The Wooden O: Bard-Blogging

16 08 2004

Ever wonder what William Shakespeare would have to say about today’s world? No, me neither, but that’s an oversight that can be repaired with a single click. Through the miracle of cyberspace (which appears to have more dimensions than we thought), Master Shakespeare has returned to us–sort of–in the form of a disembodied voice at The Wooden O, his own personal blog.

I kid you not.

Will isn’t exactly a prolific blogger. There have been as few as two entries in a whole month, and long lags between them (as I write this, there hasn’t been a post since July 20–nearly a month). Yet what they lack in frequency, they make up in piquancy.

Master Will seems incredibly well-informed on current events, despite the excessive time he spends carousing at The Staggering Seraph–‘for those who would know, ’tis an inn on the borders of this world and the next, whither the best brewers of strong drink do repair on their death’–with the likes of Ben Jonson, Kit Marlowe, Larry Olivier, Peter Ustinov, and many other famous theatrical personages who have shuffled off this mortal coil. (As we shall see in a moment, Will is an inveterate and positively shameless name-dropper.) For instance, in ‘The Most Lamentable Comedy of King George II’, Master Will ruminates on what a fine–if dark–comedy Bush’s ascension to power would make.

[T]his same great fool of America maketh me much to wish that old Will Kempe were yet here to play him.Think on it, gentles: Bottom, in his dream, made an emperor! Or Dogberry, from police constable, become a great man, prince of a nation. Such a play I could make! Being no longer living, I need fear no Master of the Revels to stay me: but alas, being dead, my playmaking days are done.

Perchance it is for the best. For though this same Prince Shrublet is himself excellent matter for a comedy, yet ‘twould be a marvellous dark one, and some years must pass before the tragedies he hath wrought be not felt so near.

He even shares his thoughts on the Gay Marriage Amendment.

Now for love of this colour, I myself did write many a woeful sonnet; and the thing itself goeth back, so we read, to the noble Greeks and yet further.Yet in my time, we did never think to wed; for though our Church of England was begun to give old King Harry leave to wed with all the dames he pleased, yet holy wedlock could not extend to such pairings as I and my superb youth (ye shall pardon me his name) even had I not been contracted to my good Anne.

‘Twixt that time and this, many hundreds of years lie now cold in their graves. And this I say, gentles, in this new world to which I am awakened, of this sort of wedding: though to my sense it be strange, yet I can see no harm in it. And though it would quite have undone the plots of my As You Like It and of my What You Will too, yet there is matter in this theme for new plays, and marvellous merry ones.

And to those who say that the act itself be damnable: here I stand to give them the lie. Even poor Kit Marlowe, who spent his life believing himself damn’d and labouring to make himself more so, was quite put out of countenance at his hour of reckoning, when ugly Hell failed to gape nor Lucifer came not.

But, as you might expect of any artist, Will’s most intimate knowledge shows up in an encyclopedic awareness of where his plays are being performed–and of those in them.

Faith, I am much put in heart by a learned dispute that took place amongst the great and good of Washington DC, there at my Theatre where the honest players do know me right well. A dispute it was of the rights and wrongs of the invasion of one country by another: in specific, that of France by King Harry the Fifth in the year of our lord 1415. And the arbiter was that august lady Dame Judi Dench, whom I esteem full high, and who late made such noble work of my Countess in All’s Well that Ends Well.

Nor is he at all shy about letting us know of the great and the near-great with whom he hobnobs on a daily basis. After a previous absence of about a month, he can’t help supplying the guest list to the latest ‘celestial event’ that kept him away for so long.

