What was up with Will Shakespeare?

It’s 1588.  You walk into a play-house.  A guy walks out on stage and says:

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention, a kingdom for a stage, princes to act and monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

Then should the warlike Harry, like himself, assume the port of Mars; and at his heels, leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire crouch for employment.

But pardon, and gentles all, the flat unraised spirits that have dared on this unworthy scaffold to bring forth so great an object: can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France?

or may we cram within this wooden O the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt?

O, pardon! since a crooked figure may attest in little place a million; and let us, ciphers to this great accompt, on your imaginary forces work.

That’s how Henry V opens.

That ref to the wooden O is (as I understand the only time) we hear about the Globe Theater from Shakespeare himself’s mouth or pen or whatever. Got to thinking about it in London in May.

Shakes is so good.  That “o for a muse of fire” is so good.  Like a Jimi Hendrix moment:

A dude who’s gone so far in his art that he’s got nothing left to do but scream at Heaven to let him ascend.

One time Yang saw this at my house and said, “is Shakespeare good?” Solid question.  To answer it I suggested we watch:

which, I think is pretty good.  Yang pointed out that in this version, the music does do a lot of the work.

By the time Shakespeare wrote Henry V he’d already done  Romeo & Juliet, Richard IIIA Midsummer Night’s Dream, Merchant of Venice, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, Much Ado About Nothing, and thirteen other plays.

That’s if you believe the story.

The “Chandos Portrait” at the National Gallery in London.

There was a def a real guy Shakespeare, a real person who was born and died.  In his own lifetime this Will Shakespeare was famous for writing plays.  Pirate editions of plays with Shakespeare’s name on them would be sold like scripts of The Godfather on the streets of New York.

Far as I can see, Will Shakespeare gave no evidence of giving a shit about the text/publishing of his plays.  Didn’t appear to care.  The fact we are reading them now would’ve probably shocked him or else he also wouldn’t have cared about that.  What he cared about was like getting a coat of arms.

Is this headline correct?  I dunno, I think he wasn’t exactly a nobody in Stratford.

There’s much bureaucratic evidence that Will Shakespeare existed.  Probably at least sometimes he was a semi-gangster.

He was around brothels and bars.  The last hot young playwright got stabbed to death in a bar.

from Wiki

Read this book recently:

I agree with some of the points in this New Criterion hammering of it.  There’s a lotta coulda woulda shoulda.  But then again if there wasn’t the book would be like five pages long.

Did Shakespeare really write all those plays?

The evidence suggests to me that yeah, real guy Will Shakespeare wrote at least most of them.

Top piece of evidence: in Shakespeare’s lifetime, real guy Shakespeare was known for writing these plays.  His name was on ’em.

Well, some of ’em.

I don’t see Shakespeare’s name in the “bad quarto” of Henry V.

The scholars tell me that’s fine.  Consider the folios!  Put together by Shakespeare’s friends after his death!  Henry V is in there, perhaps typeset from the “foul papers” of Shakespeare himself in fact!  It counts.

OK whatever.

Second best piece of evidence: Shakespeare’s fellow writers were jealous of him.

Catty remarks from the time are recorded.

He also turns up in a contemporary diary getting off a pretty good joke about boning a groupie.

Third best evidence: there’s a “voice” to the Shakespeare plays.  You can feel if if you read a bunch of the best plays.  I admit I haven’t read all of ’em.  But I’ve read maybe a third, and I’ve read some Christopher Marlowe plays and some Ben Johnson plays, and you can tell a difference.  The plays marked Shakespeare are better.  In fact half the time that’s how they decide whether to include one or not.

That’s the weakest evidence, who knows what kinda bias my brain is bringing to the table when they’re presented as Shakespeare plays.  Some computer/AI type analysis of word usage and so on suggests maybe he didn’t write the Henry VI ones but those suck anyway I’m told.

I think you have to admit Shakespeare wrote some of Shakespeare’s plays, right?

Not everyone agrees:

Rylance thinks now that William Shakespeare was most likely a front for a small band of writers, perhaps headed by Francis Bacon, which included, among others, Lady Mary Sidney. He argues that in the seventeenth century it wouldn’t have been appropriate for persons of rank to write for the public theatre; therefore they would need to do so anonymously. “If you even suggest that Shakespeare would have had to be at court, it’s heretical,” van Kampen said. “It’s a metaphor, and it’s about Englishness.”

(from this New Yorker profile by Cynthia Zanin).

The idea that Shakespeare was really Francis Bacon feels to me like someone five hundred years from now claiming

perhaps Barack Obama wrote Dave Chappelle’s routines and Kendrick Lamar’s raps.

or maybe

it’s possible Hillary Clinton wrote Shonda Rhimes’ shows.

 “I want to be Shakespeare,” he told us. “You should all want to be Shakespeare, too.”

That’s Denis Johnson.  I think that quote got me back into Shakespeare.

Shakespeare scholars are not usually people who are in the habit of cranking out scripts on tight deadlines or have necessarily been around showbiz.

