My Time of Shakespeare: The Comedy of Errors

220px-comedyerrors1No way. He can’t have taken it this far. It’s just so ridiculous! It couldn’t have happened that way. It’s just not possible!

Okay, yeah, but it was funny.

I could stop there. As opposed to other works by the Bard, this play comes off as nothing more than an entertaining means to pass time during which Shakespeare sharpens his wit and seemingly challenges himself to extend this comedy of errors as far as can be contained within the limits of a small group of characters effected by a single coincidence.

The play itself boasts brilliant and playful writing with its simplistic poetic rhythms, creative word-play and puns; unfolding a plot which seems to boast a maniacal swagger while executing a challenge well beyond its bounds. There inlies the deeper humour. I imagine audiences aghast at the pile of errors; so much so that they simply laugh – not necessarily at jokes or clever lines, but because they don’t know how else to react. It feels like witnessing someone accepting a dare and performing it with brilliant ease. One can only laugh despite the danger and insanity of the deed. That is, after they lift their jaw from the floor, remove their hand from their forehead and blink.

I must acknowledge that I read this play in the year 2018 and do not watch it during the 16th century. British culture at that time versus American culture now can be described, at best, as long distance cousins. So I cannot say with much fervor that Shakespeare intentionally implanted a subtle thread of social commentary. However, it does seem so.

During Adriana’s speeches regarding the feminine plight under the male yoke, one notices a slight difference in tone and meter; imagery and beauty takes the place of puns and foolish reasoning. In the 16th century, audiences undoubtedly laughed at male actors expounding on the dire existence of the fairer sex as many would laugh at any kind of stereotype.

Or consider Pinch’s religious explanations for Antipholus’ apparent madness when mistaken for his twin brother. Was Shakespeare poking fun at clergy stereotype blaming misfortune or ill-behavior on demon possession or sin?

In the 21st century, readers and patrons might see time-honored rants against injustices perpetrated upon women and the folly of blindly adhering to religious dogma. But in the 16th century, perhaps seeing this play gave them reprieve from these aspects of their lives; a chance to laugh at what they believe is ridiculous knowing they would still go back to living that same foolishness in a few short hours. Shakespeare may have said, “Within these theater walls, you may laugh at what you cannot outside of them. You must wear actor’s costumes outside but in here you may shed them and call your lives ridiculous.”

At the zenith of the errors, the play resolves with the characters’ realization of what the audience has known throughout the entire endeavor. This leaves me feeling less satisfied but rather relieved. Shakespeare does not force the characters to call attention to what they have learned. No one apologizes, really. Perhaps adding a romantic element such as an intellectual epiphany would have ruined the play leaving sour dispositions funneling through the theater doors; grabbing their actor’s costumes on the way out.

But I do appreciate the simplicity of the ending. The characters go back to their lives much like the audience will; the fools walking together to their abusive lots.

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Posted by on November 2, 2018 in William Shakespeare


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Thoughts: Blues All Around Me: The Autobiography of B.B. King

Blues All Around Me: The Autobiography of B. B. KingBlues All Around Me: The Autobiography of B. B. King by B.B. King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some see a blues musician like a follow-the-dots painter. Like any fool can do it. But simplicity is deceptive. And feeling is something that’s not easy to evaluate. Lightnin’ Hopkins may not have known many notes, but he knew all the right ones, and he knew where to put ’em. Some genius with four Ph.D.s in music theory might never be able to do in a lifetime what Lightnin’ did in a minute – tell the truth.

I searched for any slight opening in the 10-foot chain-link fence surrouding King’s tour bus. Nothing. I weighed my Fender Stratocaster in my hands and with a certain reckless abandon decided that I could hurl the instrument over the fence. Then, when he’d come out with his band to board the bus, I’d holler and beg for him to sign it and have someone throw it back over the fence to me.

I had no other options. The security guards at the backstage entrance ignored the pleas of my sister and I. We shamelessly implored them to have a heart and provide an unforgettable experience to two young kids. We couldn’t find any discarded backstage passes anywhere on the littered floor of the amphitheater. But I would not be denied. The power of Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy and BB King had charged my ambition and purged me of any regard for decorum or dignity. After all, Buddy Guy was “so funky you could smell it” and BB King reigned over the stage like a god come down to his people.

Then, while gauging my launch angles to clear the fence, I heard my sister cry my name. I went running towards her and two wonderful women were holding out their backstage passes to us. They had been through to meet and greet the great King and were offering their passes to us. My dignity still absent, I thanked them profusely and ran back to the security guards and their rolling eyes. They simply opened the gate and waved us through. They abandoned the fight and rather chose to live to see another day. What were two more kids to BB King?

I will tell you what BB King was to two more kids.

