Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, November 30, 2013

What Chemistry Is Doing to Me, Part 1



Last summer I began my quarterly series of injections of Lupron (LOO-prawn), a drug intended to stall the progress of (though not cure) my prostate cancer, which, as readers of this blog know, has defeated both surgery and radiation. The effects of Lupron have been slow to manifest themselves, but I think I've been on it long enough that I can write about them. Yesterday, I started writing about chemistry, and, as you can see from the text below, I sort of got off the subject--as is my custom, I guess. Anyway, I had the eerie feeling as I was telling this story that I'd told it before. Oh well. I know it's in my memoir Schoolboy, but I'm not sure about elsewhere. Anyway, here it is ... and just look at it as a sort of benign introduction to the subject--a subject I will eventually get around to ...

I didn't last long in high school chemistry at tiny Hiram High School (fall of 1960). Our teacher--who will remain nameless--told us the first day that we were going to have a quiz on the periodic table at the end of the week.

I laughed out loud.

Here's why: I'd taken classes in our school's only "science room" for several years, and that chart was right there above the blackboard, all those years. Symbols. Numbers. A goulash of information I saw no use for. Because, you see, I was going to be playing soon for the Cleveland Indians (until they traded me to the Yankees), and I would never have the slightest need for any of this. Well, I did have some need for it: I wanted to go to college (where I knew the Indians' scouts would see and sign me), and colleges required years of science, years of math (not my two best subjects, by the way). So I enrolled in chemistry my junior year.

But ... to have a quiz on that wacky chart in just a few days?!?! Nothing to do but laugh. Which I did.

"Dyer," said the teacher, "that'll be 500 words on why you shouldn't laugh in chemistry."

I laughed again.

I'd never written 500 words about anything. But I was not laughing to ridicule the teacher, by the way, this teacher who was also our part-time baseball coach. I would learn later that spring that he was incapable, during infield drill, of hitting a grounder to the left side. He would try to bounce one to the shortstop and third baseman, but it always went to the right side instead. Finally, he told me (the catcher) to throw grounders to those two guys. So ... how can you respect a guy who can't hit a grounder to short? Still, as I said, my laughter was not to disrespect him; it was a laugh of absolute befuddlement. I knew as I just said, that I could not write 500 words about anything, certainly not about why I shouldn't laugh in chemistry. So I'd laughed again.

"Make it a thousand," said the teacher.

That ended my laughter.

A thousand words? That was like a book, wasn't it? Impossible. But I shut up. What if he said "1500" next?  I'd have to run away or something.

That night, at home, in my room, I got a weird idea. I started something like this: I, Danny Dyer, resident of Hiram, which is in Portage County, state of Ohio, country of the United States of America, part of North America and the western hemisphere, which, of course, is part of planet earth, which forms part of the Milky Way galaxy ...  And on and on I went in such a vein, all one sentence, all one huge digression (I counted words at the end of each line so I wouldn't write more than 1000 words), ending with this: ... know that it is not right to laugh in chemistry.  Exactly 1000 words.

I showed the "essay" to my mom, an English teacher, who fixed a few commas for me, all the while smiling with ... what? Surprise? Pride? Alarm? Who knows?

Next day in chemistry class, I turned in the masterwork. The teacher seemed surprised, I think (I was not known then for completing things on time). Next day he returned it with some sort of comment about my not adhering to the "spirit of the assignment" (or some such), but he didn't as ask me to do it over (whew).

(Was it then that I had one of my first glimmerings that maybe I'd end up being an English teacher? After, of course, my Hall-of-Fame career behind the plate.)

Next day, I dropped chemistry and signed up for advanced math (which presented other problems). And I did not take chemistry at all until I went to Hiram College, where, once again, I did not distinguish myself in the subject. Far from it.

TO BE CONTINUED ...






Friday, November 29, 2013

The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein, Part II: 24


Well, that comment froze me. Mr. Leon had seen my house! I glanced over at Gil, whose eyes were even more focused on Mr. Leon. And I realized why: Gil had an interest in my house, too. I felt the cold air of solitude on my neck. What was going on?
All I could do was repeat what he’d said. “You’ve seen my house?”
“That’s what I just said.” Mr. Leon didn’t seem to think it was all that interesting. His voice was starting to soften with … what? … boredom?
“Why?” asked Gil. “Why were you in Vickie’s house?”
Mr. Leon was busy re-lighting his pipe, his eyes moving back and forth from us to the bowl and the flame. “Oh,” he finally said, “I used to live there.”
The cold air grew colder.
Gil spoke first, his curiosity more powerful, it seems, that my shock. “And when was that?” he asked. I looked at him. I pictured him as a newspaper reporter, sitting there with a little notepad. Well, he had no notepad, but he might as well have. He looked, I realized, just the way my father did when he was interested in a story. I felt my anger rising once again.
“Some years ago,” he said. He paused. “Quite a few, actually.” He puffed again. “Seems like forever ago.” He was looking past us now, focused on the room behind us.
Silence.
Mr. Leon spoke again. “And then, after the tornado …”
“You were there?” I said. “I didn’t see you.”
“Lots of people don’t see me,” he said. “Even when I’m standing right in front of them. Or even upstairs in the cafeteria,” he said. “I can be standing right beside a table full of kids, and not one of them will even be aware that I am there.”
I was trying to decide if this was creepy. Or just sad.
“But when were you there after the tornado?” I asked.
“Just the once. Just that night.”
“But we weren’t there …” We had spent some nights at a local motel while repairs were being done. Our house, as you may remember, was among the most damaged in the entire storm. As if the funnel cloud had fixed its attention on us.
“That’s right,” said Mr. Leon. “You weren’t there.” More silence while he smoked.
Then Gil said, “What were you doing there? What did you do?”
More silence while he smoked. “Just looking around,” he finally said. “Picking through the rubble.”
I waited.
“Did you go inside?” asked Gil.
More silence while he smoked. “I did,” he sighed. “Just to see what that storm had done.”
“But there was yellow police tape everywhere!” I cried. “Why did you—”
“I told you,” he said. “I used to live there, too. And I felt … something.”
More silence while he smoked.
“And I went down to the basement,” he said finally, now staring right at me. “And, Victoria … ‘Stone,’” he said, “I think you know perfectly well what I found down there.”


Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Journey to Richard II: Part 20

Richard II
Shakespeare & Co.; Lenox, MA
July 2013
A series of posts about my journey through the works of Shakespeare--on the page, on the stage.

As I've written here before, when I was a senior at Hiram College, my parents gave me the forty-volume set of the Yale Shakespeare. A little blue volume for each play, a volume of sonnets, another of poems, a volume about the Bard himself. A couple of times I read my way through all of them. But there was one problem: That particular set did not include The Two Noble Kinsmen, a play Shakespeare wrote in collaboration with John Fletcher, who was fifteen years younger than the Bard and was his playwriting heir at the Globe and Blackfriars. The play now does appear in Bard collections, including the one I like the best, Complete Works edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen and published by the Modern Library in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company (picture at left).

