Say, has our General met the enemy?–CORIOLANUS, I iv

Say, has our General met the enemy? - Coriolanus, I iv

It’s difficult to tell, the internet being what it is, whether we’ve really lost a disproportionate number of beloved cultural figures this year (though it sure seems true) or whether generationally some of them were statistically due (and were of a generation not particularly lauded for taking care of its physical health). And I am not a person who sits around contemplating mortality all the damned time – surviving surgery does put the thought in your head, but mostly it’s made me more determined to Do The Thing rather than spend my energy worrying about the undiscovered country.

That said, The Thing I’m currently Doing is Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are You-Know-What, so even the simple act of running lines on what was apparently the darkest night in five hundred years this past Solstice means running into:

Let us keep things in proportion. Assume if you like that they’re going to kill him. Well, he is a man, he is mortal, death comes to us all, etc., and consequently he would have died anyway sooner or later. Or to look at it from the social point of view, he is but one man among many, the loss would be well within reason and convenience. And, then again, what is so terrible about death? As Socrates so philosophically put it, since we don’t know what death is, it is illogical to fear it. It might be…very nice. Certainly it is a relief from the burden of life and for the godly a haven and a reward. Or to look at it another way: we are little men, we don’t know the ins and outs of the matter, wheels within wheels, etc. It would be presumptuous of us to interfere with the designs of fate, or even kings.*


…so it’s hard, between work and Twitter, plus the added end of year In Memoriam habit (the best of the genre is always the “TCM Remembers” reel, which I highly recommend, and which I hope they don’t have to update yet again in the next few days; twice is enough), not to have such matter in mind in a year that has seemed kind of cruel even for friends and family, beyond the losses of so many observed-of-all-observers.

And of course I’m torn, as this centering chunk of Stoppard’s Guildenstern could be the admirable kind of stoicism or the other kind – since I’m also working on notations for Julius Caesar, let’s call it the “Brutus showing off how chill and balanced he is in front of his men when he’s already known Portia swallow’d fire for some time” kind. Or whistling, as Blue Valentine-era Tom Waits (and others) would have it, past the graveyard.

There is also the inveterate whinging kind of response – as soon as the Caesar notes are done, I move on to Richard II  and rather than quote a lengthy passage, let’s say starting about here and moving on until he’s actually dead, our title character has little else on his mind or lips. Ros & Guil have plenty of this as well. They cover most options, really.

(I am aware that I’m leaving out Hamlet’s famous contemplations, but honestly, he contemplates just everything, and were there another act nestled between One and Two, he’d have contemplated the recipes of those funeral baked meats and whether they were better hot or leftover. It’s hard to call death his only preoccupation – being preoccupied is his real preoccupation.)

Now, my tendency is to mock…many things, mortality included – the Barely-Inner Groucho is my strongest force (oh, that word). Carrie Fisher’s death was made public a few hours ago, and one of my favorite things about her has always been this (in her case, notorious) B-IG.  It was the real source of her power, not the buns and the blasters and the (still disappointingly clinical) midichlorians.

When I played Feste a few years ago, I got to both sing/play and write a setting for the songs, including this one:

          Come away, come away death,

          And in sad cypresse let me be laide.

          Fye away, fie away breath,

          I am slaine by a faire cruell maide:

          My shrowd of white, stuck all with Yew, O prepare it.

          My part of death no one so true did share it.

          Not a flower, not a flower sweete

          On my blacke coffin, let there be strewne:

          Not a friend, not a friend greet

          My poore corpse, where my bones shall be throwne:

          A thousand thousand sighes to save, lay me ô where

          Sad true lover never find my grave, to weepe there.

…and the choice, what with Feste’s prime goal being survival via remuneration most of the time, when a self-involved ninny like Orsino makes a song request, is going to be the most maudlin (or if you’re reading this in England, Magdalene) thing imaginable. So I composed an ersatz Irish ballad fraught with Melodrame, limping along in 3/4 time, smacking “corpse” and “bones” and “grave” for maximum financial potential. It worked, in the scene at least.

My hope is that if nothing else makes it out of 2016 intact, the mockery will. I have yet to run across any Grand Force (there’s that word again) that cannot be deflated through the pokey pinpricks of laughter at its expense. We’re already seeing how this plays out with would-be human powers in other current affairs, but it certainly works against abstracts when apostrophizing. Or it hasn’t killed me yet, at least.

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun, Nor the furious winter’s rages…     




*Pardon any inaccurate punctuation – I’m working on these lines and I am NOT going to go find the script to check. If I don’t know that speech now, I certainly don’t want to know that I don’t.