The experience of seeing how scripts get writ makes me wonder if Shakespeare was a showrunner. If we should think of him like Aaron Sorkin or Shonda or Ryan Murphy.  Both himself a wildly talented craftsman but also a quality controller supervising and directing other writers.

Shakespeare is a happy hunting ground for minds that have lost their balance

Joyce has Stephen say in Ulysses.

 

 

 

 

 


Ian Buruma

Ian Buruma is a great writer.  I’ve learned so much from his books, his writings on Japan were super illuminating to me, and Year Zero is a powerful work by a great mind.

That piece in NYRB by the Canadian radio guy who used to punch women in the head and choke them by surprise and be a monster to co-workers was not acceptable or valuable or at all necessary.

Source

Didn’t Jon Robson write a whole book about this?

One of the great talents of Ian Buruma (in my experience as a reader) is opening his eyes, comprehending and informing himself and then sharing ideas about the currents of culture. I hope he keeps doing that.


Writing Course from Stephen J. Cannell

Our friends over at Monkey Trial put this one up.  Led us to the Stephen J. Cannell website, where there’s a short but thorough and helpful writing course available fro free.  Adding it to my category Writing Advice From Other People.

 


The Gambler (2014)

Saw this clip on some retweet of this fellow’s Twitter.

I was struck by

  • the bluntness and concision of the advice
  • the fact that the advice contains a very specific investment strategy down to what funds you should be in (80% VTSAX, 20% VBTLX)
  • the compelling performance of an actor I’d never seen opposite Wahlberg (although I’d say it drops off at “that’s your base, get me?”)

It appeared this was from the 2014 film The Gambler

The film is interesting.  Mark Wahlberg plays a compulsive gambler and English professor.  There are some extended scenes of Wahlberg lecturing his college undergrads on Shakespeare, Camus, and his own self-absorbed theories of literature, failure, and life.  The character is obnoxious, self-pitying, logorrheic and somewhat unlikeable as a hero. Nevertheless his most attractive student falls in love with him.  William Monahan, who won an Oscar for The Departed, wrote the screenplay. The film itself is a remake of 1974 movie directed by James Toback, in which James Caan plays the Mark Wahlberg role.

Here’s the interesting thing.  Watching the 2016 version, I realized the speech I’d seen on Twitter that first caught my attention is different.  The actor’s different — in the movie I watched it’s John Goodman.

What happened here?  Had they recast the actor or something?  The twitterer who put it up is from South Africa, did they release a different version of the movie there?

Did some investigating and found the version I saw was made by this guy, JL Collins, a financial blogger.

Here’s a roundup of his nine basic points for financial independence.

He did a pretty good job as an actor I think!  I believe the scene in the movie would be strengthened from the specificity of his advice.  And the line about every stiff from the factory stiff to the CEO is working to make you richer is cool, maybe an improvement on the script as filmed.  I’ll have to get this guy’s book.

It would make a good commercial for Vanguard.

VTSAX vs S&P 500:

Readers, what does the one to one comparison of JL Collins and John Goodman teach us about acting?


The Moviegoer

Took this one off my shelf the other day.  Think I was supposed to read it in college but never finished it.  The plot didn’t propel me along, but there’s some magic to it for sure.  A relaxed New Orleans kind of existentialism.  

What’s the narrator looking for?  Even he doesn’t know. 

He sees a young man reading on the bus, and types him:

Good old Walker Percy:

At one point the narrator sees William Holden on the street:

Ah, William Holden. Already we need you again. Already the fabric is wearing thin without you.


What is a story? What is narrative?

“Good story” means something worth telling that the world wants to hear. Finding this is your lonely task. It begins with talent… But the love of a good story, of terrific characters and a world driven by your passion, courage, and creative gifts is still not enough. Your goal must be a good story well told.

says McKee.

What is a story?  What makes something a story?  It’s a question of personal and professional interest here at Helytimes.  The dictionary gives me this for narrative:

a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.

boldface mine.

The human brain is wired to look for patterns and connections.  Humans think in stories and seem to prefer a story, even a troubling story, to random or unrelated events.  This can trick us as well as bring us wisdom and pleasure.

Nicholas Nassem Taleb discusses this in The Black Swan:

Narrative is a way to compress and store information.

From some investing site or Twitter or something, I came across this paper:

“Cracking the enigma of asset bubbles with narratives,” by Preston Teeter and Jörgen Sandberg in Strategic Organization.  You can download a PDF for free.

Teeter and Sandberg suggest that “mathematical deductivist models and tightly controlled, reductionist experiments” only get you so far in understanding asset bubbles.  What really drives a bubble is the narrative that infects and influences investors.

Clearly, under such circumstances, individuals are not making rational, cool-headed decisions based upon careful and cautious fundamental analysis, nor are their decisions isolated from the communities in which they live or the institutions that govern their lives.  As such, only by incorporating the role of narratives into our research efforts and theoretical constructs will we be able to make substantial progress toward better understanding, predicting, and preventing asset bubbles.

