Sex, Drugs and Midsummer Nights

When I study Shakespeare, my goals are more creative than academic. I don’t want to be an expert in Elizabethan England. The plays are starting points for conversations, for creative experiments. I don’t care to get the plays right. What I do care is to know them. I want to know as much as I can about how the plays work and what they contain. 

Midsummer Night’s Dream is not as much about sex as it is about sexual tension and attraction and the madness that can happen when young people have their sexuality policed. Hermia and Lysander want to fuck. They are extremely attracted to each other. Hermia’s father must take them to court to try and intervene. 

In the context of the play, the duke is the judge who will decide Hermia’s fate. It just so happens that this family court case is brought before him in the days before his wedding. So, he is full of sexual tension, too. When Hermia defiantly asks what is going to happen when she disobeys her father’s order to marry Demetrius instead of Lysander. Death or the monastery. 

Even the gods are horny and beefing. Oberon and Titania are feuding over a child and they use humans to act out their desires. This is where the drugs come into play. The drug that Oberon instructs Puck to apply to his victims while they are asleep will cause them to fall in love with whomever they first see when they wake up.

I keep thinking about casting this play and I imagine Joe Rogan as Oberon, Steve Will Do it as Puck, Chelsea Handler as Titania. I’m thinking that Natalie Cuomo would make a good Hermia and Kerryn Feehan would crush it as Helena. The cast of actors in the woods has to be some Gas Digital characters. Zac D’Amico as bottom would be great. The legion of Skanks would make up the other cast members. 

Be Your Own Favorite Writer

I believe in working at something until you are so invested in it that you can no longer see if it is good or not. This lack of judgment can lead you into some interesting territory. If you stop judging your own writing as good or bad, then how do you know if you are on the right path? The sign to look for is in the pleasure you get from the process of writing.

If you don’t love writing, then you might want to try experimenting and practicing until something clicks. If you can remain patient with the process, then you might stick with it long enough to actually get into the groove of writing. This can lead you to some epiphanies you never would have imagined without that enthusiasm for your own work.

Being a fan of your own writing doesn’t mean that you won’t improve. You can still be critical, but you want to be much much more energetic and aggressively forward moving in your writing. Generate ideas and digest language. Conjure up memories, harness emotions like electricity. Keep moving forward and you will improve. When you feel what it is like to write with more focus and direction, it will become funner, dude.

When I get up in the morning I go and write before I check my phone. This gives me time to process my thoughts without all of the noise of the internet interrupting my ideas. This has been super fundamental to me growing to love the process of writing and to enjoy my own writing even more than Shakespeare.

Prospero’s Wisdom: Power and the Greater Good

The Tempest is highly relevant and relatable to our culture today. Especially after coming out of a pandemic, a kind of banishment, we can relate to Prospero’s situation. He had to make do with some very trying circumstances. It’s not just Prospero’s plight that connects this play to our culture, today. In an almost kaleidoscopic way, Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a hall of mirrors for our times.

Prospero washes up on an island with an inhabitant who wants to kill him and to rape his daughter. This would be nightmarish, horrific, were it not for Prospero’s ability to control Caliban with his spells. There is a military imperative. Prospero’s interest in the literary arts led to him ignoring politics and opened the opportunity for his brother to betray him. Alone with his daughter on the island, he has no choice but to control its violent inhabitants. It is either control or be victimized for Prospero.

Still, there is something entirely creepy about Prospero’s controlling ways, necessary or not. Especially when it comes to his daughter. He orchestrates an encounter where she will fall in love. He manipulates the situation to arrange a marriage. In doing so, he is very deliberate about controlling their sexuality. He wants them to fall in love and to get married, but he is manipulating their sexual urges to do so. 

