Silly Sunday: Witty Fools and Foolish Wits

Happy Sunday, good fool-lowers! Today’s post is just a teensy bit focused on Feste, the fool who graces the stage in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Fools are supposed to be silly so it works, I guess. Of course, Feste is probably one of the smartest people in Shakespeare’s “Whatever” comedy, and – like most of Shakespeare’s fools – he spends much of his time  providing commentary, wordplay, and witty repartee that puts the other characters to shame.

I’ve always had a special liking for Shakespeare’s fools: their words are measured, their digs are precisely timed and aimed, and they are really good at playing fools. That’s what I love most about them, I think… each of Shakespeare’s fools is smarter than the next and they know it. And they make sure the audience knows it. I like to think that Shakespeare’s fools are an insertion of the playwright himself; an embodiment of the man’s own beliefs and wisdom in the form of snide remark here or there that he just couldn’t keep to himself – especially if he was writing the kind of play that audiences and producers demanded of him that ended up with subtitles like “Or What You Will”.

Feste is a particularly brilliant fool, with characteristics that many critics have described as the personification of the holiday for which the play is named. Yes, Twelfth Night is an actual thing. It’s the holiday in the Christian calendar that marks the coming of the Epiphany. Learn all about it, here. Apparently Twelfth Night festivities are high on the revelry scale and a little bit anti-establishment. In any case, Feste pretty much spends the whole play acting beyond the control of any authority. And he has license to do so under Olivia’s service so Shakespeare basically wrote in a free pass for him to be as honest as possible. Nice.

Anyway, here‘s a fun listicle of the wisest lines as spoken by Shakespeare’s fools. You’ll note that Feste has managed to get two quotes up on the board. What are your favorites?


Shakespeare Saturday: A Twelfth Night Feste-val

BOOM. Look at that puntastic title.

OK. Welcome to the first of our Shakespeare-a-palooza Saturdays. For those of you who’ve been here before, you know what this day is. If not, here’s your introduction. Saturday is the day we recommend the best film and television versions of the plays we’re pairing this month. In the case of the Shakespeare, I expect this to be easy. There’s always adaptations of Shakespeare. Well… maybe not for Timon. But I’m not in charge of finding adaptations of Timon, so… *wipes forehead in relief*

A mentioned on Monday that She’s the Man is our favorite adaptation of this play. She’s right. Mostly because it’s the first adaptation ever that makes Orsino likable. And it’s peak Amanda Bynes before… well… whatever happened to Amanda Bynes. The only thing that I wish it might have kept was more of the Malvolio storyline, which is actually the best part of the play.

That’s a thing I’ve noticed about Shakespeare’s comedies. A lot of the time, it’s the subplots that are the most exciting part. Technically, Beatrice and Benedick are a subplot. So is the breaking of Malvolio. The Rude Mechanicals. Shakespeare seems to express himself better through the subplots, the parts that are exclusively his creation. Everything else is the formula. Well, maybe Taming of the Shrew is the exception…

Anyway. There’s also the 1996 version directed by Trevor Nunn, which for some reason decided to cut down on the comedy. Why you would do that in a comedy, I have no idea. Especially one like this, where the comedy is what saves it from being ridiculous. A lot of people forget the other half of Orsino’s line (“if music be the food of love, play on”) is literally him saying play so much music, I get sick and puke so I won’t be in love anymore. Seriously, guys… Why would anyone choose to play that straight?

For those of you who remember the old days when Disney Channel movies were AWESOME, Motocrossed is actually an adaptation. For some reason, this play seems to do best when it’s put into the world of competitive sport.

And, of course, there’s the requisite Branagh adaptation, which was a filmed version of his stage version.

Lots of choices here, though the best is definitely the teen soccer film.


Boozy Plays: Twelfth Night, or What You Will

Happy Friday, Nerd Cactus friends! Welcome back to this month’s pre-Stratford marathon, which we have loving named Shakespeare-a-palooza. Today’s boozy pairing is fueled by William Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Can we take a moment to talk about Shakespeare’s subtitle on this one, real quick? Like, what kind of “meh” moment was he having when he decided to plug on “or What You Will”. It’s the ultimate shoulder shrug. You get the feeling he maybe wrote this one for the money. Somebody was breathing down Bill’s neck going “comedies sell better, Will. Give in to the demand, Will.” So Will basically subtitled the thing, “Whatever”. Amazing.

