Thursday, May 04, 2006

"get your lit on" thursday

I spend a lot of time reading. My current leisure reading obsession is mystical, historical fiction ( The Baroque Cycle, The Da Vinci Code, and The Illuminatus! Trilogy), and I spend hours at night, in the comfort of my bed or curled up on my couch, engrossed in the strange meanderings of these books.

But when I do work-related reading--plays, scripts, books on acting--I like to take it outside of my home. There's something about sitting in a cafe or park that makes the experience feel more like "work" than when done in my living room. It's a way to connect with other people during the day (even if silently) and to get some much-needed sunlight on my albino skin--not to mention the benefit of processing what I've read during my walk home.

One disadvantage of reading in public is that my reactions to the material I'm reading are...well, public. I find myself emoting with characters as I read their lines, so that strangers must often observe me expressing something truly upsetting or downright funny about my coffee. Even more fun is the schizophrenic dance that happens when moving quickly between two characters' lines--yes, this pastry is lovely--oh no, it makes me want to cry!

So as I sit at a little tea shop near Harvard Square on Tuesday I am embarrassed--but not surprised--to find myself chortling bagel out of my mouth as I read a particularly funny passage of Hamlet. I've read and seen the play many times, so of course I've come across this material before, but on this day I see it in a new light.

I want to you to read the following scene, but if you would replace "Polonius" in your mind with "George W. Bush" (working with a slightly expanded vocabulary) you might see why Shakespeare was not only a genius, but a bit of a sage too:

My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day and time.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad:
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is't but to be nothing else but mad?
But let that go.

More matter, with less art.

Madam, I swear I use no art at all.
That he is mad, 'tis true: 'tis true 'tis pity;
And pity 'tis 'tis true: a foolish figure;
But farewell it, for I will use no art.
Mad let us grant him, then: and now remains
That we find out the cause of this effect,
Or rather say, the cause of this defect,
For this effect defective comes by cause:
Thus it remains, and the remainder thus.

The circular logic of Polonius' words, the ability to speak for ages and say nothing, the complete lack of self-awareness: all of it a frightening similarity to our commander in chief. I could probably have found just as many similarities to Bush in Claudius--the power-hungry king--but it's more fun to view him as a clown.

There is a reason Shakespeare continues to move us, continues to be relevant. He captures humanity truthfully and brilliantly. He explores human nature without creating stereotypes so that four hundred years later, in a world vastly different from his own, the words and experiences of his characters rings startlingly true.

Polonius meets a sad end. He's a meddling dad and a simpering peon, but his intentions are honest and noble, if misguided. He doesn't deserve to die behind the arras, but if Shakespeare teaches us one thing, it's that life isn't always fair. Luckily that's not the only lesson he has to share.

I'm going to hold Shakespeare very close as I imagine two more years of this administration stretched out before me. Maybe we're living in the world of Hamlet and usurping kings still reign. Or maybe we're really in a Midsummer Night's Dream and any moment now we'll wake up to a glorious new day.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Gee, thanks I have to get bagel crumbs out of my keyboard.

That was hysterical. Your ability to work GWB into Polonius is BRILLIANT!