Category Archives: William Shakespeare

Things I Must Tell You Before I Die

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I collect sunrises.  The picture above is today’s, July 16th, 2017, looking east over the green belt park in Carrollton, Texas.  Every new day is a miracle.  I am sixty years and eight months old as of this sunrise.  I have six incurable diseases and am a cancer survivor since 1983.  One of those diseases is diabetes, and I cannot afford to be put on insulin.  There is no reason to believe I will have another sunrise tomorrow.

But I am not sad or angry.  I am not afraid.  I am thankful.  I have lived a good life.

And here’s a secret nobody has probably ever told you before in these exact words;  “Life is a miracle, and no matter how cruel it has been to you over time, or what terrible things have happened to you, the world is a better place because you have lived in it.”

Amazingly, those words apply even to Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson.  If you think about it, there was a backlash to all the misery, suffering, grief and death they caused.  In a backhanded way,  bad people make us come together, find the strength in ourselves to resist evil, and make the world better in ways it couldn’t have been if there had been no challenge or reason to do it.  Think of all the heroes like Oscar Schindler that Hitler’s persecution of Jews created.  Think of all the times a Satanic figure like Manson made you shudder when you confronted the darkness in your own soul, and how it made you vow to be a better person than he was.  And how you kept that vow.

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It seems I may have become a nudist in my doddering old age.  I signed up to blog for a nudist website associated with the AANR (American Association of Nude Recreation) and suddenly I have nudist friends who are encouraging me to take all my clothes off and go camping in spite of my little pink psoriasis spots.  I haven’t actually gone naked camping yet, despite the invitations.  But if I continue to blog about it, I will end up having to. Even though the pay per article is pretty paltry.   Hmm.  I still might not.  But you can’t be any more naked with no clothes on than you are when you bare your soul by writing.  If you have actually read my blog, you have seen things that are well beneath the very skin of me… all the way to heart and bone.  And here is the secret I must impart about all of that nakedness stuff;  “People are actually naked all the time.  Clothes merely make us think that we are not.”

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Here’s a really important thing I have to tell you.  I was a middle school teacher and actually loved it.  Don’t tell the people at the Institute for Keeping Crazy People Off the Streets.  They are probably still looking for me.  Though I have reason to believe they may also be entirely imaginary.  Teaching middle school kids will do that to you.  I was an English teacher for 31 years in Texas public schools.  I taught kids to read.  I taught kids to write.  I taught kids to laugh at Mark Twain’s story about a jumping frog and the people who bet on them.  I taught kids to be amazed at the ways and words of William Shakespeare, to see language and stories as poetry and music and the “stuff that dreams are made of”.  I taught them that Socrates supposedly invented school the way we do it now with teachers using the Socratic method.  So I suppose, realistically, you would have to say that I taught over a thousand kids in South Texas to sincerely hate Socrates.  But here’s a secret I must also tell you before I can die; “When it comes to learning about love and life and laughter, they taught me so much more than I could possibly have taught them.  I loved being their teacher for the too-brief time it was my privilege to be that.”

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And there you have it.  Three things I had to tell you in case I croak before sunrise tomorrow.  I am not saying that is what will happen.  Only that it could happen.  But there is wisdom in telling secrets and not carrying them with you to the grave.  Or was I supposed to admit that it is actually foolishness?  Now I’m not sure any more.  But it is one of those.

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Hurtful Words

Yesterday’s post got me thinking about how words and the power behind words can actually hurt people.  They can you know.  Words like “brainiac”, “bookworm”, “nerd”, “spaz”, “geek”, and “absent-minded professor” were used as weapons against me to make me cry and warp my self-image when I was a mere unformed boy.  I do not deny that I was smarter than the average kid.  I also recognize that my lot in life was probably better than that of people assaulted with words like “fatty”, “moron”, “loser”, and “queer”.  Being skinny as a child, there was actually only one of those deadly words that was never flung my direction.  Words like that have the power, not only to hurt, but even to cripple and kill.

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We all stand naked at times before a jury of our peers, and often they decide to throw stones.

