Tag Archives: Shakespeare

1774. The Perfect Book Tag

Imagine my excitement in having just returned from taking the dog for an extended walk (and in the process collected a bucketful of wild mushrooms) to discover that someone has challenged me to complete The Perfect Book Tag (even though I’m a free spirit and not taggable). That someone blogs at Dumbest Blog Ever; a blog that is self-described as Stu(pidity) on Stareoids. The postings range from the erudite to the enjoyably stupid, from the sublime to the cor blimey. The blog is well worth the visit (I reckon).

This posting sees a departure from the daily story, and is a bit longer than usual. Of course nothing is perfect, not even myself when I was eleven, but these are some literary works I have enjoyed over the years.

Some snippets of these reflections you may have heard before. I’m not averse to repeating myself. I’m not averse to repeating myself. I hope the selection (which borders on the classic and boring) doesn’t show me up to being a tedious snob. I’m not averse to repeating myself.

The Pretty Good Genre
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

This is the title of O’Connor’s collection of short stories, and contains the best short story ever written – also entitled A Good Man is Hard to Find. Even though you know from the start what’s going to happen your hair stands on end as it happens. The writing is both funny and horrifying. I’ve always been a fan of Flannery O’Connor and a big fan of the short story genre.

“She looked at nice young men as if she could smell their stupidity.”

The Perfect Setting
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange and the Yorkshire Moors are the perfect setting for this extraordinary novel – which surprisingly a lot of people haven’t read. The plot IS the setting. The setting IS the characters. The setting IS the theme. Everything in this novel is integrated into the one thing. Perfectly constructed. I guess I’ve read it maybe 50 times or so.

“I said his heaven would be only half alive; and he said mine would be drunk.”

The Pretty Good Main Character
The Book of Thel by William Blake

Thel is the character in this longish poem by Blake. She is too afraid to come into existence, because that begins the journey towards death. Thel is ephemeral.

Ah! Thel is like a watry bow, and like a parting cloud,
Like a reflection in a glass, like shadows in the water,
Like dreams of infants, like a smile upon an infant’s face,
Like the doves voice, like transient day, like music in the air.

The Pretty Good Best Friend
A Certain Age by Cynthia Jobin

Many readers will be familiar with the poetry of the late Cynthia Jobin. She took a keen and positive interest in so many bloggers and posted her brilliant poetry on her blog. Her final poem Night Draws Near, Brother Ass is heart-rending. I was unaware she had died when I received in the mail from her a collection of poems by William Stafford called Even in Quiet Places.

Let me down easy
the way hints of winter
fall exquisitely today
scattering icy lacy flowers
from a cloud bouquet

The Pretty Good Love Interest
Clarissa by Samuel Richardson

I’m not heavily into love stories, although I have read a great number of novels by Danielle Steel and enjoyed every bit of them. Shhh! But I chose Richardson’s Clarissa because it’s one of the earliest books written in English and I got through the hundreds of pages of love letters never once being able to work out if “they were doing it”. It was all insinuation. Clarissa Harlowe is abducted by Robert Lovelace. That was the gist of it, and I found it pretty riveting really. Besides, I had to read it for exams at university.

“Love gratified, is love satisfied — and love satisfied, is indifference begun.”

The Pretty Good Villain
Richard III by William Shakespeare

I know it’s predictable but it’s inevitable. Richard III is one of my favourite plays. That horrid movie with Ian McKellen missed the point because the film omitted Queen Margaret’s great cursing scene. Each curse comes true, bit by bit.

Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog!
Thou that wast seal’d in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell!
Thou slander of thy mother’s heavy womb!
Thou loathed issue of thy father’s loins!
Thou rag of honour! thou detested—

The Pretty Good Family
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

My sisters adored this novel in my childhood. Once I grew up I was old enough to be seen reading it. When I studied in Boston, USA, I would go to Walden Pond in New Hampshire. The Alcotts, Hawthorne, and Thoreau lived within walking distance from one another. It must’ve been something in the water.“I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.”

The Pretty Good Animal
The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck by Beatrix Potter

I loved this story as a kid – and still do. I think it was because Jemima wanted to hatch out baby ducklings and I kept ducks as a kid and was forever hatching out babies. I didn’t mind the fox in the story because in New Zealand we don’t have foxes. There is something quite magical about a bird’s egg!

“Quack?“ said Jemima Puddle-Duck, with her head and her bonnet
on one side.

