27 April 2016

Willl... to live... fading...

First I heard that some intellectual colossus had optioned the movie rights for Three's Company.  Now I find out that this movie is real and is in production.

To have an idea of what they are making, here is the real Florence Foster Jenkins, First Lady of The Sliding Scale, singing Mozart like you have never heard before, and will probably wish you hadn't heard at all.

25 April 2016


Yesterday, Younger was Confirmed.  Please remember her in your prayers.


May I be forgiven for the times I have failed in this.

Colossians 4:6
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one.

2 Timothy 2:25-26
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Titus 3:2
to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all men.

Hebrews 5:2
He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.

James 3:17
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.

1 Peter 3:15
but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence;

22 April 2016

The best Hamlet.

Continuing with Shakespeare, here is my favourite performance. Branagh, Olivier, Jacobi are mere hacks compared to the power and pathos of this performance.

Tomorrow is the 400th Anniversary of the Death of William Shakespeare.

I won't be around much tomorrow, as I'll be taking my mom out for a drive around here and there, so I thought I would spend today reposting a few things I have written about our greatest poet over the years.  First, I'll answer one of the two questions I was asked most often back when I taught Shakespeare at University: Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare?

The short answer is 'yes'. The long answer is a little bit more complicated.  Here is the answer I wrote a few years back.

One of the guys with whom I work is a rather intelligent man- I believe he was a teacher in his homeland- who is, I am sorry say, also a very lazy man intellectually. His problem, in so far as I see it, is that he considers himself to be very smart with a piercing, critical intellect. Therefore he seeks out the works of others whom he considers to be piercing critical intellects, and makes their opinions his own. (The irony of reading critical works uncritically has never dawned on him, although it has struck me many times over. It is rather like those who unquestioningly accept the authority of the bumper sticker slogan "Question Authority") Even worse, being a lazy man, he does not read their entire books to gain insight into the depth of the author's knowledge and the nuance of their thinking. Instead he reads synopses of books, often taking the book reviewers opinion uncritically (thus reading a critical interpretation of a critical viewpoint/interpretation uncritically, doubling the irony) and then decides that this is the absolute truth on a given subject.

A case in point, last Friday he read a review of a book, written in German, which examines yet again the question of whether or not Shakespeare, the man from Stratford, wrote Shakespeare, the greatest plays ever. The author of the German book reaches a single conclusion which my co-worker regarded as definitive: No, Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare. Case closed. For myself, I do not much care, what he reads or believes, except he then spent much of the remainder of the day trying to convince me of his new position. To make a long story short, he said nothing I had not heard before, and I remained unconvinced. By the same token, I could say nothing to him that could shake his new found conviction.

Still, he got me thinking again about my old studies and my old degrees, colossal waste of time that they were. I asked myself the question, if we did not know the author of the play, how could we go about finding the identity of this body of work? Modern methods give us several options- diction, stylistics, and so on. For example, according to an analysis of, shall we say 'Shakespeare' for the moment, referring only to the plays, not the author?, we find he bears a resemblance to the work of one Fulke-Greville, a poet who is a near contemporary of the plays. There is, however, a small problem: Fulke-Greville published his own work, and it is second rate to the end. Why would a man write his greatest works under the name of another, and then publish his worst under his own name? Keep in mind, this was a time when writers and nobles alike were obsessed with the idea of immortal fame. Doing this, he would be giving himself an immortality along the lines of that of Herostratos: near infamy, not fame.

There are those who believe that the plays were actually written as part of a co-operative effort, as part of a group of writers who presented the work under the name of 'Shakespeare'. There is some evidence to this point. For instance, the last few plays, as they are currently dated, show signs of parts being written by Beaumont and Fletcher, as well as parts being written by someone else. Beaumont and Fletcher are known to have taken over writing plays for the King's Men, taking over right around the time that Bill Shakespeare retired from London and returned home to Stratford. Let us treat that as a mere coincidence for the time being.