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I try to commit acts of humor in this blog.  Or, at least, acts of verbal nit-witted goofiness that make at least me laugh.  I have been told by readers and students and those forced to listen that I only think I am funny, and I am a hopelessly silly and pointless old man (a special thank you to Miss Angela for that last example, used to tell me off in front of a science class I was substitute teaching years ago.)  But those words do not hurt me.  I am immune to their power because I know what the words mean and I am wizard enough to shape, direct, and control their power.

I have stated before that I don’t approve of insult humor (usually right before calling Trump a pumpkin-head, or otherwise insulting other members of the ruling Empire of Evil Idiots).   And I don’t mean to shame others or make them feel belittled by my writing.  But sometimes it happens and can’t be helped.

This blog isn’t about entertainment.  I am not a stand-up comedian working on joke material.  I use this blog as a laboratory for creating words and ideas.  It is mostly raw material that I mean to shape into gemstones that can be used to decorate or structurally support my crown jewel novels.  I use it to piece ideas together… stitch metaphors and bake gooseberry pies of unusual thinking. I use it to reflect on what I have written and what I have been working on.  And sometimes, like today, I use it to reflect on how readers take what I have written and respond or use it for ideas of their own.  That’s why I never reject or delete comments.  They are useful, even when they are barbed and stinging.  I made an entire post out of them yesterday.

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I try hard myself to be tough in the face of hurtful words.  You have to learn that essential Superman skill to be a middle school and high school teacher.  It is there in those foundries for word-bullets that the most hurtful words are regularly wielded.  The skill is useful for when you need the word bullets to bounce off you, especially if you are standing between the shooter and someone else.  But I can never feel completely safe.  Some words are kryptonite and will harm me no matter what I do.  Some words you simply must avoid.

Anyway, there is my essay on hurtful words.  If you want to consider all of that being my two cents on the matter… well, I probably owe you a dollar fifty-five.

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Oxfordian Rationalizations

Yes, I am, perhaps, a bit of a fool for believing Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is the writer behind the works of William Shakespeare.  How do you prove something is true when it is so obvious that someone worked really hard to keep it a secret for all this time?  Is it a betrayal of the man to go against his apparent wishes and try to out him for his incredible secret?  It is hard for me to judge.  After all, I know I am a fool.

But even if he is not Shakespeare, and just sits at the apex of a mountain of coincidences, I am fascinated by the historical character of Edward de Vere.

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The keep at Hedingham Castle, the de Vere family seat in Essex (photo by David Phillips)

He was born the only son of John de Vere, the 16th Earl of Oxford, and heir to the second oldest title among English nobility.  His father stood by Elizabeth when she was under house arrest under the reign of Bloody Mary, and went with her as a court favorite to the throne of England when she survived the ordeal.  So naturally Edward was a favorite of Elizabeth’s since childhood.  Later stories would suggest he became the Queen’s secret lover, but the rumors of the Virgin Queen’s harlotry were most likely the invention of Philip of Spain and other nobility in Catholic Europe who plotted endlessly against her because she chose to adopt her father’s protestant Anglican religion instead of returning England to Catholicism like her half-sister Mary before her.  Elizabeth’s personal integrity may not have been perfect, but the love she bore for young Edward was probably not the improper kind that the movie Anonymous by Roland Emmerich suggested.

But even though de Vere was born lucky, I would not say he was particularly lucky in life.  He was only twelve when his father (though having completed his will) died.  The result being that he was made ward to Queen Elizabeth herself.  She was not exactly the foster-mother type, however.  She sent the boy to be raised in the home of her Secretary of State and chief adviser, William Cecil (later made Lord Baron Burghley).  Meanwhile Elizabeth took possession of some of his estates in payment for the wardship and bestowed them on Robert Dudley (her childhood friend and probable one true love, though he was married to someone else).  Young Edward was a difficult student.  His tutor, the famous scholar Laurence Nowell, resigned in frustration, probably because the boy was too bright and far-reaching for the antiquarian scholar to deal with, possibly himself being a bit dumber than advertised.   Edward quickly developed a reputation for love poetry at Elizabeth’s royal court.  He was a gifted, though somewhat conflicted, prodigy.

