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.

As You Neg It: Shakespeare and the Psychology of Attraction

In Shakespeare’s play, As You Like It, we see a pattern of interaction that illustrates something common in our culture, today. The practice of disingenuously criticizing someone to achieve a psychological effect, or negging, is shown through Rosalind’s interactions with Orlando and with Phoebe. She uses false criticism to create a power dynamic with both characters.

With Orlando, she is costumed as a man, and she guides the conversation and uses it to test him. She questions him, negating his declarations of love as nonsense. Orlando, in turn, asks her if she is from the forest, and she says yes. When he suggests that her pattern of speech is too educated to belong to these parts, she explains that she was educated by an uncle who also happened to be an expert in courtly love. Her lies become part of the game. She positions herself as an expert, even though she is pretending to be foreign to the court and questions his authenticity, turning the conversation back to interrogating him. 

Through her questioning his integrity, she manipulates him into working to prove himself. He responds by giving her more of what she wants: evidence of his feelings for Rosalind. A master of manipulation, Rosalind leads Orlando around like a lion on a leash lashing him with her tongue. It is an erotic exchange, as well. Rosalind’s negging includes assuring him that she would likely sleep with 20 or so men like him if they were married. She tortures him with the idea of her infidelity to test his true feelings.

The layers of deception and identity in Rosalind demonstrate how gender in Shakespeare is a performance of power. He uses cultural norms and customs to present an image of gender that the public reads and believes to be true within the context of the play. Many characters in Shakespeare’s comedies use costume to change genders and, in this case, Rosalind is disguised as a rural dude named Ganymede who is then pretending to be Rosalind to Orlando for him to practice expressing his love. She is pretending to be a man who is pretending to be her, a kind of double negative.

Ironically, this gives her the opportunity to be herself without any exposure. She is a spy watching her future husband react to her ideas. By negging him, by questioning his character and his devotion to love, she also eggs him on. She puts fuel on the fire. She gets to see what he is made of and how he feels about her.

Rosalind, while in disguise as Ganymede, also has a strange encounter with a young woman in the forest. Phoebe is actively rejecting the courtship of a suitor named Sylvius. With not much else to do in the woods, Rosalind is there for the sport of it. She is there to be entertained by their unhappy love connection and to play a trickster kind of role in their affairs. She interrupts their conversation and starts to criticize Phoebe suggesting that she should take the offer Sylvius is making because she is not beautiful enough to do better.

Phoebe’s response is to fall in love with Ganymede. Rosalind explains the psychology behind this reversal. Sylvius was being overly complimentary. He was making Phoebe think that she was better than she is. He was falsely flattering her, and it had the effect of making her think too highly of herself and that she was better than him. Because Sylvius has been worshipping her, she sees him as subordinate.  When Rosalind as Ganymede dresses her down, she feels more attracted to “him,” because his judgmental speech suggests that he is better than her. She is attracted to being negged because it makes her think she is with someone superior. 

We see this kind of cynical darkly humorous stance often on Twitter or generally online. We are pretending to laugh so we aren’t seen crying. We perform wokeness so nobody questions our complicity. We neg our crush so they will give us some attention. We know it works, but does it work to our advantage? What is that pattern keeping us from doing or knowing? 

Romantic love is a drug and a form of madness in Shakespeare. We see characters behaving in uncharacteristic fashion, lying, and deceiving people around them to pursue the feeling of being in love. This is much different than the effect of negging. Rosalind loves Orlando both for how she feels around him and for how she feels about him. She judges him to be worthy of her love and negging him is simply testing him and having fun with him until she can reveal herself to him and claim her place as his love.

Poor Phoebe is repelled by Sylvius who is in love with her, but she becomes attracted to Ganymede for negatively criticizing her. Shakespeare gives us a comparative study of different kinds of attraction to think about the differences between love, attraction, negation and power.

Fools and Villains in As You Like It

Once you make sense of the plot of As You Like It, you can begin understanding some of the stranger and more interesting parts of the play, like the discourse about power and the unconscious. We have a foolish Duke, a brother made murderously stupid with jealousy, another brother struck dumb with love, we have a wise jester, and a philosophical sad boi. The play is a meditation on how power can make people foolish and how self-aware actors can manipulate the situation.

