Therefore play, music! – MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, V iv

It wouldn’t be a show if I didn’t make a mix, now would it? (cf. Titus & Macbeth; They Might Be Giants did the honors for R&G Are Dead.)

So I’m going to go act and stuff now. Enjoy the playlist, available here on YouTube. I knew it would turn out a little Benedick-centric because frankly I’m lucky to remember what I’m saying at this point, much less anyone else, but there’s also more mid-/late-60s’ soul here than a Regency-set Elizabethan play might initially imply. It’s summer, and that where my summer ear always leads.

Explanations? Well, I’ll try. If it doesn’t make sense before you see the show, it might make more after. Join us, won’t you?


1) “Weep No More” – Billie Holiday, featuring the Stardusters: As close to “Sigh No More” as popular music is going to give us.

2) ”Heroes and Villains” – Beach Boys: As good an alternate show title as popular music is going to give us.

3) “Just One Look” – Doris Troy: Seriously, Claudio, we’re not in a hurry. We’re staying for a month.

4) “Better Off Without A Wife” – Tom Waits: “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.”

5) “She’s Actual Size” – They Might Be Giants: The short jokes at Hero’s expense just never stop, but she’s clearly got more going on than it appears.

6) “Just the Way I Am” – Dolly Parton: “Let me be that I am and do not seek to alter me,” quoth Don John when he isn’t crying in his room singing along with Dolly.

7) “Get On the Good Foot” – James Brown: “With a good leg and a good foot, uncle, and money enough in his purse, such a man would win any woman in the world, if ‘e could get her good will.”

8) “Harlem Globetrotters Theme Song” – Hanna-Barbera: “Will Your Grace command me any service to the world’s end?”

9) “Seven Days Too Long” – Chuck Wood: Claudio (always with the hurrying) wants to marry tomorrow, but Leonato makes him wait a “just sevennight” and I’m sure this is how the poor kid feels.

10) “Good Morning Mr. Zip-Zip-Zip” – Eugene Buckley & Peerless Quartet: “Hath any man seen him at the barber’s?”

11) “Fire” – The Pointer Sisters: “What fire is in mine ears?” asks the recently gulled Beatrice. But we know, don’t we?

12) “Silhouettes” – The Rays: Pretty much a summing up of what happens offstage during our intermission, until the last verse, anyway.

13) “For What It’s Worth” – The Staple Singers: A little something for Messina’s capable night watch.

14) “Oh No, Not My Baby” – Maxine Brown: And back we go to Claudio’s seemingly constant mental state…

15) “Where Were You Last Night?” – Traveling Wilburys: Ditto.

16) “Twine Time” – Alvin Cash & the Crawlers: After the (spoiler) spoiled wedding, Leonato goes along with a convoluted scheme – “Being that I flow in grief,/ The smallest twine may lead me.”

17) “Strange” – Patsy Cline: “I do love nothing in the world so well as you, is not that strange?”

18) “I Would Do Anything For Love” – Future Idiots: Except, you know, kill Claudio.

19) “Sticks and Stones” – Ray Charles: This just seemed a pretty solid B&B mission statement song.

20) “The Question (Do You Love Me)” – Dave “Baby” Cortez: This is a question that comes up a lot, in life, I suppose, but definitely in Much Ado.

21) “Tombstone” – Suzanne Vega: The whole epitaph-reading thing, obviously.

22) “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up” – The Ronettes (though I almost put the Flo & Eddie version on too because I love them equally): Clearly this covers most of the mood of Act V Scene iv.

23) “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” – Tina Turner: “Another Hero?” “Nothing certainer.”

24) “My Terms” – Helena Ferguson: Another general-sentiment-of-V-iv song.

25) “Church Bells May Ring” – The Willows: While this could go with the ending of any of the comedies, I put it here because there’s this great church bell sound cue in our show that sounds terrific from the audience but is deafening from backstage in a way that still makes me jump every time as if one of Scrooge’s spirits is about to appear right behind me.

There you go. I’m going to try to squeeze in a nap now.

I yield upon great persuasion – MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, V iv

All due Nerd Alerts and apologies, if such are necessary by now.

This production of Much Ado About Nothing that’s happening at Kentucky Shakespeare is set (roughly) during the Regency period, with allowances for the fact that a) Messina is in Italy and b) we’re in the business of popular theater, not rigorous Historical Recreation. The most important reasons for this setting are the obvious parallels to be drawn, noticed by even mildly attentive folks long before this production, between this particular play and multiple works of Jane Austen.