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William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley

And here is what I find most fascinating about his life story.  As you reread it, keeping the works of Shakespeare in mind, you begin to see Shakespeare’s source material coming to life.  Edward would end up marrying Cecil’s young daughter Anne, so that Lord Burghley was not only a man who raised him, but also his father-in-law.  But marrying off your offspring to nobility was an accepted manner of social climbing, and Cecil wasn’t entirely sure he couldn’t do better for his daughter.  And the meddlesome, lecturing, and self-righteous nature of the man comes out in Shakespearean characters like Polonius in Hamlet who spies upon the suicidal prince because he fears the effect Hamlet’s love for his daughter Ophelia might have on her reputation, causing him to spout all manner of cliches and stuffy, self-important advice.

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Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury

Cecil’s son Robert, the hunchbacked boy who grows up to take over his father’s office as adviser to both Elizabeth and James I, is a crafty statesman and plotter who is the undoing of the Earl of Essex in a real-life plot against the throne of Elizabeth.  It is hard not to read about his real-life exploits without seeing the connections to Iago in Othello and the conniving hunchback Richard III.

So, once again I have overshot my target length in this essay because I get so wound up in the details of my discoveries.  There are numerous things written and published about the connections between de Vere and the Bard himself.  I have only begun to scratch the surface in this telling of it.  But I am just a fool with a humor blog.  If it interests you at all, I encourage you to go to as many of the available sources as you can possibly google.  I haven’t yet finished doing that myself.  And I do hope I haven’t told anything here that makes Shakespeare turn over in his grave (if, indeed, a grave could ever really hold him.)

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Shakespeare Knows Fools

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The fact that Shakespeare was a master of the art of creating and mocking fools does not really help decide the question of who Shakespeare really was.  A stage actor who owned a theater in Elizabethan times and apparently focused on being the bit player, the butler, the second man on the castle wall in the great plays, would certainly know enough of flim-flam, being a con man, or artfully throwing turds at kings and queens in ways that get rewarded rather than beheaded.  But a nobleman who has unpopular and unwelcome-but-probably-wise insights into the back-stabbing-goings-on of the royal court of England would equally be capable of putting the most memorable of critiques of humanity into the mouth of the fool or the clown in the great stage-play of life.  Even the most depressing and violent of the Shakespearean tragedies is enhanced and made pointed by the presence of the fool and the comic relief.  In some ways everything that Shakespeare wrote was a comedy.

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Whoever Shakespeare was, he shared Mark Twain’s overall assessment of “That damned human race” and often declared all men fools in the eyes of the playwright.  Puck’s observation on humanity is delivered about not only Bottom and the other poor players who carry on their vain attempts at performing Pyramus and Thisbe while Bottom magically wears the head of an ass, but also the easily fooled lovers who mistake their true loves for one another, and even the clueless mortal King Theseus of Athens.

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In the play within a play, Nick Bottom wants to be not only his own role, Pyramus the romantic lead, but argues that he should be Thisbe, the lion, and Pyramus all at once, making a satire of human nature and its overreaching ways that we could only pray Donald Trump will one day watch and magically understand.  In fact, Shakespeare’s entire body of work is an extended investigation of foolishness versus wisdom, and with Shakespeare, the verdict always goes to the fool.

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The plays of William Shakespeare are filled with fools doing foolish things… and fools being accidentally wise. (Think Jacques in As You Like It giving his famous “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy in which he elucidates the seven ages of man.)  There are fools too who prove to be wise.  (Think of the ironic advice given by the jester Touchstone in As You Like It, or the pithy commentary of King Lear’s fool).  The fools in Shakespeare’s work are not merely the comedy relief, but the main point that Shakespeare makes about humanity.

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Whoever the man was who wrote the plays of Shakespeare, he was someone who had a deep understanding of the basic irony underlying all of human life.  And someone with that vital sense of the bittersweet, a philosophy of life that encompasses the highest heights and lowest depths that a soul can reach, is someone who has suffered as well as known great joy, someone who has experienced loss as often as profit, and has known real love as well as real hatred.  It is the fool that Shakespeare shakes us by the neck with to make us recognize the fool in all of us which makes the plays resonate so deeply within us.  It is watching the path of the fool unfolding that makes us shake our head and say to ourselves, “Yes, that is what life is really like.”

