Will the real William Shakespeare please stand up?

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Polonius: “What do you read my lord?”

Hamlet: “Words, words, words.”

By Tony Deyal

Mummy kissing Santa Claus under the mistletoe does not lead to serious questions about whether Daddy is the conditional or just a subordinate Claus. Unfortunately, there are more than 80 candidates for the post of Shakespeare including Sir Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere (17the Earl of Oxford), Christopher Marlowe and two women, Countess Mary Sidney and Emilia Bassano, considered “Moorish”, who argued for women’s “Libertie” against male oppression. In this case, the Moor is not the merrier and I wouldn’t support Bacon regardless of how much I fry. However, I am not restricting myself to mere text but am going to examine the context.

Shakespeare welcomed us from the second day of Secondary School. We were placed in Form 2A Special which was the three-year stream for the Cambridge Examination. When one of our colleagues, who later became prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), was demoted to the four-year class, we pondered like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “2B or not 2B? That is the question.”

During our early encounters with the Bard (and getting worse the more you read) we added our own insights. For example, we actually told our teacher, Brother Theodore, that it was not Macbeth who killed Duncan but Lady Macbeth’s father who, just after murdering Duncan, heard footsteps outside the door, threw Duncan’s body under the bed and then lay on the bed himself. Brother Theodore asked, “How did you come to such a conclusion that has defied scholars for so many years?” “Easy,” was the reply. “Lady Macbeth sell him out when she said that had he not resembled her father as he slept she would have killed him. It was really her father that she saw.”

This was almost as bad as saying we wouldn’t play football if the witches from Macbeth are referees and running lines. Why? Because they think that Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair.  Worse, chickens were in trouble because Macbeth was guilty of murder most foul, and Lady Macbeth used to be angry with her dog and standing by the door angrily shouted, “Out, damned Spot!”

For those of you who love the English Language, Reader’s Digest recently identified 21 “Everyday Phrases” that were invented by Shakespeare. They include “Come Full Circle” which is a roundabout way of saying that you’re back where you started when you run around the track instead of a hundred meters. Then, to give us a sense of whether Shakespeare was rich or poor and how this affected his treatment of his children, there is (from Henry IV, Part 2) “Eaten Me Out Of House And Home.” I like “Elbow Room” and avoid crowds but “King John” was really looking for elbow room to free his conscience.

Most of us need more space than that and for Catholics, confession might take a few days and several priests. One that we hear from people who play both sides is, “Give the devil his due.” In my case that would be me, myself and I but as it is used today it is that we should look at the good qualities of really terrible people to find some kind of balance. In other words, if they steal your money and all you have left is a cent, instead of putting the hounds of the Baskervilles on the scent, you say philosophically, “At least he was good enough to leave me something.”

Wearing Your Heart On Your Sleeve” (unless you are decked off in an armless), believing that love is blind and letting your beloved wife see you with another woman, might be taken as “Neither Here Nor There”. But Shakespeare, and your wife (overwhelmed by the “Green-Eyed Monster”) would know, there is “Something In The Wind”. In other words, that will be not just “The Naked Truth” but also the “Be All And The End All.” You end up “A Sorry Sight” while your wife is “Fancy-Free” knowing that she was “More Sinned Against Than Sinning.” The best way to deal with that situation is to believe it was “Too Much Of A Good Thing” to last, and then look for someone else with whom you can “Break The Ice” before your wife breaks your head.

The fact is that when I read and applaud Shakespeare’s originality, I really don’t care who he was or whether he had sex or gender, or was black, white or mulatto. There are many funny Shakespeare one-liners like, (As You Like It), “I do desire we may be better strangers.” In All’s Well That Ends Well you will find, “Virginity breeds mites, much like a cheese”. Then there was something that came back to me yesterday when I was asked by my wife to cut up some members of the “Allium family”. While this includes garlic, I was actually chopping into bits and pieces of what caused Shakespeare to complain, “Mine eyes smell onions.” In his case it was All’s Well That Ends Well but not in mine. I had to go quickly for eye drops.

The Bard was bad when he wanted and dropped in the mouths of others some funny insults and put-downs. In Coriolanus, “More of your conversation would infect my brain”; Timon of Athens, “I’ll beat thee, but I would infect my hands”; Henry IV Part 1, “There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune”; and in All’s Well That Ends Well, “The woman’s an easy glove, my lord, she goes off and on at pleasure.” Sometimes, it sounds more like English-Caribbean in the context if not exactly the language, as in Titus Andronicus, “Villain, I have done thy mother.” And from Timon of Athens enough to make a man pull out his sword, “Would thou wert clean enough to spit upon!”

One we all laughed at is what is considered Shakespeare’s most crude linguistic joke. It is from Twelfth Night. Malvolio is boasting about a letter from the lady of the house, Olivia, declaring her love for him. He says, “By my life, this is my lady’s hand: these be her very C’s, her U’s and her T’s; and thus makes she her very great P’s.”

I doubt that anybody’s P’s could compare with Shakespeare’s plays, powerful prose, puns, protagonists and presence. From the “Two Gentlemen of Verona” through “The Taming of the Shrew”, past “Henry IV”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “Julius Caesar” and ending with “The Two Noble Kinsmen” his genius lived, laughed and clearly labored to please his sponsors and supporters. He and his work will outlive all of us. The English ask, “If a cat has its kittens in the oven does that make them biscuits?” My view of Shakespeare and who he is has the same kind of question but is one that Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Or write as well.

*Tony Deyal was last seen describing an all-day Shakespeare session he went to. The morning was devoted to Shakespeare’s plays and the evening, his poetry. In other words, it went from Bard to Verse.

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