Peace, she sings – HENRY IV Pt. 1, III i

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Another Kentucky Shakespeare opening, another playlist. Break legs, gang, and enjoy, accidental happeners-upon!

1)  “King Hustler” – The Moods: I think this fits any proper King Henry And Crew Enter In Slo-Mo Four Abreast entrance, yes? (The snip at the top is of course from Tenacious D’s “Friendship Test” which just felt right.);

2)  “East Northumberland High” – Miley Cyrus: this was just going to be a joke, but then the hook is “Just because I liked you back then/ It doesn’t mean I like you now/ Just because I liked you back then/ It doesn’t mean I like you” which is as Henry Percy a thing to say as anything, so…’

3)   “Your Number One Fan” – Bobbie Gentry: “to Prince Hal, Sincerely, from Vernon”;

4)   “Harry in the Piggery” – Mighty Sparrow: any specific questions are legitimate, but our Prince Harry is at least metaphorically dwelling amongst the swine;

5)  “Drop That Sack” – Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five: or, Love Theme from Eastcheap;

6)  “Quickly In Love” – Miriam Makeba with the cast of King Kong: for the mistress of the tavern, of course. (And not that King Kong – it’s a jazz musical from South Africa and worth a listen.);

7)  “Robbin’ Banks” – J. Frederick & the Clamtones: the Gad’s Hill Gang internal monologue;

8)  “A Mug of Ale” – Joe Venuti & His Blue Four: no explication necessary;

9)  “A King of autocratic power” – from Gilbert & Sullivan’s Utopia Ltd.: this one is timelier than anyone would like it to be, I think;

10)  “Money Is King” – Van Dyke Parks: despite whatever other differences the parties to this rebellion by have, this point is inarguable;

11)  “Two Princes” – Vitamin String Quartet: everyone forgets John of Lancaster…;

12)  “Marching Off to War” – William Bell: “Is the wind in that door, i’faith? Must we all march?”

13)  “Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind” – Dolly Parton: You tell him, Lady Percy;

14)  “Have Mercy, Miss Percy” – Long Tall Marvin: You tell her right back, ‘Spur;

15)  “Fat Cakes” – Jimmy McGriff: …and back we go to the Boar’s Head;

16)  “Gimme That Wine” – Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross: again, this one explains itself just fine;

17)  “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – Billy May & His Orchestra: the first syllable is wrong, yes, but you should see Neill’s Bardolph makeup. Those exhalations are horrifying;

18)  “Ale, Ale, Glorious Ale” – Bob Lewis: from an album of old English drinking songs and a frequent addition to the Yellowstocking Tales road trip playlists, believe it or not;

19)  “Hey Doll Baby” – The Clovers: we cheated a little and put Doll Tearsheet to work in the tavern one play early, replacing Francis the Drawer. It is not. A good. Job;

20)  “Magic Man” – Heart: don’t fear for a moment that we’re going to forget the Welsh. No one but NO one can trace Owain Glyndwr in the tedious ways of art, my friend;

21)  “If You Go Away” – Tom Jones: this is not the song we ended up going with for Lady Mortimer, but I gave it a good pitch. The Welsh kid singing this one isn’t bad, either;

22)  “Run, Run, Run” – The Gestures: for The Douglas, great Archibald brave and bold and fast on his feet, laying Scotch eggs behind him all the way;

23)  “Love Is a Battlefield” – Pat Benatar: another one that started as a joke, but ended up holding its own, lyrically speaking;

24)  “Getting Some Fun Out of Life” – Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra: I know you all, and will a while uphold/ The unyoked humor of your idleness…”

BONUS TRACK: “Love Is a Battlefield” by Maysa – the original fit the mix better but this one came so very, very close I had to include it anyway. May for the curtain call.

damnable iteration – HENRY IV Part 1, I ii

A quickie: last night I was eavesdropping on the words of Falstaff from backstage and he says to Hal he says, “O, thou hast damnable iteration, and art indeed able to corrupt a saint.

Image result for keebler elf

For people used to using the word in computer science, it’s worth saying that “iteration” in this case means “ability to quote scripture.” Damnable iteration would be that thing where people quote scripture for malicious or self-serving purposes, the very sort of thing believers consider to be behavior that gets one a place of honor in a lake of fire, what with it breaking two, maybe three commandments at the same.

See, Falstaff has just told Hal that someone has insulted him (Hal) in public – “I regarded him not, and yet he talked wisely, and in the street too.” Hal responds “Thou didst well, for wisdom cries out in the street and no man regards it.” Hal is quoting Proverbs 1:20-onward as a slapback at Falstaff because…that’s how these two communicate, via verbal slaps. Men, right?