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The Oxford Obfuscation

queen-elizabeth-iIf you are going to entertain a completely absurd notion like, “Shakespeare wasn’t really written by Shakespeare”, then you have to have some knowledge of the times and the context within which such a profoundly counter-intuitive thing could possibly be true.  And it also helps to understand more precisely what the “writing of Shakespeare” actually means.  Now, I know it is not particularly fair to confuse you, dear reader, right before I try to dazzle you with my complicated and over-thunk lackwit conspiracy theory, but that is, after all, what obfuscation actually means.

The plays, sonnets, and other poetry of William Shakespeare reveal the mind of a genius.  Whoever wrote the works has to be a complicated man living a complicated life.  He has to be a sensitive, empathetic, highly intelligent, observant, and troubled man.  You don’t write the dark and deeply troubled suicidal tragedy of Hamlet without ever having thought of taking your own life.  You cannot portray the madness of King Lear without ever having experienced the turmoil of the mind that threatens to tear your soul apart.  And you don’t write about the complexities of love found in As You Like It or Romeo and Juliet without ever having experienced the massive thunderstorms of the mind that go along with falling in love.  And we are talking true love, not necessarily the domestic love you have for the wife you are stuck with.   You see what I did just there?  I put you into the head of the writer, and started you thinking like you yourself are Shakespeare.  As goofy a mental gymnastic exercise as that is, bear with me and keep thinking it.

At the time of Shakespeare’s ascendancy as the Bard Laureate of English Literature, England was not a safe place to be either a noble or a playwright.  Queen Elizabeth’s mother had her head cut off for bad politics even though she was married to the King of England at the time.  Lady Jane Gray, one of Elizabeth’s predecessors, lost her head when she was no more than a sixteen-year-old girl.  During Elizabeth’s reign, one of her court favorites, Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, attempted to seize the queen herself after a riot fomented by a performance of Shakespeare’s play, Richard II, at which eleven of Essex’s noble supporters were said to be present stirring up the emotions of the crowd.  It was a near thing for the writer of the play (about the life of a king whose reign ended in controversy about succession and which led eventually to the War of the Roses) to escape without also being caught up in the rebellion’s failure and round of executions that separated Essex from his head.  Elizabeth banned numbers of plays with religious or political content, bans that never seemed to touch the writer of Shakespeare’s plays, even when they touched on political themes.  You didn’t have to rebel against the Queen to lose your head either.  Elizabeth was trying to reinstate Anglican Protestantism against the critical tides of Catholic Europe.  You could be banished, put to death, or impressed  by force into the English Navy for being suspected of ideas that were too Catholic.  And witchcraft, or consulting with witches, as Macbeth depicts, earned you a nice warm fire in the public square to cleanse your immortal soul.

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Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

So, if one were to be both a playwright and a nobleman, known to and beloved by Queen Elizabeth, might there not be good reason to write under a pseudonym?  And numerous people who write about Edward de Vere mention the fact that he wrote poetry and plays, and the plays were very popular.  Some scraps of poetry by the Earl of Oxford still exist, but whatever happened to the manuscripts of his plays?  It is a conspiracy theory so delicious, that I have to take at least one more bite.  (You understand, I try to stick to a 500-word target for these posts, and even this 600+ is really too long.  So that means there has to be an Earl of Oxford Part II at least.)

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The Heart of Shakespeare

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Despite my skepticism about the accepted wisdom in regard to the historical William Shakespeare, I do deeply love the body of work that is Shakespeare.  My most favorite play is The Tempest, the final play in the canon.  I also have read and loved As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Henry V, Richard III, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Othello,  and King Lear.  I know that is not all of the plays, but that is probably more than most people have read.  And of course, as an English major in college, and later as a teacher, I have actually analyzed, compared, studied, and taught some of these plays.  So, the Shakespeare I know is the Shakespeare of the writer’s own mind, his communicated wit and wisdom, imagination and intellect.

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And I do not have any disdain or disrespect to give the Stratford guy.  To say that, in the Elizabethan world, the actor son of a tradesman with only a grammar school education could not have been the mind behind the literary masterworks is foolish.  The Stratford guy owned and operated the Globe theater at a time when “the play was the thing”.  All of London society, rich and poor, gloried in the theater, and Shakespeare did for Elizabethan plays what Babe Ruth did for baseball.  He was a good enough business man to make himself a decent fortune.  Although, apparently, this world-shaking author didn’t spend any of his money on owning books, which in my experience is extremely rare among writers.  His life, bound up in an urban existence that never traveled outside of the country also somehow produced great works that were set in places in Europe, especially Italy, that described those settings in accurate detail.  As a working actor, he also apparently had the time to study law and somehow learn the inner workings of the royal courts of more than one country.  And the plots were not original.  He took existing stories that already were a part of European literature and lore and wove them into rich tapestries of human striving, laughable foibles, and a deep understanding of basic human character.  But I do have doubts that the businessman and actor from Stratford was the real writer of the plays.