The obvious hook here is Pride and Prejudice, what with the saucy woman of intelligence, impatient with her lot in a Man’s World*, and her public war of words with a haughty man who shows no interest in her despite the obviousness (to us) that they will end up together forever OTP shippity ship ship insert tumblr meme here.


I’m going to presume your familiarity with P&P as it’s a difficult piece of popular culture to avoid, with or without the zombies. And it’s equally difficult while in the midst of a production of Much Ado not to find similarities ranging from the obvious (the romantic naïvete of Claudio Bingley & Jane Hero, Benedick’s list of necessary female qualities that is so close to Darcy’s it’s only a “pair of fine eyes” short of a direct quote, a nice mid-contra-dance spat) to the more esoteric – for example, I’m pretty sure the true Darcy personality analog is Don John and not Benedick; Benedick is a Wickham if ever there was one, in public at least, the private behavior of Wickham being the purview of Borachio instead. Austen just swapped their places in the structure of the story – true to form, it’s the men Austen finds interchangeable (Don John as he is would probably be at least as at home in Northanger Abbey as he is in Shakespeare) and makes almost tangential, just problems to be dealt with by the women, to whom she gives a society and inner life of their own. Take Leonato’s wife, Innogen (if you can find  her), a character that appears in a stage direction and a half and is given a name (barely) but no lines. Our knowledge of her existence seems purely due to an early draft in which no one got around to scratching her name out. I like to think of Mrs. Bennet as Jane’s Revenge for this oversight, a double verbosity to balance a muteness.

P&P 1995 mrs bennet

Abigail and I, in working on Bea & Ben’s scenes also noticed strong ties between the whole Kill Claudio business (if you’re reading this before you’ve watched our second half, spoiler alert) and the Vacationing Lizzie Tells Darcy About Lydia & Thinks He’s Skipping Town Because of It Which He Is But Not the Way She Thinks scene.** There are differences between the situations of the two women’s shamed relatives and between the types of dutiful feeling that spur the two men into action (Benedick loves Claudio and Darcy loathes Wickham, for starters), but the similarities are so clear that it feels wasteful to go into more detail.

Also notable to us were the equally quotable direct-yet-confusing declarations of love – what is “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you”, followed by details of Darcy’s sense of the general Bennet inferiority if not a one-page restating of Benedick’s single sentence “I do love nothing in the world so well as you; is not that strange?” And towards the end, note Lizzie’s “Now be sincere; did you admire me for my impertinence?” when laid alongside Beatrice’s “For which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?” This isn’t brain surgery, but neither is it coincidence.


But to me, while the comedy angle of the Beatrice and Benedick plot (minus the elements of farce Jane disposes of) takes place very nicely alongside P&P, an important part of Much Ado also bears a strong resemblance to Persuasion, in that our pair of inevitables have some sort of history together that took a bad turn before the story begins and will need to be righted before it can end. Also, the word “prejudice” appears nowhere in the play – though in her snappy little soliloquy after she’s tricked into belief in Benedick’s lovesickness, Beatrice does come forth with “Stand I condemn’d for pride and scorn so much?/ Contempt, farewell, and maiden pride, adieu” which is really pretty close, sensewise – but there’s “persuasion” right in Beatrice’s final line (as noted in the title of this post). I’ve left out Mansfield Park, but it gives off more of a King-Lear-meets-All’s-Well vibe. Hamlet is read aloud in Sense & Sensibility, which must count for something.

On the subject of Emma, however, Shakespeare remains silent. Unless she’s Puck… Maybe some other season.




* It could be argued that this wasn’t really Austen’s focus, but it’s certainly an aspect that registers significantly now.

** I turned to my lovely wife for many of the Austenian particulars in this post; I enjoy those six novels greatly (and I also recommend Love & Friendship, Whit Stillman’s adapted Lady Susan – the film is delightful and his modification of the book is doubly so) and am an avid and unashamed watcher of any nine-hour BBC whispers-and-corsetry melodrama, but Abigail is fleeter than Google when you need a quote or a scene location from P&P. Ponder for a moment how many novels you can readily quote from if you’re a normal person whose job doesn’t require it. Not that she’s a normal person…

…an improbable fiction – TWELFTH NIGHT, III iv

All three shows in this summer’s season of Kentucky Shakespeare feature one of those little moments I love, which keep us (the show-makers) from getting too precious about ourselves. Shakespeare loves to throw these in, but they’re not always there and I’m glad we have one in each of this year’s scripts.

That is to say: cheap and easy metatheatre, not of the more obvious and showier Hamlet/Midsummer lay-within-a-play type but rather that kind where a character says in so many words, “Huh; it’s almost like you people are watching a play right now or something…” and the audience says, “Yup.” No litcrit treatises required, just a pleasant but trippy little flash of the Droste effect.