There is also the manuscript of the play Thomas More. The manuscript has parts written in several different hands. The history of the manuscript and the different hands has been pieced together thusly: The play was written for one company, but over time the company changed, and new parts had to be written in or adapted to meet the needs and the abilities of the new members and the new company. In short, the play was written and then re written for specific actors. It is this point that I wish to address. But before I do, let me say the Thomas More manuscript has been under intense scrutiny of late, because one of the sets of handwriting in on of the adapted scenes bears a very strong resemblance to the handwriting found in the six most famous signatures in the world: Shakespeare's. Some of the people who claim Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare claim the signatures were written by law clerks, thus proving Shakespeare was illiterate and could not possibly have written Shakespeare. They have not explained what a law clerk was doing writing amendments to Thomas More. Let us treat that as a mere co-incidence as well.

Going back to the issue of the relationship between plays and actors, we find that the plays written under the name of Shakespeare share a close relationship to the actors in the company. First and foremost, the best known and greatest actor in the troupe was Richard Burbage. He was regarded as one of the greatest actors of the age. He appears to have been, to put it mildly, a ham. Of all the plays extant from the period, those which may be regarded as what we today call a 'star vehicle', those plays which are dominated by one roll, and by dominated I mean the plays have one roll of five hundred lines or more, over ninety per cent of those star rolls can be tied to one of two actors, Richard Burbage, and Ned Allen. The implication is that these rolls were written for these actors.

As a further indication of how these rolls were tied to the actors, we can see in the plays of 'Shakespeare', as they are currently dated, a progression in the age of the main character. Is this because the writer was getting old, and thus more sympathetic to and concerned with the issues of age? Or is it because the lead actor is getting older, and can no longer play Romeo, but instead must needs play a Lear or Prospero instead?

There is also the question of Shakespeare's clown characters. They often seem to fall into one of two categories: Rather morose, and rather wise fools. Does the difference follow some dramatic need, or a change in the troupes, with an actor who specializes in one form of comedy being replaced by someone who specializes in another? Critic Edward Malone has claimed that the arrival of John Heminges, an actor who specialized in playing fat, funny drunks, to Burbage's troupe lead to the creation of one of the plays' most memorable figures: Sir John Falstaff. As evidence that an actor who specialized in playing the popular fat drunks continued with the troupe, another very similar roll, Sir Toby Belch, appears in Twelfth Night.

We have before us what seems to me a difficult question: What part did the actors take in writing their own rolls? In all honesty, I cannot answer that question. I can tell you that John Heminges did play for other troupes, but only one created Sir John Falstaff. I can say other writers wrote for Burbage, but none created a Hamlet. At the very least we have a gifted writer who has close ties to the troupe, who knows their strengths and their weaknesses thoroughly.

The writer(s) also know the playhouse. The stage directions, while few, were geared towards the Globe Theatre where these plays were originally performed. The writer also knew the stage well and tailored his plays to work within its strengths and weaknesses.

There are those who claim the writer of the plays was a nobleman. The author of the book reviewed in the article that my co-worker read which convinced him that Shakespeare could not possibly have written Shakespeare says that an Earl by the name of Edward de Vere If I am correct in my belief that the writer of the plays must have known the actors and worked intimately with the actors, then I would have to say that a noble author seems unlikely to me. Players in the period were considered to be servants and vagabonds. It is unlikely a nobleman would have worked as closely and for as long as these plays would have required. He would have considered it beneath him, and could have caused a scandal for working so closely with another man's servants, as the players were.

The alternative to this is that the writer was someone within the troupe itself. The familiarity the author fo the plays shows for his company and his theatre indicate strongly, in my opinion, someone who was connected to the theatre and the actors, with the possibility of the actors adding and embellishing their rolls. Do we have any evidence that there was someone in the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later the King's Men, who wrote? As it turns out, we do.

He went by the name of 'Shakespeare'.

21 April 2016

Price of textbooks

The price of university textbooks is skyrocketing. Again. it has become a death spiral. The higher prices increase the incenvtive for students to find alternatives- and this generation has means to find or create alternatives beyond that of any previous generation. In addition, they have no qualms about less than legal solutions. These are the kids, after all, who download music for free, and see nothing wrong with buying a ticket to one movie, and skipping throuhg every film in the multiplex.