Here's what Bate and Rasmussen say about it: "Active collaboration is generally assumed but the possibility of Fletcher taking over an incomplete Shakespearean work cannot be ruled out" (2357). They date the play around 1613-1614 and think there's an allusion in the text to the fire that destroyed the Globe in 1613. Shakespeare was pretty much done by this time. His great play The Tempest was in 1611. He would write no other work by himself--that we know of--between then and his death back in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1616.

I probably don't need to say that Kinsmen is rarely produced? It was not included in Shakespeare's First Folio (the thirty-six plays collected and published in 1623 by his former shareholders in the Globe), and producers today of the Bard's plays, as I've indicated before in these posts, are often fearful of mounting productions of plays that are not going to attract audiences. Romeo and Juliet: crowd; Pericles, Prince of Tyre: no crowd. And such, of course, is the case with The Two Noble Kinsmen.

As Joyce and I were nearing the end of our quest to see all the plays onstage, I was perfectly ready to claim we'd seen them all once we'd seen Richard II. But then we learned late last winter that the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA, was doing Kinsmen. I got online, bought tickets, and Joyce and I drove down to Staunton again (remember, we'd seen Titus Andronicus for the first time there), about 400 miles southeast of us (it's not far from Charlottesville, VA--about forty miles). You'll recall that in Staunton the ASC uses a replica of Shakespeare's Blackfriars Theater, the indoor venue they used from 1610 on. And the ASC works to produce the plays in a fashion that would be familiar to Elizabethan audiences: not much in the way of props and scenery, low-level lighting the entire production, musicians onstage, lots of interplay with the audience (some of whom are sitting on the stage), etc.

Here's a little note I wrote in my journal that night ...

... stopped at a coffee shop ere heading over to the theater where we saw a fine production of The Two Noble Kinsmen, a play that is a comedy—but with a dark center, as well (the death at the very end of one of the kinsmen, who have been fighting over the same woman virtually the entire play); love makes you crazy, a definite theme; fine performances all around ...

The Two Noble Kinsmen
ASC, March 2013
And now, with the Kinsmen in our rear-view mirror, only Richard II remained, a wonderful play, but one, again, that is rarely produced.  

NEXT: At last--we fins a production of Richard II ...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein, Part II: 23


I’d never seen a place so cluttered. Things were stacked on the floor in piles so high that Gil and I had to weave our way single-file through a path that Mr. Leon had apparently created so he could reach his desk. Shelves lined the walls, and they, too, were so loaded that I don’t think he could have squeezed a single nail onto any one of them.
Most of the things I guess I recognized—things you would expect to find in a custodian’s office. Tools. Plumbing and electrical supplies. Cleaners. That sort of thing. In a way, it was like walking through some especially cluttered aisles of a hardware store.
But there were other things that I recognized as scientific equipment—tubes and microscopes and row upon row of chemicals and Bunsen burners and old dark bottles with smeary labels on them. There were even a few things I didn’t recognize at all.
By the time we reached the desk he was sitting there in an old wooden swivel chair, facing us. He was smoking a pipe—in clear violation of the school’s no-smoking-anywhere policy. I was a little surprised at the smell, which did not seem to be an ordinary tobacco—maybe not even tobacco at all.
Right in front of him were two rickety wooden folding chairs. He gestured for us to sit. We did. He looked at us. And then looked some more.
“You’re probably wondering—” I began.
“I don’t wonder about much,” he said. “I know.”
That shut me up for a bit.
“Why did you follow me down here?” he asked.
I said, “I thought you didn’t wonder about things.”
Mr. Leon exploded in a laugh that transformed into some coughing. Then said, “I’ll bet Mr. Tooke has told you that you have a fresh mouth.”
Gil said, “How did you know—?”
“I told you,” he said. “I just do.”
He looked at us; we looked at him. Forever, it seemed.
“You don’t really know why you came down here, do you?” he asked.
“I guess not,” said Gill.
“I know not, don't you mean?” said Mr. Leon. We shrugged. “But I know why.”
We leaned forward a little.
“Because you’re both”—a pause, a long, long pause—“you’re both very curious.”
About that he was right.
“And you know what they say about curiosity?” he asked.
“Killed the cat?” said Gil.
“Nine times,” said Mr. Leon, and once again he laughed so hard that his face turned red while he coughed furiously.
I decided to change the subject—sort of. “I’ve never been down here before,” I said brightly. “It’s very …”
“Cluttered,” said Mr. Leon.
“Well, you should see my house,” I said.
“I have,” he said.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Journey to Richard II: Part 19

Richard II
Shakespeare & Co.; Lenox, MA
July 2013

A series of posts about my journey through the works of Shakespeare--on the page, on the stage.

I retired from public school teaching in January 1997, and in the fall of 2001 joined the faculty of Western Reserve Academy, where I thought I'd teach a year or two. I was wrong. I retired from there in the spring of 2011. I was no longer teaching eighth graders but high school juniors--and there are few people on earth more serious and worried about college admission than that particular population. Most of them were bright and hard-working, and I loved my time there--just as I had loved my years at Harmon Middle School. It was just ... different. Two different loves, separate but equal.

The English III (junior) curriculum (which I taught) focused on American literature (one of my loves), but the school also has a tradition of teaching Shakespeare at every grade level. The other grade levels changed plays now and then (sophomores, in my time, read Othello, then changed to Macbeth), but the juniors always read Hamlet. They were teaching the Melancholy Dane's play when I had originally taught at the school back in the late 1970s; they are still teaching it now; they probably first taught it in the early seventeenth century, when Shakespeare wrote it.

As some earlier posts on this subject have indicated, I had a sort of "whole-hog" or "full-meal-deal" approach to teaching Shakespeare with my middle-schoolers. For most of them (by far) this was their first formal introduction to the Bard, so I threw as much at them as I could about the Elizabethans, about Shakespeare's life and writing. I spent an entire nine-week marking period on it--sometimes more.

But at WRA, I was always alert to time's wing├ęd chariot hurrying near: I knew I had to zip through American literature, so our time with Hamlet was never more than a few weeks at the beginning of the year. In ways, those English III-ers were more sophisticated readers of the Bard: They'd read two other plays in school, and many of them had read other plays back in middle school. But--like most (all?) young people (including yours truly--back when) they had trouble with the language, with the culture and customs of the day.

I did some things at WRA that I'd done back at Harmon School. We read the play aloud in class (skipping around now and then); we memorized lines (guess what I picked? "To be or not to be"); I talked about the Elizabethans some as we were reading--but not at all in the detail I'd employed back in Aurora. There just wasn't time. And we stopped reading near the end of the play (I didn't want them to know what happened--not on the page) and watched a film--usually Zeffirelli's production, the one with Mel Gibson. When it became patent in recent years that Mel was wacko, I always felt odd about using that film--but the kids did like it, and although it moved some scenes around, cut many lines, left out the entire Fortinbras subplot, it is an exciting production. After the film, we went back to the text to look at Shakespeare's original ending.

