Monday, May 29, 2006

If all the year were playing holidays. . .

To sport would be as tedious as to work. . . A line from one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, Henry IV, Pt. I, the soliloquy in which the prodigal Prince Hal discloses his intention to "throw off" his "loose behavior" (quaffing pints of sack at the Boar's Head in Eastcheap) and "redeem" himself both to his father, Henry IV, and to the people of England. In a striking instance of early modern PR, Hal proclaims: "so much shall I falsify men's hopes,/And like bright metal on a sullen ground,/My reformation, glitt'ring o'er my fault,/Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes/Than that which hath no foil to set it off." I once had a student gloss this soliloquy on a final exam as "Shakespeare is trying to tell us he needs a vacation." Gotta love it (i.e., good try, but not quite).

This weekend I saw the Chicago Shakespeare Theater perform parts one and two of Henry IV, in a six-hour acting (and viewing) marathon. The actor playing Hal was cast in the Anakin Skywalker mold (of the Star Wars prequels), and delivered these lines angrily, with self-contempt -- an interesting performance choice, as the passage demonstrates Hal's self-interest and calculation, and usually invites more seductive, self-satisfied, even unctuous, line readings.

In first reading the play I was myself seduced by Hal, and particularly by the figurative language pervading the play, or words relating to currency and coinage. After all, the currency of the crown (a kind of coin) is counterfeit, what with Henry IV having stolen the throne from Mortimer. Hal repays his father's debts, as well as those of his surrogate father-figure, Falstaff, and attempts to tender some legitimacy to the throne; "redeem" itself is from the Latin redemere, to repay. It's a fascinating play about the nature of royalty written during Europe's economic transition to capitalism. But it is also evocative of the current US administration: by promoting his reformed alcoholism and born-again Christianity, our own president created a "foil" to set himself off, and thus, like Hal, made "offense a skill"; with W's success in his campaign, we the people were tendered the first MBA president. (Whither legimitacy, you might ask?).

But I wasn't planning to bash Bush in this post, much as I'd like to dock his allowance (especially as, due to his selection for the Treasury Dept., the American dollar continues the slip against the Canadian). Rather, I wanted to keep the ball rolling here on the blog, and, what with this being a holiday weekend (and my daughter's sixth birthday yesterday), I haven't had a spare thought (or minute; or dime! kids parties are pretty costly . . .). I have noticed -- and am grateful -- that many of you have starting looking at older posts, such as my piece on the recent spelling bee movie, Akeelah and the Bee. So: if you are interested in the cultural politics of spelling -- or live in or near one of the cities enjoying the national tour of the Broadway musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee -- or are a fan of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, coming up this week, and televised on ESPN (a must-see!) -- I hope you'll allow me to be so tedious as to play holiday and promote myself by tendering a link to a piece I published on the Broadway production:

(Sorry to make you cut and paste, but I haven't figured out how to do links in this yet.) Also, I plan to blog extensively on the national bee, so stay tuned: as Hal would say, I shall hereafter be more myself, and pay the debt I never promised. . . (in writing this blog).

On a more serious note -- indeed recognizing the holiday at hand -- my warmest thoughts go out to those with family members in war zones throughout the world, and to those families who have lost loved ones to war. Peace.

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