Anyway, I gave you a brief rundown of the lunacy that occurs within this play. It’s your average Elizabethan comedy, full off mistaken identities, crossdressing, and weddings. As I mentioned, I don’t think this one is particularly deep and it’s definitely not among my favorites. Of course, knowing Stratford, they’ll find some way to make me love it. But I will never love Orsino. He’s a bit much… He’s the one who’s got the most memorable line in the show – “if music be the food of love, play on” – but that doesn’t mean he’s worth remembering. Was that mean? Ah, well.

The best adaptation of Twelfth Night – and C and I agree on this – is She’s the Man. Yes, the Amanda Bynes movie. No shame. Like I said, Shakespeare didn’t exactly pull out the stops with this one so, yeah, it was the perfect fodder for a silly teen movie. In any case, if you’ve seen She’s the Man you pretty much have an overview of the love triangles and crossdressing plots which take place in Twelfth Night. Or What You Will. Or Whatever….

In many ways Olivia and Orsino are whiny-ass bitches prone to melodrama and maybe should just end up together, but Shakespeare decides to kind of level them out by pairing them off with Viola and Sebastian. If you’ve seen even five minutes of the Kenneth Branagh version, you know how freakin’ melodramatic they are. I mean, to be fair, it’s written that way, but Jeeeeeezuz could they be anymore over-the-top? Orsino’s forever lamenting and Olivia has sworn off men for seven years in response to her brother’s death. I mean, mourning is nice and all, but what? Let us leave behind these characters. I like them not.

Viola’s story is a lot more fun because she’s a shipwreck survivor and dresses as a boy so she can make it on her own as a servant to Duke Orsino. She also acts as a go-between for Orsino and Olivia which, of course, leads to Olivia falling for her (as you may have guessed). Now, Viola has her fair share of drama too and, sadly, falls for Orsino’s terrible poetry, but she’s a more interesting character to follow and get invested in.

That being said, the pairing today is completely Viola-centric. It’s Viola’s Salty Dog, as recommended by Caroline Bicks, PhD and Michelle Ephraim, PhD: authors of Shakespeare, Not Stirred. The recipe is as follows:

Lime wedge

5 thyme sprigs

Juice of 1/2 a lime

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 ounces ruby-red grapefruit juice

2 ounces gin

Fine sea salt

Rim your glass with the lime wedge and dip it into the sea salt. Muddle 3 thyme sprigs, lime juice, and maple syrup. Fill the glass with ice and pour in grapefruit juice and gin. Garnish with remaining thyme. Enjoy!

I’ll see you salty dogs on Sunday! Happy drinking!


Shakespeare-a-palooza: Late Night Twelfth Night Ramblings

Happy Shakespeare-a-palooza, Nerd Cactus fans! It’s finally here! Our official countdown to Stratford has officially begun, which means that C already has an alphabetized list of what to pack and I am on the verge of considering whether it is time to purchase a new carry-on sized suitcase… Hmm. If I do it’ll probably be t-minus one day away from takeoff. Clearly, our travel preparations are a tad different, but our anticipatory, pre-trip, pep blogs share the same “I’m ready to go” attitude. So welcome, one and all, to our first installment in this month’s all-Stratford, all-the-damn-time series of posts.

Today’s post is a little late, because I had a weird day. I intended to write this blog during an hour and a half Starbucks sit-down, but things went sideways, distractions occurred, and my blog did not get written. Alas, alack! Jk. ‘Tis a minor setback. Even if this post hits the interwebz after 12, it is written! All that being said, let us dilly dally no longer and make good haste! To the main event!

As C mentioned on Friday, we’ll actually be including a few non-Shakespearean plays in our lead-up to Stratford, but let’s keep it old school with a fun look at Twelfth Night and it’s treatment of a variety of different types of love. Best known as “the one She’s the Man is based on”, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a veritable hodge podge of riotous mistaken identities and love triangles – maybe even a love octagon, because literally everybody is in love with somebody else who is in love with somebody else, etc… I’m not kidding, people, every major character in this play is beset with love or lust in some form or other. Also, it’s a twisty, turny loopy-do of orbiting plots: one being the Viola (Cesario), Orsino, and Olivia triangle, another being the mistaken love created by Sir Toby and Sir Andrew to facilitate revenge on Malvolio, and the last being the plight of Sebastian – who was drowned until using him as another plotline of mistaken identity seemed like the best way to play for laughs.