Falstaff’s response is that quoted above. He considers – not seriously, but conversationally and repeatedly – himself to be the saint corrupted by this whippersnapper. We know better.

Anyway, if today you chance to hear anyone aggressively misquoting words from books many consider holy (particularly the misquoter) in a vain (both senses) attempt to excuse their own malevolent behavior, this is a handy phrase. You should bear the source in mind, but…that’s the way it goes when you quote Shakespeare. Can’t trust nobody.

Reft of his brother, but retained his name – COMEDY OF ERRORS, I i

WT2

It’s a truism in Shakespeare that if it’s even moderately important for the audience to know, he makes sure it’s said around three times. Theories tend toward practicality here: you can’t expect attentive comprehension from an audience of unruly midday inebriates with one eye out for prostitutes and snacks. And that’s just the nobility – the groundlings were noisy as well.

This makes editing Shakespeare a little easier sometimes – a front-facing, seated audience trained to do its shopping at intermission can usually do with one or two mentions of the fact at hand, so the trimmer can just prune out the least useful instance(s). Unless it’s a mug line, of course. Merch people hate it when you cut out the line they put on the mug.

All that said, there’s an instance in Errors of information sort of sneaking in only once and while I know of no one who gets that upset about missing this detail, every now and then people do bring it up.

To wit: why on earth do the twins all have the same name?

Parents of twins have been known to do the matchy-matchy thing with clothing for a long time, and it’s something twins have been known to continue well into old age even without parental enforcement. But sharing names is a bridge too far.

The easy answer is that they didn’t give the twins the same names. Because that’s a terrible idea.

The Shipwreck

Late in the important expository info loaded – and I mean loaded – into the play’s first scene, Egeon says of the twin he raised that he

At eighteene yeeres became inquisitive

After his brother; and importuned me

That his attendant, so his case was like,

Reft of his brother, but retain’d his name,

Might bear him company in the quest of him…

(Sidebar: the twistily-worded phrase “so his case was like” would roughly translate to “so similar was his situation”.)

And there it is: “retain’d his name,” Egeon says blithely, never to be discussed again, even by the twins when they meet up at the end.

In Shakespeare’s main source for Errors (the italics are important here – his main source for just plain errors was Holinshed. ZING!), Menaechmi by Plautus, this is all laid out nicely by the speaker of a prologue, who says that when news got back to Syracuse of [the broadly different situation that separated the twins in the original], the man raising the “surviving” twin changed the boy’s name to that of his lost sibling – no particular reason is given, but it was likely as a sort of memorial.

That prologue continues with a useful couplet stating (in the Nixon translation in my battered ol’ Loeb copy) “To keep you from going astray later, I herewith forewarn you:/ Both twins have the same name.” Couldn’t ask for more than that. I guess the Romans were drunk, too. Hooda thought?

menaechmus

It’s not clear how this worked in Shakespeare’s Errors. Were the names of the Syracusan pair changed in infancy? Did they choose to do it themselves when the non-servant lad “became inquisitive”? Does anyone really care that much as long as the requisite wackiness ensues?

I suspect the latter is the best answer. As with most of Shakespeare’s comedies, those details didn’t seem very important to him, so we honor them best by steamrolling over them apace and hoping no wiseacre ever makes a living picking the plays apart word by word in the printed form they were never intended to take. Best of luck.

We were encount’red by a mighty rock – COMEDY OF ERRORS, I i

Errors Mix Cover

As is my wont, I’ve made another opening night mix. I don’t know that anyone else listens to these. I’ve long ago established that I do not particularly care. I am entertained and as far as pondering what My Life’s Meaning might be, so far that’s the nearest I can figure.

So enjoy, cast and crew of Kentucky Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, and anyone else who might stumble across this and be fool enough to hit the wrong button.

A Mighty Rock Playlist:

