Anachronisms [Gesundheit]

No, it doesn’t mean fear of spiders, silly. Or zealous appreciation of wine.

From the handy Encarta Encyclopedia Dictionary:

a·nach·ro·nism [ə nákrə nìzzəm]

(plural a·nach·ro·nisms)

1. chronological mistake: something from a different period of time, for example, a modern idea or invention wrongly placed in a historical setting in fiction or drama
2. something out of time: a person, thing, idea, or custom that seems to belong to a different time in history
3. making of chronological mistake: the representation of somebody or something out of chronological order or in the wrong historical setting

[Mid-17th century. Via French anachronisme from, ultimately, late Greek anakhronizesthai , literally “to be timed backward,” from khronos “time.”] –a·nach·ro·nous [ə nákrənəss], adjective –a·nach·ro·nous·ly, adverb

Microsoft® Encarta® Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

I chose to read Timon before Pericles, based on the ordering in Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare. As I contend with revel in five historical plays in a row, it behooves me at some point (a hooved horse that I am), to point out some of the glaring historical inaccuracies in Shakespeare’s plays. Hilarity ensues, trust me.

Well, not hilarity exactly. Because this is Shakespeare, nobody cares much about geographical errors (though Ben Johnson once laughed mightily at Bohemia’s coastal setting for The Winter’s Tale).

I admit I screwed up in my assumption (yep, made another ass out of me), that Pericles would be about the great Greek leader during the glory days of Athens. He of the wondrous funeral oration that has been praised ever since.

Nope. Timon is the only play Shakespeare set during the Greek heyday, and it mentions one noteworthy figure from that era: Alcibiades, a guy who shows up in a Socratic dialogue or two.

Goof that I am, I was hoping for a little Godzilla vs. Rodin mixed martial arts fighting, crosswiring my love of Shakespeare with my love of Plato. Instead, I have a so-called Greek play on my hands which treats Athens like Rome, filled with Senators and other folks with very un-Greeky names like Lucius, Sempronius, Flavius, Servilius, Titus — and on and on and on.

Where’s Yani when you need him?

Clearly a lot more people would care about the jarring discrepancies if, you know, this wasn’t Shakespeare. It makes me wonder what the scene was like (okay, pardon that) back in the day when the play came out. Did nobody dare bring up the snags here or there with the Bard? Was it no big deal, as it is now, just having a little fun? As smart as we know Shakespeare to be (or not to be), how could he overlook these huge screw ups in local culture?

Then again, as a friend is wont to say, “Nobody asks these questions.” It’s like me getting snarky when I hear Romantic piano sonatas being played by Cesario (and others) in the filmed version of Twelfth Night (see below). I didn’t want to mention it then because I had a feeling it would come up again. And it did. And it didn’t take too long at that. Hmm.

I suppose chronological accuracy matters less and less the more post-modern we become. Names, dates, places and faces become mashed up in a way only the offkilter genius of Andy Warhol could have predicted.

Every other day we hear stories about high school students who can’t find France on the map (and Congressmen who raise a cheer, pass the Freedom Fries). The Civil War (they fought nicely), the Magna Carta (doesn’t accept Visa), the Knights of the Round Table (pepperoni preferred) — history becomes trivia; trivia history. And all subject to bad time-travel movies where cavemen confront dinosaurs and whatnot.

I guess I’m confessing to yet another assumption about Shakespeare I got wrong. Just like our movie industry, the one that never gets the book adaptation quite right, Shakespeare was an entertainer concerned with creating popular entertainment with a big box-office draw.

He wasn’t fussy for historical accuracy. What he wanted was to get the human condition part nailed down to the T, to be a mirror to nature, to capture people with all their warts, hardons, guilt-trips, jealousies and greed.

I keep presuming that what I’m reading in Shakespeare is the way it had to go down. But no — that’s not it, is it? As in Richard III, which we’ll discuss later, the point is not the journalistic facts, the who-what-why-when-where, but the hows: how we were, how we are, and how we will forever be.

Flavius in Ancient Greece? I don’t think so. But Timon in modern America? All the time.

And that, I think, is what makes Shakespeare so timeless and universal. He may get a lot of the specific details all wrong. But he never fails to get the human condition just right.


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