The Pretty Good Plot Twist
The Leader by Eugene Ionesco

This short ten minute play by Ionesco is one of my favourites. Mind you, all of Ionesco plays are my favourites! The leader off stage is watched by fans on stage. They go ape-shit over him/her. They go goo-gar. “He’s patting a pet hedgehog! He spits a tremendous distance.” (Incidentally, the actor who said those lines in a production I once directed became the Prime Minister of New Zealand in reality!) When the leader does appear at the end he/she is headless. “Who needs a head when you’ve got charisma?” Ionesco used to write to me but his letters stopped once he died. Strange.

“Shut up! Shut up! You’re ruining everything”

The Pretty Good Trope
Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame

Janet Frame was a New Zealand novelist and this was her first novel. It tells the story of a women with mental problems, who gets shut away in a mental hospital and watches the mountains through the keyhole in her cell. (The story is a lot better than that). Throughout the novel, Frame creates associations with images, so at the end of the novel she only has to mention all these jolly images and you burst into tears! (At least I did).

“She grew more and more silent about what really mattered. She curled inside herself like one of those … little shellfish you see on the beach, and you touch them, and they go inside and don’t come out.”

The Pretty Good Cover
A Guide to Folk Tales in the English Language by D.L. Ashliman

I bought this book for about $250 around 25 years ago. It has a summary of 2,335 folk tales. Back then I earned a living writing for children to perform on stage so such a book came in handy! I don’t care too much about covers, although for a novel I don’t appreciate an artist showing me what a character should look like. That’s the writer’s task. It’s why I’ve never seen any of The Lord of the Rings movies – they ruin the imagination. I like this cover. It’s plain, and in another life I learnt the skills of a book binder and could create plain covers like this!

The Pretty Good Ending
The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge

I think this is my favourite all-time play (at least for today). At the end Pegeen Mike whispers: “Oh my grief, I’ve lost him surely. I’ve lost the only Playboy of the Western World.”

“… it’s great luck and company I’ve won me in the end of time – two fine women fighting for the likes of me – till I’m thinking this night wasn’t I a foolish fellow not to kill my father in the years gone by.”

Thanks for reading!

1616. William’s sister Joan

This is story number 1616, and it is a significant number because it is the same number as the year William Shakespeare died. To honour this, an appropriate story is called for.

William Shakespeare had a reasonable number of brothers and sisters. His sisters included Joan, Anne, and Margaret. His brothers were Edmund, Gilbert, and Richard.

Professor Stanislaw Bartosz Grześkiewicz-Jones was an expert on Christopher Marlowe. He was absolutely convinced that Marlowe’s early death had been staged and he went on to write all the plays ascribed to William Shakespeare. So the professor was extremely distraught when he discovered a hitherto unknown handwritten manuscript deep in the dingy, dark, dank corridors of some obscure library.

He was distraught because it was a letter to William from his sister, Joan, that in summary said, Here is the manuscript of my latest play about the two ugly sisters Regan and Goneril and their silly father King Lear. As with my other plays, do with it what you will, Will.

Professor Stanislaw Bartosz Grześkiewicz-Jones had a book with his publisher due out in a month. It proved once and for all that Christopher Marlowe was the true author of Shakespeare’s works.

In the professor’s day one could smoke in a library. He took Joan Shakespeare’s handwritten letter and set fire to it with his pipe.

1403. A decent education

My son came home from school and said they were going to study Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I said what the hell do you want to study that crap for?

I told him it’s one of a string of plays that Shakespeare set in Italy, bits of them at least. Shakespeare probably never went there. Besides Romeo and Juliet, there’s The Merchant of Venice. Then there’s All’s Well that Ends Well, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, Julius Caesar, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, The Taming of the Shrew, Titus Andronicus, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Winter’s Tale.

Shakespeare seemed to have a thing about Italy. And yet as far as I know there’s not a single mention of spaghetti bolognaise or for that matter any sort of pasta. Not even a tomato. Nor pizza. Romeo and Juliet are young and so are all their friends. You’d think they’d be eating pizza all over the place. But no! I mean, where’s the bloody piatto del brigante, or the rafanata, or ciaudedda, or the baccalà alla lucana? Minestrone? Did Gaius Cassius Longinus, Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, and Marcus Junius Brutus tempt Julius Caesar with tiramisu or calzoncelli before stabbing him? Not on your nelly.

