Today, Shakespeare is 452 years old, and he looks great.
As a former actor, there are few things I love more than William Shakespeare. He’s the complete package. You know you have a special writer when you can do his 400 year old plays for 5th graders and they Lap. It. UP. Midsummer Night’s Dream, MacBeth – it doesn’t matter which one. I know because I’ve personally stood in the middle of that giggly, bloody maelstrom many many times and seen it work.
But Shakespeare’s plays are not so much to be read, as to be seen, live and in-person. I suppose if you couldn’t be bothered to attend theater, and you’re more the sun-lit breakfast nook type, then his 154 Sonnets (that’s four more than there are Psalms) might be more your jam-n-toast. They’re pretty great, too.
He’s arguably the greatest writer to have ever lived: a poet, a tragedian, a comedian, ribald and religious, lowbrow and high-minded, a genius of the streets, a philosopher in the sheets. He’s deposed more kings than Bobby Fischer, ruined more armies than the Russian winter and blessed more unions than the Holy Church. All in a space roughly 20 x 40 feet.
But whoever is actually reading this post about Shakespeaere, you know what I’m talking about.
So, let’s party, Shakespeare-style – which means we’ll all get into a tremendous amount of trouble by the time the day is over.
I Recreate one of the street brawls from Romeo & Juliet in a public place, in period dress. USE THE LANGUAGE, and use pool noodles instead of swords. Actually, you could stage fights from any number of plays.
II Do you have a twin? Or someone who kinda sorta looks a bit like you? Swap lives for a day, and see if anyone notices. Works best cross-gender. Which leads to…
III …Cross-dress, cross-dress, cross-dress!
IV Is there someone in your office (or wherever you spend your days) who just bugs the hell out of everyone? Slip them a fake “love note” from a mutual acquaintance (of some prominence) with all kinds of weird instructions about what to wear, what to say and how to act – in order to prove their love. Enjoy the show, you cruel beast.
V Wear a bloodstained toga, and go about your day. When people ask you what happened, just say “Had a Senate meeting this morning, and no time to change.”
VI If you have some private thoughts while in coversation with someone, stop, make a half turn and take one or two steps away. Speak your private thoughts out loud, as if to an audience. Then turn back and continue your conversation. This is especially interesting if you didn’t want that person to know what you were really thinking. Cuz now they do. Plus, they’ll think you’re nuts, cuz you were just talking to air.
VII Invite a bunch of so-called friends over for a fancy dinner party. Once they’re all settled, bring out the “meal” – which will consist of rocks and tepid water(!) When they react in surprise and confusion, throw the rocks and water at your “friends”, who are a bunch of disloyal freeloaders, anyway. Chase them out with curses and insults. Go live in a cave at the edge of town. Fuck those guys.
VIII If you have an upcoming duty you wish to irresponsibly spurn, for instance, marrying a Count or finishing that expense report, fake your own death. You can do this in a variety of ways, including drinking a fake poison or simply having your people lie and say you are dead. When you miraculously reappear, it will be a joyous occasion. Unless, of course, your fake death has resulted in a handful of real deaths. Not your fault – you were “dead”!
IX Make your next debt payment, but in lieu of money, send those bastards an ounce of your own flesh. Include a note, “There’s 15 more ounces where that came from – THEN WE’RE SQUARE”. Hey, it’s probably better terms than what you’re getting now, right?
X Usurp a throne. There are lots of ways to do this: open rebellion, murder (in prison, while sleeping, whatever) – with a variety of means: poison in the ear, sword in the body, etc.. Also, there is a very good chance you’ll be able to marry the dead king’s wife, you silver-tongued devil, you.
XI Provoke a bear into chasing you. Good luck!
XII Assemble your army and take back France for England. It’s totally legal cuz of what that one guy did that one time… Edward the Black Prince… or maybe it’s the Salique Law, that female heir thing…? You remember, it’s the, uh… whatever – bottom-line: You’re young! Go for it!
XIII See a ghost. If they tell you to do something, don’t do it (at least not right away). If they warn you of something, ignore it. Note: I’m not sure where you’ll find your ghost, but they’re out there. Could be a dead relative, someone you murdered – might not even be a ghost, could be a conjured entity of some type. If it is a conjured entity, believe everything they say and do whatever they tell you. Ditto witches.
Hm. I might have all that backwards.
XIV Bake your enemy’s children into some sort of pot pie. (Don’t feel bad about using a ready-made crust; it’s always the hardest part.)
Of course, most of those things will get you into some kind of very serious drama. So instead, just write a sonnet.
It’s ok if it sucks; it’s not easy. If you write more, you’ll get better at it. It’s seriously fun, if you’re at all writerly. They make nice gifts.
Don’t take The Bard for granted. Read a play you’ve never read, or better – see a play, next time you can. If it’s tough at first, stick with it. He’s the best we got.