The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

The Whole Rigmarole

June 30, 2016 | by

Ben Jonson bares all.

drummond-johnson

From left: Ben Jonson, William Drummond.

Pretty soon it will have been four hundred years since Ben Jonson (1572–1637) walked from London to Edinburgh. I don’t know the whole story. I know he stayed at some length with William Drummond of Hawthornden, a few miles south of Edinburgh. Jonson was around forty-seven at the time; Drummond was around thirty-four.

Both of these guys were poets, were into languages, bought a lot of books. Jonson was of course right in the middle of things in London. He knew Shakespeare, knew Donne. Drummond, meanwhile, had money.

People still read Jonson, with how much love I don’t know. There are a number of famous lines. “Drink to me only with thine eyes.” “Though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek.” Drummond got a boost with Palgrave’s Golden Treasury (1861), eight items to Jonson’s three. Still, these days, if you love Drummond’s poetry (I do) you pretty much feel you have him all to yourself. Read More »

Triumphantly, Brilliantly Kaleidoscopic, and Other News

April 22, 2016 | by

San Francisco City Hall, April 21, 2016. Photo via Instagram: alightningrod

San Francisco City Hall, April 21, 2016. Photo via Instagram: alightningrod

Lousie

April 21, 2016 | by

Detail showing delousing from Jan Siberechts' painting Cour de ferme ("Farmyard"), 1662

Detail showing delousing from Jan Siberechts’s painting Cour de ferme, 1662.

PEDICULARE, the lousie disease, that is when the bodie is pestred and full of lice and nits.
Iohn Florio, A Worlde of Wordes, or Most Copious, and Exact Dictionarie in Italian and English

Think of the above as an indirect nod to Shakespeare’s birthday: living as he did in a particularly pestilential period of London’s history, the bard had reason to reference “the lousie disease” with some regularity. The plague of 1593 famously shuttered all of London’s theaters; ten thousand people died in this outbreak alone. Even in nonplague years, typhus was a major killer. And at the best of times, lice were a quotidian nuisance and a marker of hygiene. 

Indeed, lice of various kinds come up in Titus Andronicus and King Lear, and that’s just for starters. The reason I am not quoting them is because most of these references are very lascivious and vile indeed. The only context in which Shakespeare uses lice is as an insult: always insulting someone’s cleanliness to sexual hygiene. (Which seems harsh in a time when vermin of all kinds must have been fairly rampant.) Surely not only slatterns and villains were prone to the pestilence! What about Thomas of Beckett, with his hair shirt running with lice? Shakespeare was most definitely a part of the problem.

And the shame and stigma in the modern classroom are alive and well, even in places well-fortified with antibiotics and running water. To wit: On a downtown subway platform, I heard one little girl in a Catholic school uniform—maybe six—turn to her friend and say, “Pinkie swear you’ve never had lice. Pinkie swear. Duly sworn in, the two then walked down the platform and approached a third little girl, standing alone.

“Have you ever had lice?” they demanded sternly. The loner looked around in a panicked sort of way. “N-no... ” she said uncertainly. 

“Will you pinkie swear?” demanded the ringleader.

I have! I wanted to tell her. It doesn’t make you dirty or weird, even if you happen to be sort of weird and lonely! And maybe dirty! Anyone can get it! And those nit combs and that horribly painful shampoo are punishment enough! And then one day you’ll just be a grown-up on the platform and no one will even check if you wash your hair! It will be okay! 

And blessedly, then the train pulled in. 

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.

Bodies Moving Through Space

April 12, 2016 | by

How Blutch’s graphic novel Peplum shatters the Satyricon.

In an interview after Peplum’s first publication in book form, Blutch tells of a reader who asked him why he was such a difficult author. “But I don’t feel like I’m difficult at all!” he exclaimed. “I don’t understand why I get asked that. What I do is fairly simple, and not at all intellectual. In my stories, I try to favor action.” And in action, Blutch’s book abounds: stabbing, stoning, amputation, eye-gouging, sex, seafaring, Attic dance, pirate attacks. Yet these sequences are as artificial as they are visceral, feral, and formal at once. Taking as its title the European term for the sword-and-sandal cinematic subgenre, Peplum offers a decidedly different take on the toga epic—one of aporia and ambiguity, a fractured tale of antiquity in all its alien majesty. Read More »