Od’s my life, hath a whole moon waxed and waned since last I writ here? Your pardon, good gentles, I humbly crave: matters superlunary did entreat my attention. To wit, I was bidden unto a celestial revel whereat my masters Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Liszt and Ray Charles were the musick, and they did play together extempore in concords so sweet that they made the spheres to echo back the sound, and it seemed the welkin itself did dance a sprightly cinquepace. Brief, gentles, I was enchanted, and the sense of time did leave me.Faith, but our revels were prodigious! There did I drown a merry hour in golden nectar with Kit Marlowe and Ben Jonson. Sir Philip Sidney and his sister Mary, Countess of Pembroke came thither, and young Beaumont and Fletcher arm-in-arm. Webster, Middleton and Marston were drinking wine with other tragedians of King James’ age, clad all in black; I saw, too, Racine and Corneille sharing a table and speaking to none. I spoke, though, to Master Moliere, who was drinking deep with Carlo Goldoni and Edmond Rostand; they were arguing over Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, new-rendered into English by master Barry Kornhauser, and to be seen at mine own namesake theatre in the capital of the American nation.

Still, it’s hard to be too hard on a famous guy who cheerfully and humbly answers questions from mere groundlings as if they were commands from the nobility.

[T]wo most merry maidens [hath writ]:“We give thee good day, Master Shakespeare. We are two humble sisters of the order of the Interfaith Nunnery, come to peruse thine epistles from the green world. Iris desireth to know whether it might please thee to enter the nunnery’s broom closet, where thou two might disport thyselves.”

O sweet sister, whose name doth well befit the bright messenger of Jove: alas that I no longer possess a body corporeal wherewith to do thee right! Else would I be full fain of thine offer, I promise thee. Also, I am on a sudden consumed with regret that I writ no play involving sportful nuns in a broom closet. A most pregnant matter, i’faith.

“Andrea, who oft has thought Silvia most ill-used in not winning the hand of fair Rosalind, is not so inclined to share the broom closet with thee. She would, however, gladly converse with thee on plays and players. Couldst tell us, good sir, about Isabella of Measure for Measure? We have been much disturbed by the Duke’s o’erweening pride in assuming that the lady, having spent the course of the play protecting her maidenhead, would then desire the hand of a man only slightly greater in power than the man she so recently refused.”

Marry, well said, mistress Andrea. ‘Tis true, I grant ye, that the ending of Measure for Measure is but a patch’d affair. And the Duke, as thou say’st, is a prideful man: else why let all Vienna suffer to entrap one parasite, a man he knew to be corrupt? Yet one of the things on which he prides himself is justice.

For Isabella herself, in the play she speaks not of virginity but of chastity, and a wife may be as chaste as may a maid: the luckless Lucrece was one such. To be chaste may, if you will, mean for one’s body to be at the disposal of one’s mind. Isabella’s chastity, then, may mean her power not only to refuse such as the lustful Angelo, but to choose where (and whether) to bestow her favour, should she find one deserving. Perchance I chop logic: ’tis true that she most earnestly desires to become a nun, with all that that entails.

The Wooden O is a very clever pastiche, and fun to read if you have any love for either Shakespeare or his works. Whoever the author is, the voice is remarkably like Shakespeare’s actual voice as we know it from the plays and poems, and it isn’t hard to imagine that if Will were actually around he’d sound exactly like the Will of Wooden O. To appreciate this blog, it will help if you know something about Shakespeare, but if you don’t, don’t worry–Will has thoughtfully provided a ton of links to his plays, to biographies of his contemporaries like Robert Armin and Will Kempe (he’s seems particularly fond of the comics) as well as to histories of those well-met since they passed: Ustinov, Olivier, Ray Charles, and so on. You’ll catch up in no time.

In fact, I’ll leave you with a quote from his obituary of Charles, whom he holds in high esteem.

God be with his soul. ‘A was a merry manThe living world hath lost a great soul in honest master Ray Charles, whose playing did cheer the hearts of many. Now what prodigious music shall he make among the spheres? That, gentles, is for my hearing and your awaiting.

Yet when he is minded to play, sure the aery region will so ring with it that the green world shall not escape some echo of it. When thou art of a humour to smile for no reason, or when on a lowering and doleful day thy disposition on a sudden turns from sour to merry, be certain that at that hour brother Ray maketh music to delight the heavens.

For this time, if that thou hast a tailfeather, let it be shaken. Yea, and mightily.

And the same for you, Will. The same for you.

PS Will loves getting email. Ask him a question or make a comment on some issue of the day (or one of his plays) and you might well goose him into blogging again. Just click ‘Mail thou me’ on the Main page.

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