Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Magpie 34

The prompt of a lamp this week made me immediately think of that famous scene in Shakespeare's “Romeo and Juliet.”
You know, the one where Juliet is seen up at a high window and Romeo is in the garden below.
Surely everyone is at least to some degree familiar with these lines:
Romeo: “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

The brightness of her cheek would shame the stars,
As daylight doth a lamp.
Her eyes would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
See how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Berowne's 294

Dear Friends: last week's question was a tough one, so there's no quiz this week.  Instead, just for fun, there's this.

Over time, I became interested in how often Will Shakespeare used the name “Kate” for characters in his plays.  My guess is, he just liked the name.
1. First off, the most obvious one: the Kate who was out to cause problems for just about everyone. (The musical, “Kiss Me, Kate,” was named after her.)
2. The Kate who was a Princess of France.
3. The Kate who was a queen.
4. The Kate who worked for the Princess of France.
5. The Kate who wasn’t permitted to rise up in the world, who was kept down.
6. The Kate who wasn’t really a Kate at all.
7. The Kate who had a house named after her.
8. The Kate who didn’t like guys who went to sea, but if you could create a decent suit of clothing she’d permit you certain intimacies.

Answers: Number one was the star of “The Taming of the Shrew.”
Number two was the French Princess the King married in “Henry V.”
Number three was Katherine of Aragon in “Henry VIII.”
Number four was a lady-in-waiting in “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”
Number five was a character actually named “Kate Keepdown” in “Measure for Measure.”
Number six wasn’t really named Kate at all – her name was Elizabeth – but her husband seemed to like the name (like Will S. himself), so he called her Kate anyway. “1 Henry IV”
Number seven was jokingly referred to by her husband as “Kate of Kate Hall.” “The Taming of the Shrew”

Number eight was a Kate who was the subject of a ribald drinking song: “She loved not the savor of tar nor of pitch, yet a tailor might scratch her where’er she did itch.” :-) “The Tempest”

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Magpie 33

[SONG, To the tune of Louis Prima’s “Angelina.”]

“I use cologne Parmesan
So I can call upon Angelina.
Angelina – the waitress from the pizzeria.
I eat antipasto twice
Just because she is so nice, Angelina.
Angelina, the waitress from the pizzeria.
Ti voglio bene,
Angelina, I adore you.
E un passione,
Angelina, I live for you.
Now with Parma’s fine cologne
I will make her all my own,
I’ll be dining at the Ritz
With the waitress from the pizz –


Tuesday, September 21, 2010


“J” is for “Jokes.”
Practical jokes, that is.
Pranks – practical jokes – have a long history that goes back many centuries. There are quite a number of pranksters in Shakespeare’s plays and one of them was the Queen of Egypt.
In my ABC Wednesday effort last week, my letter “I” was for “Infatuation.”
Infatuation pretty accurately describes how Mark Antony of Rome fell for the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra, as Will Shakespeare wrote in his play “Antony and Cleopatra.”
In this play you’ve got one of the great love affairs of all time, because Cleo fell for Mark just as much as he did for her.
So what does this have to do with the letter “J” for practical jokes?

Well, it’s a kick to learn that Mark Antony, a commanding general and the most important guy in Rome – when Rome pretty much ruled the known world – had as the love of his life the high-spirited Egyptian Queen, who wasn’t above horsing around with pranks and practical jokes from time to time.
When I say this couple had a high old time together, I mean high. Mark Antony would occasionally get so drunk he would pass out.
Playful Cleo couldn’t resist.
CLEOPATRA: “I drunk him to his bed, then put my hat and clothes on him.”
So this powerful general and leader of the known world woke up to find himself dressed as an elegant, fashionable lady of that era.
That was one we can’t blame on Ashton Kutcher. :-)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Magpie 32

I’m sure you’re familiar with the play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” You know, the one where the beautiful lady falls in love with a jassack. :-)

Shakespeare’s “Dream” is full of bizarre creatures, of all sizes and shapes. One of them – and I’m sure you’re familiar with him too – is named Puck. He’s responsible for the line, “What fools these mortals be!”
Who – or rather, what – is Puck? He’s a strange little creature, not really human. In fact, to come right out with it, he’s an elf.
(His favorite song is “What’s It All About, Elfie?”)
The above line is an attempt at humor and may be ignored.

Anyway, Puck’s boss, Oberon, has a chore for him. It involves travel. No problemo, says Puck; I love to travel. In fact, I can travel around the world in record time.
Great, says Oberon, get started.
Now this sequence from “Dream” has had a number of the greatest scientific minds of our time, including mine, wondering. If it were possible to set up a race between Puck and a modern astronaut, to see who would circle the earth fastest, who would win?
These are the types of things great scientific minds, including mine, waste time thinking about. (I have to work “time” in here somewhere, to fit this week’s prompt, or I’ll be voted out of the Magpie organization.)