Why are the prices getting so high? It's because sales are dropping, and as the prices get even higher, the sales will drop even further. It is simply the market driving the invisible hand to become the invisible fist.

It's actually simple. Let's look at just one aspect of the price increase.  Textbooks are largely printed from big equipment. That equipment must be mowered and maintained and housed in big buildings. Those buildings need to be lit and heated in winter and air conditioned in the summer. The need for all this does not change if you have a print run of a thousand books, or five hundred, and therein lies the problem: with declining sales the overhead operating costs must be spread out across fewer potential sales, so instead of needing to make an extra, say, ten bucks per book to cover the overhead in the thousand print run, they have to charge twenty extra bucks per book for the five hundred print run. And when the print run descends to 250, it'll be an extra forty bucks per buck.

That's really it. Its not a conspiracy, its not (completely) corporate greed. It's not a bunch of people who have decided to screw students just because. It's a bunch of struggling companies trying to find their way in the new paradigm and are struggling to meet their operating costs. And if they go under... then what?

I don't know anyone who knows the answer to that question.

20 April 2016

More publishing news

I've made my short play "27 and 1/2 Short Plays About William Shakespeare" available in dead tree format, in case anyone wanted it but did not have Kindle.  Here's the link.

Two boys, their father, and a boat.

I've been thinking about the old man again. Not a day goes by when I don't miss him. I shall never see his like again.
I've been thinking about the times he, my brother and I were out on the old boat. Some of my happiest memories are of us in the boat. He'd often be in a happy mood, and he'd start telling us his old stories again in his rough voice and his inimitable style. As we got older, the stories would change a little. we'd say: "Whoa! you never mentioned that before."
Him: You're older now. 
Us: Does Mom know about that?
Him: Are you nuts? Do I look stupid to you?
Those fishing trips were something he'd look forward to all year long, even though it must have been trying on his patience sometimes.
My brother: Dad, my line's snarled.
Dad: What? Okay. Take my rod and give me yours. Any fish you catch on my rod is mine.
He would take the rod and start fixing the snarl. These things happen. No big deal.
Dad: Fixed. Take your rod and 
Me: Dad, my line is snarled now.
Dad: What? Oh, fine. Here. You take my rod and I'll fix the snarl and
Me: any fish I catch is yours. Got it.
Dad would start fixing my line, but now he was a little put out. This was starting to cut into his fishing time.
Dad: There, you take your rod and
Me: Now you have a snarl.
Dad: What the hell. Give me that rod. Grrrr.
Now as he was working to untangle the line he was muttering sharply under his breath, sounding more than a little like Yosemite Sam, but with a steadily increasing volume. 
Dad: Razzle Fracking mumble mumble work all year just to untangle knots bleeding bleep bloop what did those kids do think I got it no that's not it you got to be kidding me what is going on here DARN IT THAT'S IT WHERE ARE THE CUTTERS?
My bother and I were trying not to break out laughing. Somehow, we thought Dad in this mood was just hilarious. If he caught us laughing at him, then he would get really angry, and threaten us with a long swim home, though I am mostly certain he didn't really mean it.
But though we sometimes laughed at him, he also could show us that he had one of the rarest of gifts: he could laugh at himself, or at least see some irony in the situation. One day, when the fish weren't really biting, and it looked like none of us would claim the bet for the first, most and biggest, he reeled in his line and started in with one of his "I'm going to turn this mess around" spiels.
Dad, as he was going through his tackle box: Y'know, I got a lucky lure in here. I bought it a while back, and I've been saving it for a special occasion. I think I'll break it out right now. Here it is.
He pulled the lure out of his box. It was still in its wrapper.
Dad: I knew this was lucky the moment I saw it. The fish will be jumping out of the water to get this one. I don't understand why you two don't just hand your money over to me now and save yourself some trouble.
He kept on talking in that vein as he opened up his snap swivel and took his old lure off his line and put it back in his box. He pulled the lucky wrapping off the lucky lure, and gave the lure some of his lucky spit to increase the already prodigious luck of the thing. He carefully placed the lure on the snap swivel, forgot to close the snap swivel, drew back his rod, and threw the lucky lure out with a mighty cast. It flew off the swivel and out into the lake, never to be seen again.