The metaphor of the island has a lot of significance to us, today. Islands have become symbolic of secrets, of illicit and illegal behavior. Prospero establishes a kind of law and order on the island. He is a benevolent master an anti-Epstein. He manipulates the players and works them up to do what he wants, but he is not doing so for personal gain but for what he thinks will be best for the greater good. It is only through Prospero’s ability to renounce his powers, to give up his competitive advantage that we come to trust him. Yes, he is controlling, but with good reason and as soon as he can give up his power, he does. 

The only way to trust someone is to see them in a situation where they have power and do not use it. Otherwise, we can only attribute good behavior to a lack of power. It is through restraint that we gain respect. For this past year and a half, we have all been banished to our own islands. The great hope is that this time of forced introspection, of limited mobility will have helped some of us, enough of us, to overcome our fears and hungers enough to see what a positive solution could be. We need people who are willing to give up their power for the greater good.

This summer will be a “brave new world” and we will do well to listen to the wisdom of Prospero.

Becoming Jakespeare

Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 2 epic poems and a collection of sonnets. He had 20 years of solid productivity. I’m going to start my writing career at 50. 50 is the new 25. You must set goals if you want to accomplish something as great as that. It’s kind of mind boggling how much work that is. 2 plays a year for 20 years. From 50-70, that’s going to be my goal: to surpass Shakespeare.

Till then, I’m going to study his writing. When I started listening to his plays during the pandemic something clicked. I realized that to change anything about us for the better we must understand our origins. Shakespeare better than any other writer in the English language has portrayed the psychology of our history. The US is a multicultural nation, but we speak and think English. It only makes sense to study one of the writers who used English most powerfully. 

I started somewhat randomly with the Comedies, but I am beginning to design a curriculum for myself to follow. To accomplish this goal, I have to manage my time wisely. I have some serious transformations to achieve if I want to become the greatest writer in the English language. Is this an insane goal? Not really. I’m on my Master P No Limit mindset. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s the goal. How will I know if I am achieving my goal? I will have to publish a book in five years, in 2026-27 to launch my attempt. I’m building a rocket ship for the next five years and when that day comes, I’m going to send it.

The book will come from these blogs. I am writing one a day and as I accumulate ideas about Shakespeare and the various connections to contemporary culture and business the whole picture will become clearer, and I will be able to describe it better. I will know these plays as well as anyone on the planet. Why? Because that is my training ground. I have more fire inside me, more motivation than anyone else. Shakespeare’s writing is my gym, the plays are my mountain to climb.

I imagine that by the time I’m a couple years into this project I will start to get book deals. When I publish the book, it will build up anticipation for the stories. The whole thing is going to be a documentation of the habits I develop to achieve this goal. People might only care in retrospect, but I want to show the process of getting there. 

In addition to studying Shakespeare with more vigor than anyone ever has before, I will also be doing a survey of art history that has been influenced by Shakespeare. In addition to studying, I will be creating. I will be doing original photography and painting inspired by the plays. I’m going to fully immerse myself in the creative world of Shakespeare until I know the taste of the marrow. I’ll be drinking bone broth for breakfast. 

Of course, this will mean traveling to England. I will have to live there for some of this journey. I will also obviously have to visit Italy and France, where many of the plays are set. Greece as well and even Egypt. This will give me an opportunity to create interesting visual documents of the times. When I get an idea like this, it becomes everything I need to organize my energy. 

Now, let’s talk about some of the odds that are stacked against me. First, I must be crazy to attempt to outdo Shakespeare. If I know that it is crazy, it’s not crazy, though. Right? I know it’s crazy. Now, it is possible that I could produce two great works a year for twenty years from 50-70 and retire and live in the countryside somewhere for a couple of years before joining the bard wherever we go. That doesn’t seem impossible. Why does it have to be crazy to want to be the best? Shouldn’t we all have that as a goal?

I do have some challenges, though. The first one is that I am tone deaf. My daughter and I sing a song called “Off-Key Jake” where we make fun of how badly I sing. I do have a decent voice in a certain register, but it is very limited and if I try and sing most songs it is struggle city and I am basically monotone and off key as heck. If I’m that bad at singing, then how am I going to write beautiful lyrical lines of dialogue? 