He sat comfortably in a blueish-purple arm chair situated in a room full of grateful subjects – his smile radiating the same joy as greeting relatives at a long overdue family reunion. One young rocker wore white gloves laying his autographed guitar back into it’s hard-shell case. A man laughed while taking photos of people rushing next to BB, squatting down to capture the memory of a lifetime. The bare white walls seemed to cower in homage to a man from whose greatness they wouldn’t dare distract.

“Can I shake your hand?” I honestly don’t remember how he replied. I do remember smiling eyes and a large hand reaching out to me from his seat. I held it and noted the massive ring donning his finger. I don’t recall the grip, just this overwhelming sense of gentleness.

But down to business. “Will you please sign my guitar?” He did speak during these exchanges, his voice like amber hue and higher in its timbre than I expected. I simply can’t recall exactly what he said up to this point. Someone handed BB a marker and he signed his name on the body of my Strat. When he handed it back to me, a rush of comfort overtook me, an excited feeling of belonging or perhaps simply of relief. I would be leaving with a guitar emblazoned with BB King’s signature.

I found myself on the floor, kneeling next to his chair, asking if he really only played Lucille. Any world famous musician surely has dozens of instruments from which to choose from for any performance. He replied with a giggle, “No, no, no…I have an acoustic too.” Unreal. The others in line burst into laughter and I remember some looking at me with familial smiles as if grateful for my interaction with BB. Looking back, they must have relished the charismatic character of King which I had unknowingly displayed for their amusement.

“And what was it like recording with Eric Clapton?!?” I believe he was shaking someone else’s hand at this point and answered, “Oh, Eric? Yeah, he’s pretty cool.” Breathe. Don’t forget to breathe.

The photographer then leaned over and suggested we take a photo together. I stayed on one knee and leaned over BBs shoulder; my arm around the top of his armchair, our heads bending towards each other. My sister then walked up and asked, like I had, if she could shake his hand. “Girl, you can give me a hug ’round my neck if you want to!” My sister hugged BB King as if he were her granddaddy.

Imagine classical music; any kind of western academic system of music. I would argue that these composers and players “follow the dots” more than any great bluesman. Players quite literally follow notes on a page to perform a piece. Instead of glorifying the deceptive human element of music, the part less easy to evaluate, old western culture complicated the dots. This way, no one could argue the supremacy of their craft and their monopoly over the idea of “real music”. Futhermore, perhaps this can also represent our tendency to follow more and more complicated dots in evaluating our world and universe leaving no room for spirit or anything we can’t quantify. BB King and those like him can argue that supremacy and challenge us to glorify the kindred spirit and shared human experience of all people, not only those playing “real music” on high.

I’ve read this autobiography, met the man himself, and I still can’t quantify BB King – nor can this book. He airs all his flaws, all his passions, all his ambitions, all his joys and weaknesses, leaving us with a familiarity of a man; a man glorified in the annals of American music but still a man – something complex, deceptive, not so easy to evaluate.

When BB died, I did not feel as though a hole had been left in American music or that a hole had been left in the world or our culture. He has left these holes and one can see them, hear them and understand them. But one does not feel these holes. Rather, I felt in my stomach that pit left from a personal loss. Something closer, perhaps less grand when viewed from the outside, but irreplaceable and more valuable then any quantification of how well one follows dots.

BB changed the world. Yes, perhaps in a cultural and historic sense, but for the first time, I valued someone of that accomplishment and magnitude not because he changed the world, but because he changed me.

I feel blessed to be part of the change – even if it’s only for a single afternoon, even if it lasts only as long as it takes the shimmering sun to melt into the dark Mississippi soil.

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Posted by on October 21, 2018 in B.B. King


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Thoughts: Childhood, Boyhood, Youth

Childhood, Boyhood, YouthChildhood, Boyhood, Youth by Leo Tolstoy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When reading Childhood, Boyhood, Youth, one quickly appreciates that though they read Tolstoy, they do not read TOLSTOY – the master wordsmith who penned War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

Yet, continuing on with this realization, one finds a new angle from which to appreciate Tolstoy. Though I doubt he imagined himself destined as a literary godfather to resound down through the ages, his honest tone throughout this autobiographical fiction might convince his contemporary readers of his potential to become so.

Even though he has yet to become Tolstoy, one finds his characteristic style of contemplation and clarity at the helm. However, as a work – especially one claiming to be fiction rather than autobiographical – his decisions of perspective trouble me. While discussing his childhood, I found myself wondering if I was meeting a child prodigy able to analyze his circumstances with such wisdom. When venturing through his boyhood, I couldn’t help but wonder if such a lad could really express himself with such attention to detail. And through his youth, how could such a pompous, arrogant and confused young man discuss his own attitude as if talking about his own grandson?