The play is set in two main locations: the court and the countryside. The main characters are banished from the court to the countryside. When the play begins, Duke Ferdinand has already exiled his brother–Rosalind’s father–to the Forest of Arden. There are biblical connotations throughout the play, beginning with fratricidal rage, evoking the story of Cain and Abel. Arden suggests the Garden of Eden.

Oliver, the older brother, is aware of his own motivations. He identifies Orlando as the source of his own feelings of jealousy. He is fully aware that he is driven by an evil desire, but it is a mental condition he feels he can resolve only with the death of his brother. Shakespeare gives us a look into the mind of a murderer. He’s jealous to the point of being ill and he knows it. 

Oliver believes his path to feeling better begins with his brother’s death. It isn’t till much later in the play, when Orlando saves Oliver’s life from a mountain lion, that he transforms how he feels. It isn’t Orlando’s death, but his willingness to sacrifice his life that is successful in changing the bad energy between them. Despite his jealousy, Oliver is transformed into a loving brother through Orlando’s act of service.

For most of the play, Orlando is completely out of control, first with ambition and then with love. He makes bold moves that lead to radical change. He beats the wrestler, but it is a form of entertainment for the Duke. Orlando’s father was an enemy to the Duke, so wrestling as a form of entertainment for his recently deceased father’s enemy is kinda shady. That’s how bad he feels about himself. He has a cockblocking older bro who wants him dead and so he takes on the court wrestler right in front of the Duke. You almost can’t blame the Duke for losing his shit when he finds out who the kid is. 

We don’t know why Duke Ferdinand exiled his brother, but we do know that it is not working to his favor. The older brother is off in the woods living like Robin Hood with a bunch of men and women loyal to him. Ferdinand is surrounded by arrogant enemies who don’t respect his authority. His temper tantrum when he finds out who Orlando’s father is leads him to snap on Rosalind and his own daughter. In this pathetic speech, you see the Duke insecure about his power and taking it out on young women. This portrayal shows how power can amplify insecurities to the point of violence. 

The villains are fools in As You Like It, and the fools are wise. This play gives us some memorable quotes delivered by fools, including “all the world’s a stage.” The portrayal of Jaquis and Touchstone are another moment of meta-comedy in Shakespeare. The play reflects on the value of entertainment and on the possibility that there is more wisdom in those who occupy the privileged position of entertainer and thinker within a group than in those who have power. Touchstone is subservient, but also witty and he has pointed insights and a theory about everything.

Jaquis is highly empathetic and poetic kind of thinker. He is one of the Duke’s men living in exile and as he experiences things that happen in the countryside he compares it to his own background. This leads to him creating metaphors that link the violence and ruthlessness of men and women in the court to the dealings of the natural world. Whereas Oliver and Frederick try to get rid of their negative feelings through violence, Jaquis is a connoisseur of sadness. 

Through his embrace of feeling bad, because he enjoys his own sadness, Jaquis becomes empowered. He is entertaining to the men. They love to laugh at him grieving over the death of a deer. His sadness is fun for them to witness. Oliver and Ferdinand reject their negative feelings and try to fix their feelings through violence. Jaquis shows us the opposite. He owns his feelings and therefore attracts brotherhood.

As You Like It is a comedic tapestry full of fun moments, but it is also a philosophical reflection on the interaction between power and understanding. The self-aware fool is ultimately more in control and has more influence than someone who has political clout but is not in control of their own emotions. The fools and villains in As You Like It are a key to the play’s deeper meanings and relevance to today. 

Benedick’s Double: Much Ado as Meta-Comedy

Hero may be the protagonist of Much Ado, but her cousin Beatrice is the funniest, the most insightful and comical character in Shakespeare’s play. The only other character who even comes close is Benedick. The series of transformations Benedick undergoes through the course of the play makes for a hilarious portrait of a jester. Through the portrait of Benedict as a comical character, Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy about comedy.

Benedick begins as a mega-bro, a boy’s boy. He is a turn of the 17th century fuck boi. If he were alive today, there’s no doubt that he would be down to shotgun beers on the weekend. He’s Claudio’s homeboy, someone who helps to keep the mood light and to joke about the condition of being a man. Together they are bachelors enjoying their military tour.

It is their fateful visit to Aragon that initiates their transformation through love. It is the ways in which they change that make for such a hilarious portrayal of how people are altered by the experience of romance. Benedick is deceived into thinking that Beatrice is interested in him and that is all it takes for him to begin the process of turning into a whole other human.

