I was exposed to Shakespeare in high school. We read several of his plays in various English classes. I took to it about the same as most high school kids. That is, I found it opaque and dull (like “classical” music). The first glimmer of the magic and wonder of Shakespeare came only when I became involved in staging some of his plays in drama class.
When I was a sophomore, I helped stage—and acted in—our high school drama group’s presentation of Hamlet (one of his greatest works). I’ve written about my high school drama teacher; he was a professional theatre person who’d gone into teaching (while waiting for his big break in Hollywood). Our production of Hamlet received rave reviews from local papers. “Better than most college productions,” they said!
As a direct consequence of that production, Hamlet is my favorite play!
That first year of drama class was amazing. We staged Stop The World — I Want To Get Off in the small theatre and Guys and Dolls in the big one. And we did Hamlet (in the small “in the round” theatre).
Along with the director, I helped design the set. It was a raked, multi-level thing of odd-shaped platforms; no right angles anywhere. We covered all floor surfaces with Masonite and then painted on a pattern of octagons and squares. Then we used large feathers and contrasting paint to make a “marble” pattern in each octagon. The idea was to create a marble floor.
People thought it was stunning, but having spent days with my face inches away from it, I knew every flaw!
I played the ghost of Hamlet’s father, which is to say I was off-stage, up a stair, with a bucket of hot water, a wire basket of dry ice, and a big flashlight with a green “gel.” Our ghost was just green light in dry ice fog. And a recorded, booming, echo-y voice (lotta bass and reverb!).
Hamlet also marks one of my rare actual on-stage appearances (I was much more a back stage person). I played the First Player, the leader of the band of traveling actors who show up at the castle. In that role I had the fun of doing a death scene made all the more fun since I was an actor playing an actor doing a death scene.
[I was rarely on-stage, because I wasn’t a very good actor. One night after the play our director said to me, “Wyrd, it’s okay to ad lib, but try to do it in character!” In response to one of Hamlet’s lines, I’d replied, “Sure, Hamlet!”]
This was all just background to sharing a favorite bit from a favorite scene of mine. (In fact, Hamlet is filled with favorite bits! You might be surprised how many familiar quotes come this play!) It has a line I quote frequently (second line below).
It’s a key scene in Act II between Hamlet and Polonius:
Hamlet was definitely messing with the old guy’s mind, which is what makes the whole scene so much fun!
And as you might imagine, the line, “Words, words, words,” is a keynote for a guy who here goes by Wyrd Smythe and has a blog named Logos con carne.
In reality, this has all been context for a couple of new bits I want to share with you.
- A bicycle can’t stand alone. It is two tired.
- A will is a dead giveaway.
- Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a rotten apple.
- A backward poet writes inverse.
- A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.
- If a clock is hungry, does it go back four seconds?
- The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine was fully recovered.
- You are stuck with your debt if you can’t budge it.
- He broke into song because he couldn’t find the key.
- A calendar’s days are numbered.
- A boiled egg is hard to beat.
- He had a photographic memory which was never developed.
- The story of the short fortuneteller who escaped from prison was small medium at large.
- Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.
- When you’ve seen one shopping center you’ve seen a mall.
- If you jump off a bridge in Paris, you are in Seine.
- When she saw her first strands of gray hair, she thought she’d dye.
- Santa’s helpers are subordinate clauses.
- Acupuncture is a jab well done.
- Marathon runners with bad shoes suffer the agony of de feet.
- The roundest knight at King Arthur’s round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.
- I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
- She was only a whiskey maker’s daughter, but he loved her still.
- A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class because it was a weapon of math disruption.
- No matter how much you push the envelope, it will still be stationery.
- A dog gave birth to puppies in a public place, and was cited for littering.
- Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
- A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.
- Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
- I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.
- A sign on the lawn outside the drug rehab center reads ‘Keep off the Grass’
- A boy swallowed some coins, and was taken to a hospital. His mother telephoned to ask how he was. The nurse said, ‘No change yet.’
- The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.
- Don’t join dangerous cults, practice safe sects.
Ah, the English language. So frustrating and yet so much fun!
Below is a little bonus list that shows why our language can be such a challenge.
(But wouldn’t it be fun if it had more interesting characters? Or Runes! I’d love Runes!!)
English is Hard!
- The bandage was wound around the wound.
- The farm was used to produce produce.
- The dump was so full it had to refuse more refuse.
- There is no time like the present, so he thought he would present the present.
- When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
- He did not object to the object.
- The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
- The oarsmen had a row about how to row.