You must know your weakness to improve it. 

How cringe is this? Is it even funny? Or is it just a bad bit at this point? Or are you intrigued? Are you wondering if I’m going to do it? Do I have your attention? The thing is, I must stick with it long enough for you to see, but that’s why I’m calling my shot right now. I have five years to study Shakespeare and I’m calling this process “Becoming Jakespeare.”

What’s the worst that can happen because of this goal? I can fall far short. So what? That means nothing. Say I even come the tiniest bit close to my goal, though, and I write a few things that stand the test of time and give people entertainment and food for thought for hundreds of years into the future. If I do that, then I will have done something good. If not, no big deal, but come on folks. Have we given up trying? 

If you have the vision, you can see it through. It gives you power and purpose in all your interactions. I have decided this is my path and I’m going to be forming a curriculum for Summer and Fall quarters. When do I expect people to start following along? Probably in the Fall of 2022 I will have people following my path. I’m going to attract my competition. Nobody else is trying to outdo Shakespeare that I know of. They will, though. I’m stoking an ancient fire. 

What do you think? Corny or impressive? How will we measure the success of this project? Why do I think that I could do this? What is my opinion of myself that is so high as to even think such an arrogant thing, let alone to blog about it? I don’t know. I just feel confident. I have a very low opinion of my work in so many ways, but I still think that I can be the greatest dramatic artist in the English language of all time. 

Will they be plays, novels, movies, episodic serials or what? I think that the two-hour experience is key to it. I will be doing visuals of course, but the audio could be good on its own. I am going to do audio versions with contemporary comics. There’s a lot to do. Thanks for reading and following along. This is going to be fun. 

Shakespeare’s Greatness: Art and Business

Shakespeare’s success story is part of what makes him the GOAT. We have a canon of great art produced by tragic figures who killed themselves or drank themselves into oblivion and ridicule. Shakespeare not only produced an incredible body of work, but he was also a popular success and was able to maintain social rank despite doing something for an occupation that was deemed unworthy of a gentleman. What was it about Shakespeare that gave him the energy and stability to have such a perfect career in less than stable conditions and times?

I’ve started listening to the audiobook version of Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World, which is a biography of Shakespeare. Using the public records of Shakespeare’s birth, his father’s career, his education, his marriage, and his entrance into the London theater scene, Greenblatt pieces together a portrait of the bard that is compelling and insightful. 

The plays themselves are fully capable of capturing our interest on their own. I’m not suggesting that Shakespeare’s biography holds some secret keys to understanding his plays. That’s not what is interesting to me. I’m interested in how Shakespeare ran his career like a business. It is the story of a great artist/ entrepreneur. This isn’t an interpretive key as much as another way of reading the work altogether. Literature that is produced for the critics, for the academy is much different than work that is produced for the public. Shakespeare produced work for the public that also is canonical to the ultimate degree. 

Thinking about Shakespeare as an entrepreneur also shifts the way we consider greatness in art and its popular appeal. Another thing I find interesting about Greenblatt’s biography is it helps to create this image of a world contained within London where there was excitement about the theater. It’s kind of funny to think of people that long ago wanting to be actors. It goes back much further to the roots of Ancient Greece at least. Dudes want to make up stories and act them out.

The competition to be the greatest writer or the best performer is almost central to our human condition. How essential is art to human society? It almost seems to go hand in hand. As soon as we have a group of people, we have clowns trying to entertain them. We also have people trying to lead them. A group of people is a potential audience. It’s an opportunity for an artist to give them something to think about.

What we can see by looking at Shakespeare’s career is more important than looking for clues to understand his psychological drives. When we see how Shakespeare hustled, and how he kept his productivity so high, it shows us how the greats perform. It’s motivational to artists who strive to have a great career. Making great art is just the first part. You must find a way to make it last. That’s why figures like Henry Miller are so important, too. Certain artists figure it out and live great lives worthy of being studied. 