Beatrice and Benedick have a famous ongoing battle of wits between them, and Beatrice always has the upper hand. It is less a battle and more of a dance, a game of cat and mouse. She toys with him and absolutely shreds his ego. The setting of the play is an island in Italy where a small militia lands to recover from their recent battles. As a part of their recreation, they have a masquerade ball. Beatrice takes advantage of this occasion to dance with Benedick and to pretend she doesn’t know it is him. She then proceeds to tell him about this fool named Benedick and negs him hard.

This begins the opening of Benedick. Truly, he has been a dick and he is finally starting to see it. Through her portrait of him as someone unworthy of respect, he begins to question himself. Because she fools him into thinking that he is receiving this description anonymously, he believes her. It hurts him even more.

The idea of Benedick and Beatrice as a couple is so ridiculous that their friends on both sides conspire to trick them into a romantic misunderstanding. As soon as they begin to believe that the other person loves them, they start to change how they feel altogether. Benedick, the lifelong bachelor, suddenly is catching all kinds of feelings. When they finally come together to confess their feelings to each other, Hero’s crisis has already gone down, and she is supposed to be dead. Beatrice is less transformed by love and in the first moment that Benedick swears he loves her and will do anything for her she asks him to kill Claudio to avenge her friend. He immediately responds that he can’t. She goads him into it, using the act as a way of verifying his love for her.

What a trick! It is another example of how shame is leveraged to manipulate action in the context of the play. She has broken him down, shown him a version of himself that is shameful. Then, when he has disintegrated to the point that he is ready to do anything, she gives him the command to murder. This is a remarkably dark moment in a comedy, but it is the counterpoint to the comic’s role. The comic kills with laughter, his double just kills.

When Benedick challenges Claudio to a duel, he takes on a ridiculously masculine role. He is transformed by his mission. He becomes militant in his devotion to Beatrice. He is ready to kill his best friend. Bros before hoes no more.

Suddenly, he is not himself, and in this process of existential opening he attempts to write a love poem to Beatrice, with hilarious results. Shakespeare’s portrait of a man inspired to write poetry without any skill for crafting lines of verse is an amazing parody. He is having a good laugh at his competition and maybe at himself. There is nothing funnier than bad poetry.

Of all the characters in the play, Benedick changes the most. He is the most dynamic because he falls in love with a woman who dominates him intellectually. His experience of love makes him believe in himself in ways he had never had the courage to before. As an image of transformation, Benedick serves as a mirror giving us the ability to see how funny it is when we fall in love.

Slut Shaming in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing

If there’s any truth to the idea that Shakespeare may have had a good intuition about the English character and that this in turn is relevant for all English-speaking peoples, then it is important that we analyze his embarrassing portrait of men. This is how the brovolution works. We have to face ourselves to improve ourselves.

Important question: was Shakespeare a brother or a bro?

Jay-Z wrote a song clarifying what he considered to be the difference between a sister and a bitch. The same thing is true with brothers and bros. They are not the same. The bro is a hoe version of a brother. But let’s not slut shame. 

Slut shaming should never have been allowed to happen. If people had read Much Ado About Nothing adequately, the lesson was taught four hundred years ago. Because of a slut-shame-based society, the so-called nobles of the play (the prince himself and his right-hand man) are easily deceived and provoked into emotional tantrums. They are so triggered by what they think is a woman’s promiscuity that they all decide and say that she cannot be allowed to live. Then, they learn that she is innocent. The consequence of their ignorance comes close to murder. A young innocent woman is almost murdered because of the fatal logic of a slut-shame-based society.

It has happened too many times in reality to adequately grieve.

Slut shaming is not a joke. But, because it touches on the taboo, humor is going to be surrounding it. Anything that is repressed is fodder for comedy. 

Truly, the play is a caricature of what it means to attempt to be a man in a world with slut shaming. It makes fun of the idea of manhood through a ridiculous representation of manhood. This is expressed in the song that they sing on the island, “ladies sigh no more” the chorus teaches us that men are never constant, always deceptive with one foot on a boat and one on shore. There is an interesting remedy to the existential situation presented by gendered roles suggested in the lines that say to turn that sadness into something artistic through song and dance. It’s a trippy song to say the least. It’s a kind of therapeutic and pragmatic advice. It shows how men are easily deceived because of their fears and how they project those fears onto women. It instructs women on how to deal with the inconstant nature of men.