  1. “I Fought the Law” – The Clash: Seriously, Syracusian. “Against our laws,/ Against my crown, my oath, my dignity,/ Which princes, would they, may not disannul…”;
  2. “Chains” – The Cookies: Symbolic? Literal? Both? Shackles, carcanets, and obligations abound;
  3.  “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” – Staple Singers: Poor Egeon. The lyrics to this one work surprisingly well;
  4. “Duke’s Place” – Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington: “C-Jam Blues” with lyrics (barely), but I’m playing the Duke, so he gets a song;
  5. “My Evil Twin” – They Might Be Giants: I know not which is which;
  6. “It Takes Two” – The Four Sonics: I know, I know, I know what you’re going to say – Rob Base & E-Z Rock work, too (“Because I get stupid, I mean outrageous/ Stay away from me if you’re contagious” is nothing if not resonant with this text), but I like to shine a light into a forgotten corner now and again;
  7.  “The Patience of Angels” – Eddi Readers: I lost count of how many times “patience” is (ineffectively) spoken in this play – the actress playing Adriana (who is also my wife) hears it as a trigger word by the time the Abbess uses it on her in Act V;
  8. “I Wish I Were Twins” – Ella Logan with Adrian Rollini & His Ramblers: I also highly recommend Fats Waller’s take(s) on this, but I also love the sound of this band, so…;
  9. “Little Sister/Get Back” – Elvis Presley: this is from That’s the Way It Is, 1970, fine early-Vegas Elvis. I’d’ve gone with the old RCA recording for Luciana alone, but “Get Back” is also a useful refrain for all the unwelcome refugees from Syracuse.
  10. “Here Comes Your Man” – The Pixies: Luciana says this line & I hear it offstage & it always puts this in my head, so now, I put it in yours. You’re welcome;
  11. “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” – Willie Hutch: from The Mack OST. I remember when The Mack finally came out on VHS. I was working at a video store & there was serious excitement from multiple customers. So I figured I had to watch it, too, right? Anyway. Errors-wise, Brother does, eventually, (spoiler) work it out;
  12. “Workin’ Girl” – Roger Miller: And one for the Courtesan, who seems to be self-employed, unlike some of the workin’ girls in The Mack. Good for her;
  13. “Chain of Fools” – Aretha Franklin: Another obvious choice. I don’t remember not knowing/not being delighted by this song;
  14. “You Can’t Love Two” – Dinah Washington: bad news, Adriana. I see that look when you find out. I see that option entertained. Sorry;
  15. “Two Loves Have I” – Bill “Bass” Gordon & His Colonials: That is not a rebuttal, Adriana. Bonus points for quoting the gross Sonnet 144. (Enjoy the guitar solo by…time-traveling Marc Ribot?);
  16. “Twin Soliloquies” – Keely Smith & Frank Sinatra: I mostly chose this because of the title, but I like to think it works as an Egeon/Emilia backstory of sorts (minus the “Frenchman”). I always wondered if there’s a finished version of this song in a trunk somewhere…;
  17. “Once in a Lifetime” – Talking Heads: This is not, sirrah, your beautiful wife;
  18. “Double Vision” – Brave Combo: nothing beats a good arrangement. There’s a lot of going from one to another extreme in this play. “I think you all have drunk of Circe’s cup.” Ergo;
  19. “The Parent Trap” – Annette Funicello & Tommy Sands: I think there’s a way to play this whole thing as an elaborate infant plan by the Antipholuseses to help out their parents’ marriage. I’ll get back to you – see you in Staunton, VA;
  20. “Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love)” – Swingin’ Medallions: Oh, frat surf rock, what glories you gave us in your brief life;
  21. “End of the Rope” – They Might Be Giants: this is more or less asked non-figuratively by Antipholus of Ephesus. Other thoughts on this entire album as it might relate to Hamlethere…;
  22. “The Laws Have Changed” – The New Pornographers: The Duke, like so many authority figures in the fifth acts of comedies, decide the fuss should just be over and the laws they were so keen to uphold in the first scene are with a blithe, offhand line cast aside, to everyone’s good, mostly. Why not?;
  23. “Chains of Love” – J.J. Barnes: What, you wanted Erasure? It’s a comedy!
  24. “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” – The Hollies: And let that be a lesson to us all.

Break legs, y’all!

God keepe me from false Friends – RICHARD III, Act III Scene i

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Hello, again – it’s hot out there. It’s hot here, anyway. The summer still doth tend like crazy upon my state of Kentucky, where Kentucky Shakespeare’s summer season is here and the time is right, despite the undoubtedly educated opinion of Martha Reeves and both Vandellas, for Shakespeare in the park. There are some majestic (and blessedly shady) trees surrounding the stage, good friends to all of us in the cast.

Cypress and gingko, they are. The trees, not the cast. I like to touch at least one before each show. That’s trickier since the stage redesign has brought all three onto the stage – I have to sneak and do it before we start – but I manage. I’ve lobbied repeatedly for naming them Cordelia, Lavinia, and Rosalind (center, left, and right, respectively) which seems useful, but then I’d have to go into the whole Rosalind-with-a-long-i conversation and I want to put that off until unavoidable.

But doth the summer still tend upon my state, or doth it still tend upon my state? Titania is impressive, no question, and has every right to brag. But the word “still” in that line is tricky. It doesn’t mean “the summer continues to wait on my delicious royalness”. It means “the summer always/continuously  waits on my delicious royalness”. Which is a fine point, but. Still.*

David Crystal (insert my own Shakespeare nerd fanboy noises here) snags a phrase from comparative semantics (faux amis) and in several of his writings calls such words “false friends”. They look familiar, but they’re often misleading.