I have already told you that I don’t believe Sir Francis Bacon was secretly Shakespeare.  Christopher Marlowe wasn’t either.  And I have unsuccessfully made a case against Shakspere, the Stratford guy.  So who could possibly be the real William Shakespeare?  Well, I am not going to be able to make a decent case for him in the 100 words that I have left to end this essay with.  So there has to be more to come.  (And stop screaming obscenities at the computer screen.  I am going to reveal the name before the end of this essay.  And I promise not to make my case for him in coming days too boring and horrible.)  I have to show why I believe that the true heart of Shakespeare could only have beaten within the body of Edward deVere, the Earl of Oxford.

 

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Green and Fuzzy Blue Brainwork

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There is reason to believe I have to reroute some of the back roads on the road map of my thinking parts.  I have been spending a lot of time in Elizabethan England lately due to my obsession with who I think Shakespeare really was.   There are a lot of dark alleys to be plumbed on that section of the map.  I really admire the Roland Emmerich film Anonymous about Edward deVere, the Earl of Oxford being the real writer behind the works of Shakespeare, but I do recognize that it is a work a fiction, and an altered-history work of fantasy fiction at that.    So I find myself not yet ready to tackle that particular essay in the Shakespeare series as yet.  More think time and creative-mixing time is needed.  I need to stop at one of the quaint little mental inns on that particular Elizabethan back road and get some much needed rest for my Elizabethan conspiracy muscles.

Meanwhile back in the real world, Trumpzilla has been busy wrecking the world I live in with a bleak inauguration speech written by Steve Bannon that works its fire-breathing magic to blacken the hearts and perceptions of people I love and care about who also happen to be staunch conservatives.  My Facebook feed is up in arms about how many people actually attended the inauguration ceremony and how unfair the media is for trying to make it seem like Trump’s celebration parade was a deserted wasteland when in reality it was… well…  what’s a synonym for deserted wasteland that won’t offend conservatives who will bend or break any truth to defend Trumpzilla’s turkey-tweets?

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But then, as I was going to QT for my morning caffeine-addict’s fix of Diet Coke, I heard Lionel Richie’s song “Say You, Say Me” playing on the radio.  Ah, the perfect metaphor.  It is a song used as the theme song from the 1986 movie White Nights about a Russian ballet star who has defected to the US during the Cold War and then was in a plane accident-incident that put him back in the Russians’ clutches.  The movie stars Mikhail Baryshnikov, an actual Russian ballet star turned defector, and Gregory Hines, the American tap dancer.  It is a beautiful movie that features amazing dance sequences, Russian conflict of interests because the dancer wants to be free and yet misses his homeland and culture, and a resolution involving intrigue and escape.  In many ways, the plot, centered around a Russian threat and dark days in a place where the sun doesn’t set, is exactly what we are going through with Trumpzilla.  But the song is about two people communicating and eventually “coming together, naturally”.

It started me thinking about the purpose of this blog.  I mean, you obviously know that this blog is really about me talking to myself about myself, if you are one of those crazy few who actually read this far through a goopy blog post like this.  I use this blog to think about myself, the world around me, and even sometimes, like now, to think about thinking.  Yet, I have a duty to the reader to reach that point where our thinking comes together, naturally.  If not, then why bother to post and publish at all?

So here’s what I think about the Shakespeare question, written in the tavern room at the inn on parchment… with a quill pen.  The real Shakespeare was a writer just like me, writing for himself.  And he discovered through the play-writing process that he had to share that writing for himself with the great wide world, because the Prospero’s magic of it could change the world for everybody.  That is the real purpose of Shakespeare’s existence, no matter who he really was.  And that is the real purpose of my existence as well, even if I turn out to be nothing more than one of the top hundred best writers that no one ever actually read.

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