In this play, men police women’s sexuality, ordering Claudio’s fiancé to death because they mistakenly think that she has had sex with some random soldier. They are deceived by another man with malicious intent into believing that she has been unfaithful. In this context, sexual promiscuity is punishable by death. Her own father says that death is the only suitable cover for her shame. The urgency to police women’s sexuality leads to poor decision making and reveals a faulty belief system.

Amber Rose started an anti slut-shaming movement during the 20-teens called the Slut Walk. Cardi B made waves during the pandemic of 2020 with her pull no punches video for her song, WAP. The bold and unapologetic expression of women’s sexuality is at an all-time high, today in 2021 with OnlyFans and Instagram models. We should celebrate this movement. It is surely the antidote to the woman hating attitude expressed in Much Ado. The effect that women have on men is wild. Celebrating that power helps to keep it in a healthy balance, where repressing it causes a situation so radically imbalanced that a father could be tricked into killing his daughter.

Shakespeare was a brother, but maybe he was a bro, too. It’s not as though you can’t be both. That is one of the paradoxical outcomes of this gender configuration. It’s another layer of confusion that leads to such consequential misunderstandings. We should stop bro-shaming, too.

In a world where the expression of sexuality is more accepted, the consequences of slut or bro shaming lose a lot of their power. Slut and bro shaming is the equivalent of making drugs illegal: it only empowers the destructive side of the equation.

We need to find a healthy relationship to sexuality in our culture and we can start by letting bros be hoes and hoes be bros.

Standup Podcasters Do Shakespeare in My Wildest Audio Production Dreams

If I had an unlimited budget to produce my own version of Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing, I would do an audio production and cast my favorite standup comedians, who are also my favorite podcasters. Choosing to do an audio version would make it much more doable, from a production standpoint. You could spend the budget on the talent instead of special effects. I want to record the entire process of the production to release all of that in the form of a podcast, but also to edit it down to a normal length of a Shakespeare play.

II hate to blow my own horn, but this is a great idea. I know when I have no idea, I can tell when I have some idea, it feels nice when I have a good idea, but I am absolutely certain when I have a great idea, and this is among the greatest ideas I have ever had. Even if it never happens, just the idea of it happening is amazing. I don’t want there to be a visual component. None. Just strictly audio. Maybe photos of behind the scenes, but I want to focus all of the available resources on making the best possible audio experience.

Let me explain. I’m a photographer. So much of our culture has been driven by looks. Even when it comes to our choice of a president, their physical attractiveness matters a lot. But, we exist in a time when we have audio mediums and lifestyles that maybe have more time for listening than watching. At least mine has. I can’t watch shit. I study photos but work on my own photography more and maybe watch some very short videos, but I listen to a lot of content. I’ve only watched the first ten minutes of Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado, but I’ve listened to the BBC audio four or five times. I just consume more audio. I want to be doing things. Giving my full attention to someone else’s production by sitting, watching, and listening seems beyond backwards.

What we have done for entertainment over the years speaks to our character. We don’t need to be so submissive. Culture can be more of an accessory than a straight jacket. It can be more of a hike to the summit of a mountain than a roller coaster coated in puke. It can be elevated states achieved through fitness and mental practice instead of drugs and alcohol. It is what we make of it, and the new drug Huey Lewis was asking for in the 80s is here and it is called nutrition, fitness and emotional intelligence.

Because I have been consuming more audio than video for the past however long I have grown to know the work of podcasters more than actors. Stand-up comics have experienced a revolution and a renaissance with the advent of the podcast. It is a better product than an edited film. There is an interesting thing that happens when you listen to a podcast, though. It is such a deeper glimpse into a person’s mind than you get through other media. Because it is conversational and unscripted you have access to how this person thinks and responds to things. Then, if you watch their standup comedy special you have a different appreciation for their craft.

Because the podcast gives creative control to the comic it is an infinitely better product. That is the problem with big budget productions. The higher the risk the harder it is to maintain creative control. At a certain point, the payoff stops being worth the investment. It becomes super expensive junk food. But a couple of comics talking about contemporary culture, discussing their view of their industry, heckling each other and the world, this is a better product. Through listening to them simply talk you gain a much more intimate understanding of who they are. 