Well, after very little effort and no expense at all, I have come up with the answer to this “time” question.
An astronaut takes about 90 minutes to circle the earth.
Puck says: “I’ll put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes.”
Puck wins, hands down
At the end of Act Five, Puck apologizes to the audience for the general goofiness of this play (and this post): “If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended. That you have but slumber’d here.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


“I” is for “Infatuation.”

Here’s the situation. In the play “Antony and Cleopatra,” Mark Antony, commanding general and high political figure, is the most important man in Rome. And the Roman empire covers just about the entire known world.

Antony knows he has to travel down to confront the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, to make sure she accepts Rome’s supremacy.
Cleopatra is aware that she must go to meet Mark Antony; he’s the one in the position of power and he won’t come to her. So she decides to make a huge production out of this meeting. What she has in mind is something spectacular.

Well aware of her beauty, she is confident that once the Roman general gets a good look at her she’ll be able to manipulate him and get what she wants. She has successfully done this before, and with a number of men.

So she sails up on the river in her royal barge – a barge like no other, past or present.
“The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,
Burnt on the water. The hull was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumed
That the winds were love-sick with them.
The oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke,
And made the water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes.”
Now let’s examine this passage carefully. Gold hull, purple sails, silver oars – routine stuff. I mean, who hasn’t had a barge like that?
But look what Shakespeare has added. The sails are so perfumed that the wind is in love with them. But that’s not all. The silver oars, hearing the flutes and keeping time with the beat, have caused the very water the barge is floating in to fall in love too: “As amorous of their strokes.”

This is sexual tension at its highest. When you’ve got the very wind and even the plain old river-water getting aroused, you realize that that must be a pretty attractive gal sitting there in that barge.

Anyway, as you may have guessed, Mark Antony – speaking of infatuation – falls head over heels for the Egyptian queen. But he has to get back to Rome; very important matters are waiting for him there. His career, his military standing, his high political position, all hang in the balance. He must get back.

But he can’t be bothered. He has found a more important interest.
Mark Antony: “Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch
Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space.”
His space is next to Cleopatra. He can’t get enough of her. She’s like no woman he has ever seen, with her wit, her charm, her spirited personality.
“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety.”
Then something interesting happens. What had been mere infatuation for Mark Antony turns to a deeper feeling. And this is true for the Egyptian Queen too. The man who had been just another guy she hoped to manipulate becomes her true love.
“Eternity was in our lips…”
Inevitably, Shakespeare’s play ends tragically. Mark Antony, ultimately having lost everything, commits suicide. Cleopatra decides to follow him. She says to her ladies-in-waiting:
“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have
Immortal longings in me.”

She has the small poisonous snake known as an asp bite her breast. She dies.
The playwright sums her up with this:
“Now boast thee, death, in thy possession lies
A lass unparalleled.”
A lass unparalleled, that was Cleopatra.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Magpie 31

Ophelia, singing: “Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime…

And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.”
Now, why would Ophelia sing such a song? It wasn’t Valentine’s day – what she sang made no sense.

In the play “Hamlet,” beautiful Ophelia is portrayed in the early scenes as a demure and dutiful daughter, but she suffers one traumatic event after another. Prince Hamlet, the man she loves, brutally rejects her, and she later learns that her beloved father has been killed by that very man. It is all too much for her – she goes insane.
The sequence of Ophelia’s madness is one of the most powerfully dramatic scenes Shakespeare ever wrote.

Quiet, demure Ophelia, now totally disheveled, comes before the King and Queen, who are horrified at what they see. Babbling, speaking nonsense – “They say the owl was a baker’s daughter” – Ophelia also sings some, for her, indecent ditties:
“Then up he rose and donn’d his clothes
And op’d the chamber door.
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
Quoth she, ‘Before you tumbled me,
You promised me to wed.’”

Later, Ophelia dies by drowning – was it suicide? When the body is made ready for burial, her loving brother says:
“Lay her in the earth
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
May violets spring!”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


“H” is for “Hal.”
Prince Hal, that is.
My guess is that if you were to try to figure out which character was the most popular that Ol’ Will Shakespeare ever created in his plays, you’d probably come up with Sir John Falstaff.

Falstaff is fascinating. In the first place, he was, shall we say, large – some might even go so far as to use the word “fat.” He was also totally disreputable, boastful, almost never able to tell the truth, and he spent most daylight hours with a buzz on, except for the times when he was pretty well totally hammered.