The mere despair of surgery, he cures – MACBETH, IV iii

I add nothing to the current human conversation when I note that much of 2016 was thoroughly rotten, unsettling, cruel, and relentless. I’ve even started a list for myself to keep my memory of it in some sort of balance – the Cubs won; I got a surprise last minute first row chance to see Springsteen again; some of my favorite people on the planet had a healthy baby; our young nieces are memorizing Hamilton and leaping headfirst into DC comics and Agatha Christie; our teen nephews are aging rapidly, settling nicely into their personal freak flags, and asking all the right questions about Dr. Strangelove; my wife and I have played Olivia/Malvolio, Speed/Launce, and started in on a new set of song for our music duo; the Tavern re-opened after an overlong arson-based hiatus.

I save two things for last. I’m not very good at Stillness, and if my body is, my mind ain’t. One or both are always moving. So the time my body forced me to spend recuperating after the glorious surgery in mid-March, after which the innards were dandy but the muscles that usually protect said innards had to spend a lot of time engirded and, yes, still, was necessary but ohgoodgoddifficult. And while I’m anything but a bodybuilder, I was almost constantly weak and quivery in an unpleasant way I hid from most people.

But in August, after an international trip and a three-month outdoor performance gig (which you’d think would be enough proof of recovery, tough though it was), the gem of my summer was reaching The Rock out in the lake when we visited my in-laws.* It’s the thing one swims to when one goes to that lake. Because it’s there. Just far enough out to be worth going to, but not really tiring. Nice quiet place to sit (barring interference from the inevitable speedboating jackass, but they’ve been around since well before 2016). I wasn’t sure if I’d be making it to The Rock this year.

I made it to The Rock.


For the second thing, I direct your attention back to that international trip I mentioned both above and here. The Stratford Trip. Just in time for the quadricentennial of Shakespeare’s death (probably, -ish) and his 452nd birthday (-ish, probably), Kentucky Shakespeare took a tiny contingent over to be part of the festivities. And as things that I’ll try to remember about this year when posterity marks it as the time many great people and nations died, this trip will rank highest.

For starters, I got to be Shakespeare Himself (sort of, –ish) bright and sweetsweetMoses early on the BBC’s kickoff to the 23 April festivities as there in slightly muddy and as-yet-unopened New Place (though they did let Prince Charles in later that afternoon, so now I suppose anyone can enter) four of us did a variation on the house blessing scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream live on national(ized) television. That was terrifying after the fact.

Then we had an opportunity to perform some scenes in the courtyard of the birthplace proper, which while not widely recognized as a performance space has a fascinating vibe when used as one. It was touch and go for a moment there when my wife-as-Kate faux-kneed me-as-Petruchio-with-a-“ch”-thank-you in the groin (as planned) and I dropped to my knees, which takes a bit more abdominal strength than I was ready for, but the day was saved by the power of the muscle-tightening and quite slimming girdle under my doublet. We acquitted ourselves well enough, I guess, that two locals said afterwards, “They were quite good! Despite the accents!” to our (also American) friend and artistic director, who smiled and nodded so as not to betray his own accent to them.

Also, I touched a Folio.

There’s a First Folio floating through town right now, at Louisville’s Frazier History Museum. We went to see it (and some Shaker furniture and a Prohibition exhibit and the dresses from the “Sisters” number in White Christmas – there’s a lot going on there) with my folks last week and it was fun to see their reactions…but I had touched one.

You see, down in the vaults beneath the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (and its research facility, at which I got to browse through Bram Stoker’s old Irving/Terry playbills and the prompt books from the RSC’s Barton-era Wars of the Roses which made my fingertips tingle a bit with impertinence), we were shown some fancy and ancient tomes, your Holinsheds and your Plutarchs and your medical treatises of the era and whatnot, and I poked an aforementioned emboldened fingertip at a spine and said, “And what’s this one?”

“Oh, that’s a Folio.”

Now had this been one of my average days, my recoil, which was significant and covered no little ground, would have sent me backwards into a seven-foot plinth atop which was a bust of antiquity which would fall into my arms after I danced about trying to keep it from becoming a bust, full-stop. But the spirit of Buster Keaton kept his distance and all that fell through the air was a high-pitched “Eep!” from me.

But the covers of Folios are well known for being not-particularly-valuable, relatively, and no one seemed terribly upset by it, myself excluded. We had scrimped for the part of the trip we were responsible for, but an irreplaceable volume wasn’t in the budget.

Then a week in Bath, just us two (my wife, not the Folio), then home for more of 2016, ptui.

Thirty-two more days and counting.

(A quick note: I always grouse about quotes out of context, especially when I’m the guilty party. So I’ll note that this post’s headline is (clearly) not about Shakespeare as I imply but about the healing (?) hands of King Edward the Confessor, as spoken by Malcolm in that English Doctor mini-scene everyone cuts, and I didn’t have scrofula anyway, but an intestinal complaint. I also can’t help but note sadly here that we’re not very likely to get aid from England these days in dealing with our own impending tyrant, who is practically on his way to Scone, whatever you choose to rhyme it with, as we sit, what with England having its own non-scrofular troubles at the moment.)

*My in-laws don’t live in the lake. Just near.