It’s strange to have a figure who set the high mark for achievement over four hundred years ago. In every other human pursuit, we have made tremendous advancements, but in writing nobody is even coming close. Thinking about Shakespeare’s career, putting his literary achievements in the context of a world of supply and demand, we have an opportunity to challenge our times. If we demand a Shakespeare, she will come.

Making Play: Shakespeare and Eternal Amor

The reason we get so much from studying Shakespeare is because he put so much of his world into his plays in a loving way. Shakespeare’s body of work is one of the most complete and well-rounded in all literary history. He wrote Tragedy, Comedy, History and whatever you want to call the plays that don’t fit into these generic categories. Shakespeare created works of art with joyful and powerful language that open wildly entertaining dialogues about life, love, and art. 

You can read Shakespeare in so many ways because there is so much in them and to them. The plays are so compelling because of the subject matter but also the style and especially the language. Shakespeare’s dialogue powerfully transforms even the darkest human tendencies into a performance worthy of witnessing. He makes art out of commonplace everyday events and shows the same care when writing sublime or terrifying moments when powerful people do horrible things. The attention to language renders each moment in the plays equally interesting.

Like great painting or photography, the subject matter is less important than the handling of the form. Edward Weston could photograph a bell pepper or his muse with equal intimacy and sensuality. This quality of affirmation, of loving the process of creation, is a kind of creative play that sometimes translates into work that is forever interesting. Shakespeare’s plays are great because of how much he includes with equal amor.

Shakespeare’s plays are stories rendered with a painter’s care for detail, tone and style about the human condition. Using language like some multidimensional paint, he creates a world that reflects a passion for the art form of theater. The love of language and of making plays elevates the subject matter and renders it all equally interesting. The tragic and comic outcomes, the virtuous and villainous characters, the countryside and the courtly settings: these dualities become unified through the force field of loving attention.  

The Epistemology of Hate in Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Hot take. The Tempest is not one of Shakespeare’s best plays. We come to Shakespeare with an entire history of criticism before us. Even if we don’t understand why, we think some of the plays are more important. We inherit a belief about which ones are most valuable, which characters are most interesting. Here’s the thing: people have been blinded by what they don’t want to see. There is an epistemology of hate. People know what they allow themselves to understand, and they reject any kind of knowledge that interferes with their beliefs.

The result is to have created a lopsided canon, a version of Shakespeare that fits an ideology. It is an ideology of power and hatred. This is not to say that Shakespeare himself was racist or misogynistic, but that many characters in the plays are. Furthermore, the way we have read and valued the plays is also through an ideological lens. The way we have read Shakespeare says a lot about the limitations of our worldview.

The Tempest is a play about hate more than it is about love. The love is staged, it is shallow and fake. The hate is real, though, and it goes deep. It is a cancerous hatred between brothers. Hatred is portrayed as a blinding force, as an overwhelming urge to do the wrong thing. The villains in Shakespeare are not in control of their actions. They are impelled by some powerful negative belief. They are tormented figures who attempt to transform their suffering by interfering with happy people’s plans. Through this exercise of negative power, they try to feel better.

Caliban’s hatred of Prospero and Miranda derives from his disappointed sense of entitlement, of his social isolation. He is alienated from everyone, a wretch. Caliban is surely a model for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. His famous response to Miranda’s chiding him that she had taught him to speak is the essence of the wretch’s consciousness in Shelley’s novel. “You taught me language, and my profit on’t is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you for learning me your language!”

Miranda addresses Caliban as abhorred slave. They recall how he attempted to rape her, and he states that he wishes he had succeeded. It is not a very friendly situation. Kind of toxic if you ask me. The idea that people love this play strongly suggests that they are aligned with an ideology of hate. 

I also don’t think that the figure of Prospero is analogous to a writer for the theater. He is more of a slave master than anything. He represents someone banished who becomes powerful in the land where they are exiled. Although the colonization of the Americas was only beginning, it is easier to see Prospero as a colonist than a director of the theater. 