As I type these words, it sounds as if I'm making excuses. And I guess I kind of am. I always felt guilty about how little time we spent on Hamlet at WRA. But American literature loomed, as I said, and it was time to get busy with The Scarlet Letter!

There's no doubt in my mind that I did a much better job of teaching Shakespeare to the 8th graders. Had a lot more fun. Yes, we had some fun at WRA--you can ask some of them about how I used finger puppets in the "country matters" section (the play-within-the-play)--and I loved stopping with the students to talk about some of the issues in Hamlet that remain pertinent to our lives (and there are many of them).

But I missed the music--the faux wedding--the games of slide-thrift--the use of thee and thou in class--and just seeing the excitement that appeared on the faces of some kids who'd never ever believed that it was remotely possible that they could "get into" Shakespeare.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein, Part II: 21


Gil and I said our thank-you’s to Leon’s back. No sooner had he opened the door than he’d wheeled and was walking swiftly down the hall, probably to the stairs that led down to the boiler room and the custodian’s office. At least that’s what the sign said over the door to the stairway.
We looked at each other. Now what? Wordlessly, we followed Leon down the hall, where he did indeed open the door that led to the descending stairs. The door was a heavy one that took awhile to close, and Gil was able to grab it just before it closed. Again we looked at each other.
Quietly, Gil pulled the door open a little, allowing both of us through. He used a hand to quiet the door as it closed. I was standing in a place I’d never been before—and I’m certain Gil never had either.
It was dim—not dark. And we glimpsed Leon reach the bottom of the stairs and turn to the right. Gil and I—as quietly as we could—crept down the stairs into the dungeon of the school

I realize as I write this that I’ve not told you anything about our building—Charles Junior High School. A very old structure, it went up about 1900, around the time they were making schools look like solid old brick factories. (Factories? Remember them? There used to be a lot of them, back when America made lots of things.) Charles School originally held the entire Franconia school population, Grades 1–12. But more families moved in; Charles became too small. So they built both a new high school and a new elementary and left the junior high kids in the old factory.
Figures, doesn’t it? No one really likes junior high kids anyway—so why bother giving them a new building? Stick them in some old factory and let them out when they’ve outgrown their craziness. That was probably the thinking. If there was any thinking.
So, our three-story building was nearly 100 years old that year I entered it as a seventh grader. There was a rumor that the School Board was going to ask Franconia to tax itself for a new “middle school” (whatever that is), but I didn’t really care. By the time it got built—if it got built—I’d be gone. Up at the high school. Or somewhere else.
Anyway, in old Charles the ceilings were high, the wooden floors warped and wavy, the high windows leaking air—and a lot of them didn’t even open any longer. The stairs creaked when you climbed them, the floors shuddered when everyone got up at once to change classes, the cafeteria smelled like bad food, the gym and locker rooms like decay, and the basement—where Gil and I were going now—like Death. And as you may remember, I knew what death smells like. Knew it far too well.

At the bottom of the stairs was a hallway that ran left to right. We’d seen Leon go right, so we peeked around the corner but didn’t find anything but another door, the sort you see that leads to a classroom or an office. We looked left—and saw the huge boiler that would be heating the school in the winter. It was already rumbling. Maybe Leon figured the rain was going to cool the day?
Gil and I, still wordless, went to the right. Crept quietly. Stopped outside the door, where was saw a sign over it: S. T. Leon, Custodian.[i] As we stood there staring at it, the door suddenly swung open, and Mr. Leon (now we knew that “Leon” wasn’t his first name) was staring right back at us. He didn’t look surprised.
“You kids are getting to be a problem,” he snarled. “Get in here!” He gestured back towards his office. We moved like robots—frightened robots—into Mr. Leon’s office.





[i] Vickie’s getting cute again. One of her father’s novels (1799) was St Leon, a novel about a man who discovers both the philosopher’s stone (which converts base metals to gold) and the elixir of eternal youth. And, I just realized, his son’s name is Charles.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

An Island of Treasure

When, just a child, I first saw Disney's film of Treasure Island (1950), based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), I was frightened. I remember two scenes today clearly. One: When the pirate throws a knife at Jim, who's climbed the mast to escape; the blade sticks in his shoulder; Jim responds by shooting the pirate in the face. Two: When the wounded Jim returns to the good guys' little fort on the island, he stumbles into the room looking for his doctor friend. Instead, Long John Silver rises from sleep, sees Jim, and cries, "Matey!"

I know: Doesn't sound all that scary in these days of chainsaws and machetes and horny vampires and amazing special effects. But it was plenty for me in 1950; I was six.

As I write these words, I still have not read Treasure Island. I didn't read it when I was a kid: No teacher ever assigned it, and I wouldn't have read it on my own. I didn't like hard books then--I still don't, but, of course, my definition of "hard book" has evolved. I just now looked at the online text of Treasure Island, and here's the opening paragraph:

SQUIRE TRELAWNEY, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17__ and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodging under our roof.

Not all that daunting, not now. But in the 1950s? I would have gone for something easier--a boy's biography of Jim Bowie, maybe--or the Classics Illustrated edition of Treasure Island, which I did read over and over. We had lots of those comics in the house (the only ones my parents truly sanctioned), and I'd learned early that some comic book is better than no comic book, so, in a way, I read all the classics when I was but a lad.

As the years went on, I never did read Treasure Island. No one ever assigned any Stevenson in college or grad school--though, for some reason, I did read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And Stevenson's poems for children--A Child's Garden of Verses--sat on the shelf at my grandparents' house--and in our house (even as it would later stand on our own shelf when we became parents in 1972). One of those poems--"My Shadow"--I can clearly remember my grandmother reciting to me, and many years later, I memorized it myself. And those words were the first words I spoke to my first grandson, Logan (now nearly 9), when I held him in the hospital just moments after his birth. Some tears interrupted the flow of the words, of course. If you don't remember that poem, here it is ...

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there's none of him at all.

He hasn't got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he's a coward you can see;
I'd think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

Not all that long ago, I memorized another Stevenson poem--"Requiem," the one that composes the epitaph on Stevenson's grave in Samoa.

UNDER the wide and starry sky 
  Dig the grave and let me lie: 
Glad did I live and gladly die, 
  And I laid me down with a will. 
  
This be the verse you 'grave for me:         5
  Here he lies where he long'd to be; 
Home is the sailor, home from the sea, 
  And the hunter home from the hill. 
 
Recently, reading Earle Labor's wonderful new biography of Jack London, I remembered that the Londons went out of their way to visit Stevenson's grave when (in 1907-08) they were attempting circumnavigation in The Snark. London greatly admired Stevenson--and this was his tribute.

So ... here's what I've been getting at. Last Thursday, we had our grandson Carson (4 1/2) with us for most of the day. Joyce had bought him a new book (How I Became a Pirate), which he loved so much that I had to read it aloud several hundred thousand times during the day. By coincidence, I had received from Netflix, just the day before, a DVD of the old Disney Treasure Island. Early that afternoon (exhausted!), I asked Carson if he'd like to see a little bit of a pirate movie. Did he!?