The techniques of actors are mentioned when the conspirators meet in Julius Caesar and Brutus admonishes them not to look all dark and guilty about this (“good! – I swear! – good!”) project they’re about to embark on, lest someone catch on too soon:

          Let not our lookes put on our purposes,

          But beare it as our Roman Actors do,

          With untyr’d Spirits and formal Constancie,

“untyr’d” in this case playing with the obvious sense of “not tired” but also “undressed”, “not attired” (seeing as how the Frenchy word “costume” didn’t sneak across the Channel for another couple of hundred years and actors were still changing backstage in what they called a “tiring house”), which is gloriously tricky talk: don’t look guilty because a) that will blow the whole plan but also importantly b) what, when you strip everything away, do you have to look guilty about when our basic purpose is so gosh-darned pure? Oh, Brutus. Stoicism doesn’t mix well with your naïve grasp on human nature. Been there, pal.

But that’s less metatheatre than a useful simile. The fun bit comes right after the fun and difficult to stage stabby scene* when Cassius has the (purely genuine or meant to manipulate or both? Actor’s call) philosophical presence of mind to wonder:

                                       How many Ages hence

          Shall this our lofty Scene be acted over,

          In State unborne, and Accents yet unknowne?

Brutus picks up the thought:

          How many times shall Caesar bleed in Sport

          That now…lye along,

          No worthier than the dust?

And then Cassius chimes back in with one of the play’s many understatements of gross miscalculation:

          So oft as that shall be,

          So often shall the knot of us be called,

          The Men that gave their Country liberty.

The path of that thought gives the audience a nice trajectory from “You called it, Cassius” to “Cool; we’re watching that happen right now” to “But guys, that whole spin doesn’t really play out for you in the long run” (or, if the audience knows the play, even the incredibly short run).

Richard II is all about pageantry and a king who lives for it, but he doesn’t speak in theatrical terms as often as you’d think. The real meta moment comes just after his super-fancy deposition scene with the broken mirror and the “Ay, no, no, I” business and all kinds of melodrama, Richard being a terrific part to tear a cat in** – and the next scene starts with Richard’s uncle York telling his wife the story of Henry IV’s triumphant ride amongst the people and the way-less-triumphant Richard’s similar ride after him:

          As in a Theater, the eyes of Men,

          After a well grac’d Actor leaves the Stage,

          Are idlely bent on him that enters next,

          Thinking his prattle to be tedious,

which manages both to compare the less-popular Richard with the triumphant Henry, but also compare the scattered and about-to-be-quite-comic (at last – this play is sparse on the levity) actor playing York with the impressiveness of the big Richard set piece that preceded this little scene of would-be domesticity and boots. I laugh every time in rehearsal, and the actor playing York isn’t particularly playing it up. It’s just unavoidable.

There’s little of this in Much Ado, since the scenes in which Beatrice and Benedick are tricked into romance are so inherently theatrical it’s scarcely worth mentioning in great detail. But just in case you were nodding off, at the end of the fooling of Benedick, Don Pedro mentions it anyway:

          the sport will be, when they hold one an opinion of another’s dotage, and no such matter, that’s the Scene that I would see, which will be merely a dumb show…

“merely a dumb show” being an odd way to describe any scene between Beatrice and Benedick, who even for characters in Shakespeare are chatty (and prose-chatty at that which is harder to memorize than verse-chatty, believe you me). Perhaps he’s just thinking wishfully; perhaps, considering that the dumb show usually served as a prologue to the main action, that’s more what he’s going for. There are, as always, options.

As I said, I’m happy these little nuggets appear in each of the summer’s plays because I love to look for the little similarities in plays that weren’t chosen by that criteria. More connections will start popping up once we’re doing all three in rotation. They always do. Assuming there’s anything left of our minds to notice such things at that point…


*I’ll be Caska in ours and I’m looking forward to going in with the first poke, partially for Drama and partially because it’s only going to get harder to stage from there.

** that’s from Shakespeare…

Avaunt, and quit my sight! – MACBETH, III iv

I have one measly day off.

I chose to ignore the citywide bacchanal that is the Kentucky Derby because I’m marshaling my energies. I read, there may have been some knitting, and I spent a fair amount of time planning the first session of this Shakespeare readers’ workshop/book club/thing I’m doing this week. We may have watched the entirety of Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans with our lunch. There was a cocktail, another thing, like free time, that will be scarce as the summer continues (for vocal protection).