Here are a few you might encounter during the 2018 Kentucky Shakespeare summer season in particular:

JEALOUS

This one’s fairly important, one could say, in Othello, and turns up in Errors as well. It has little to do with envy, which is how we commonly use it – “Your vacation pics! I’m so jealous!” – and much to do with suspicion and/or vigilant watchfulness. In Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio finally levels with someone he & Kate have been messing with and says, “Come go along and see the truth hereof,/ For our first merriment hath made thee jealous.” Keep a particular eye out for this one. A jealous eye, even.

DISTRACTED, MATED

Two of the many euphemisms for mental instability our language has provided over the centuries. “Distracted” occurs several times in Errors and it does not mean “having a deficit of attention” but “insane”. “Ditto “mated”, which means something “amazed” or “overcome”, with sort of a sense of temporary insanity, though it retains the modern meaning of “found a romantic partner” as well. This gets played with in Errors, in fact: Luciana asks the twin who’s not her brother-in-law if he’s mad and he, in love with her almost at first sight, responds, “Not mad, but mated.” Later, as the Duke tries to get everyone’s loopy stories to match up, he says he thinks they “are all mated, or stark mad,” that is, “temporarily crazy, or perhaps just all the way there”. The jury is still out when we finish Act V. Those people are not right, none of them. Maybe Balthazar, tops.

COMPACT, FRAMED

In Shakespeare, “compact” (emphasis on the second syllable) means “made of” not “squeezed tightly together like the trash in the Death Star”. Theseus, in a once-famous speech toward the end of Midsummer that now gets cut most of the time, says “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet/ Are of imagination all compact” – which makes more sense when you know this definition. Think of the Mayflower Compact, if that helps.

Same goes for “framed” – the “made of” meaning hangs on now in the sense of a construction team framing a house. In Othello, Cassio is described (by Iago, so, grain of salt) as “framed to make women false”. I guess it’s a compliment?

FROM

This can mean “from” in all the same ways we use, but also has a nice concise one-word easy-to-fit-into-verse sense of “away from” or “far from” – “we are now from home” the emphasis is on being away, not on having come from there. If that makes sense. It’s tricky, but when the actors help, it’s pretty clear.

SO

Falstaff loves this one, and it’s all over Henry IV part 1. It roughly corresponds to our “there it is” or “so be it” or “que sera sera”, “it is what it is” or whatever other cliché we’re using to indicate a fraudulently resigned shrug these days. One of Falstaff’s many idle threats: “If Percy be alive, I’ll pierce him: if he do come in my way, so: if he do not, if I come in his (willingly) let him make a Carbonado of me.” (That’s a piece of meat slashed up for broiling. There’s also a nice play on “Percy” and “pierce”, which would have sounded a lot more like one another 400 years ago; alas, that joke is gone.)

TOWARD (FROWARD)

This one often means “in the making” or “afoot” in Shakespeare – “Do you hear aught, sir, of a battle toward?” is somewhere in Lear, I think. At other times it means “docile” or “willing/compliant” and is linked to “froward”, a word meaning the opposite (“stubborn”, “willful”) and one that we don’t use at all anymore. Think “to” and “fro” if that helps.

FEAR/DOUBT

This is particularly tricky to the ear – “fear” can also mean “fear for”. So when someone says “He was much feared by his physicians” they mean the doctors were worried, not afraid of him. Fear can also mean “doubt”, as in Gertrude’s “Fear me not” to Polonius as he mansplains her relationship to her son to her (he gets a shiv right after, so all is well…).

 

That should hold us over for now, yes? Usually context (and the inflection of friendly actors) makes this sort of clear, but it pays to have the ears ready.

Now that I think of it, perhaps we could name the trees Martha, Betty, and Rosaland? I don’t think the Vandellas would object.

 

*It doesn’t mean there’s seasonal moonshine machinery nearby either, but, yes, we are in Kentucky and yes, that’s still (sigh) a thing, though less an issue in these days of trendy home brewing.

They have their exits and their entrances – AS YOU LIKE IT, II vii

This one is important. Not to the world – ack, not right now – but to me, a bit. I ask to hear from you.

Should I keep on doing this?

I started this blog because I had a year – longer, really, if you include the six months or so of good gigs and stories built up before that – of solid, all-encompassing Shakespeare employment. That hasn’t stopped entirely, but it’s certainly slowed down, and during this same time the world has, to say the least, picked up.

I have some ideas of interesting directions for the blog, including some interviews I’d like to do, a whole line-by-line breakdown of a role I’ve prepared for, and other things that might be fun, but I was also born just long enough before the internet that I a) lack the Beckettian compulsion to express into what may well be a vacuum (which much of the world’s blogging community possesses in spades), and b) have pre-millennial thumbs, as my phone constantly reminds me. That last one’s not really relevant, but man. I’m a good speller, I swear. Yet the phone wants me to look illiterate. It clearly wants that, in some dark HAL 9000/Edgar from Electric Dreams way it wants that.