But he was also very entertaining and a helluva lot of fun. He was always joking and goofing off, occasionally coming up with some truly witty remarks along the way.
What did he have to do with Prince Hal? Thought you’d never ask. :-) Turns out, just about everything.
You see, young Hal, heir to the throne, believed his father the King was too cold, too strict, and the boy felt the life of a young, respectable royal wasn’t for him. He became a wild teenager, a type that I am led to believe may well exist in our time too.
What Hal really enjoyed was hangin’ with his pal Falstaff.

He felt the Disreputable One knew how to live. Carousing at the Boar’s Head Tavern, surrounded by the sexy wenches, in a way Falstaff was a kind of overwhelming life force. Hal knew he was slumming when he was with him, but he loved it. He even took part in a few of the older guy’s not-entirely-legal activities – something that would have created even more headaches for his dad if he had known about it.

Scholars believe the Old Fat Guy became a kind of second father to the boy. In this picture, Falstaff is played by Orson Welles.

But Shakespeare adds an interesting touch: the young Prince, it turns out, was careful at all times about what he was doing. Yes, he was screwing around and raising hell, but he believed he’d be able to change. He was just sowing his wild oats and he felt he would later be able to mature: when the time came he’d be ready for the job of monarch.

And in fact Hal did later become King Henry V, quite possibly the most beloved sovereign in the entire history of England.

There have been many films and theatrical presentations of his story. One of the best was the movie “Henry V” made by Laurence Olivier during World War II, intended as a morale-booster during the dark days when Britain very much needed its morale boosted.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Magpie 30

Assisting the Science Teacher
“What do you think Elmore is going to say when he learns that his father had an affair with one of his teachers?”
“Had an affair!? What kind of crazy talk is that? It was all perfectly innocent and natural. You see a young woman, a science teacher, attempting a scientific experiment, which could be dangerous, you feel you should assist.”
“Especially if she’s an attractive blonde teacher, like Mrs. Megid. Dangerous experiment? She was doing a demonstration using sodium chloride.”

“And people who have no scientific background – like you, Edna, if you’ll forgive me for saying it – don’t realize that such demonstrations can be toxic and dangerous.”
“Ray, don’t you realize that sodium chloride is salt, plain old table salt! It’s dangerous when you put too much of it on your scrambled eggs!”
“Salt? Where did you hear that?”
“It was the lead-off item on Fox TV News. Mrs. Megid was doing a little demo with salt as an entertainment for the visiting parents and you saw this as a chance to put your paws all over her.”
“There, you see? See how things get distorted? I just felt she might be a little nervous, what with the scientific experiment and all, so I tried to steady her.”
“Yes, handling table salt would make anyone start trembling. She claims that you put your arm around her waist"
“To steady her!”

“And she reported it to Mr Heinrich, the principal. Don’t blame him for banishing you from the school! He wasn’t the one who put the arm around her waist.”
“Actually, we can’t be sure he never tried. And I wasn’t ‘banished.’ Herr Heinrich just suggested that you be the one to come to the school in the future.”

“Well, that was enough to get you tossed out of the place. But that’s not all. Speaking of the principal, an hour ago I got a phone call from him. I hadn’t known about this but it seems that Elmore brought an apple to Mrs Megid this morning – you know, to try to make up for things. And there was some kind of creature in the apple.”
“Probably a caterpillar.”
“Why would you say that? Do caterpillars eat apples?”
“You can’t be sure. Don’t sell them short. Caterpillars are amazing creatures.”
“Ray, why are you pretending to be an authority on caterpillars, for God’s sake!”
“Hey, I know about this stuff. I was no city kid. My family had a big ranch…”
“Yes, I'm aware of that. What did you raise on that ranch, caterpillars? What a great life for a kid – ropin’ and ridin’ them old ‘pillars all day long.”
“You do have quite a sense of humor, Edna. I’ll give you that.”
“Anyway. it was actually a maggot in the apple. And Mrs. Megid now seems to be a bit hysterical because she feels you, not your son Elmore, put the thing – the maggot, whatever it was – in the apple just to torment her.”
“She’s a science teacher? Maybe she could demonstrate how anyone could insert a maggot into an apple? But I'm afraid that brings up another bad point.”
“I hate to think what this might be.”
“Well, it was about that bug in the apple. I thought it could be a maggot, so it somehow just slipped out: I was talking with Mrs. Megid on the phone to apologize to her and somehow her name came out as Mrs. Maggot. It just slipped out. I was sorry, of course, but I had the feeling she was upset.”
“Yes, you call someone ‘maggot’ and they tend to get a bit perturbed.”
“A slip of the tongue, which I apologized for.”
“You don’t seem to realize that this has turned out to be something big. The principal now refers to Mrs Megid as ‘the victim.’ And he has notified her husband – you now have Mister Megid to deal with. He’s the wrestling coach. Try not to call him ‘Mr. Maggot.’”
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