At 8:00, The Bad and the Beautiful, which I haven’t seen in quite a while, came on TCM. It’s good (an Essential, even*), so I left it on. Shields (Kirk Douglas) comes to Georgia‘s (Lana Turner) apartment and finds out she’s daughter of a (dead) John Barrymore-esque actor he had known. He puts on a record of her father performing (voiced by Louis Calhern, which I just realized I should look up and check except I know that voice and have no need to confirm). He is of course performing Shakespeare. Because as I have noted time and time again, I am not allowed to escape.

Calhern is doing a gloriously orotund Macbeth, kicking in at “She should have died hereafter”, but then (because that’s what I’m listening to, of course, not the scene that’s happening on top of it) the audio loops back to an earlier bit from before Lady M.’s death with which I’m reasonably familiar. (My wife confirmed it, as she remembered hearing it while waiting to scream offstage when she played said Lady.)

But I decided not to let it ruin my night; simply to accept the inevitable. And keep watching, at least until Gloria Grahame’s part is finished.

I wouldn’t mention it here were it not the second time it’s happened this week.

Rehearsals started Monday, so we’re not in crazy crunch time like we’ll be in, oh, another week. So we thought we’d tick one off the DVR on, I forget, Tuesday or Wednesday. We watch a lot of Cagney and a lot of the sort of comedies of that era some call screwball, yet somehow neither of us had seen The Bride Came C.O.D.

It’s a so-so movie, mostly a rejuggling of It Happened One Night, but on a night off I ask little, just a dopey bit of escapism after a long day of acting (and dancing) Much Ado, and a few minutes in, on comes the manipulative radio announcer (Stuart Erwin) to report that “the musical world’s most eligible bachelor, Allen Brice, will tonight become a Benedict”.

Now, I ask you. This isn’t even a movie about actors where one might expect that sort of thing. Unfair. Badly done, DVR.

Back to work tomorrow. Heaven knows what will accost me in my three-week-old New Yorker on the bus.



* And full of great lines. “There are no great men, buster. There’s only men.” Also Gloria Grahame, for which I would watch and have watched nearly anything.

…exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December – MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, I i

When I think of the phrase “first of May” I think a little of May Day, the international labor holiday, a little of my college roommate’s birthday, but primarily, for reasons that don’t even make sense to me, of the circus.

When you’re a lover of lost slang, it’s hard not to let it creep into your bones, be it Elizabethan, vaudevillian, or carny-speak. And to those who work in carnivals or the circus, a First of May is what we now a little less poetically call a noob, a greenie; Firsts of May (which I only realized while typing must be the proper plural, if things like that matter to carnys, or carnies, though spelling doesn’t seem to matter to them so surely this doesn’t; I just like the way it sounds) are novice workers starting their first season, which at some point in the pre-air-conditioning, agrarian world of the touring circus was around that date.*

The first of May this year also marks the beginning of summer rehearsals for Kentucky Shakespeare. I’ve been editing scripts since, oh, November**, and the other elements of pre-production have been happening for a while, but tomorrow marks the day the cast, crew and directors all gather in one surprisingly chilly room with gaff tape in strange formations all over the floor to sit around a couple of rectangular tables and read a couple of four-hundred-year-old plays aloud in that weird way of all actors at first read, the initial “let’s just read it and not worry about the acting” phase lasting about fifteen or twenty pages until the acting kicks in regardless, along with weird reading errors and self consciousness masked as total unselfconsciousness and inappropriate laughter and awkwardness where the fights and kisses will come later and all that jazz.

And despite the wide expanse of professional experience, for a while we all feel like Firsts of May who don’t really know how the hell any of this works. No one will be cowardly but we’ll all kill the poor script many times before it tastes valiantly of some well-rehearsed death once we’ve choreographed all the stabbings (though that won’t be for a few rehearsals yet – we’re starting with Much Ado and the stabby plays are later in the summer).

I’ve packed the old valise I found for $15 at a thrift store with the Crystals’ Shakespeare’s Words, Logan & Coye’s (oft-conflicting) books on pronouncing said words, the Ardens and Freeman’s Applause Folios of all three plays, the full scripts I annotated, the sides I printed out for myself so I don’t have to carry the whole schmear around when we start staging, two scribbly, battered notebooks, a couple of green pens and pencils, an old pullover (again, surprisingly chilly room), a twenty-year-old mug for summer tea (Daffy Duck in various stages of being un-beaked), and my official dramaturg hat. Oh, and lunch. I have to remember lunch. Don’t let me leave here without lunch.