I don't think I'd seen Treasure Island since I was a boy. I originally saw it at one of the Enid, Oklahoma, movie theaters when it arrived in the Sooner State, and I saw it again on Disneyland now and then. Watching with Carson, Joyce and I were surprised by how much talking there was in the film (which, I've subsequently learned, was Disney's first live-action feature); no adventure film for kids these days would dare have so much dialogue.

Carson's interest was in and out--in during the action, out during the dialogue. (So was mine, actually.) We turned it off right after the mutiny. His parents had called and were on the way to pick him up. So he hasn't seen the end yet. But we bought it for him for Christmas (along with a children's version of the story; I think I'll order the old Classics Illustrated for him, too).

That night, upstairs, Joyce and I watched the rest of it in bed. Well, I watched the rest of it. Joyce grew very silent after a while, and her breathing got very regular. Not sure what that meant ...

Those two scenes I mentioned earlier were just as I'd remembered them (no dotard, I!), and at the end I was touched when Jim helps John Silver escape. I remember being touched as a boy, too. And I was wondering, the other night, if 1950 was the first time when I realized there are ambiguities in life? That some people (most people?) are some combination of "good" and "bad"? I had not learned such a lesson from the ga-jillion cowboy shows I watched on TV. Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, et al.--those guys were pure goodness, just as their antagonists were pure wickedness. But little Jim Hawkins ... he saw more clearly.

And now I'm going to order the book. And read it. It's about time ...



Here's a link to the original 1950 trailer. And here's another link to the entire film.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Journey to Richard II: Part 18

Richard II
Shakespeare & Co.; Lenox, MA
July 2013
A series of posts about my journey through the works of Shakespeare--on the page, on the stage.

If you've read or seen Titus Andronicus, you know why it doesn't appear more frequently at your local playhouse. Yes, it's by Shakespeare, but it features, rape, murder, dismemberment, anthropophagy, filicide. And even more acts that demonstrate most graphically the abominations we are capable of visiting upon one another.

As I posted here the other day, by 2008 Joyce and I had seen every Shakespeare play onstage except The Winter's Tale, Titus, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and Richard II. I didn't really ever expect to see a production of Titus--though we had seen the grim and graphic film Titus, 1999, directed by Julie Taymor (Spider-Man on Broadway! but also The Lion King) and starring Anthony Hopkins as Titus and Jessica Lange as his nemesis, Tamora. Link to trailer on YouTube. I liked the film a lot and had a large blue poster for the film hanging in my classroom during the final decade of my career. Occasionally, a student would ask me what it was about--and that day we had some fun!

I first read the play in February 1987 (I was reading all the plays at the time), and I see that I underlined some sweet lines--Sweet mercy is nobility's truest badge, says Tamora (1.1); at the moment, she's trying to save her son from execution. (She fails.) Well, Tamora's other sons exact a horrible revenge: They rape, blind, and cut away the tongue of Lavinia, Titus' daughter. And I would say that all hell breaks loose, except, of course, it already has. Well, later, Titus gets his hand cut off (and I will resist the urge to say "Let's give Tutus a hand!"), but he plots a most disgusting revenge. He kills Tamora's sons and bakes them in pies. Then invites their unsuspecting mother to dinner.

By the end, just about everyone is dead (or eaten), and the stage is littered with corpses, a decoration he will repeat later in Hamlet and in some other plays. Oh, and at the very end of Titus? Some survivors toss Tamora's body outside. But throw her forth to beasts and birds of prey, says Lucius (one of Titus' sons). Her life was beast-like, and devoid of pity; / And, being so, shall have like want of pity (5.3).

Blackfriars at Staunton, VA
In the summer of 2009, Joyce and I learned that the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA, was producing Titus. I was excited to go there for a number of reasons--not only to see a play I'd never seen but also because in Staunton is a replica of Shakespeare's Blackfriars (indoor) theater. They produce the plays much as Shakespeare would have: people playing multiple parts, minimum scenery and props, much interaction with the audience, low lighting that remains on throughout the productions, musicians performing before, during, after the show. (They do, however, cast women, one of their few concessions to the modern era!) The ACS cycles through all the Bard's plays over a period of years, and now it was time for Titus.

We drove down to Staunton to see Titus on the eve of Joyce's birthday. (Lovely present, eh?) And here are some things I wrote in my journal about the experience ...

... drove long way—about 400 mi—to Staunton, where we made a wrong exit, but soon found our motel, checked in ... crashed (I did manage to read a little Twilight ere the good part happened!); I slept restlessly (up 5–6 times); this a.m.—down to skimpy breakfast in the motel, then over to nearby Starbucks, where we got good chairs, and where I did Kirkus reading, and J worked on the T. Kidder book for the fall; afterwards, drove into beautiful Staunton, looked around (many shops closed [Sunday]), took some photos, went to lunch at Mill Street Grill (in an old mill), then over to a glass-blowing place, where J bought a lovely bowl; then to a coffee shop to wait a bit ere walking over to the Blackfriars, where I dropped about $70 in the gift shop (all for school), then in to the lovely space (seating a little over 300—not nearly that many there for Titus); they did it in very Eliz fashion—music and foolery at the beginning, minimum props and scenery (blood!), candle-level lighting all the way through—one 15-min intermission, though; people sitting onstage to watch, as well; major actors were very good; minor ones, not so—but I found myself very moved by some lines at the end about a grandfather—and in a number of other places, as well; very enthusiastic audience—joining in to participate in the Roman crowd scenes; Joyce liked it a lot, too; so glad we came—then I snarled when I saw that just last year they’d done Richard II ...; afterwards, drove around a little, got gas, got lost (a little), then went to grocery store for supper things (bread, yogurt, fruit); back to motel; ate our little supper in the breakfast area (no one else there) ...

Exciting, eh? Nerds on Holiday ... and I love it.

And, of course, it wasn't long before the Stratford Festival (Canada) produced Titus. We saw it on 7 August 2011. A brief journal entry ...

… such a bloody show (which they took very seriously—with little playfulness—one exception: when Lavinia helps kill the two boys who raped her, she’s dressed all in white, a look reminiscent of some teen horror flick, and she flips open two broad blades, one from each stump at the end of each arm—broad as Bowie knives; before the blackout it becomes very clear she will  ram these blades up the butts of the rapists!) ...

Next: The Two Noble Kinsmen

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years Ago Today ...

... I had just turned nineteen. I had begun my sophomore year at Hiram College and had recently switched my major from elementary education to ... religion and philosophy. This is not so odd as it sounds. My grandfather, my uncle, my father--all were ordained ministers in the Disciples of Christ (the denomination that in 1850 had founded what would become Hiram College), and I was starting to think (though think may be too strong a term for what I was doing) that perhaps the ministry was my ... destiny. Sounds portentous (pretentious?), I know, but I was young, full of self-importance and thoughts of Destiny.