He enslaves Caliban and Ariel to do his work on the island and motivates their employment with threats and cruel tortures. He justifies it left and right. He saved Caliban from his wretched condition through education. He freed Ariel from a pine tree where she was stuck. For these acts of liberation, he assumes a fee of total obedience. He frees them only to make them into slaves. 

The Tempest like many of Shakespeare’s plays shows us how blind we are to our own subjectivity. Characters in the play act from a sense of urgency they in many ways do not understand. Ideology, the influence of the ideas of the ruling class, and epistemology, our ways of knowing, will always be intertwined. Our ability to know is limited by our ideological beliefs, especially when they are motivated by hatred. 

Cannabis, Comedy and Caliban: The Tempest and Magical Racism

The Tempest is a very strange play. It’s best to consume some quality cannabis when you set about solving the puzzle of its meaning. You must have the right mindset to understand what is going on in this play and the psychoactive effects of a fire sativa will get you on the level where you can begin to try to understand the character Caliban. The son of a witch, slave to a wizard, attempted and unrepentant rapist: he’s the Luis J. Gomez of Shakespearean characters.

If Luis J. Gomez were to play Caliban, it would only make sense for Big Jay Oakerson to be Prospero and Dave Smith would be Ferdinand. Nobody does moral ambivalence better in comedy right now than the Legion of Skanks and this play is very evenly fucked up. There is nothing about it that is unequivocally good.

Cannabis can help us to suspend our disbelief. In fact, it’s so effective at allowing us to believe in metaphysical things that the stoner has a bad reputation for being gullible. The stereotype of the stoner is that they are dumb to the world and therefore able to be duped. Find us in the woods looking for Bigfoot or watching the stars hunting for UFOs. It’s the goofier side of cannabis, but it’s good innocent fun. 

Why does food taste better, why are jokes funnier, why do you get in the zone easier when you are stoned? I don’t know, but I practice what works and for me being stoned enhances my experiences across the board. There’s almost nothing that I don’t enjoy more doing stoned. 

Cannabis is the comedy of drugs. It is the drug with the most positive benefits. It alters your mind in pleasurable ways and the side effects are minimal. Of all the drugs, it is the only one I want to do because it is overall uplifting and beneficial to the things I love to do. The fact that it does alter your mind, change your mood, enhance your performance, etc. makes it easy to see it as a kind of magical thing.

The Tempest is full of literal magic. Prospero creates a windstorm with his powers and uses it to cause a fleet of ships to wreck on his island. He controls the spirit Ariel and his slave Caliban with spells. He threatens Ariel to keep them confined to an oak tree and he constantly hounds Caliban with physical ailments and pains. Prospero is a jerk, but he is powerful at manipulating people with his magic that he derives from his studies, from his books.

Prospero is part nerd, part wizard, part victim, and part weirdo. If this is a self-portrait of Shakespeare as many people think, then it is a brilliantly self-deprecating one. Because Prospero is a racist, a manipulator, a power tripping bully. He’s an outcast, an outlaw but the little bit of power he acquires he uses to control everyone around him. Let’s face it: Prospero is a DICK!

He calls his daughter a wench, does some bizarre shit to set her up to fall in love with an heir to the throne of Milan. He’s a manipulative bastard. He’s a victim of his brother’s ambition but he leaves a lot of bodies in his wake. Even though he was betrayed by his family, sent to his death only to escape with his daughter by the kindness of strangers, he has no gratitude for life, only disdain for the people he interacts with. Prospero is fucked up.

It’s easier to empathize with Caliban. He was born on the island. His mother was exiled there, and she was a witch. Sycorax had enslaved the spirit Ariel prior to Prospero. She had set a precedent on the island for being banished and then taking it out on the innocent. Still, she was his mother. Caliban is the most clearly victimized by others in the play and his response to his abuse is malevolent hatred. He tries to rape Miranda, Prospero’s daughter and declares that he wishes he had succeeded. 