After accepting this work in its irreparable state – flaws and brilliance in all – one finds the Tolstoy they love. The man who ponders and explains humanity as if from a vantage point on Mount Olympus, wielding an acute focus on truth and a firm rebuke of egotistical distractions. Despite the book ending without any kind of resolution, one looks forward to the career of a writer with such raw talent.

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Posted by on February 3, 2018 in Leo Tolstoy


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Thoughts: Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Keep the Aspidistra FlyingKeep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Don’t you understand that one isn’t a full human being – that one doesn’t feel a human being – unless one’s got money in one’s pocket?

Orwell lays it on THICK in Keep the Aspidistra Flying employing a stubborn protagonist, Gordon Comstock, to wage his war on money and humanity’s dependence upon it.

However, while I find plenty of circumstances to which I can relate – or even principles to which I hoped to adhere in my own younger days – I find Gordon hypocritical and at times nearly unbearable. I absolutely LOVE George Orwell but I do not classify Aspidistra as a favorite.

The story arc begins with youthful naivety – a socialist declaration of war on capitalist society and its life blood. It then peaks with uncomfortable conflict between Gordon and his relationships; trying to marry his principled boycotts and ambition to live a normal life. We then find Gordon embracing his descent into the mud; wanting only to live a menial and destitute life without money at all. I will not divulge the resolution of this…comedy.

Ultimately, Gordon pits himself against an unwavering enemy which fosters an internal conflict – between rising and sinking, living outside of society on principle or within society on money, treating women fairly or selfishly wallowing in his choices. And yet he glorifies the penniless side only to find utter unhappiness. I imagine those who truly hate money would genuinely rejoice in their squalor rather than blame money for it. Perhaps Gordon only blames a lack of meaning in life to the presence of money.

Mile after mile of mean lonely houses, let off in flats and single rooms; not homes, not communities, just clusters of meaningless lives driving in a sort of drowsy chaos to the grave!

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Posted by on February 20, 2017 in George Orwell


My Time of Shakespeare: As You Like It

This play has left me with more questions than pleasant emotions or kindly insights. Yes, one must credit Shakespeare with an entertaining “romantic comedy” but also chide him, just a bit, for leaving much to the audience member’s disquiet. Rarely have I felt such a lack of resolution in such a neatly resolved story.

I quickly lauded Shakespeare’s literary construction around the concepts of Nature and Fortune and their relationship to each other. The play begins with a stage set with separation – particularly of Oliver and Orlando and of the Duke Frederick and Duke Senior. Fortune has divided each character respectfully in regards to the kingdom and fathers’ will. Fortune, it would seem, guides the lives of these men while their nature simply reacts to their fortunes. Rosalind also finds herself in a similar plight – kept under the heel of her usurping Uncle but with the unwavering companionship of Celia, her cousin.

Along with this separation of characters and of Nature from Fortune, Shakespeare symbolically pits Nature against Fortune via a symbolic wrestling match between Charles and Orlando. Yet with repetitive terms, such as “overthrowing”, we can anticipate a reversal of circumstances. As the Duke Senior experiences banishment into the Forest of Arden, with Orlando and Rosalind to follow, we must notice how these characters, quite literally, leave their fortunes for Nature. In leaving their misfortunes behind for sanctuary in the forest, we may interpret that they begin to guide their lives according to Nature rather than Fortune.

In Acts III and IV, sandwiched within the play, Shakespeare begins the folly and entertainment of love, between Silvius and Phebe, Touchstone and Audrey and Orlando and Rosalind. Phebe, who does not dote on Silvius, Touchstone, who behaves as a chauvinist man intent on Audrey’s abuse, and Orlando who relents to the curing of love by a disguised Rosalind. Honestly, I found it all very silly. I cannot think of a better word. In nature, unburdened by concern for fortune with its impressing greed and fear – left simply with the quality of their characters – these people stumble about like fools with “fools” to teach them and mock them. Luckily, Shakespeare presents such characters as Duke Senior and Corin to keep the patron informed of the new environment mastered by human nature rather than circumstance. The usurped Duke wisely expounds on sweet uses of adversity in developing a person’s nature and Corin explains to Touchstone of the simple exposure of man’s nature as a laborer. In this new setting, Nature and Fortune begin to reconcile not as two things outside of a person but rather the same thing embodied within a person which develops a perspective on circumstances endured in the outside world. Worldly things do not determine the nature of someone’s fortunes but rather their nature and perspective define those fortunes.

However, as the play resolves, the questions begin bubbling like excited water. Honestly, I found the resolution extremely romantic – in the anti-Hemingway sense. Of course, Rosalind works for the coupling of the eight men and women using her best Shakespearean craft. But why the abrupt changes in the usurping Duke and Oliver, Orlando’s brother? Shakespeare offers reasons but they seem completely unsatisfactory and out of character from what we know of them early in the play. Also, did Orlando know of Rosalind’s deceit and play along? If so, why? Then, with the usurping Duke’s conversion and the return of court fortunes to their “rightful” owners, one’s suspension of disbelief snaps irreparably and the patron grimaces at the sudden and perfect arrangement of restored fortunes just when they anticipated a re-imagining of true fortunes to differ from their definition early in the play.

