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Gone Fishing

Posted in The Winter's Tale with tags , , , , , on 2010/01/23 by mattermind

The Winter’s Tale, Act 1: Scenes 1-2

No, I don’t mean me, silly. Though I’ll admit, I wasn’t looking forward to this next play. On further review, methinks it may not have been terribly wise to kick off the year of Shakespeare with the Greatest Play Ever Eritten in the History of Humankind.

As they say, it’s all downhill from here.

Yes, clever ones, I’m using football references today in honor of the NFL Conference Championships to be played tomorrow (or today, depending upon when you are reading this. It could also be Monday or perhaps even farther out there still — in the “far unlit unknown” as Neil Peart would say.) But I’d like to believe you and I are a bit nearer in space and time. Makes this whole internet thing a bit cozier, no? What can I say.  It brings out the romantic dopey blogger in me.

Now that I’ve begun the text — and read the first act twice — I’m hooked. We’ll see for how long.

Isaac Asimov called this a romance, so I’m trusting him. It feels a lot like an impending tragedy so far, which may be why in some quarters they call this a “problem play.”

My brother is a scientist — a rocket scientist to be more specific — but aside from being an avid Catholic convert, he’s also a staunch Darwinian. I know, I know, it’s rare, and odd, but it certainly leads to some interesting discussions.

I am reminded of this seemingly extraneous and anecdotal fact because he’s often bringing up the anthropological roots of certain human behavior. I can hear him now pestering me about the higher biological cost to a male of female infidelity than the inverse. A woman obviously always knows that she’s one of the parents. A man can only take his parentage by faith — at least back in the day before DNA testing.

The play starts so deceptively awkward and formal and deathly dull that I almost didn’t want to believe it was Shakespeare. The King of Bohemia is paying a visit to the King of Sicily who wants him to stay a little longer. Blah blah blah.

Wait a second. The King of Bohemia has been on the road for how long? Nine months. Hmm… that’s gotta be our friend Shakespeare at the controls here. So what exactly is going on?

The King of Bohemia only decides to hang around a wee bit longer at the coaxing of the queen. All in good fun, this teasing and banter, until suddenly, and seemingly unprovoked, the King of Sicily goes flying off the handle, feeling betrayed by his wife, a cuckold as they say. And, this being Shakespeare, what would be more appropriate then a little poisoned grog to make said problem go away?

Good thing Camillo, his servant, is a little more on the ball. He recognizes that his master has probably lost it, but nevertheless, he’s now in a definite pickle. If he follows orders, he’ll murder a man who he believes is innocent. If he fails to obey, his own head will fall.

Zing — conundrum! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the makings of good drama.

My favorite lines of the play so far:

LEONTES (KING OF SICILY): There have been,

Or I am much deceived, cuckolds ere now;

And many a man there is, even at this present,

Now while I speak this, holds his wife by th’ arm,

That little thinks she has been sluiced in’s absence

And his pond fished by his next neighbor, by

Sir Smile, his neighbor…. It is a bawdy planet, that will strike

Where tis predominant…

I was more than a little worried here that Camillo would do the deed straight away, and that the play would dwell on the ramifications of a murder committed for the sake of overblown jealousy. Luckily, this isn’t the case (at least not yet).

Camillo spills the beans to the King of Bohemia, who seems to be a really good guy. He heeds the warning, and promises that he’ll leave tonight and take Camillo with him.

Mr. Asimov tells me in his introduction that this is one of Shakespeare’s last plays that he wrote entirely by himself (if, you know, he actually wrote it. More on that some other time.). It is dated 1611, penultimate only to the likes of The Tempest, which we’re saving till wayyyyyyyy later in the year.

I mention this because the language in this play is the most “natural” of any Shakespeare play I’ve yet read. I can’t put my finger on why this is, exactly, but I sense it in just about every line. I could be reading a contemporary screenplay by a modern master of dialogue such as Shane Black, Zach Helm or Quentin Tarantino.

Linguistically, I love it. The plot has hotted up. I’m still afraid we’re headed for the rocks, though, based on the dubious stature of the play.

But hey, at least we’ve started.

And now…. go J-E-T-S! Revenge is a dish best served cold. (Pipe down, people. Revenge is Shakespearean.)

And now my blog entry has come full circle. If only there were a football-related way of saying that!