Twelfth Night  is very much a comedy, but, in my view, it also contains some interesting observations about love, and what love is – or becomes – based on a number of scenarios that seem to say “but what about this?”. There’s unrequited love turned to marital love, and dutiful love that never really takes off because it is forced, and there’s also mistaken love that somehow turns to genuine affection. There’s also lust as a response to believing another feels love. There’s just a lot of high-strung human emotion floating about in this play.

But with all the love that’s in this show, is there actually a true example of characters falling in love with one another? I’ll give you my honest opinion here: no. Out of every couple that ends up together (maybe with the exception of Sir Toby and Maria) at least one – if not both – have been desperately in love with someone else throughout the majority of the play. There’s a whole lot of transfer of passions going on and even those who remain true to their hearts’ desire (uh, I guess that would be Viola and… oh, yeah, nobody else) end up with a partner that seems either inappropriate and unbelievable. Viola may get Orsino in the end, but why she fell for him in the first place remains a mystery to me – he’s self-absorbed and kind of an ass – and his willingness to marry her in the end is kind of a weird result of having been “semi into the whole androgynous thing, but this works out better”. And Olivia marries the completely wrong guy when she meets Sebastian (so maybe she counts as having stayed true to “Cesario”) and he’s just like “yeah sure, not gonna try and argue this.” There are just a lot of questionable pairings.

I dunno, you guys, it may be a super fun goat-rodeo to watch as far as Shakespeare’s comedies go, but it does lack a sense of depth. Unless the depth is that love is completely unpredictable and often entered into rashly by stupid people… Oh, I see what he did there. Yeah… this is Shakespeare’s play about how love makes you a nitwit. Ok, I can live with that.

I’ll be back on Friday with more exciting Shakespeare-a-palooza!


Shakespeare Saturday: Shakespearean Satire

Happy Saturday, good friends! I hope you are all in good health and spirits, and excited for the inevitable return of Shakespeare-a-palooza. You may have noticed my complete absence from last week’s posts… My campers infected me with their little kid germs and I came down with a flu that would NOT go away. Now I’m rested, healthy, and back in control of my senses – in the nick of time, too, Shakes-a-palooza is important y’all.

Before we begin the main event, however, (set your clocks – Shakespeare-a-palooza officially starts on Monday) I’m just gonna drop a strikingly hilarious bit of satire for everyone to enjoy.

As you well know, C and I are firm believers that William Shakespeare wrote his own plays. We actually wrote our own play in which he laments not writing his name at the top of everything he ever wrote, but I digress… We hold a strong, immovable opinion on the subject, and do have a tendency to get particularly catty with those that call into question Shakespeare’s lack of education. It’s nonsense, I tell you! The man was talented, learned (and, to be fair, stole) from the best, and was, more than anything, a great observer of the human condition. His plays have lasted this long because he was able to grasp all the major themes, ideas, and emotions that humanity has experienced from the dawn of our existence.

Shakespeare’s approach to story and character is human itself – not reliant on, or enslaved by, what some critic or great master had preordained as “art”. His words are not those of some fancy, learned duke attempting to make pretty, flowery sentences. It just sounds like it now, because we don’t speak like that anymore, guys… No, Shakespeare, in all his “lowliness”, wrote his own shit – and where his lack of education presented an obstacle he made up his own damn words. He made up so many words, you guys. He wrote words that felt good in the mouth as they were spoken (trippingly on the tongue, if you will). Words that just made good sense, describing some thing or some feeling that everyone could get on board with and go “hey, yeah, I do sleep in a bedroom”. I mean, c’mon, it’s not like the guy some homeless miscreant that crawled out of a sewer one day claiming to have learned to read and write from rats. His parents were respectable, middle class people and he had a grammar school education which, at that time, would have covered subjects such as Latin, Greek, and classical history.

Anyhoo, I know this became a little tangent-y and I promised you satire so without further ado… Please enjoy this little article which actually elicited a bark of sardonic laughter as I read it. That, my friends, is exactly what satire should do.

See you Monday!


Boozy Books: Getting Ready for The Return of Shakespeare-a-palooza!