You have to watch getting too precious and ritualistic with actors because half will immediately parse for superstitions and the other half will inwardly (at least) mock the preciousness and the ritual, but I love that big, lumpy first read, the optimistic smell of all those sharpened pencils, new photocopies, and coffee. We get to do something honorable for a living** as long as we do it honorably. I’d say “with the very bent of honor”, but that would only remind me that instead of waxing obnoxious here I should be working on my lines for the second half of the show. So I won’t.


* This year the sixth of May will be the simultaneous running of the Kentucky Derby and the running of me from the Kentucky Derby. I don’t like crowds, traffic, or price-gouging quite enough to want to do anything but hide in our house here in my lovely-fifty-weeks-of-the-year hometown. I am tempted by another event that day – my last chance ever to see Ringling Bros. circus, six hours away on my last day off for almost three months. The jury is still out.

** The wisest of all theater truisms has long been “NEVER try to figure out what you’re making by the hour; it will only lead to weeping.”

…And for your love to her lead apes in Hell. – TAMING OF THE SHREW, II i

My wife seems to talk about this on stage a lot, but no one knows what it means.

By “a lot” I mean twice, as she’s played the only two characters who talk about leading apes into Hell in Shakespeare. But that’s 100%, so…

Much like misty origins of the horns of a cuckold, there’s no backstory universally agreed upon with the apes here. Of feminism’s many upsides, the reduction of the stigma of being An Unmarried Woman is but one – yes, there are still pressures and advertisements and tsks from older relatives (who are going to tsk about something anyway) but it’s been a long time since I’ve heard the word “spinster” or “old maid” used without irony and your meddlesome aunt, while perhaps asking you more than you’d like about whether or not there’s some nice boy who’ll keep you from dying alone in your apartment, is at least not going to suggest that your soul is doomed to lead tethered apes into hell for all eternity. Unless she’s a terrifying fundamentalist of some stripe, at most maybe you’ll be saddled with Crazy Cat Lady. Which, sure, is still sexist, but is of much lighter weight than having your soul doomed to lead tethered apes into hell for all eternity.

Many seem to agree that this mythic fate has as much to do with not having had any children as with not having been married. Which, having seen the behavior of young children from a safe distance*, sounds like a balanced exchange. If one goes not forth and multiplies not while on earth, one must agree to do something similar after. Fair enough.

Others insist that the “lead” of “lead apes into hell” is an Elizabethan euphemism for intercourse. Not impossible. And apes have always proverbially sexually uninhibited (everyone insert zoo field trip story here). But. Fun fact: it is possible to find a scholar who will tell you that every last verb/noun (and a few articles) in Shakespeare is an Elizabethan euphemism for intercourse & concomitant body parts. All of them. Which, I mean…he’s incredibly randy, but…this is just one more way the Freudians ruined a lot of adult conversation.


There’s a version of the proverb suggesting the “maids about twenty lead apes in hell”, suggesting that it’s less about reaching “old” age unmarried and more about maintaining one’s virginity for too long. And on Shakespeare’s behalf, considering the topic of oodles of sonnets, the whole “go on and reproduce, why doncha?” issue was not gender-specific for him.

The phrase “ape-leader” hung around for a surprisingly long time, but didn’t have the staying power of “spinster” (or the solid playing card marketing of “old maid”). The thing I like about its appearance in Much Ado is the wordplay piled on top of it.

If you know Elizabethan culture, you know that it’s primary feature was being gross. One of the gross things they enjoyed a lot was watching bears fight with dogs in a public arena. I don’t pretend we’re super enlightened, but, come on. And occasionally there were apparently apes thrown into this mix as well, presumably because they had the sort of digits that could handle folding chairs in proper McMahon-approved fashion.

So the Bear-herd (or Bear-ward), the guy in charge of herding (or warding) the bears, also led apes around himself. No word on whether this was a punishment for his likely marital status of Available, what with the inevitable smell. But as we’ve said, the Elizabethans were uniformly gross, so maybe it did him no harm, plus he could make some money on the side whenever a revival of Winter’s Tale came along, I guess. “Bear-herd” is a weird word to say. Try it. A few times. It’s fun. Notice the way the “h” disappears as in “shepherd” and you’ll get why in this scene in the Folio it’s spelled “Berrord”.

Going back a few lines, you’ll hear (if you’re reading aloud as you should) a lot of still fairly clear semi-bawdy chatter about men with/without…Beards. Which in the accent of the day was a similar sounding word – Beard/Berrord – enough to put the other in Beatrice’s mind. And in the full sentence where it appears – “therefore I will even take sixepence in earnest of the Berrord, and leade his Apes into hell” – it springs out of a variation on what was even then the boilerplate financial-contract-ese of “in earnest of the bearer”.