Dad was mostly silent for a moment, staring at the spot where his lucky lure disappeared, muttering something under his breath we couldn't make out before he turned to us.
Dad: and you know what the worst part of it is? I got no one to blame but myself. I can't even blame you two knuckleheads for this. It was all me. Sigh. Pause. I guess I need another lure. I think I'll use... this one.
Me: Is it lucky?
Dad: Ha ha ha. Very funny, smart aleck. Feel like swimming back, do you?
My Dad.

17 April 2016

Today was my mother's birthday

I just got back from my mom's 92nd birthday dinner. Among other things, I told her that I would be renting a car next weekend, and asked her if she wished to go for a drive somewhere- see some barns, churches, waterfalls, whatever suited her fancy. I've been doing this for a while with her, though I have been a little lax of late, which I need to remedy.  I think that, at this stage of her life, if there's something she would like crossed off her bucket list, some haste is called for.

"Yes, I would like that very much," she said. "I'd like to go back to that church in Hamilton, the one on top of a hill- you know, the one near water."

I didn't actually know that one. It took us several minutes before we figured out the place to which she wished to go was indeed on a hill, but in Formosa (a little over one hundred miles to the northwest of Hamilton) and nowhere near water.

I would be worried, but she has always been like this. Happy Birthday, Mom.

14 April 2016

Repost: Chivalry's Last Hurrah.

Today is the 104th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

The Titanic has come to mean many things to many people, and the story is rewritten with every generation.  Cameron has worked his own version, again, and peopled the Titanic with post modern self doubting men, and shown panic aboard the ship, despite the fact that every eyewitness account of the sinking tells that for the most part, calm reigned aboard the ship.  The movie did no justice to those who went down with the ship.

 For example, more women and children escaped from third class than did men from first.  When you factor in that the men in first class had first shot at the lifeboats, it means that every man from the first class who died on the ship volunteered to do so, that a woman or child might live in his stead.  Nor were they bitter to do so.  Industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim was seen dressed in his top hat and tails, sitting on a deck chair and sipping brandy and smoking cigars.  He gave a survivor a message for his wife:  "Tell my wife, if it should happen that my secretary and I both go down, tell her I played the game out straight to the end. No woman shall be left aboard this ship because Ben Guggenheim was a coward." He also stated:  "We're dressed in our best and prepared to go down like gentlemen."   He was far from alone in these sentiments.  Many of the wealthiest men of the day went down on the ship. The band played Nearer My God To Thee in an effort to try and maintain the calm, and priests said Mass and distributed communion and blessing.  The captain of the ship commended his crew as the last lifeboat left, and told the crew they had done all that could be expected of them: "Now it's every man for himself." He was last seen on the bridge of his command, prepared to go down with the ship he could not save.

 There is a tranquil desperation in those words.  Smith spoke them as a last resort: save yourself, if you can.  Compare it with the recent disaster of  the Costa Concordia, where the captain panicked and was among the first to flee from his ship.  Men on that ship were seen pushing women, old women, pregnant women, even children out of their way as they ran for the life boats, and as chaos and panic reigned supreme.  The men aboard the Titanic would have thought these cowards should be shot, and many would probably have volunteered to do the deed themselves.  If chivalry is dead, the Costa Concordia went to the grave and relieved itself  there.

 For me, the Titanic is a signpost marking the end of an era. Though I do not wish to deny the scale of the tragedy, I wish to point through the tragedy to the heroism and quiet dignity of these men and women who remained calm, yielded up their spot on the lifeboat for others who needed it more, and blithely stepped into eternity. Chivalry lasted beyond the Titanic, yet I believe Titanic to be chivalry's last hurrah, perhaps its early farewell, and with a sense of timing rarely seen in history, chivalry saved its best for last.