It shows you that Shakespeare knew sweet little about Italy and Italians. In fact, I find the lack of reference to Italian cuisine quite racist. That’s why I said they shouldn’t be teaching this crap in schools. It’s divorced from reality.

So I’ve taken my son out of school and he’s getting a decent home education without all this xenophobic brouhaha shoved down his throat. I said to him if he learns proper stuff he’ll get that job at Pizza Hut I told him to aim for.

Poem 54: On the death of that most excellent lady

cento

(The form chosen for this week is the cento. The lines “stolen” (and sometimes with a word or punctuation changed) are the poets: W.B. Yeats, Robbie Burns, Thomas Hardy, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, T.S. Eliot, William Shakespeare, and William Blake. The lines should have mouse-overs indicating the original author. The title itself is from the Mexican poet, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.)

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in my breastie!

She loves not me,
And love alone can lend her loyalty;

My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird.

I do not think that she will sing to me
Come, come thou bleak December wind,
And blow the dry leaves from the tree!

When I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall

Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.

And in the morning glad I see
My love outstretched beneath the tree.

Poem 22: I’m past the age of Mozart

22mozart

I’m past the age of Mozart when he died.
I’ve yet to write my stuff, although I’ve tried.
Forty one symphonies tucked deep in brain
Await the light of day to give me fame
And shoot Immortal Me afar and wide.

The pile of masterpieces still denied,
Sit there because my mind is old and dried
And won’t produce the notes to light my name.
I’m past the age of Mozart when he died.

When I saw what Bach wrote I could’ve cried,
Each week he tossed out music in his stride.
Shakespeare snuffed it before his sixties came;
And Austen churned out books, yet lived as Jane.
Ah! Most creative artists that I’ve spied
All passed the age of Mozart when he died.

875. O Shakespeare!

875shakespeare

O Shakespeare! How could a single human being write such great plays? And with such insight into the human condition?

How could he write with such lyrical profundity? “To be or not to be, that is the question”. “Is this a dagger I see before me?” The list of famous quotations is endless.

I am in awe. In my opinion he’s the greatest writer that ever lived. One day I hope to read something he wrote.

866. Shakespeare’s bad hair day

866hamlet

William Shakespeare was in a bad mood. He’d finished writing a play called Hamlet. He’d spent ages copying out the parts. You try doing that with a feather. The entire cast can’t rehearse using just the one script.

Done! All done! And then he gets a message from the director. Some of the bits need to be workshopped.

Shakespeare detested workshopping. It was like having his play redesigned by a committee. Things always boiled down to a compromise. What happened to artistic integrity? And it meant, when all was workshopped and done, he’d have to write out the revised parts all over again.

Shakespeare went along to the theatre. Zounds! Robert Langrope was there. He always had lots to say. He put his mouth into drone and would prate one boring suggested revision after another. Of course, the play’s director had a thing for young Robert. He couldn’t help but think that everything Robert said was wonderful.

“This line here,” said Robert to Shakespeare. “To live or not to live, that is the problem. Would it not be better to say, To be or not to be, that is the question?”

Quite frankly, Shakespeare had a gutsful. He’d been there all afternoon.

“As you will,” said Shakespeare. “Do what you damn well like.” He stormed out.

555. Three contemporary lectures

555scarlatti

(I’ve always wanted to reach the mark of 555 stories, because that’s how many sonatas Domenico Scarlatti composed! I know it’s a bit of a meaningless point to reach, but why not? To celebrate, here are three short (fictional) contemporary lectures on music and literature).

1. Contemporary lecture on Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach was married twice and had twenty children. It can be surmised from this that he had heterosexual leanings. This however should not detract from the enjoyment we might get from his music today.

Given his proclivity for heterosexual behaviour, it is little wonder that his large body of surviving works reeks of complacency. If comfort could be expressed in sound, Bach achieved it.

He also cared little about global warming, unlike Handel (oh no! that was himself what wrote it), his contemporary, who wrote a green number called Where Sheep May Safely Graze.

Part of Bach’s music is ruined by overt religiosity. His Mass in B minor, for example, reeks of religion. It must surely be regarded, if not politically correct, at least as distasteful. In fact, most of Bach is unteachable these days; not only are we rightfully not permitted to teach religion, but most students don’t have a clue what the words of Bach’s chorales and cantatas mean.