Another great thing about this idea is the amount of time it wouldn’t take. To do a visual production, you might need half a year. It is going to be impossible to get that kind of a commitment from comics who want to be on the road working on their standup. Try to get Rogan for 4 months to do a Shakespeare play. Go ahead. But, if it was going to take 8 hours, then that would be a different story. If you could do the entire thing in a weekend, or on a Tuesday and Wednesday then that is a lot more feasible. Great ideas have to live within the realm of the possible. 

For Much Ado, I would want to cast Brian Callen as Don Pedro and Chris D’Elia as Don John. Their famous back and forth would make for fun outtakes and behind the scenes footage. I think that if the play took 2 hours, you would want to break it into two days. Four hours for each act would give you enough time for people to riff and heckle and make jokes that are not in the script. I think that Cheeto Santino might make a great Benedick and Whitney Cummings a nails Beatrice. Ali Macofsky could make a great Hero and Brendan Schaub as a powerful Claudio with Tom Segura as Leonato. Bert Kreischer would crush as Dogberry.

I need to think more about the casting. That is the most important thing. Now that I have had this epiphany, I will be listening to the rest of the comedies with an ear listening for who might be able to play each character the best. This is such an fun idea, it could extend to so many different playwrights and bodies of work. This is an entire industry. It is better than an audio book. It is an audio play. BBC did it, but including podcasters in the mix and having the process of the production also part of the fun of it is new. We don’t need to sit down and buckle up to be entertained and to listen to stories that give us the occasion to start a dialogue about things that matter most. Great literature has the power to lead us, and podcasting comedians are the voices we need to amplify their messages.

The Strange Art of Being Human: Narrative Filters in Much Ado

Of all the things we learn to be, the most basic and central category we all belong to is one that is simply overlooked. We are too close to see it. It is the eye we see with. Seeing can’t see itself. The closest we can come to filling in this blind spot is through reflections, drawings, or photographs. These tools give us an abstract representation of how we appear to other people, but they still fail to reveal much about how we see. For that, we need language. We need stories.

The eyes are directly connected to the brain, so everything we see is already being processed automatic as breathing, but the entire organism is involved in vision. What you feel in your gut when you enter a room will influence what you look for and limit what you can see. If you are experiencing a fight or flight response to something that you perceive to be dangerous, that will direct your vision with tremendous focus. You will be looking to resolve the situation.

It is not only what we encounter when we enter a room that conditions a response that in turn affects what we see. We are preconditioned by the stories we believe. We exercise confirmation bias at every turn. So, if we are under the impression that something malicious and dangerous is happening inside a room, then we will enter with a different awareness. When we enter a room with guns drawn, we are already looking for targets. 

This all too human tendency is illustrated in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. It has biblical roots. The first family of the Old Testament is a story of jealousy and murder. Cain’s negative emotions overwhelm him to the point that he sees red and murders his own brother. In this comedic play, the two brothers are Don Pedro and Don John. We don’t exactly know why Don John feels so envious and melancholy, but in a culture ruled by status and shame his illegitimate status is an obvious emotional starting point. As a bastard in a patriarchal society, he is constantly provoked.

Being an outsider also gives the Don a keen understanding of how the system is unjust and can be manipulated as a weapon. Weaponizing the cultural norms can best be done by someone who has felt the pain and experienced the process of being cast out of respectable society. Born into a shameful status, the toxic effects of an honor-based society are like mother’s milk to the Don. His status is liminal. He has power and at the same time is devoid of value. It is as though he is rich with money that is only good in another country.

After enduring the long-term effects of being illegitimate, or what Foos Gone Wild call “years of abuse,” the Don has just finally had it. He snaps. In this mentality we see a precursor to the mass shooter, someone who extroverts their anguish and takes it out on innocent people. Instead of using direct action to express his violent intentions, the Don uses a psychological technique to attempt to ruin his enemies. In private, he speaks in tones that in no way attempt to hide his hatred, but he uses deception and manipulation to enact his evil plans.