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Which is to say I’m still enthusiastic about doing this, but not if I’m just (cringe-verb) journaling. I can do that in one of these blank books piling up around the house, without the bloggular trappings.

So I ask those of you who read this on occasion to take a second and drop the briefest of lines – I’m not sad/desperate for approval/seeking testimonials; just a wave or a thumb or any small assertion of non-vacuum will suffice – so I have some idea of whether or not to continue with regular posts in this world where much of your blog-skimming time is necessarily devoted to finding out what may or may not kill you today.

Thanks!

What madness rules in brainsick men – HENRY VI Part I, IV i

In the time since I last wrote one of these, I’ve finished the 8-week, 3-production run of the Kentucky Shakespeare 2017 summer season, spent a week putting the house back in order and doing neglected and despised yardwork, then spent two weeks in New England visiting the in-laws and nephews and some friends (the latter had a tiny Maine cabin on an island in Penobscot Bay for a week – that was unclear: the cabin is always on the island and the island is always in Penobscot Bay, but our friends were only in it for a week and we were only in it for two days), read a giant novel and about six New Yorkers (yet I’m still not caught up), then drove home and spent a day collapsing before I return to audiobook narrating and neglected and despised yardwork.

I’ve had opportunities to write here during that time, but I have not taken them. Clearly. In part, my brain needed a little respite from iambic pentameter, in part because while I’ve been flitting about the national/international straws have continued to pile and the feeling that I’ve been watching a camel weep and wince beyond its endurance has continued to…continue. And little feels more frivolous in the face of all that than the rhythmic and semantic concerns of centuries-old playscripts.

Raggedy Andy Camel with the Wrinkled Knees

But in the midst of all that another thing happened: there was a sale. Bear with me.

Once a year (or so) the Criterion Collection has a 50% Off sale on its well-worth-the-price DVDs, with their fancy extras and scholarly treatment of movies worth the attention (staying on message, Chimes At Midnight, Ran, Throne of Blood, and a mess of Oliviers are all part of their – and my – collection). A recent release that I grabbed during the sale this year has been a favorite since my youth: Woman of the Year (1942). First outing by Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, MGM, directed by George Cukor.*

Hepburn Tracy

Criterion has included all kinds of fun and fancy interviews, but the thing that came back to me before even unwrapping the case was the old-fashioned flame war (i.e., on radio and in newsprint) about whether or not baseball ought to be suspended for the duration of WWII because (Hepburn) it’s a frivolous waste while something important is going on or (Tracy) it’s the very thing we’re fighting for. Unlike the equivalent battle were it to occur on Twitter, the two people arguing (in extended sentences indulging not in platitude nor snarky gif nor repeated handclap emoji) managed to meet and get to know each other and in fact quite like each other, while never ceasing to argue and never denouncing the ideological impurity of the other. Both were in America in the midst of a war with an actual organized nation of Nazis, not profoundly mis-/uneducated cosplayers, so their focus was fairly clear.

Anyway, the memory of that aspect of the movie reminded me that while I agreed with  Tess Harding on most points, I was with Sam Craig on this one and as a result indulging in the study of figuring out ways of doing properly the thing I choose to do, both for a living and as a creative act, felt a bit less frivolous. So I dug in again.

It also happened (we’re coming back to Shakespeare now, I promise) that I had picked up a copy of the Sonnets, which of course I already have in a couple of different formats… but this copy is the triple-ply Stephen Booth edition. The notes; my stars, the notes. People get scared of notes even when they’re necessary and helpful, but these are the best things ever. I’d love to have this in some kind of three-dimensional hypertext version but then it occurs to me that it already exists in the poems themselves.

The notes are difficult to describe except to say that they aren’t explanations so much as a way to appreciate how much idea is piled on top of idea in the Sonnets, as well as how the ideas intentionally lead you down ambiguous byways as you first (second, third) read them. They’re like a sheet music notation that constantly reminds you that at this moment you’re hearing an A minor chord and therefore you can’t really know yet whether this song is going to be in A minor or resolve to C major until you get around to the resolution at the end. The notes themselves delightedly withhold information from you until the proper time, then remind you of what already happened so you can see where the ambiguities dissipate and where they instead continue to stack up. It’s astounding work and it’s a shame more Shakespeare notes (and more notes in general) don’t follow this lead. I suspect that’s because it’s difficult and time-consuming and who wants that?!

I think actors in particular would benefit from looking at the scripts this way – the end of every line of verse, every phrase, every sentence is an opportunity for just the tiniest bit of suspense, the sort of suspense that tricks an audience into leaning forward and listening to all the curves the actor is throwing out there for the brain to negotiate, which means those actors have used the map of the play to run the course themselves first. Which seems important. To me.