- he was too close to the door to close it.
- A stag does strange things when the does are present.
- After a number of injections my jaw became number.
- The artist saw a tear in his painting and shed a tear.
- She had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
- An army chef decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
And as we all know, there are no eggs in eggplant, and neither apple nor pine in pineapple. Guinea pigs aren’t pigs and aren’t from Guinea. Quicksand works slowly, and boxing rings are square. Sending a package by truck is a shipment, but sending it by ship is cargo. We park in driveways and drive on parkways. Quite a lot and quite a few mean the same thing, but overlook and oversee are completely different.
You fill in a form to fill it out, an alarm goes off by turning on. When the stars are out, you see their light, but when the lights are out you see nothing. A slim chance? Fat chance of that! Writers write, runners run, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham.
If a vegetarian eats veggies,… tell me, what does a humanitarian eat?
July 5th, 2013 at 6:28 pm
In my country, a pineapple is said to be riddled with lots of “eyes.” And I look at one and – up to this day – still go “huh?”
I love written English words, words, words, so thank you for this enjoyable post. 🙂
July 5th, 2013 at 6:48 pm
I thought you might enjoy this one! Pineapple “eyes”? Huh! Likewise potato “eyes”!
July 5th, 2013 at 11:48 pm
Loved this! Coming from a home with a lot of ESL speakers, many of those last sentences caused laughing riots in my youth. “Mom, read this!”. That “I wish” sign is gorgeous!! But of course, 95% of America would never use the symbols required. We barely dot our i’s!
July 6th, 2013 at 9:32 am
So getting them to put two dots over some vowels is probably wishful thinking! Such a pity. For the supposed world leader, we have kind of a dull alphabet. Our money is kinda boring compared to the bills produced in other countries… Even Canada has prettier money!
July 9th, 2013 at 8:39 pm
Ah, Wyrd. If you were on the fence about Shakespeare, I recommend cartoonist Brooke McEldowney’s version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” rendered using characters from his two comic strips — “9 Chickweed Lane” and “Pibgorn” — as the actors of the various roles. The whole thing is re-imagined in a sort of 1930s or 40s motif and is as rich as any graphic novel. It became popular with educators and he now sells it as a book.
Also… McEldowney likes words too. His comics are different… not for everyone… but NOT average. You can see both comics at comics dot com.
I wrote about McEldowney here: http://formingthethread.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/comic-review-brooke-mceldowneys-pibgorn/
July 9th, 2013 at 9:29 pm
Sounds very worth checking out, thank you! I am, in fact, a fan of gnovels (a neologism for graphic novels; the “g” is not silent). And I love different realizations of ol’ Bill’s work (I got off the fence long ago!), particularly those that transpose the era.
(There’s a modern-day Hamlet version (Ethan Hawke as Hamlet) that’s not bad. I never cared much for Romeo+Juliet, though. The dialog is mush in the characters’ mouths. Compare that to my favorite, Branagh’s Hamlet (no cuts, the entire four-hour play!). His Shakespearean training is so apparent; the language just flows like music.)
July 27th, 2013 at 11:30 am
I definitely can relate to your theatre experiences. First, I was a makeup and set worker, than an understudy and senior year, student director to a comedy, “Take Her, She’s Mine.” We had “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” and a musical, too, “Hello, Dolly.” I enjoy Shakespeare due to my parents’ efforts taking us to Cleveland Playhouse to see quite a few. I still tend to choose the lighter side, comedies, though. My favorites are “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Taming of the Shrew.” I was just on someone else’s blog telling them that seeing the second one in Schiller Park (Columbus, Ohio) on a blanket with my three children, was wonderful. It was set in the 1800’s and had Katherine/Kate wearing jodphurs the whole time and carrying a riding whip! It worked out perfectly when one of the leads could yank on that and pull her towards him, if you can picture that, it will give you a fun thrill. I think that everyone needs to expose children to live theatre to help them enjoy the classics…
July 27th, 2013 at 11:40 am
Yes, I remember you have some experience in theatre work!
Totally agree: seeing Shakespeare performed is so much better than being forced to read it in school. It makes the story come alive. When you’re reading Shakespeare in high school, the language gets in the way, I think. You need to see it performed by people who know what it all means and who have some training in using that language.
Hamlet never came so alive for me as it did in Branagh’s movie version. (And it was a wonderfully bold move for him to do the entire four-hour play! Just about everyone presents a cut version.) The Olivier version is usually the one upheld as the best movie version, but I think Branagh’s is even better.