I should have known that preparing my grandkids for the annual expedition to the Shakespeare Festival would not be as easy as it might seem at first.
I naively thought that traveling several hundred miles to Cedar City (aka Stratford Upon Avon) and several hundred years back in time, I could bridge the gap between the Great Poet and my boys, so they will like it as I like it.
What a splendid tradition. I was prepared to Rock the Bard.
And so with reckless zest and an exuberant lust for potato chips and playwrights, I began my narrative, scaled appropriately to the size and age of my boys, (even Shakespeare’s comedies can be a complex labyrinth of wit and metaphor.) I thought I’d challenge myself by delivering the monologue in iambic pentameter, but switched to prose after the first mangled rhymed couplet. (“Lay off, Macduff, I’ve had enough!”)
The day was autumnal and subtly musky, a midsummer day’s dream, perfect for my grand oration.
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done…a comedy of errors.
I began with a brief synopsis of one of Shakespeare’s early comedies, “Love’s Labor’s Lost.”
The play revolves around the king of Navarre and a trio of his friends, who resolve to dedicate the next three years to fasting, study and celibacy.
So far, so good.
However, my ambitious intentions abruptly vaporized when one of the kids, befuddled by the term “celibacy,” requested further clarification. He might as well have asked for a pound of flesh.
“Well,” I began, “celibacy is like if you and your friends made a pact not to text a girl for three straight years, because you only wanted to read books and subsist on a starvation diet of thin gruel and rain water.”
I continued, “This is also known as deprivation. It is how you become enlightened.”
(That seemed to stretch credulity, but greater elaboration would only have made things seem even more peculiar.) The boys sat there, hesitant and a bit hapless.
Kid 1: Did they text in those days?
Me: Uh, depends on what you mean by “text.” Mostly they wrote sonnets. They wooed the women, and the women swooned. This is what was known as courtly love. No Josh, not Courtney Love, the rocker.
I was aglow with articulation, when I launched into the next portion of my discourse – comic relief.
Basically this centered on the world’s oldest playwright taking poetic license with the world’s oldest profession…a matter of delicacy to be approached cautiously, measure for measure.
These clowns or fools are usually disheveled, flatulent, and humorous, and would stagger and burp in foolish behavior that might indicate they were genetically challenged and socially inept…sort of a perpetual state of pre-pubescence. But they are a congenial distraction that the audience instantly recognizes and appreciates, and can render relief when the play’s action becomes intense.
And then there’s Falstaff – definitely not a fop or buffoon – more like a comedic corpulent sumo wrestler.
And, these characters are sometimes disfigured because of the pox. Shakespeare was a genius at low comedy.
Kid 2: What’s the pox? Is that like chicken pox? Did they catch it from chickens?
Me: Uh, no. But you can get it from chicks. So don’t text before marriage.
I tried to disguise my mirth at my own wit and obviously succeeded – I was the only one snickering.
I was finding no recognizable center of gravity, when I made the monumentally useless observation that
Shakespeare was very bawdy.
Josh: Yeah, Shakespeare had a big body, like Falstaff.
I would have been moronically negligent to have pursued that line of reasoning any further, so I simply said that Shakespeare was largely bawdy, because it was central to the characters of many of his plays.
(I should have stuck with a treatise on the guilt of Hamlet’s mother – a much simpler concept.)
At the end, we’d all deteriorated into the realm of the chronically confused. I had delusions of Birnam Wood approaching, so I thought it best to conclude the narrative. (Besides, I was becoming shrewish, and obsessively rubbing my hands trying to get the stain out.)
Later on, in a tone of sweet reason and a speech delivered trippingly off the tongue, I appealed to my daughters to have “The Talk” with their offspring before next year’s play, “Henry IV, Part 1” The kids need to know about the “Bards and bees” to fully appreciate Shakespeare, and I’M NOT THE ONE TO TELL THEM!
Meanwhile, we managed to get through an evening of “Love’s Labor’s Lost” without collateral damage – although I was noticeably bruised and limping. The kids loved the play and laughed at the right places, so I guess it was much ado about nothing.
All’s well that ends well.