But for the moment, it’s hot out, and the crabgrass isn’t going to spray itself with vinegar and Epsom. Peace to all.

remington steele

 

*I also in the last couple of months reminded myself of my childhood love of Remington Steele, which, if I have the order right went from “I Like Mysteries” to “Youthful Feelings About Stephanie Zimbalist” to “This Sort of Fellow Makes an Impression On Her, eh?” to “By Being British and Quoting Cinematic History Chapter & Verse?” to “What Is This ‘Britishness’ Anyway?” to “PBS” to “Cultural Anglophilia” and “Delving into Cinematic History” to “Devotion to Both While Forgetting the Initial Cause”. It’s a misty path, but not a surprising one.

Something wicked… – MACBETH IV i

A weird thing for any modern production of Julius Caesar is that for most people who aren’t utter history nerds that are deeply into that period of Roman history, whatever notion they have of the story of Caesar’s assassination very likely comes from this play, if only from classroom memory of Antony’s oration. Which means we lose the important facet of the play: it’s more or less Wicked*.

wicked

To explain:

Brutus & Cassius (and the rest of the conspirators) were for centuries seen as just the ultimate awful betrayers (there are even rumors that Brutus could have been Caesar’s illegitimate son). In the Inferno, Dante stuck them in the ninth and centermost circle of hell, where Lucifer, stuck in ice himself, eats them eternally with his three mouths (Judas gets the third one, and even here, as with everything Catholic, there’s a bit of hierarchy, with B&C being eaten (again, eternally) feetfirst while Judas is in headfirst).

So in a world where the Inferno is taken as the most common image of how all this works, to write a play in which one of the three worst people in human history is portrayed as a thoughtful, decent, capital-S Stoic with the best interests of his beloved Republic at heart (who made some remarkably ill-considered decisions), one of the other worst people in history is portrayed as maybe Machiavellian but certainly not even the worst person in Shakespeare much less all of humanity by the time all is done, and The Betrayed is sort of barely there at all but for a couple of pompous pronouncements, more talked about than talking, it’s really…well, a bit of a twist on the received notions of how one tended to interpret the story at the time it was written.

So imagine now that for hundreds of years, The Wizard of Oz has been an interesting footnote that some grad students are into, but the story everyone gathers around to watch every year** is instead Wicked.

Because that’s sort of the perspective we’ve got on Julius Caesar now.

Just an observation.

WizardOfOz_270Pyxurz

 

*Was I the only person a little disappointed that Hamilton wasn’t a hip-hop bio-musical of the two Margaret Hamiltons (the actress and the NASA computer scientist)? Probably.

**Am I showing my age here or what? When was the last time a family movie was subject to network TV holiday schedules and not evermore at the fingertips to shut the little darlings up on road trips?

My dearest cuz,/ I pray you school yourself – MACBETH, IV ii

Occasionally in the midst of Olde Englishe Talke, Shakespeare will suddenly sound bracingly modern. The title of this post is one of my favorite examples. And the words all mean the same as they do now, down to the not-just-for-blood-relatives use of “cuz”.

But it’s difficult not to feel, when in the midst of performing Shakespeare, that everything would be so much easier if an audience knew just a couple of obsolete words and meanings. Just a handful. Just enough to take the fangs out of so many seemingly toothy moments of confusion for the average audience.

Most people get pretty quickly from context that wherefore = why and that the occasional shouted “Go to!” or “Marry” or “S’blood” is some kind of Elizabethan default for hitting one’s thumb with a hammer. An attentive actor will even make the Thees & Thous different enough from the Yous that playgoers get some shift in intimacy or power from the change without knowing(/caring) that the juggling of Thee/Thou/You is even happening.

But sometimes even a familiar word with a slightly altered meaning can stick in the ear like a distracting bug and not let you get on with what else is happening (pardon the simile; we’ve been performing outside since May). Someone suggested I lay out a short list, so here are few that came unsystematically to mind. Enjoy!

sad-happy-emoji

HAPPY/SAD

Now means: happy/sad                     Used to mean: lucky/serious

It’s easy to see how this took place – “happy” meant fortunate (related “happenstance” and “perhaps” and even just “happen”), but the standard response to good luck being good spirits, the transfer of meaning happened. So it’s worth remembering (for actors, too) that when Malvolio shouts, “I thank my stars I am happy!” (Twelfth Night, II v), that’s what he means: fortunate. And when Benedicke asks Claudio if he speaks something “with a sad brow” and later says, “Prince, thou art sad”, he’s more referring to them being solemn-faced than depressed.