Through representing the feelings of the villain, Shakespeare shows us how the way we view the world is determined by our status, by how we are regarded socially. In a patriarchal society, to have no father is an unresolvable lacuna. The Don undoubtedly is a villain and the plot he enacts would have led to the murder of an innocent woman. In his madness, he cares nothing about their lives, their innocence. His own emotional torment and his liminal status block him from being able to empathize. Instead, he uses his intelligence to create a fiction with fatal consequences. 

By framing the fiancé of his enemy, Don John attempts to deceive his brother and to provoke a murderous response. This is pure and premeditated evil. We see the consequences of a society that is ruled by a kind of arbitrary status. Don John is a born reject, a charismatic outcast, a fictional character with millions of real examples. Charles Manson was a Don John of the 60s.

The way we think influences what we see, and this is given its fullest expression in the scene when Claudio is deceived. Having been told that Hero has been unfaithful and is sleeping with another man, he is then led to a view of her living quarters where he sees one of Hero’s servants getting frisky with a soldier. Because he has been fed a lie and then shown a scene that matches the lie he doesn’t investigate further. He sees a figure that fits the fear stirred up inside of him, even though it isn’t true. The story matches the image and even though both are false they convince Claudio that his worst fears are true. Don John in a contemporary setting would be manipulating media.

Why things never fully escalate into murder is due to two interesting and different influences. On the one hand you have a friar who knows Hero well and has seen her grow up from a little girl to become a young woman. His confidence in her is based on a deep understanding of her character. As a religious figure, he has power within a patriarchal society, but he is not a part of the domestic sphere. His separation, his clout, and his understanding of Hero empower him to save her life and to save her father and Claudio from committing an unimaginable crime.

The other influence that resolves the situation before violence is realized is due to the bumbling work of local law officials. It takes very little intelligence to see what is hidden to those “stuffed with all the virtues.” Much Ado About Nothing can be read and thought about from many different angles, and the way the stories we believe affects what we see which in turn determines how we act is a very important one for our contemporary context. 

Shakespeare and You

Is it true that our fantasies of a happily ever after situation is rooted in the language we speak? Should we study Shakespeare to understand our own desires? The contrast of comedy and tragedy in those plays can teach us a lot about our ideals. Comedies end in marriage; tragedies end in death. 

In Shakespeare’s comedies there are many examples of mistaken identities. Think about the ass in Midsummer Night’s Dream. There is a play within a play, but one of the characters is magically turned into an ass. The consequences of misunderstandings in the comedies is light. The worst that happens is people are revealed to be fools.

In the tragedies, one key difference is the motivation behind the misunderstanding. In the tragedies, the mistakes are due to a malicious design. Characters like Iago show us what it is to be driven by negative emotions, to use manipulation to destroy lives. We see Hamlet’s uncle stealing the power of the throne and sleeping with his mom. His uncle becomes his father through a bloody act of murder. In the tragedies, the intentions are evil and the consequences are fatal.

In the comedies, the characters’ intentions are generally benevolent. There is an innocence to the way the characters view the world. They are situation comedies, the blueprint for the modern form, and the humor comes from a harmless misunderstanding. Mistaken identities lead to hilariously awkward revelations of truth. In the end, though, the forces that have led the plot astray are calmed and the narrative comes to its consummation. 

Through the tragedies, Shakespeare asks existential questions about the nature of good and evil and political power corrupting women and men. They are meditations on the nature of power and its implications in fate. The misunderstandings in tragedies are intentional and malicious and lead to death. In Romeo and Juliet, their mistaken view of the world leads to a double suicide. In Othello it leads to a murder suicide. As an audience we know what they don’t, which is what makes their deaths so tragic. They are unnecessary. They are predicated on a mistake.

Hamlet is the tortured prince. Ophelia is the victim of neglect. Othello is the deceived general. Desdemona is a woman murdered for none of her own doing, a victim of jealous violence. Romeo is the rejected suitor. Juliet is the lovesick martyr. The men are wronged and the women are victimized as a result.

Seeing this pattern in literature can help us to identify it as a kind of cultural myth. We hold to these beliefs. By giving them name, we also open up the space for choice. Knowing the difference between options is the prerequisite to making a good decision. If we see marriage as a metaphor, then we can design our lives to accord with our deep sense of comedy. We can create a valuable part of a larger network. Understanding the forms that misunderstandings take gives us a way to envision our own process of awakening.

