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. 

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.

Historical Trauma and Value in Art

Is the art world really as ridiculously trivial and weird as it seems sometimes? Most Americans get their view of the contemporary art world from the Big Lebowski. When does art seem valid to someone? What makes art important? Art historians typically attribute value to an artwork for one of three reasons: because of the artist, because of the content, because of the context. An artwork can be considered valuable simply because an artist says so. Typically, value is going to combine two or more of those categories, but it won’t always be evenly distributed. 

DuChamp’s Urinal has value on all three registers. The main source of value is derived from the decision of the artist. Once DuChamp has made up his mind that the urinal would be a work of art, a value proposition is created. In this case, it is a decision that is sure to receive pushback and it is the refusal to capitulate to criticism that makes the work’s value sustain and grow. By sticking to his guns, DuChamp simultaneously creates and defends the value of the work. The more controversial it became, the more valuable. It was the tension between the artist and the public reception that 

The context was also a big part of why the work had value. If DuChamp had merely signed the urinal and placed it in his studio or in someone’s private residence, it never would have mattered much. The context of the exhibition also opened up the possibility for pushback. By purposefully creating a controversy within an art space where people were coming to study and debate the merits of art, DuChamp underlined the importance of dialogue surrounding the work.

It would be a mistake to think that the formal elements of the work had no merit, though. DuChamp’s readymade opened up questions about what could be considered art, but most people miss the point altogether. He placed an industrially manufactured urinal on a pedestal and signed it R. Mutt 1917. Or, he tried to. But, the directors of the exhibition rejected the piece even though there was supposed to be no censorship as the basis of the exhibition. It was an experiment in free speech. What could be considered part of the discourse of art? Why?

DuChamp accelerated the velocity of a developing art world in New York. It was too much for us then, and it is too much for us now a hundred and four years later. DuChamp’s ideas thrive in the digital age. In DuChamp’s precedent, we can see the spirit that continues in pranks and practical jokes and trolling. 

In 1917, the world was at war. When we look at how we are currently thinking about why certain beliefs have taken hold, why we have news outlets who seemingly have abandoned any effort to appear fair and balanced, it is important to remember how traumatic the 20th century was and continues to be. Because traumas don’t just go away. They impact how humans interpret the world and how they behave. 

There is an undercurrent of trauma that runs through our culture. The side effects of war are immeasurable. Nobody knows what happens to an entire generation when they are traumatized by global events, or how that psychic damage affects the next generations. What is it like to be raised by a traumatized generation? This question has obvious implications for today’s situation, where trauma is widespread and the undiagnosed effects are everyday emerging in stories of mass shootings, suicides and other horrific side effects of this traumatic period of history.

The same thing happened a hundred years ago. Did we ever fully recover? 

Is the new normal people are searching for no longer accessible to us? Has it been gone for a long time but we never knew it? Were we believing a fiction?

Kids today are engaged with screens more than ever with online schooling. Parents are attempting to navigate the economic carnage of a year without an open economy. It is wildly stressful for millions of people all at the same time. Kids are watching programs on Netflix. Good parents try to limit that time, and with good reason. They are watching a world that no longer exists. It is training them to live in a way that is not accessible to them. It is setting them up for disappointment and unhappiness.

We need new art and culture now more than ever. We need an entirely new type of art and media that teaches us how to live in our new circumstances and leads us in the direction of empowerment and the ability to direct social change.