 

FOND

Now means: affectionate                    Used to mean: foolish, mad, infatuated, gullible, stupid

It still occasionally has a bit of the old meaning – take the phrase “a fond hope” – but even then it’s a little lighter. In Shakespeare it’s usually downright insulting. it’s easy to see how the shift happened with this one, since we do it with other similar words for romantic emphasis (crazy for you, mad about you, etc.), but those words didn’t lose their other connotations as fond has. It comes from a Middle English word, fonnen, that’s probably also related to “fun”, though it also used to mean “to lose taste” in the sense of food going bland with age. You see the connection. “Your brain’s gone stale.”

“You see how simple and how fond I am” – Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, making a play for sympathy that is utter bull.

 

JEALOUS

Now means: envious                          Used to mean: suspicious, doubtful, worried

..so when Brutus says to Cassius, “That you do love me I am nothing jealous” it means “I believe it”; this is also definitely something you want to keep in mind anytime you see/hear Othello.

scruple

SCRUPLE

Now means: moral compunction or reservation                    Used to mean: a tiny amount, either of weight or doubt

A “scruple” was once an apothecary’s measure, a tiny unit of weight (only twenty grains), so when Antonio is insulting the men responsible for his niece Hero’s (fake) death in Much Ado, he says, “I know them, yea/ And what they weigh, even to the utmost scruple”, he’s being precise. Though the meaning that involved tiny, niggling doubt was also there, so when an imprisoned Richard II notes that even his thoughts of things divine “are intermix’d with scruples” it’s that sense.

 

WE

Now means: um, we                    Used to mean: Royalty in double capacity

Speaking of His Highness: people still know what this means (in that when we mock someone fancy/full of themselves we might speak in their voice using the Royal We – “Oh, we are special, aren’t we?”) but to get specific just for fun, it meant that the King or Queen at some times spoke as two entities at once, both the head of state and the embodiment of the state itself. So Richard II isn’t just being a self-involved twit*, he’s fulfilling his obligations.

 

FROM

Now means: um, from                    Used to mean: away from, maybe even far from

This isn’t really that different, but is just an added sense we’ve lost that’s easy to cause confusion to the modern ear. Usually it means what we mean when we say “from”, but in Much Ado when Hero (knowing full well that Beatrice is hiding within earshot) says that “to be so odd and from all fashions/ Cannot be commendable.” “From all fashions” doesn’t mean Beatrice is, I don’t know, generated by fashions or was born within the city limits of Fashion (see, our modern sense doesn’t work at all here) but that Beatrice is away from, removed from (or has removed herself from, knowing her) all fashions. Does that make sense? It’s an odd one, but it turns up a fair amount.

 

NAUGHTY/SLIGHT

Now means: naughty/slight                    Used to mean: the same thing, only moreso

There are quite a few words that have simply weakened over the centuries. “Naughty” is intentionally mild when we use it now, almost always denoting toddler-like intentionally-bad-but-only-a-bit behavior. But when one of the Tribunes shouting at the unruly masses at the top of Julius Caesar calls them “naughty” he means business. Naught in the sense of nothing; wicked, vile, and nasty. “Slight”, too, isn’t something we use as much of an insult, but Brutus’s “Away, slight man” to Cassius is a sharp dig, a more terse and angry way to call someone insubstantial but make it sting.

no springs

COIL

Now means: well, several things but none are what it…              Used to mean: fuss, to-do

I kind of like this lost sense of the word, that a disturbance or turmoil is a “coil”, not unlike our sense of the word “haywire”, I guess. We cut the line from our Much Ado (“Yonder’s old coil at home”) because the speaker’s (Ursula) behavior and the following lines gets the information (that all the ado was about nothing) and the mood across just fine without confusing the audience. This links to the next one, which doesn’t come up that often but that I like:

OLD

Now means: well, several things but none are what it…               Used to mean: lots, more, in fact, than enough

There was a colloquial sense of “old” (like in the above “old coil”) that meant roughly “a metric buttload” – the Porter in Macbeth  right out of the, you should pardon, gate, notes that if one was doorman of Hell there would be “old turning the key”. Hell being a busy place for a doorman. **

BETIMES

This isn’t a word people use anymore, and I think it’s useful enough for a comeback. It usually means “immediately” or “at precisely the right time”, also with the sense of “early”, which fans of punctuality will agree amounts to the same thing. So it’s good to rise betimes in the morning, or if you’re trying to get a bunch of guys to agree strongly to a poorly-considered political assassination, tell them “If these be motives weak, break off betimes” (JC, II i). That sort of thing. Nothing we don’t have a term for but…I just like it. It’s punchy. Let’s make this particular fetch happen, kids.