This is why writers still matter so much. They are able to create models of human behavior that help us to understand ourselves and in so doing to make decisions based on the outcomes we desire for ourselves and our loved ones. Tragedies are in some ways cautionary tales about the corrupting influence of power. The violence of those narratives is motivated by greed. It is through a psychological failure to achieve a sense of contentment, happiness or peace that the opportunity for malevolence appears.

Shakespeare is a study in good and evil, in the full spectrum of human emotions and motivations. In the resilience of characters overcoming mistaken identities to finally fall in love we find the spirit of a culture attempting to satisfy its public. The marriage is one of culture with the people. Everything is metaphoric and can be read as a reflection of a larger reality. Comedy is a culture coming into harmony without the presence of pure evil.

The tragedies show us how incredibly harmful an evil agent can be within any human arrangement. Since we are so prone to error and to mistaking identity even in the comedies, there is plenty of opportunity for a sociopath to manipulate the misunderstanding in a way that leads to violent confrontation and death. Part of the reason it is important to study literature is because it can help us to come to know what is important for us to be learning and why. 

In our current historical moment, we should learn from Shakespeare and be aware of the potential for tragic outcomes even as we search for a comedic relation to life. If we want to marry ourselves to the fate of the ecosystem, then we will fall in love with the process of sifting through dirt. 

Content Pillars and Purpose

Cannabis, Writing, Photography, Marketing, Art, Landscape, Ocean

Cannabis: I believe cannabis can do the greatest good for humankind immediately and in the long run. Worldwide legalization of cannabis will set the scales back towards justice and will restore some faith in the sincerity of the systems of governance. It is hard to trust anyone who is against cannabis. It’s like being against naps or being anti-mellow. You people are getting along too well! You must be stoned. What’s next? Cooking up some dank munchies? Crimes against culinary standards? Too much caramel sauce on the cereal? Not only do I believe that the side effects of cannabis are harmless, we all know they are beneficial to many people. Anyone struggling with loss of appetite or insomnia can regain control over vital parts of their health with the help of some quality cannabis. I think that more than the obvious advantages legal cannabis creates (tax revenue instead of criminal activity, for one) the main shift that legal cannabis will bring is a shift in tone. It will open up that beautiful space that only stoners know where there is a sense of innocence, a mellowing out of the harshest vibes, a sense that daily life is ok and that it really matters. Cannabis leads people on an introspective journey that leads to gardening and preserving tomatoes and that is a-ok. As a content pillar, I intend to write about cannabis to advocate for its use, to highlight brands that are doing good things, to interact with cannabis influencers, and to share stoner experiences.

Writing: Writing is thought given shape and refinement through the logic of composition and editing. We use the tools of composition to establish our thoughts on a topic and to express our opinions, ask questions and to share stories. Through editing, we revise both what we think and how we compose our ideas. Writing is the mysterious revelation of self. Instead of merely looking into a mirror, we have to slowly develop a sense of how what we think looks in the external world. Our thoughts are native to our experience, but the moment we externalize them and give them form through a composition, in the shape of an essay, we begin to see who we are. This gives us the ability to change what we think, and in the process to direct the development of our character. Writing gives us intellectual intentionality. Through writing, we are able to determine how to use the best of what we think to the advantage of those we wish to help. Writing about writing is important because thinking about thinking is important. It’s fundamental to improving your form. Strategizing about writing, coming up with prompts, working on exercises and having a dialogue about strategies and techniques keeps the ball in play. By paying attention to writing, we can improve our quality of thought, we can make better decisions, and we can help other people to find their direction and purpose. Language is uniquely human, and writing is the focused and deliberate use of language to express ideas. By writing, you become more human. You can both learn about who you are, discover how you want to be, and work on growing into the kind of human you respect and admire. Writing is our most powerful tool of self-analysis. When combined with the introspective tendency of cannabis consumption, writing can lead to breakthrough after breakthrough. 

Photography: Photography is my main visual mode of work, these days. I love video and painting, but I have been thinking about and practicing photography for the past fifteen years with a passion and dedication. Photography has helped me to grow, to give people valuable memories, to help promote businesses and to have amazing relationships. Studying photography was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The history of photography is so brief, but it has accelerated to such an impossibly enormous volume. Being thoughtful about photography both leads to making better photographs and to understanding the world of photography, but it is also a tool of introspection. You go out into the world to find subjects. You explore compositions with your camera. When you return to the studio to edit your photos, however, you are faced with some idea about yourself and your job is to present that to the world in a way they will find the most interesting. This can also lead you to understand things about yourself and about how the world feels about you. Like all meaningful growth that can be painful at times and pleasurable at others. 