I had lived at home my freshman year (my dad taught at Hiram), but my parents had wearied of me pretty quickly (I added several definitions to the OED that year for obnoxious) and had allowed me to move up into the dorms--Whitcomb Hall, #214 (I think). I was deliriously happy. I had the advantages of the dorm (no parents) and of home (food, occasional cash, laundry machines, a car). Also I was a ... sophomore, no longer a lowly frosh subject to the cruel whims of the upperclassmen. Graduation seemed an age away--nearly three years! It was looking pretty certain that I would live forever.

An added bonus that fall: My parents and younger brother were in Greece for six weeks. Dad had won some sort of fellowship, and they had invited me, too--but in one of the great dimwitted miscalculations of my youth I decided I would be better off in Hiram, Ohio. (I've still not been to Greece.) So now--no parents! A house! A car!

That fall we got word that Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis (adjacent to the Butler U. campus) was hosting a gathering for young men and women who were considering a career as a Disciples minister. A benefit: My uncle Ronald Osborn was the dean there and taught church history. His daughter, Virginia, was a few years younger than I, but we were good friends. And I adored my aunt Naomi, as well. So ... a no-brainer. I had a car, a desire to get away from campus.  And a college acquaintance, Gene Higgins, wanted to go along as well, and showed his gratitude by picking up the gas expenses.

We left Hiram on the morning of 22 November 1963 and drove south and west, hitting I-70 south of Delaware, Ohio. I don't remember what we talked about (okay, I do remember some of it, but I have too much self-respect to share it--but think about a couple of randy nineteen-year-olds, and I'm sure you won't have much trouble identifying the subjects), but I remember having a good time with Gene, whom I didn't really know all that well (though we were in the same fraternity at Hiram) and who, I was discovering, had a wacky sense of humor.

We were listening to the radio.

Not long after we crossed the Indiana border, a news bulletin. Shots fired in Dallas. President Kennedy had been hit.

And it seemed only moments later that the second bulletin came: President Kennedy is dead.

My father was a Republican; so was my mother (though, later on, she became an outspoken Democrat and always told me that she voted for Kennedy). All three sons were Republicans, too (I'd never really thought about why, of course--I just went along with my parents); now, all three of us are Dems. My dad lived to see this shift and was not happy about it. My brothers and I agreed not to talk politics with Dad: It did no good. Everyone got angry. No point.

Driving into Indianapolis, Gene and I saw the most emotional things from inside the car. Of course, we could not hear what was going on outside (our radio remained on; our windows were up), but we could see the news traveling through the streets of the city. We could see people tell one another what had happened. Looks of disbelief. People embracing. Slumping to the ground in grief, arms reaching to the sky. Outside the car--a silent movie, a powerful, wrenching one, with the awful news from Dallas providing an odd soundtrack inside the car.

The assassination had a profound effect, as you can guess, on our conference. It was the subject even when it wasn't the subject.

I found myself unaccountably moved, too. I had hated it when JFK won the election. I was certain the country would go to Hell in half a year. When we watched the Nixon-Kennedy Debates on TV, we all cheered for Nixon, were confident he had destroyed the young Senator from Massachusetts. And now ...?

It was a quiet ride back to Ohio, back to Hiram. I was taking Public Speaking that term (a requirement for prospective teachers), and the professor, William Clark, came into class that day and delivered the lyrical eulogy that Sen. Mike Mansfield (link to speech on YouTube; link to text) had given in the Capitol Rotunda on 24 November. After Prof. Clark spoke--there were tears in his eyes, a catch in his voice--he dismissed the class. And we looked at one another in wonder.

I lost track of Gene Higgins after commencement. I know he went into the ministry and that he served for quite a while in Stow, Ohio--but I never saw him. My beloved cousin Virginia died in a freak automobile accident during spring break of her freshman year at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. My uncle Ronald and aunt Naomi--both gone. My father died in 1999. My mother clings to her sharply circumscribed life at 94.

And so I remember 22 November 1963 as a time--the first time in my life--when I realized the fragility of it all, a fragility whose cruel reality I have witnessed over and over and over again in the ensuing half-century. We are guaranteed only the very instant of now. Anything beyond--our very next breath, the next beat of the heart--is a gift of incalculable value.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Solution to the Early Arrival of Christmas

I've heard lots of complaints this year about what seems to be an earlier-than-usual arrival of the Christmas season--decorations in stores, holiday Muzak in every elevator and enterprise you enter. I've even seen some editorial cartoons on the subject.


The mercenary motives are obvious: Retailers need holiday spending the way, oh, the Pilgrims needed to know how to plant maize. So all the early advertising and Bing Crosby's crooning combine to get us in the mood to rub smooth our charge cards in order to buy and give things that people don't really want.

But it really has begun earlier and earlier, hasn't it? When I was a kid, you didn't see/hear much Christmas until after Thanksgiving.

So why hasn't Thanksgiving been able to hold its own in the Holiday Derby? Well, for one thing, the Thanksgiving spending is pretty limited to food and relevant supplies (turkeys and canned pumpkin and roasting pans and the like--and psychotherapy after the relatives have gone home). I don't know of any tradition of gift-giving on Thanksgiving--though maybe other families have different traditions? So--not all the merchants can benefit from a huge Thanksgiving hype. So ... Bring on Christmas!

Another reason, maybe? In recent times, the holiday has made some folks a little uneasy, reminding them that it celebrates one of those times when white Christians saw something they liked and just took it from nonwhite non-Christians. As we've become more socially alert and sensitive, we've tended, maybe, to become a little less proud of some of our history? A little more--what?--aware that other people don't necessarily feel the same way we do about it?

And, of course, unlike Christmas, there's no massive history and tradition of music and stories and poems and movies and TV specials and whatever about Thanksgiving. Oh, sure, there are parades--but have you noticed they feature a lot of Christmas stuff? We have no "Rudolf, the Red-Beaked Turkey" or "The Night Before Thanksgiving" or "Frosty, the Frozen Butterball" and the like. So maybe if we want to elevate Thanksgiving on our ladder of holidays, we need to start creating more songs and such to get people in the mood.

Some ideas ...

  • a song: "Squanto, We Need You--Pronto!"
  • a Charlie Brown special: The Great Turkey
  • a song: "I Saw Mommy Cleaning Up While Daddy Took a Nap"
  • a holiday movie: Miles Standish Mashes Potatoes with Priscilla
  • a holiday character: Scruffy, the Scarecrow
  • a song: "The Bad Words Daddy Said When the Football Game Went Dark"
  • a song: "I'm Dreaming of a Short Thanksgiving"
  • a holiday movie: The Headless Turkey
  • a song: "The Bad Words Daddy Said to Mommy's Brother"
  • a holiday special: Connie, The Cornbread Girl
  • a song: "Why Don't I Ever Get a Drumstick?"
  • a holiday movie: When the Zombies Came Back for Seconds
  • a song: "When Grandpa Sliced the Turkey, He Cut His Finger Off"
  • a holiday movie: Katniss Eats a Mockingjay for Thanksgiving
  • a song: "My Cousins Are All Weird"
  • a song: "Grandma Can't Cook Anymore"
I'm certain some of these ideas would propel Thanksgiving back to its rightful place as a notable American holiday and not just a paving stone on the Gold Road to Christmas. So let's get busy!