Cool!  But, of course, we need a definition of narrative:

But first, in order to develop a more structured view of how bubbles form, we also need a means of identifying the structural features of the narratives that emerge before, during, and after asset bubbles. The most widely used method of evaluating the structural characteristics of a narrative is that based on Formalist theories (see Fiol, 1989Hartz and Steger, 2010Pentland, 1999Propp, 1958). From a structural point of view, a narrative contains three essential elements: a “narrative subject,” which is in search of or destined for a certain object; a “destinator” or source of the subject’s ideology; and a set of “enabling and impeding forces.” As an example of how to operationalize these elements, consider the following excerpt from another Greenspan (1988) speech:

More adequate capital, risk-based capital, and increased securities powers for bank holding companies would provide a solid beginning for our efforts to ensure financial stability. (p. 11)

OK great.  Let’s get to the source here.  Fiol, Hartz and Steger, and Pentland are all articles about “narrative” in business settings.  Propp is the source here.  Propp is this man:

Vladimir Propp, a Soviet analyst of folktales, and his book is this:

I’ve now examined this book, and find it mostly incomprehensible:

Propp’s 31 functions (summarized here on Wikipedia) are pretty interesting.  How a Soviet theorist would feel about his work on Russian folktales being used by Australian economists to assess asset bubbles in capitalist markets is a fun question.  Maybe he’d be horrified, maybe he’d be delighted.  Perhaps he’d file it under Function 6:

TRICKERY: The villain attempts to deceive the victim to acquire something valuable. They press further, aiming to con the protagonists and earn their trust. Sometimes the villain make little or no deception and instead ransoms one valuable thing for another.

There’s some connection here to Dan Harmon’s story circles.

But when it comes to the definition of what makes a story go, I like the blunter version, expressed by David Mamet in this legendary memo to the writers of The Unit::

QUESTION:WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, *ACUTE* GOAL.

SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES *OF EVERY SCENE* THESE THREE QUESTIONS.

1) WHO WANTS WHAT?
2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?
3) WHY NOW?

Cracking the enigma of narrative is a fun project.

ps don’t talk to me about Aristotle unless you’ve REALLY read The Poetics. 


Old Tweets

Man I went through my old Tweets, and none of them were racist or anything, but they were terrible!

If you don’t look back on your old writing without disgust you’re not growing, so healthy enough I guess.  But you’d think for something I spent so much time doing I’d’ve come up with some better ones.

Here are the only ones I felt like might be worth saving, putting them here as much for myself as for my small but influential readership.

When I don’t like writing it’s usually because it’s too writingy.

The Biblical story of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream: first case of a Jewish psychiatrist?

If there were a restaurant in LA that sold angel meat, Jonathan Gold would eat there.

Today’s surprising Supreme Court Fact: Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a high school cheerleader.

Whenever I’m in New York, I visit this little shop know, down in the Flatiron, and have my shoes professionally tied.

Addition to Hely’s Great Things: When an old person says “blankety-blank” instead of swears.

An airport? A state forest? An interchange? All fine things to have named after you. But only Melba has a peach thing AND a toast.

One thing I’d like to see is a giant eating baked potatoes, one after another, like grapes.

Ate a piece of gum today that was in stick form, instead of hard, candied pill form.  It was like visiting Old Sturbridge Village.

If I’m gonna see a play, by the end the stage better be a MESS.

What real-life show is “Game of Thrones” the porn parody of?

The taste of a drop of air conditioner water landing in your mouth. #mynewyork

There’s only one political issue I’m deeply passionate about: colonizing the moon with convicts. I’m opposed.

Let’s argue!  I’ll start!  All jazz is perfect.

my favorite cob food? corn, no brainer

It’s unreasonable of Don Cheadle to expect the other members of Ocean’s Eleven will understand his ludicrous slang.

Most of my money ($660) comes from my 1992 dance hit “It’s OK To Dress Up (When You’re The Birthday Girl)”

I think I could sell idiots salted coffee.

“Fine, FINE, we’ll just name ANOTHER one after John Muir, then we can all go home.” – another tense meeting at the US Forest Service.

In this age of baby carrots it’s such a power move to eat a regular carrot.

If you’re into immutable laws you pretty much have to go with physics, right?

TRIVIA: What is the most spilled beverage in the world?  Give up?  It’s water.  (Trick question because I was counting waterfalls.)

Vali rolled with it admirably when he came back to our seats at the Arclight and found me telling the history of IKEA to a stranger.

Was bowling invented so teens of different genders could examine each other’s butts?

“I like your shirt!” = “I noticed your shirt!”

LA etiquette: it’s rude to point out that someone’s production company has never produced anything.

The most important ingredient in any recipe is money.

Movie pitch: Fuckboi Academy

Nothing pisses me off more than when some fuckface in my Instagram is having a nice vacation

My best hope for Olympic glory would be as the falling down guy someone helps in a true display of sportsmanship

What did the TV writer say when he arrived in Hell?  “How’re the hours?”

You know what sounds terrible but is actually perfectly nice? The stall in the bathroom of the Yucca Valley Walmart, where I wrote this.