Then, if you take his book of keyboard music, Anna Magdalena Notebook, we find there are a number of pieces borrowed (“stolen” would be a better word) from other composers. The true authors are not even given credit. Plagiarism. This must surely confirm his heterosexuality, as most thieves in the world today are dyed-in-the-wool heterosexuals.

So if you intend to listen to Bach, or even try to perform his music, be prepared to be open-minded about his personal life. It is best to ignore the subversive religious and anti-gay agenda hidden so shamelessly in the counterpoint.

2. Contemporary lecture on King Lear

Shakespeare’s theatre sketch, King Lear, deals with the timeless theme of ageism. The way his two older daughters ruthlessly treat their father would have been unnecessary if he could have been legally euthanized. But, oh no! they had to get rid of him in a painfully cruel way rather than put him down quickly with an injection.

Of course there are other more important themes that Shakespeare omitted to mention. The issue of climate change is one example. If King Lear had taken greater care of the environment then there might not have been the dramatic storm he was seen to be running about in half naked. He brought it on himself, and Shakespeare omitted, point-blank, to point out the connection.

Also, once they’d ripped out Gloucester’s eyes, they could have donated them for body parts. They seemed to be perfectly good eyes, and someone with a similar blood type was possibly desperate for a cornea transplant. But, oh no! Shakespeare had to ignore that and have him also wander around in the Lear-inflicted storm. What a waste!

Then there’s the question of Cordelia. Such chauvinism! She is treated as a sex object of iconic beauty. Who is the real Cordelia? Not to mention that her part would’ve originally been played by an underage boy who was possibly paid less than the minimum wage. And where is Lear’s wife? Is she mentioned? She was no doubt viewed as no more than a baby-making machine.

There’s so much in the play that Shakespeare ignored. Where are the endangered whales for example? What about the trading of elephant tusks? Back then women didn’t get the vote. Is that mentioned? Did Lear have a woman in his retinue?

Next week we’ll deal with the anti-environmental bastards who chopped down an entire forest of trees in Birnam Wood.

3. Contemporary lecture on Tchaikovsky

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was one of those fucking faggots you find everywhere in the music scene. At least you find them in the classical music scene, not in the rock band scene where they have no trouble getting a woman for the night.

You seen what Tchaikovsky done? He got all those guys in tights cavorting round in front of him. He would’ve loved that. Nutcracker is right. And Swan Lake. Poof.

Then in the 1812 Overture he has cannons firing everywhere. The nancy-boy is trying to disguise his leanings by pretending to be macho and firing guns.

So if you want my advice, don’t listen to the fudge packer. Give me a real man. Like Justin Bieber.

257. Shakespearean academic

257shakespeare

Victor was the most erudite Shakespearean scholar on earth. There wasn’t a line he hadn’t fathomed, a nuance he hadn’t plumbed. But life, for him, was not all academic. No indeed! One day, as Victor went for his daily wander (lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills), he came across not only a host of golden daffodils beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze, but H.G. Wells’ original time machine.

“Great Scott!” said Victor. “This seems to be H.G. Wells’ original time machine sitting here amidst a host of Wordsworthian golden daffodils!”

Not agin to adventure, Victor stepped inside the machine and pressed buttons. “Take me back in time to meet William Shakespeare himself!” commanded Victor.

There was a whirring sound. Victor found he was sitting at a bench table in an early seventeenth century pub called The Cock and Bull. He was right opposite the Bard himself. Shakespeare spoke to him personally.

Victor couldn’t understand a damn word.

240. Tired of the drama of life

240drama

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I, was tired of the drama of life. So much blood, so much murder, so much intrigue. It was blasé. Such tragedy had become humdrum.

She wanted a bit of lightness, a bit of fun, a bit of comedy. She penned a letter* to a dear friend:

Dear William,

I fear very much the approach of death. I know you have quite a few plays in your possession already written and yet to be performed and published; some quite horrid and tragic, such as King Lear, Macbeth and Coriolanus.

However, I enclose two further play scripts, my final ones I believe, called The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. They’re more light-hearted. I’d be happy if you added these to the list of my plays to be performed and published under your name.

I remain,

240dramab

P.S. Don’t let that aberration, Frankie Bacon, get hold of them. The guy’s already tried to pass off some of the scripts as his own. He’s the only one who knows about us. I’m recommending a knighthood for him, to shut him up.

* The Elizabethan syntax and vocab of the letter have been “translated” in order to enhance the ease by which a modern reader can quickly scan.