Fractals, Man, They’re Everywhere, and Other News

January 27, 2016 | by

David Foster Wallace famously used the Sierpinski gasket, above, as a model for the structure of Infinite Jest. Image: Nevit Dilmen, 2006

  • Many reasonable people have concluded that the only way to stay sane in New York City is to be drunk all the time. It was just a matter of time until the advantages of this lifestyle reached the theater community and seeped into its most pious sect, the Shakespeareans—and so was Drunk Shakespeare: “The gimmick here is that at each performance, one actor begins by consuming enough shots to trip even the best-trained tongue … There’s a fair amount of impaired performing going around … What sets Drunk Shakespeare apart is that alcohol isn’t the main character. It’s more like an enabler, allowing the actors (sober and drunk) to take all sorts of liberties with Shakespeare, but skillfully.”
  • In the UK, at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, a show called “death: the human experience” attempts to succeed where commercial culture has failed: at selling death. “The show repackages death into friendly jewel-pink tones and soft lowercase letters, yet does not shy away from frank presentation of the processes that surround death. Visitors can peruse a model of the mortician’s workplace, where bodies are embalmed and dressed for funerals … One of the final displays, a digitized version of Don Celender’s 1982 ‘Reincarnation Study,’ punctuates a gloomy subject with humor. Celender, an artist and professor, asked dozens of celebrities ‘in which form would you like to return?’ Julia Child, an American chef and television personality, responded with a list: ‘three inches shorter, feet two sizes smaller, flat stomach, capacity to eat all day and not gain a pound, otherwise Okay as is.’ ”
  • Not unrelatedly, here’s the Polish writer Filip Springer on Przyczółek Grochowski, a famously bleak housing complex in Warsaw:You can’t even die here in dignity,’ I overhear someone say on Bracław Street. ‘You can’t even get a coffin in and out of the apartments. They have to wait with it downstairs. The sexton wraps the corpse in a sheet and shoves it out the window. I saw it happen once. They were carrying a dead man. His hands were dangling. No dignity at all, but how else are you going to do it? That’s why all the furniture people have has to be collapsible.’”
  • Today in fractals: they’re everywhere, dude. In Joyce—fractals. In Proust—fractals. In Cortázar, Woolf, Dos Passos, Bolaño—fractals, fractals, all fractals, sometimes even multifractals. This per science: “Some of the world’s greatest writers appear to be, in some respects, constructing fractals. Statistical analysis carried out at the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences, however, revealed something even more intriguing. The composition of works from within a particular genre was characterized by the exceptional dynamics of a cascading (avalanche) narrative structure. This type of narrative turns out to be multifractal … The study involved 113 literary works written in English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Russian and Spanish … To convert the texts to numerical sequences, sentence length was measured by the number of words … The dependences were then searched for in the data … This is the posited question: If a sentence of a given length is x times longer than the sentences of different lengths, is the same aspect ratio preserved when looking at sentences respectively longer or shorter?”
  • John Lingan on Johnny Mercer, the songwriter who had a string of hits in the 1930s and ’40s: “Beyond his lyrics’ rural and black affectations—the dropped g’s, the cornpone scenery—Mercer brought a distinctly Southern stillness to American pop. Economical yet vivid in his natural descriptions, he kept his songs’ emotions at a cool simmer and rarely told stories, instead opting for calm, wistful dioramas … He preferred to write lyrics while supine, eyes closed, ‘as if he could dream songs into existence,’ according to the critic Wilfrid Sheed. His entire public persona was built around this same aloofness; onstage (a rare occurrence, though he became better known for live performances in the 1970s), his mind seemed to be elsewhere, and even his Tinseltown reminiscences seem muted, obligatory.”

Arcadia

January 11, 2016 | by

John Gielgud in Chimes at Midnight.

This is weather for inspiration: for films and books and good listening. If you’re in New York, go see the new restoration of Orson Welles’s 1966 Chimes at Midnight. (Or Midnite, as it says on the Film Forum marquee.) If you’re not, you’ll be able to see the Criterion release soon anywhere you like. The alternate title is Falstaff: the film is Welles’s compendium of all the Falstaff material to be found in Shakespeare, welded into a cohesive, idiosyncratic unit. Welles, of course, is Falstaff. Jeanne Moreau plays a bawd. Read More »