Beatrice’s gleeful improvised version of what will really happen to her once she’s dropped off her requisite apeload makes me very happy. She won’t go all the way into Hell but only

          to the gate, and there will the Devill meete me like an old Cuckold with hornes on his head, and say, “get you to heaven Beatrice, get you to heaven, heere’s no place for you maids”

(the Devil being, of course, puritanical enough to want to protect virgins from such an infernal place – no surprise that Shakespeare casts Satan as a Puritan). In Heaven, St. Peter then shows her

           where the Batchellers sit, and there live wee as merry as the day is long.

In the space of a few lines, she upends a dearly-held sexual double standard without particularly attacking the readily attackable male goons who surround her (they’re hardly worth it at this point, though things get ugly later…Pibling Leonato has more comeuppance coming up than he gets), like a late-sixteenth-century Mrs. Maisel (which you should watch the pilot of on Amazon Prime, because it’s really very good).

She’s a clever Old Maid, Beatrice. I’ve always loved her, and not just because she was attached to Emma Thompson when I first encountered her. There are just character you grok and admire the thought processes of, and she’s high on my list of those.


* The Wife and I are an aunt/uncle, or as recent non-gendered coining would have it, Piblings (unlike most such coinings, this one is actually fun to say, so score one for us there) and love our nieces and nephews (Niblings, which, while equally sonorous, has a playfulness that I fear belongs to a more innocent time), but are not cut out for the full-time job of parenting and are happy to be occasional fresh horses in the villages that it takes to raise each of them – specifically the horses that force “cool” movies/music like cultural lima beans down their metaphorical gullets.

** the almost illegible Valentine doggerel reads:

          You would like to wear them dearly,

          And in faith, you mean to try,

          But old girl, I’ll tell you truly,

          Your attempt is ALL MY EYE.

          It will not fit, my downy one,

          So fairly I would tell,

          You had best but take the duty

          of leading APES IN HELL.

Uh…so Be My Valentine, I guess?

& as I am an honest Puck – A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, V i

This one isn’t even my fault, I swear.

Information you need for this: The Wife and I are playing Beatrice and Benedicke in June; we played Kate and Petruchio together two years ago.

Now, as I’m sure is true of any pair of people who have played those roles, as we prepare there’s great interest on our part in playing up the differences as much as possible. It would be very easy to make each pair more or less fit under the same easy umbrella of Battling-But-Inevitable Lovers and leave it at that. But they’re far more different than they would seem at a casual glance, and one is more than a rough draft of the other, as the oversimplification often goes.

Kate and Petruchio are individually damaged people whose jagged edges, by an accident of fate, fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They have little place in society and don’t seem to be interested in having one at all. Their public behavior is awful and no one really likes them. (Petruchio sort of has a friend in Hortensio, but only so much as they are useful to each other.)

Beatrice and Benedicke, however, are generally well-liked – their “merry war” is only with each other. The rest don’t see themselves as victims of their crimes of snark. The Messina gang seems  entertained.

“So they’re Don Rickles,” said The Wife earlier. “Everyone is thrilled to be insulted by them.”

Rickles has been a topic of conversation around our house since his recent passing (I’m surprised I haven’t made her (re-)watch one of my beloved beach movies this week; they are for reasons Rickles and unRickles vital anthropological documents and I will never forsake them), so it’s no surprise that he came up. But I hadn’t thought of B&B in that way until she said something. We had noticed the theme in all the eulogizing by people both mentored and roasted by Rickles: everyone clearly loved and respected him in a deep and sincere way. At least the community he was a big part of certainly did.

And I think she hit on an important way to highlight the differences between the respective Mature Couples in Shrew and Ado: how they are received. B&B are constantly described as “merry” and no one says particularly unkind things about them on any subject except their mutual disdain for each other. Beatrice and her unstoppable Inner Groucho (a problem we share) don’t care what’s being talked about – wiseassery will be on offer. Benedicke’s modus operandi is Scorcesier…

(though that’s not the Scorcese I mean) …and was outlined by the oaf who wrote that “women can’t possibly understand Goodfellas” article a couple of years ago, to his eternal chagrin, I hope. His take on the movie was that of a person whose opinions are of little value, but he does manage to make one accurate diagnosis: busting each other’s chops is a particular feature of male relationships, in the English-speaking world, anyway. The military dudebros visiting Messina give each other hell constantly but don’t seem to mind and in fact egg each other on, until everything goes south when Don John ruins everything (though if the whole of the society we see wasn’t already solidly built from big dry chunks of misogyny he would have to do more than huff/puff to knock it all down; another post).

