also had pride, energy, even a sense of humor. He could be seen as a person more sinned against than sinning: a loving family man, scarred by years of never-ending persecution and discrimination.
Shakespeare wrote some of his best-known lines for Shylock to deliver:
“Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, senses, affections, passions? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.”
An anti-Semitic play or a plea for tolerance? What’s your opinion?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Magpie 41

“What on earth! Fred, I’m embarrassed. I can’t accept this.”
“Nonsense. It’s just a little gift. A token of a special day.”
“What day?”
“What day? Why, the day of our first date, March 11 of last year.”
“So that’s what the X and the I mean? And, good Lord, they’re in diamonds?
“Right. I mean, no, not real diamonds. Though they do look like that, don’t they? (Laughs) They were expensive enough to be real.”
“Fred, we weren’t on a date then; we had a cup of coffee together.”
“Sure, but it was the first time we were out together. It was the beginning; it had tremendous meaning. I realized I had found the person I wanted to be with forever.”
“Forever is a long time. When I told you this past Monday it was all over, I meant it – it’s all over. Our forever lasted about a month.”
“But that’s why I had to see you today. Not just to give you a pedant with a diamond-encrusted Roman numeral…”
“I think you mean pendant.”
“Whatever. But also I wanted to let you in on a big piece of news. I’ve changed, Dolores! I’m not the guy you knew in the past.”
“That’s good. I didn’t care much for him.”
“And he’s gone! Gone with the wind! Look. I used to be a good-natured goofball, always making jokes. And I have to admit, maybe with some jokes I stepped over the line a bit.”
“Like that dinner with my parents. You didn’t step over the line, you tripped on the line and fell flat on your face.”
“Well, in my defense, that family of yours has precious little in the way of a sense of humor. I was just trying to be friendly and cheerful, to keep everyone entertained.”
“My Mom didn’t find it entertaining when she served her best dish, sesame chicken, and you called it ‘sesame sicken’!”
“Well, that wasn’t my best effort. But hey, Derek Jeter doesn’t hit one out of the park every time either.”
“Derek who?”
“Doesn’t matter.”
“And that crack about us enjoying carnival knowledge of each other – was that your idea of something appropriate to say to my folks?”
“I know, I know. It may seem that at times I shoot myself in the foot…”
“It’s a wonder you’ve got any foot left.”
“Listen, we seem to be getting off the point. I wanted to apologize and to tell you that I really tried, with your folks. But your Dad’s remark about my job, how I drove an ice-cream truck, that didn’t sit well with me.”
“He didn’t mean anything by it. He just didn’t understand what it is you do.”
“Well, somebody should tell him that I’m a CEO, and of a pretty important corporation. We have eight ice-cream trucks, at least six of which are on the streets at all times during the summer. The logistics of the operation are staggering.”
“Fred, I hate to be blunt, but I have to say it again – it’s over. So many of the things you do and say rub me, as well as my family, the wrong way. It wouldn’t matter if you had ten ice-cream trucks. Here, take back your, er, pedant. Sorry it didn’t work out between us. Now I have to get back to work. Bye.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Magpie 40

When I was traveling in India a few decades ago, I was told the story of Lord Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god.
He had been born as a monkey to serve Lord Ram and he spent all his hours in the service of Rama. Hanuman had incredible powers.

He could cross the ocean simply by uttering the words “Ram-Nam” and he conquered all difficulties that tried to stop him because of his courage, patience and undaunted spirit. He was never selfish; all his actions were offerings in service to Lord Rama.

He became the supreme head of Pundits, and the commander of heroes and warriors.
Where Hanuman is, there is Sri Rama and wherever Sri Rama is praised and his deeds recited, there Hanuman is.

Glory to Hanuman, the blessed devotee of Lord Rama. May India have such heroes for ever more!
Blog designed by Blogger Boutique using Christy Skagg's "A Little Bit of That" kit.