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein, Part II: 20


Eight     

Early Thursday morning, there we were, Gil and I, standing outside the junior high at 5:50 a.m. We’d agreed to be early for our detention, thinking we’d impress Mr. Gisborne with our promptness. I don’t know why we thought we could impress him. We’d done little so far but antagonize him. He seemed to have some kind of magic anger button that our spoken words and our body language pushed—no, punched. All he had to do was look at us a few moments—listen to a few words—and his face flamed, his volume spiked. Strange.
Also strange: We were standing outside the school in a driving thunderstorm. I hadn’t yet learned where Gil lived, but in little Franconia, nowhere was very far from anywhere. We both walked. And when I was about halfway to school, the heavens opened, pouring Niagara on my head and distributing lightning bolts around like deadly Christmas ornaments.
But I was halfway: I was going to get just as wet (and maybe just as dead) by going on as going back. So on I went, mostly because I didn’t really want to talk with my father about the note I’d left on the kitchen table. Father, I’ve got to go to school early to work on my science fair project. Didn’t want to wake you.
Sort of true, actually. Though mostly not.
I could see Gil arriving about the same time. We were like the two sides of an animated letter V moving toward the same knife point. He had his head down—not a bad idea on such a day. But he looked up as he approached the building and saw me hurrying along, too, and we made for the tiny exterior recess by the front door—the only place with any overhead coverage.
He looked miserable. Soaking wet, pale as powder. I could hear his labored breathing.
“A perfect day for it,” I joked.
He didn’t react. He just leaned against the brick wall and tried to control his breath.
“Did you run?” I asked.
He looked at me, his dark eyes glimmering. “Some,” he said.
He started to reach for the door handle. “Don’t bother,” I said. “I already checked.”
He pulled it anyway. Nothing.
“Hope Mr. Gisborne gets here soon,” he said.
“Hmmm.”
On ordinary school mornings, the custodian—an old man whom everyone just called “Leon”—would not unlock the doors until exactly 7:30. I didn’t know if “Leon” was his first name or his last—or both, for that matter. (Some parents are just crazy enough to name a kid Leon Leon.) He didn’t care what was going on outside. Great heat. Rain. Whatever. He would stand there, looking at his watch (the only timepiece that mattered), then unlock at 7:30.
“Maybe Leon will let us in early?” I offered.
Gil finally spoke a full sentence. “I’m not counting on it.” He looked at me. “Maybe he’s not even here yet.”
“Oh, Leon’s always here,” I joked. “He lives here.”
We were both laughing when a flash of lightning whitened the entire sky. I looked back at the doors. And there was Leon, standing there staring at us. How long had he been there?
Then … I saw a bolt of lightning zigzagging down from the darkest cloud I’d seen since the day of the tornado. It was moving so slowly, as if in an animated drawing. I raised my arm for Gil to look. And the bolt blasted an old oak in the school’s front lawn. Bark and branches exploded away in all directions, some flying our way—again, in leisurely, even lazy fashion. A crash of thunder followed almost immediately—a sound so loud I heard the windows rattle all around the building.
I heard the doors swing open behind us.
“Get in here!” commanded Leon.
We did.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Journey to Richard II: Part 17

Richard II
Shakespeare & Co.; Lenox, MA
July 2013
A series of posts about my journey through the works of Shakespeare--on the page, on the stage.

As I wrote the other day, I realized, oh, about a half-dozen years ago, that there were now only four plays by the Bard that Joyce and I had not seen in live production: A Winter's Tale, Titus Andronicus, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and Richard II. I wrote the other day, too, that The Two Gentlemen of Verona was on our list--but I was wrong (I checked my journal in the interim). In that journal I found an item from 8 August 2010, when we saw Two Gentlemen at the Stratford Festival in Canada (not the first time we'd seen it). Seated right across from us, directly in our sightline, was actor Christopher Plummer (who was performing at Stratford, a terrific turn as Prospero in The Tempest). Anyway, we watched him as much as Two Gentlemen that night, I guess, and then, leaving the small Studio Theatre there, we were right behind him. I could have reached out and torn his shirt from his back. But didn't. (Wish I had.)

I see in my little blue Yale Shakespeare edition of Winter's Tale that I first read it in August 1984, then again in August 1989 (not sure why). I didn't underline a lot--but some of my marks are, well, interesting to the Me of  Now. In 1.2, for example, I've underlined Leontes (who's spazzing at the moment--insanely jealous of his wife's behavior), who says: It is a bawdy planet ...  That sounds kind of like wishful thinking, if you ask me. Later (2.1) I've drawn a little box around Mamillius' line: A sad tale's best for winter. (Gee, wonder why I marked that one?) And in 3.3 the most famous stage direction ever published: Exit, pursued by a bear. The bear will dine shortly. And later yet--a line that puzzled me at the time: Paulina says, I an old turtle, / Will wing me to some wither'd bough ... (119). I didn't yet know that turtle meant turtle dove. At the time, picturing a winged turtle probably did give me some transient pleasure, though. Oh, that wacky Bard!

I loved The Winter's Tale (love it still)--but for some reason no one around here (or at Stratford) was producing it. But ... in 2008 I got a copy of the flyer you see pictured here. There was going to be a performance at nearby John Carroll University! We drove up to see it on 27 September.

Here's some of what I wrote in my journal afterwards ...

... after a few missed parking spots, [we] got inside and saw very minimalist but very affecting performance of The Winter’s Tale with 5 British actors, each, of course, playing multiple parts: virtually no scenery, few props, good handling of the language (what is it about the Brits? they can just say the words in ways that sound more authentic/real/natural?!?) ...

What I didn't say is that I, of course, wept when the statue of Leontes' wife appears to come to life. Earlier, jealous Leontes--grotesquely, unjustly--confined his wife to prison, where she died--or so he thought. Later, he realizes his error. Sees the statue erected in her honor. Witnesses its movement. Realizes his wife is alive. Prostrates himself. And ... she forgives him. (Promise: One of these days I will post about Shakespeare and forgiveness.)

Then, of course, we promptly saw two more productions of Winter's Tale. It seemed as if producers had forgotten about the play for a while, then remembered: Oh, yeah! There's that great one about jealousy and forgiveness!  In 2010 Stratford did a wonderful production that had me weeping once again. And then on 11 October of last year, we saw it again at the Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland. The principals were okay; the minor characters, not so much. And the house was small--only about half full. And this, of course, is the problem producers face with Shakespeare. They're going to get good crowds for Romeo and Hamlet and some of the others. But it's more difficult for plays that many have not heard of--or didn't read in school.

And speaking of "reading in school": In the spring of 2011 (the year I retired--for the final time!), our English Department at Western Reserve Academy decided to read the play, then meet to discuss it. I read an act a day for five days in the middle of May (my journal records that I wept--what a sissy!--once again at the end). We met on Tuesday, 24 May, at a colleague's place, had a good discussion of the play, watched a video of the final scene. Then my colleagues surprised me with some retirement gifts and farewells. And there went my leaky old eyes again ...