It will be on us to remember, therefore, while wiping K&P from our memory, that B&B like to crack wise but don’t really habitually belittle anyone but each other and even that is based in a mutual history, not disagreeableness. No one takes them terribly seriously or fears their wrath; they instead enjoy and encourage their wit. The heavy consequences in this play come from other quarters; these two just happen get wrapped up in them.

So that’s our plan. In the midst of a Regency-set Much Ado, we’re going to play Beatrice and Benedicke as Phyllis Diller and Don Rickles, wardrobe and all.* See you there.


* yes, you’re right, she would  have been a great Mistress Quickly, especially with that whole “Master Fang” business in 2 Henry IV.

…like an old cuckold with horns on his head… – MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, II i

Mixed feelings is what I’ve got here. One the one hand, I’m always thrilled at the possibility that a word that’s fallen into disuse over the last century or four may make a comeback and as a by-product reduce the conversational obscurity of some Shakespeare here and there. On the other hand, it would have to be “cuckold”, which the lazier misogynists of our century (I should cut them some slack on the laziness, though – they’re getting a lot of heavy misogyny accomplished, if “accomplished” is the word I’m after here) can’t even type out in full but shorten to “cuck”.

It’s also likely that 70-85% of them don’t know what it means exactly but just heard it used as an insult somewhere; sadly for them, they don’t realize they’d have extra characters with which to harass the sensible on Twitter if they knocked it from four letters down to one emoji: horns.

There’s your frowning purple devil, your bull, and your kind-of-Christmassy circular bugle with a ribbon on it that…someone thought we needed an emoji for…I guess. Regardless. They’d just use those three extra characters to misspell something anyway.

The derivation of “cuckold” from “cuckoo” is easy enough, what with the laying of eggs in other birds’ nests and all, but no one is really sure about the whole “a cuckold has horns” derivation, though I’ve heard theories ranging from:

Zeus-and-Europa (which doesn’t really make sense, unless you-the-cuckold are a different, actual bull that was planning to run off with a human woman?) to…

the Minotaur’s parentage (which makes a lot more sense and is high on the list of sensible cuckold origins but still King Minos the cuckold is literally the only being without real or fake horns in the situation) to…

something about Roman soldiers successful in battle being awarded horns (but often returning to a straying wife or a Dear Iohannes scroll) all the way down to…

somehow anti-Semitism (one of, to me, the weirdest translational misunderstandings in the Bible – Et tu, Michelangelo?).

My favorite, and the one that feels both the most proverbial and the most rural, which makes it ring truer, is the simple notion that a Bull Can’t See His Own Horns, nor can a cuckold his own humiliated situation.

No matter the origin, if the word is going to return, I do wish the horn-based implications would return with it. We’re doing Much Ado About Nothing and I feel like half the lines in the play are about horns but The C-Word is spoken only once, so a sense that more of the audience would be able to chuckle mildly at the references without some sort of footnote supertitles would be nice.

One of my favorite of the play’s many, many, I-refuse-to-sit-and-count-them-all-because-there-are-dozens-in-Much-Ado-alone, convoluted ways of expressing the whole idea is Benedicke’s pronouncement that he will not “have a rechate winded in my forehead”. A recheat (modern spelling) is a hunting call to bring the hounds back when they’ve lost track of the game. Short-I “winded” in the sense of “wind blown through”. So he would rather have his own personal cuckold horns hollowed out and blown into while they’re still on his head, with the further implication that doing so would, since he’s the Prey in any marriage scenario, be calling the dogs back to find him. Layers. This is why I’m sad these jokes play only in, what, Anglophile foxhunting communities or in places like Portugal and Italy where people still recognize an age-old language of rude gestures that includes the useful “finger horns at the temples” (cf., this from the BBC).

But we’re in America. There are only maybe five or six good derisive hand gestures, and I’m fairly certain nose-thumbing is the only one we could get by with – it’s a family crowd. Feh – and they call ours a digital age.

…the infernal Atë in good apparel… – MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, II i

I’m evermore intrigued by the accidental overlaps among these plays that make up our seasons. Any plays, any seasons, any company really. And it isn’t the obvious big “well clearly the girl-in-boy-clothes plot element is worth it again” or “usurpers are doomed from the get-go” overlaps. I like the tiny ones.

Atë, for example.

Atë is the Greek goddess of (depending on your sources) mischief, delusion, ruin, folly, blind folly, infatuation, rash action and reckless impulse. Her talking people (and gods) into doing dumb things without thinking about them first, which is clearly how Mischief (not as strong a word to us as it was for Shakespeare, or even Sondheim) and Ruin work.