You kind of get Prospero’s anger towards Caliban once you understand that Caliban tried to rape his daughter. It’s not clear if that is a result of rebelling against Prospero’s rule, or if that is just Caliban’s way. How is this a comedy?

Of all the plays categorized as comedies, this one lacks a strong female character. Miranda is the ultimate fantasy of the virgin. She has been raised on an island with no other people besides her father and their slave Caliban. Until she meets Ferdinand, she has only ever seen two men. Ferdinand immediately sees the freakish value of this uber virgin and is ready to marry her from the first moment.

The Tempest is a thought experiment dramatized. Even though there are weirdos power tripping everything works out in the end because the magic is overall good. Comedy is like cannabis because even though it is not going to solve the problems of a world set in motion by betrayal and narcissistic violence, it’s at least going to give us some respite.

The Rape of Bertram: Helena’s Paradox

One of the interesting things about Shakespeare’s play All’s Well That Ends Well is the paradoxical plight of Bertram. For all intents and purposes, he just wants to have a little fun as a young man. He is dealt a weird hand of cards, though. When the king personally commands him to marry a woman obsessed with him, we can understand his unhappiness. Anyways, he feels how he feels, and he flees. 

What else could he have done? Staying to marry the woman his mother and the king want him to would put him in the position to become resentful to them all. Running away only bought him some time to catch his breath, and he turned that time into an opportunity to seduce a virgin. The moral ambiguity of this play is so perfectly balanced it is equally easy or difficult to take either Helena’s or Bertram’s side.

Bertram is after all, the subject of a female gaze, a victim of sexually motivated exploitation. Laura Mulvey wrote about the male gaze in the context of art history and that has become a very influential way of analyzing paintings and representations of women. In this play, however, Shakespeare gives us a portrait of a woman who is actively objectifying and fantasizing about a man. She goes beyond representation or fantasy, however, and coordinates sex with the object of her desire. Ironically, Bertram has the energy of a rapist, but he is the one who ends up being sexually violated.

Bertram thinks that he is giving the business to the virgin Diana but he’s really having sex with Helena. The scene immediately following their sexual encounter shows us a disturbing portrait of a woman who has trapped her husband into impregnating her. She rapes Bertram by tricking him into having sex with her, and when it is over, she reflects on how easily he was fooled. She thinks about how hot blooded and crazed he was in the moment and how he didn’t even realize he wasn’t having sex with Diana.

Clearly, there’s something super creepy about Helena. She also spies on people throughout the play, pretending to be someone else. When she gets to Italy, Bertram is already famous for being brave during a battle and when she is hearing the story about him and how he had left France because he was forced into a marriage, she says she knows the woman. 

Helena is an undercover agent, and we see her making her moves with unrelenting will. Helena is more than a stage five clinger; she’s obsessed. She chose Bertram, researched his background, used political leverage to entrap him in marriage, stole his mother’s loyalty and tricked him into sex. If the genders were reversed, this would be the portrait of an absolute psycho. Because she is raping her husband and stopping a man from taking advantage of a virgin, the morality of her actions is ambiguous.

Helena also uses Bertram to climb the social ladder of her times. She is the daughter of a physician. He was a famous doctor but still inferior in social class. Bertram belongs to the ruling class. As a nobleman, he feels entitled to certain rights and he regards most categories of people as socially inferior. Helena’s path of upward mobility uses Bertram like a mule.

Bertram is what Al Bundy would later embody in US American television, the defeated alpha. This play shows what Al would have been like at the peak of his football career before being conquered by Peg. Because Bertram is young and physically attractive, he wants to take advantage of his time, but he is too stupid and ultimately is outwitted by the sex-hungry and power-savvy Helena.