Anyway, by the fall of 2008, having seen Winter's Tale at John Carroll, we were down to just three unseen plays.

Next time: Titus Andronicus

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein, Part II: 19


Both Gil and I were Perfect Angels in science class the next few days. We didn’t give Mr. Gisborne the slightest excuse to look our way—or to lose his temper with us again. On Wednesday, he once again sent us to the library to work on our project. This time we decided we’d really talk about what we wanted to do.
“So have you got any ideas?” Gil asked me as soon as we sat at our table.
“A few,” I said. But, of course, I had more than a few. I had a basement full of sophisticated scientific equipment—computers, microscopes, anything a little scientist could possibly desire. But I would not tell Gil Bysshe anything about that. Not yet … not soon … probably not ever.
“Do you think you might let me know one or two of them?” asked Gil mildly. “Because my brain is on Empty.”
“Is that a permanent condition? Or something you’re experiencing just for today?”
“It’s probably permanent,” he said—a little sadly, I thought.
“Well, I don’t want to do something dumb,” I said, “something like the effects of various things on plants.”
Gil seemed to be thinking. “There are advantages,” he said, “to doing something dumb.”
“Oh? What advantages?”
“We wouldn’t have to work too hard on it.”
I smiled. “Good thinking, genius. Let’s figure out something that we won’t have to work on too much.”
We shook hands. His was as cold as his voice and eyes were warm.
And later … I was surprised, as I was remembering that handshake, that I liked it. The handshake. And the memory of it.

But near the end of class that day—a bigger, or at least different, surprise. Mr. Gisborne came over to our library table and just stared at us. One of life’s most uncomfortable feelings, isn’t it? Being stared at? By someone in authority? Especially when you know you’ve done something wrong and you’re trying to figure out if he knows it, too.
He finally spoke. “I talked with Mr. Tooke this morning.”
“Yes?” said Gil and I simultaneously.
“He said he remembered when you came in. He just couldn’t find any record of it.”
I desperately fought a blush I felt forming—some kindling starting to ignite.
He stared some more. The blush and I were fighting to a draw … so far.
“Accidents happen,” said Gil helpfully.
More stares. Then words: “He said he was going to leave the punishment up to me. For your behavior. Your attitude.”
I’d already learned that Mr. Gisborne was one of those teachers who got more angry the more he talked. So I interrupted: “I said I was sorry.”
But my tone was wrong. I knew it as the words were passing my teeth and heading out into the air. I didn’t mean for it to sound sarcastic. But it kind of did.
Mr. Gisborne lost the battle with his blush, his, of course, being a blush of anger. (And I don’t think he was really trying too hard to control it.)
“Detention!” he roared. “Tomorrow! After school!”
Gil said, with the innocence of a shy child, “Don’t you have football practice?”
“Detention!” he roared. “Tomorrow! Six a.m.!” And he wheeled to leave, probably before he lost total control and started punching us. I was puzzled, really, about his rage. What was it about us that set him off?
“Six in the morning,” Gil was saying. “Not my best time.”


Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Journey to Richard II: Part 16

Richard II
Shakespeare & Co.; Lenox, MA
July 2013
A series of posts about my journey through the works of Shakespeare--on the page, on the stage.


I started teaching Much Ado About Nothing to my 8th graders in the 1994-1995 school year, continued through 1995-1996 but then retired in January 1997 (disgusted with Ohio's--and our school district's--obsession with Ohio Proficiency Tests--don't get me started). As I've described in earlier posts, my time with Shakespeare in class got more and more complicated, more and more--what?--eclectic? "Full-immersion" may be the best term.  I did not tire at all of watching Kenneth Branagh's film of the play (I saw portions of it five or six times a day while students were viewing it)--and I wept, over and over and over again, at some of the moments. The scene, for example, when Beatrice is chiding Benedick for not believing in Hero's innocence is just flat powerful. And the huge dance at the end?  When the entire cast, hands linked, dance through the garden of the country estate, the music of "Sigh No More" soaring on the soundtrack? Oh, did I weep ... every time.

"Sigh No More," by the way, a song in the original play, appears in Act II, Scene 3, but Branagh--cleverly, I thought--moved it to the very beginning--and the music resonated throughout the rest of the film. No one knows what the original music sounded like (the earliest setting is 1648), but I really do love Patrick Doyle's setting in the film. There's an interesting montage version of it on YouTube: Link.

I always had my kids memorize Shakespeare, too: a sonnet (they could choose between 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" and 130 ("My mistress' eyes are nothing lie the sun")) and a passage from the play we were reading. (I soon tired of those two, which I'd memorized myself, and memorized a new one every year, took a quiz on it on the same day the kids took their sonnet quizzes. I now know 14 of the 156 sonnets.) In Shrew, as I wrote the other day, the kids learned Petruchio's speech to Kate (it contains the line "What is the jay more precious than the lark, / Because his fathers are more beautiful?"). And for Much Ado? What else but "Sigh No More":

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never:
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey nonny, nonny.


Sing no more ditties, sing no moe,
Of dumps so dull and heavy;
The fraud of men was ever so,
Since summer first was leafy:
Then sigh not so, & c.


Meanwhile, Joyce and I were going to see all the plays we could--here, there, lots of places. We learned, of course, that a handful of plays are produced over and over and over again: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, and some others. But some of the others are very rarely produced. We started going to the Stratford (Ont.) Festival in 2001, and there we saw some of those rare ones--Troilus and Cressida, Timon of Athens, Pericles: Prince of Tyre, King John.

And one day I decided to make a list of the plays we had not seen in a live production. The list was short: The Winter's Tale, Titus Andronicus, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and ... Richard II.

Next time...The Final Four!  (Okay, there were five: The Two Noble Kinsmen, which Shakespeare co-wrote with John Fletcher.)

**Info on music from Ross W. Duffin, Shakespeare's Songbook (W. W. Norton, 2004).

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Journey to Richard II: Part 15

Richard II
Shakespeare & Co., Lenox, MA
July 2013
Much Ado About Nothing includes one of the most wrenching scenes in all of Shakespeare--and in a comedy! Of course, Shakespeare knew that darkness and light dance together in their unpredictable choreography throughout our lives. And so it is that there is humor in his grimmest tragedies  (the gravediggers in Hamlet), and gravity in the funniest comedies (near the end of Love's Labour's Lost comes news of a loved one's death).

There are actually two wedding scenes in Much Ado. In the first, the young groom, Claudio, destroys the service when he accuses his bride, Hero--in front of everyone, in the middle of the service--of having sex with another man just the night before. This is false, of course. The bitter "villain" of the story, Don John, has fooled Claudio, staging a scene for him late at night. Indignant, Claudio and his friends stalk out of the wedding (one of them has just called Hero "a common stale [prostitute]"). Hero faints. Even her father initially believes the lie. Not exactly a Bride's magazine ideal nuptial, is it?