I’m very fond of Atë’s literal way of achieving this, according to Homer: after she was banished from Olympus for talking Zeus into doing something stupid – because he really needed her help on that front – “her feet are delicate* and they step not on the firm earth, but she walks the air above men’s heads and leads them astray”, addling their brains with her occasional footfalls on their brainpans. For the gods, she has to smooth-talk. For mortals, a noggin jostle is all she needs, though in other non-Homeric versions, there’s always smooth talk.

Atë could for this reason very well be the patron goddess of nearly every worthwhile character in Shakespeare. My constant argument for picking up the pace when acting Shakespeare, besides my trust in the human ear’s ability to get what’s going on when it’s provided with something worth hearing, is that if these people stopped to think about what they were saying/doing, they’d never do it. They spend most of their time dealing with repercussions caused by sudden, thoughtless, impulsive behavior.

The nice thing about this is that it makes them easier to forgive. When dealing with a Lear, a Leontes, several of the historical kings, anyone in a comedy, we have to like them or at least forgive them for their rashness at some point. If they go getting all pause-y and deliberate in the awful stuff they spit out during Act I (and as an actor, it can be very tempting to bite off some of these words with cold-blooded Sam-Jacksonorousness), we don’t care if they’re sad or if they’re dead in Act V. If Leonato or Lord Capulet slow down to make hateful pronouncements about their daughters, we close the iron door on them forever and label them as terrible parents and terrible human beings; if they fly off the handle in a weak moment, well, we, too, have flown off the handle now and then. We’re given some space to empathize with their regret.

The main difference, for a person hearing it all happen, is pacing. Both in the sense of speed, and in the sense of Atë walking back and forth on your head.

I bring her up at all because when preparing the summer editions, I noticed she came up twice: once when Benedicke, as quoted above, says of Beatrice (not present at the time):

          come, talke not of her, you shall find her the infernall Atë in good apparell…

And then up she pops again as Mark Antony predicts to Caesar’s corpse, that bleeding piece of former boss, that:

          Caesar’s Spirit, ranging for Revenge,

          With Atë by his side, come hot from Hell,

          Shall in these Confines, with a Monarke’s voyce,

          Cry ‘Havocke’, and let slip the Dogges of Warre,

          That this foule deede, shall smell above the earth

          With Carrion men, groaning for Buriall.

Tony is a little more vehement about things than Benedicke, which, considering the context, I’ll allow. Though I suppose since our audience this summer will have seen Much Ado a few weeks before Caesar, he could easily complete the transference and say “With Beatrice by his side, come hot from Hell”. Except she doesn’t go to Hell – just stops off there to deliver her apes.

But that’s another footnote.



*elsewhere Homer says she “is strong and sound on her feet”, which is probably because she’s so delicate with them, not touching the ground and all.

My grief lies onward and my joy behind* – SONNET 50



Because the scripts are finished at last.

I mean, they’re not printed or hole-punched or anything; that’s not my department.

But all the punctuation is bolded so as to be unavoidable and therefore dealt with. Period spelling is retained except where it was guaranteed to cause more harm than help. Judicious trimming has been done out of respect for our airplane-, siren-, darkness-, beersale-heavy urban surroundings, as well as the basic health of a group of actors who will have to do all three shows consecutively one afternoon/night in July (the racist parts are gone too – “Ethiope” hasn’t aged well, Mr. S.). Every expurgated “God” has been reinstated where the Folio was legally forced put “Heaven” in Richard II. Tiny histories of the individuals Shakespeare adhered to the biographies of when it was dramatically expedient. Every i dotted, and in some cases turned into a j.

And, this year, notes. So many notes. Notes that shouldn’t be overwhelming to have on hand, but were a little overwhelming to compile. Notes that I hope no one takes as insulting because you never know what words a person has come across or never had to say aloud or what a definition or paraphrase for clarity is going to trigger when learning lines and seeking to grok the situations in which the lines are spoken. And some are just thoughts about the bigger WTF moments: the “Leonato had a silent wife?” (solution: cut); the “who the hell is Woodstock, exactly” issue hanging over our heads (solution: prologue); and that whole thing with Portia’s “voluntary wound” in the thigh (solution: hope for the best).

Plus a few of those fancy “circles” from Ben & David Crystal’s Shakespeare’s Words book/site. I love those.

Which all means I can at last stop poring over every single line in three plays and start working on just those for which I’m responsible, lest I be embarrassingly bad on stage.

Always a concern. And if you’ve seen me on stage, a legitimate one.




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