Hey, guys! Sorry this is late. Even more sorry that it doesn’t actually include a book pairing. But I just realized we hadn’t actually announced anything, and I feel like that’s on us.

Well, of course it’s on us. It’s our blog.

I had an idea that I was going to pair Washington’s Farewell this week. (If you watch The Daily Show, yes. The one featured on The Daily Show that one time.) It felt right given my Muse from Monday (for the record: since then, Jefferson and I commiserated over the amount of religion in our government. He was not pleased.), and I am just about finished with it. In fact, I could tell you what I would pair with it now; I just couldn’t write a summary without finishing it. I mean, I could…

Washington gave a farewell address. He had two people from the opposing camps help him write it. Included in this speech were wisdomy bits like “don’t form political parties” and “don’t be isolationist but also don’t be interventionist”. Everyone nodded, said, “That Washington sure is a smart cookie”… and promptly ignored it. Seriously. We were involved in a war by 1801. The only reason we weren’t in one sooner was… you know… the other war that had just ended a few years earlier and from which the United States was really just recovering… (For the record, that war–the First Barbary War–wasn’t really interventionist per se. We were paying tribute, there were pirates, trade was impacted, and we’d already tried a peace treaty. So… maybe not the perfect example. But we were already moving west, too. Manifest Destiny existed well before the term was coined.)

We like war. Always have. Knowing us, always will.

Drink Whiskey. In honor of Washington personally putting down the Whiskey Rebellion.

OK. Moving on.

The reason today’s pairing is a little slapdash is because, well, A and I are preparing for the Third Annual Shakespeare-a-palooza, now featuring people other than Shakespeare! It’s one month out from our trip to Stratford, Ontario and, for those of you who haven’t been with us since the beginning, that means we’re going to spend the next month discussing, pairing, and making stupid jokes about four of the plays we’re going to see next month in Stratford. While we’ll review all of them, we’re going to focus on two of the Shakespeare plays and two non-Shakes plays we’re really looking forward to.

First up will be A, who’ll be discussing Twelfth Night. I’ll follow with Timon of Athens. Then A has decided to discuss Guys and Dolls (musical actress that she is), while I’ll discuss Tartuffe since Molière stole the show last year and we felt like we’d missed an opportunity to go in depth on our favorite writin’ Frenchman. (OH MY GOD. WHY DID I DO THAT?! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?) Yes, we’re skipping Romeo and Juliet.

You guys know why.

I’ll see you Sunday!


Monday Muse: This is Getting Difficult

I am having an increasingly difficult time not talking about politics these days. Like, it’s gotten to the point that I shout at my cats (poor creatures) and construct elaborate imaginary audiences with our Founding Fathers because I can’t keep it in anymore.

James Madison and I recently bonded over the Second Amendment. Seriously. I’m not going to tell you what the conversation was about, but if you know anything about Madison’s feelings on the nature of our military, you know what it was about. It was a good, cathartic moment for me.

James Madison also looked like his character in Hamilton. I don’t know why, but it feels less weird to imagine the character than the real guy. Plus, the real Madison was 5’4 and it would feel weird to look down at a Founder.

I don’t know. I’m weird.

It’s a cathartic experience for me. Someone does or says something, I conjure the proper historical personage, and I get out how I feel. I yelled at Hamilton the other day about not making enough provisions to reign in the banks; he yelled back that he was just building a system, it was those that followed who allowed the system to grow out of control. He also got really upset to find out what Andrew Jackson did to his bank. Seriously.

(Anyone who knows me knows that the one thing about Hamilton’s early death that really upsets me is losing out on an elderly Alexander Hamilton kicking Andrew Jackson’s ass over the closing of the bank. I combine it with the Brooks/Sumner cane incident in my head, and it. Is. Glorious.)

Maybe I really am crazy. I don’t think so. There has to be a school of psychology that advocates the creation of imaginary constructs in order to deal with overwhelming emotion. If not, I recommend it. It’s especially handy if you know how that person would argue back. Not knowing that makes it an exercise in confirmation bias. Which doesn’t really help.

But, seriously. Without doing stuff like this, I think I might become a ball of anxiety and anger. I need to do it to function.

And it’s the reason this blog has yet to descend into historical and political ramblings that reek of desperation and despondency.

On occasion, I also apologize profusely to George Washington.

Well, I’ll be back on Friday to talk about books. It might be a historical book. I take solace in the study of the past.