K1.13Zeus

HORN/CUCKOLD

I’ve been all into this one before, but it couldn’t hurt to mention it again, seeing as how Shakespeare seemed so endlessly entertained by it.

 

 

 

* note: sometimes Richard II is just being a self-involved twit.

** We should count ourselves lucky that the play wasn’t called Old Coil About Naught, which could easily have happened. Except that “nothing” had another added slang meaning I won’t go into here, in case there’s a family audience…

The strings, my lord, are false – JULIUS CAESAR, IV iii

I apologize in advance for posting another of these opening night mixes I suspect no one listens to, but I’d have made it for my own entertainment anyway, so the playlist may as well go up here.*

Faint justifications/paltry excuses follow. Have a happy Lena Horne Centennial, and break legs, all!

jc poster

1) The First Cut Is the Deepest – P.P. Arnold: because there’s no classic soul single about the unkindest cut, and anyway, I’m playing Caska – plus, potentially, Caesar would have given them all of his heart, but there was someone who tore it apart;

2) Breakin’ In a New Pair of Shoes – Cleo Brown: for the Cobbler and his manipulation (withal) of all the other unruly mechanicals;

3) Rome (Wasn’t Built In a Day) – Sam Cooke: clearly…also, a shout out to Romeo & Juliet in one of the later verses;

4) Suicide Is Painless – Ahmad Jamal: because Cassius talks about this a distressing amount in a play featuring at least three and a half suicides, and because the theme from M*A*S*H fits nicely into a play with a significant scene of two military buddies arguing in a tent;

5) Stormy – Bobbie Gentry: the weather, it could be said, looms darkly over this play…;

6) Superstition – Stevie Wonder: Calphurnia teaches us the vital lesson that one should not eat Italian food right before bedtime (and the little Bela Lugosi sound bite (pardon) from The Black Cat is something remembered from the Monkees’ Head soundtrack, if it was familiar at all);

7) In the Colosseum – Tom Waits: another one that rather speaks for itself, lyrically;

8) A Case of You – Joni Mitchell:  “I am constant as the northern star,” quoth Mr. Ambition before he’s snuffed out – Joni said it again a couple of thousand years later**;

9) Hipster, Flipsters – Lord Buckley: If you’re familiar with the work of Lord Buckley, “well, there you jolly well are, then, aren’t you,” and if not, he was a…translator…of sorts. This is his version of Mark Antony’s funeral oration;

10) Cry Me a River – Julie London: mostly this is only because it’s the only song I can think of that uses the word “plebeian”;

11) Stand – Harvey Averne: this cover of the Sly & the Family Stone classic is on here purely because I’m backstage at one of my favorite weird moments of the show, in which Brutus tells everyone to get out of the tent while he and Cassius have it out and it reminds me of the servants of Freedonia calling repeatedly for “His Excellency’s Car” in Duck Soup;

12) You Don’t Bring Me Flowers – Barbra Streisand & Neil Diamond: I find it difficult to hear Cassius say that of late “I have not from your eyes, that gentlenesse/ And show of Love, as I was wont to have” without hearing this in my head

13) Death Letter – Casssandra Wilson: correspondence, as always in Shakespeare, bears some weight, but let’s say this one in particular is for Portia;

14) You’re On Fire – They Might Be Giants: this one was also going to be for Portia in a literal sense, but the figurative sense of Cassius, the poor sap, all yokèd with a lamb that carries anger as the flint bears fire.

15) White Ghost Shivers – New Orleans Owls: I like to think the “White” in this instance is in reference to Perry, that keeper-alive of Great Caesar’s ghost, but then I also like to think the Owls in the band sat even at noonday upon the marketplace, hooting and shrieking, but there’s no heed to be taken of me;

16) Starstruck – The Kinks: is this for the victims of various cults of personality in Rome, or for those who believe the fault is in our stars that we are underlings, or to those maskers & revelers addicted to wine & champagne? I don’t know, it just seemed right and I’ll always include something from Ray Davies given half a chance;

17) When In Rome – Blossom Dearie: translated from the Italian – If you tend to conform to a known social norm, that’s a more ***. Or as Blossom herself sings at the end, “Disregard the signs and the omens”;

18) Oh, Happy Day – Edwin Hawkins: know that most of the cast, too, has this post-final-couplet earworm – thanks a heap, Octavius (and Francesco Carotta);

19) Won’t Get Fooled Again – Labelle: I love this version. If history teaches us anything, though, it is that we will, in fact, be fooled again; but keep prayin’, Mr. Townshend.

———-

* And to the couple of people who have asked why I don’t do this on Spotify: they frequently don’t have the versions of songs that I want. And one is not another. Such is life.

** I love the Prince version(s) too, but he always skips that verse, which was the whole point of the song’s appearance here.

*** the proper singular is “mos”, but that’s even less funny.