While all of this seems excessively romantic and too perfect, one must remember Jaques and Touchstone. Jaques grows to appreciate the foolery of Touchstone and Touchstone may be the only one of the group who remains true to himself, though not a very respectable self, in nature and away from court. I think Jaques admires this and, in his melancholy, becomes the fool only in as much as he differs in countenance and philosophy from the others. As in all Shakespeare plays, the fool professes wisdom which often flies in the face of accepted truths and reasoning in popularly constructed social circumstances. Within this definition, both Touchstone and Jaques fit the bill. While Fortune and Nature seem to reconcile in the end, perhaps this enlightenment does not settle on Jaques who must journey on.

But what are we to make of Jaques? Why did Shakespeare include him if our good money went to watch a silly play so we could feel good at romantic nonsense? Why does he offer little as to a back story on Jaques? Who is he? What were his circumstances? Why so melancholy? Why is he not of the disposition to appreciate a happy ending as the others?

Like Jaques, I feel awkward and ultimately skeptical about the play’s resolution – as if things unsaid haunt the good fortunes of things said and done. Perhaps Shakespeare couldn’t stand to leave anything real out of his play.

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Posted by on April 4, 2015 in William Shakespeare


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My Time of Shakespeare: Love’s Labour’s Lost

LLLI found one! A Shakespeare play for which I care very little – dare I say, I don’t like!

Yet even when confronted with works which do not titillate one’s fancy, I imagine one can still find things to respect or even admire within it. While this play does not stimulate me, it may stand as one of Shakespeare’s best in regards to his occupation as a wordsmith. He effortlessly plays with words like many athletes juggle balls or sticks. His characters dissect words nearly to the point of voiding them of meaning, perhaps leaving the audience look elsewhere for themselves within the play. Comedic? Maybe – to an old English audience more sophisticated in language than this generation.

The privileged and care-free circumstances of the characters also disappointed me. They take their social status for granted and in so doing fail to realize any consequence for their boredom induced mockery of love and relationships. Even the King’s vow to avoid love and pursue study for three years may suggest his longing for meaning in a privileged life but he devalues the pursuit of that meaning (even if in the wrong direction) by abandoning the vow fairly easily. Only at the end, when real consequence halts the lovers’ suits do they realize they do not live in a world apart from agony or sadness rendering their labor’s lost.

I can respect many things in this play but ultimately the word play and character play fail to comprise a coherent plot or stimulating idea. It all seems meaningless. But perhaps we witness Shakespeare’s labor’s lost in this endeavor of his loved passion for play writing.

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Posted by on November 16, 2014 in William Shakespeare


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Thoughts: The Wayward Bus

The Wayward BusThe Wayward Bus by John Steinbeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t care at all about what the bus represents.

It might shine as a dumpy emblem of the American journey to either the realization or implosion of our future plans. But the story strikes me more as the common American journey not necessarily from childhood to manhood, like the universal Buldingsroman, but rather the solitary transformation to self-realization from what to who. After all, what can these characters do with a Virgil like Juan Chicroy? The prototypical guide never wavers, never falters, offers insights and leads the way. An effective guide allows the hero to transform through struggle rather than lecturing. But what if the guide does waver and falter? Perhaps if he does, the heros can delve even deeper into their primitive selves and come to a better understanding of the meaning in their lives.

Even if this all rings true, I don’t care about the bus. Steinbeck impresses with his dynamic grasp of character and in no better fashion than exemplified in The Wayward Bus. His others works provide an academic smorgasbord of analytic sweets but in this book we have a company of characters who seem to serve no purpose other than to mirror the readers very own emotional conditions.

Whether Steinbeck intended this or not, I gleaned a sharp sense of relation to these people. Each one not only reflects the emotional states of demographics sharing their circumstances but also exposes the fundamental emotional core from which they all crawl. Any reader who picks up The Wayward Bus will find themselves within its pages with near perfect likeness. They would first find the character with whom they relate but then find themselves in the shoes of the other characters with complete sympathy for their circumstances and emotions as if they share them in reality – perhaps before they even know of people who really live those circumstances.

What a talent! With ease, Steinbeck has me feeling like a middle-aged, unsatisfied and insecure woman, a confined adolescent yearning for life, a cardboard businessman and a happy-go-lucky salesman, feeling the strain of feminine beauty before infusing me with the integral masculinity which fundamentally drives me as a carrot just within my grasp.

So no, I do not care about the bus. But I haven’t read many books in which I care so deeply about the people. They are me.

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Posted by on October 19, 2014 in John Steinbeck


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