The Friar suggests they make everyone think Hero has died (sound familiar, Romeo and Juliet fans?); they do; the truth comes out; Claudio repents--and agrees, as part of his penance, to marry Hero's "cousin," sight unseen. And so he does--finding out at the end of the ceremony that it's actually Hero he's just married--Hero, who's forgiven him. (By this time, the principal characters, Benedick and Beatrice, have also agreed to marry--so a double wedding's about to commence--though Benedick insists they all dance first. And that's how the play ends, with a dance of joy.)

Hero's supreme act of forgiveness always bothered my students--especially the girls, I think, one of whom cried out right in class one year as we were reading the script: Why would she forgive him?!  Indeed.  Why?  That, I think, will have to be the content for another post one of these days.

Anyway, the kids were curious about what an Elizabethan wedding service would be like, so I decided we would have one. We randomly picked the bride and groom (I got to officiate!); I gave them copies of the 1559 edition of The Book of Common Prayer; we read the wedding ritual and talked about it (Link to the BCP). Then one day in class we went out onto the school stage and enacted the ritual--and I reminded the kids, of course, that I had no legal authority to perform a marriage, so, don't worry, you're not actually married!

The 8th graders took it all very seriously--surprising me, I guess. And I actually found the whole experience quite moving. The picture below shows the "cast" of the ceremony one year--early-mid 90s? Someone will have to tell me what year it was. Obviously, we don't seem to have dressed up all that much, either ...




Friday, November 15, 2013

The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein, Part II: 18


What a sensitive kid, I thought, looking at the phone now moaning its dial tone. Bruises more easily than a piece of soft fruit. As I sat there, thinking, it rang again, startling me so much I nearly fell over onto the floor.
“Stone’s residence. Victoria speaking,” I said, just as Father had taught me to do.
“Gee, that’s impressive,” said Gil. “You’re really well-trained.”
“Thank you, Underwear Freak,” I snapped.
Gil hung up again.
This time I remembered something: The handout that Mr. Gisborne had given us had two things on it I really needed to know: Gil’s last name and Gil’s phone number. (Even later I remembered I could have just hit *69. I guess I was just too nervous?)
I found my backpack, dug through my science folder, and found it:
Gil Bysshe. The name startled me.[i] But there was his phone number, too.
I returned to the phone and punched in his number.
“Yes?” It was Gil.
“Is this where Hazelnut lives?” I asked. 
Silence. Breathing.
“And don’t hang up!” I warned. “I’ve got your number now, and I’ll just call you back.”
“Okay,” said Gil in a small voice.
“I promise I won’t say anything more about underwear.”
“That would be nice.”
“You’re a weird kid,” I laughed.
“You should talk.”
I laughed again.
“So do you think Gisborne put the two weird kids together for this science fair project?” he asked.
“I’m not so sure about that,” I said.
“Why not?”
“Because,” I explained, “that would mean that Gisborne actually thought about his schoolwork. I’m not sure he really does that.”
“I see your point,” said Gil.
“Gil, do you pronounce your last name like ‘bish’?”
“Yes,” he sighed. “It rhymes with ‘fish.’”
“Hazelnut Fish,” I said. “That’s quite a name.”
“Thank you,” said Gil. He started laughing so hard that he ended up with some kind of coughing fit.
When he quieted down, I asked him: “Do you know how famous your last name is?”
“Sure,” he said. “Percy Bysshe Shelley. The poet. His wife, Mary, wrote Frankenstein.”
“I’m impressed,” I said. And I was.
“Are you related?” I asked.
“My father doesn’t know,” he said. “But we probably are. I mean, it’s a pretty unusual name, don’t you think?”
“Very unusual.” And at that point, I decided to change the subject. After all, I still had not told anyone—not even Harriet—that my father’s family name was Frankenstein. He’d changed it to Stone for obvious reasons. I’d discovered it after the tornado the previous spring when the storm’s damage to our house had revealed a storage area in our basement, a place where Dad had hidden all the papers about our family history.
“Gil?”
‘Yeah?”
“Why did you call me?”
“Oh, yeah. I just, you know, wondered what happened in Mr. Tooke’s office the other day.”
Gil had been absent a couple of days, and I hadn’t seen him at all since Mr. Gisborne had sent us to the office.
“Not much. He called me a ‘fresh mouth.’”
“Where did he ever get that idea?” asked Gil with fake innocence.
“I don’t know,” I said, playing along. “It’s a real mystery, isn’t it?”
“So what happened?”
“Oh, he just entered me in his database”—I decided not to say anything to Gil about deleting the entry; I wasn’t sure how much I trusted him yet—“and predicted I’d be back.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Gil. “You’re not that type. I’ll bet you never get sent to the office again.”
“Thank you.” There was a moment of silence. “And what about you, Gil? What did Mr. Tooke do to you?”
“Nothing, really. By the time I got out of the nurse’s office, he was talking to some other kids, and he just sort of gave me a warning.”
“He didn’t put you in the computer?”
“Oh, yeah, he did that. But it’s no big deal, really.”
“And what did the nurse want with you?”
“Oh, nothing,” said Gil. “Just wanted to make sure I was all right. After I fainted and everything.”
“I thought just girls fainted,” I said.
“That’s right,” said Gil.  “Girls and guys named Hazelnut Fish.”
We laughed and talked a little more, and then we finally hung up.  It was getting toward dinner time, and I had to make something so Father wouldn’t starve. Now that Aunt Claire was gone, I had taken over the kitchen duties. She had taught me a lot about cooking, Aunt Claire. But in so many other ways she was a total mystery. The last I knew she had swirled up into that funnel cloud—and had seemed to enjoy it.
When I put the phone down and turned around, I saw Father leaning in the doorway, staring at me. He had a strange look on his face.
For some reason, I felt myself blushing.
“Vickie?” he said. “That wasn’t Harriet, was it?”
“No,” I replied. “Not Harriet.”
I started to move through the doorway. “Well,” he asked, “who was it then?”
“A kid from school.”
“A kid? Boy or girl?”
“Yes.” For some reason, I was really embarrassed, and I didn’t want to talk about this.
“Which?”
“Boy.”
“Do I know him?”
“Probably not. He’s new. We have to work together on a science fair project.” I looked at my father. “The teacher, Mr. Gisborne, assigned us to work together. That’s all.”
“Hmm,” said Father. “You didn’t sound as if you were talking about a science fair project.”
“Father!” I exclaimed with mock surprise. “Were you listening in on us?”
My father blushed. “Oh, uh, not really. It’s just that I, you know—”
I finished the sentence for him: “—listened to your daughter’s private phone conversation.”
“I guess I did,” he admitted.
“And you’re ashamed, aren’t you, Father?”
He just looked at me. “Look, Vickie, I was wrong. I admit it. But don’t try to make me feel too guilty. Adults aren’t good at that, feeling guilty.”
“So I’ve noticed.”




[i] “Bysshe” was the middle name of Mary Shelley’s husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley; his friends all called him “Bysshe.”  It was also the name of Percy Shelley’s grandfather.