Part of what keeps the scales balanced in this play is the general creepiness of Bertram and his partner in sexual adventuring, Parolles. Parolles has a way with words and talks women into having sex with him. He gives arguments against virginity, saying that being a virgin is an insult to a woman’s mother. Bertram and Parolles would have a podcast and would live in a content house, today. Just a couple of hounds trying to get laid, they are famous for their philandering ways.

There are two different worlds colliding in the play. There’s the happy go get lucky world of the soldier bachelors and there’s the world of family and the court. Bertram and Parolles flee the court to indulge in sexual adventures. Helena, deprived of the ability to flee, uses the political structure of the court to conquer the object of her sexual desire. Ultimately, Helena gets what she wants. She is the hero, or more successful antihero of the play. For her, the ends justify the means. Her dishonesty, her political climbing, her sexual deception, and her obsession with a handsome man somehow balance out in a world full of inequality and fuck bois.

Team Helena

In our asinine social media Internet troll phase of US American culture, 2016-20, the character Parolles would have been the hero of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. Bertram would’ve been an influencer, hype beast, even though he’s almost as smart as a bag of muddy rocks. It was a bleak but necessary phase of growth, our terrible twos of a digitally connected world. We celebrated snitches, nerds, and creeps.

Not anymore. Not since Joe Rogan got his Spotify deal. 

Ultimately, Trump will have been less influential than Rogan, and that is just something you are going to have to consider if you want to be taken seriously as a thinker. Influence is influence. 

Shakespeare is the strongest brand in English Literature. He’s the Disney of the stage. Nobody even comes close. That’s one reason why studying Shakespeare makes so much sense right now. We are slowly globalizing as a culture and that means a cultural transformation that will change things in a way that feels threatening to some and promising to others. Superhero movies have dominated this period for this reason. We need a common language to speak, a mythical language.

We have evolved from a culture best defined by Disney, to one described in spirit by comic book characters. Can you see how young we are as a culture? The next logical step, as happens with any 9th grader in this country I believe, is to start reading Shakespeare. That’s the next level above comic books for us, for some reason. It’s not so much a hierarchy, however, as much as a process of maturation that entails the development of certain strengths or capabilities. 

When we are young, we require the entertaining quality of cartoons. When we get a little older, we can read books with pictures. Eventually, we can read sophisticated plays and derive value and meaning from the text. Does that mean that reading Shakespeare is better than watching Looney Tunes? Not exactly. It just indicates a more mature and sophisticated ability to consume culture. It’s still just consuming culture.

The most important part of consuming culture is the dialogue that it provokes. Reading Shakespeare can lead to more relevant and interesting conversations about things that matter to today’s context without directly discussing topical news. 

Bertram is a bro. He’s too young to be noble. He’s suffering from testosterone poisoning and that is no excuse for his rapist mentality, his narcissistic abandoning of family and country. It’s just an explanation for why he is such a kook. He probably would never become someone cool, but surely, he could not remain this stupid forever. Once he realizes that his own sexual appetite is less important than being good to the people in his life, then he might simmer down a little bit. Not in the play, though. He’s cool as a grease fire. He’s suffering from mental illness, a combination of grief for his father’s death, of a repulsion of being controlled, and of a manic desire to kill enemies in battle and to have sex with virgins as a reward. Bertram is a head case.

He’s also a loser. Despite all the actions he takes, he still ends up a victim of fate, made to do what other people tell him to do. Bertram is a submissive male. Bertram is beta. His aggression on the battlefield and in the bedroom derive from his knowledge that he has no control over his own life. Thankfully, Bertram is so stupid that he never really hurts anyone. The virgin he is trying to sleep with tricks him into having sex with his own wife. His best friend betrays him. Slowly, Bertram realizes how stupid he has been, what poor judgment he has shown.

This is a painful awakening during a comedy. 

Reading Shakespeare, listening to the characters, and thinking about how their plots relate to our lives today is a good way to engage in debate without devolving into fighting. At least, I hope it could. Who knows, though. It might end up as a shouting match between Team Helena and Team Bertram.