Marketing: The future is going to have more marketers than ever. That is the logical conclusion of a workforce left with nothing but creativity and communication. With the advance of automation, people will increasingly need to become more adept at messaging and branding. While some people feel an aversion to sales, they don’t like being sold to, marketing can be much more than a pitch. It can be beautiful design, thoughtful writing and interesting research. Marketing can be useful to you and when it is, then it really works well. There is no escaping marketing. One common form of marketing you see is the marketing of no marketing which is essentially a business or person bragging that they are so good and so in demand that they don’t have to spend much on advertising or branding. It shows an ignorance about branding, though. That is marketing and branding: it is the branding of no marketing. We don’t need no stinking marketing marketing. Yes you do. We all need good marketing.

Art: The category of art as a separate sphere of concern from other forms of media will always be interesting to me and so I will always think and write about it for those who are interested in what I have to say about it. If art can be any media, then why not consider all media art? There are deep philosophical reasons for wanting a category of cultural production that defines itself differently than the rest of culture. There is something deeply generative about the category existing in the first place. It is an invitation to experiment, an ethos of innovation, a reputation for making things new. Art matters the same way freedom of speech matters. It is so fundamental to the way we think, even if not consciously, that it is almost impossible for us to see why it matters. Writing about art is an attempt to give us that perspective even if just for a moment to look behind the curtain at what the category of art is doing socially and culturally and why it matters.

Landscape: Being out in a natural setting, watching how the sun travels, moving through the landscape in a way where I understand the various textures on the trail, all of these things matter to me deeply. As a human animal, I crave a connection to the landscape. I want to know what is happening in the woods. I want to explore every creek and know every tree. Writing about the landscape is important because it can help us to remember our priorities in times that we are easily distracted by other things.

Ocean: The ocean connects us all. As the universal symbol of the unconscious, the ocean is the most dynamic and deep subject for humans to ponder. It is so dramatic and expressive, it demands a million artist pay attention at all times. I am one of them.

Creation and Curation: Value in Content Marketing

If you start with the audience in mind, then every choice you make becomes more focused and purposeful. This is the first step in the right direction. It may seem obvious, but it is not common. Instead, you often see people trying to promote themselves and it comes across as cringe. Genuinely providing a service to the public with your content marketing will earn you respect and trust with a customer base.

You can start this process by imagining which topics are most important to your audience. If you are doing content marketing for a yoga studio you will find different content pillars than if you are working with a shopping center. Each business or organization will have a different audience they are trying to reach. Identify four or five topics you think would be most relevant to your audience as the starting point to organize your content. 

One of the great things about this approach is that it puts you in dialogue with other people creating content in your field. You have the opportunity both to research and to network. By learning about what other people are doing and saying you expand your knowledge of the topics and you identify the interesting people with whom you might want to collaborate.

Say for example you get hired to create content and to do content marketing for a gym. In addition to the original work that you will create by interviewing key figures, photographing equipment, doing videos of exercises, or what have you, you will also provide a valuable service by posting relevant information about: nutrition, fitness competitions, cutting edge gear and technique, inspiration from favorite influencers, etc.

There is so much content created for the internet every day, so organizing the relevant stories in a way that is useful to busy people makes a lot of sense. Content marketing is dual in nature: you both create original content and curate relevant content. This combination of research and production makes for a rich and useful follow.

The Internet is a very chaotic place, so curation can help give people a sense of order. It is important to make original work to promote your brand’s values, products, services, etc., but you can also do something valuable by organizing a timeline of relevant articles as they are published that help to inform and to flesh out the context of your subjects. If people gain an understanding of a topic by following your feed, then they are much more likely to believe that you know what you are talking about when you discuss your own offerings.

Begin by imagining a half dozen of your ideal customers. Who are your services or products designed to help or please? Now imagine what they would want to know about, what would be entertaining to them, what would give them a reason to smile, something new to learn, a talking point, an inspiring quote, something that adds to their understanding and experience of whatever your field is. As content marketers, we have the privileged position of creators and teachers, and when we combine those two elements well, a lot of value is created for the client.