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. 

Keeping it Comedy: As You Like it, Dave Chapelle, and Joe Rogan

Listening to Dave Chapelle on the Joe Rogan podcast was more awesome than I had even hoped. Chapelle articulates his thoughts with such clarity and precision it is amazing to follow his stream of consciousness as he enjoys a conversation with one of the best talkers in history. He is self-aware and grounded in his craft, in his identity as a comic. 

There is something Shakespearean about Dave Chapelle and Joe Rogan. I realized what it is this past weekend. I was also listening to As You Like it and an Oxford University produced lecture on the play. One of the interesting things about this comedy is that it compares the countryside, specifically the forest, to the court. Chapelle was talking to Rogan about his experience having moved to Austin from Los Angeles, and the parallels couldn’t be more obvious.

Chapelle lives in Ohio. He figured out this trick of comedy a long time ago. Ohio is the Forest of Arden. Austin is too. What is most important, however, is the intention to exist in a way that fits the comedic genre. This might be easier to do in a rural setting if you didn’t need to be in a cosmopolitan metropolis to get work. With podcasting, you could theoretically achieve success from anywhere with Internet access. While most comics live in Los Angeles or New York, Chapelle and now Rogan have been preaching the virtue of living outside the pressurized bubble of the industry.

To best enjoy listening to As You Like It, you need to understand the plot and the relationship of the various characters. There are parallel happenings and characters take on different names as they disguise themselves. It can be confusing if you don’t know who the characters are. For the sake of this short essay, you only need to understand that all the main characters of the play have been banished from the court to the forest.

Rogan and Chapelle relate to each other because they are members of the tribe of comedy, but also because they have chosen to live rural lifestyles. There is a freedom in the countryside that they enjoy and that shows up in their work. Part of what the rural context provides is a lack of things happening. In that quiet space civil conversations or imaginative ramblings are given space to roam. It becomes more about dialogue and philosophical comparisons than an attempt to resolve a problem.

In the play, there are philosophical theories laid out in verse. We have the famous “all the world’s a stage” speech that outlines the seven stages of life. This has nothing to do with a plot, but that’s the point. The emptiness provided by the countryside creates the space for poetry and philosophy. 

There are different metaphors available in a rural setting. Being connected to hunting, agriculture, livestock, and fundamental human resources creates a kind of competency and confidence in relation to the world. Knowing where food comes from, being close to the supply chain is a smart idea if you want to focus on making people laugh.

Podcasting itself is a Forest of Arden. In many ways, Joe Rogan left Los Angeles a long time before he moved to Austin. By creating his own show and relentlessly innovating and improving his ability to engage in interesting conversations, Rogan became one of the first great developers of this wild alternative to the culture industry. He recently described it as having made it out past the gates and he is now swimming in open waters, but he could have also described it as having escaped court to live in the country.

As You Like It shows us how a rural setting can create a space for music, philosophy and most importantly comedy. There is something about certain natural settings that proves conducive to everything working out in the end. That is after all the spirit of comedy. Things may go differently than planned, but when there is enough space for reflection, thought, and expression, then comedy is given what it needs to flourish.

Monsters in Much Ado: Analyzing Deception in Comedy

I discovered a tremendous resource for anyone who wants to get to know the plays of Shakespeare better. The BBC produced four volumes in 2020 with great actors voicing the parts of the various plays. They divided the canon up into: Comedies, Tragedies, Histories and Roman Plays. The British have been studying and performing Shakespeare religiously for hundreds of years, and there is something oddly satisfying about this contemporary audio collection produced during a pandemic. For an important chunk of Shakespeare’s career, the theater in London had to close due to the plague. 

The plays make for good listening in today’s world. Each play is only a couple of hours. Many audiobooks can be upwards of twenty hours. Being able to consume an entire play in one go works well for today’s high paced multi layered culture. You could listen to a Joe Rogan podcast or one and a half plays. I recommend both. Rogan is undoubtedly one of the great literary figures of our day. We just don’t have the language and the context of understanding to voice his importance.  I believe he is a truly important US American voice, along the lines of Emerson, Twain, Hemingway, Lenny Bruce. One thing about Rogan that you can’t deny is that he is multi-genre, multidimensional and a multimillionaire. Rogan’s work shows us a depth of character and content that we are simply not used to, so it is hard for people to accept or believe.

Listening to Shakespeare is a satisfying experience for anyone familiar with the plays. If you are new to the Bard, you might want to read some synopses online to help you to follow the story, but the best way to figure it out is by listening to the same play a few times. Even though it is English, there is a degree of challenge in understanding the language of Shakespeare’s day. Lots of the inside cultural jokes will be lost on us. Still, there are moments when the language shifts into verse and the beauty of English blooms into being in pure streams of sound like some magical fountain in the wilderness.

It’s worth listening just for those moments, alone. Shakespeare is also central to English identity, and English culture is fundamental to US culture, so by listening you are also studying something that has had a huge impact on how we live. Many of the values, including the problematic ones, we still debate about today are portrayed in a way that gives us the opportunity to analyze things about the culture. This is one of the great values of comedy especially. It provides a way of finding the flaws in our cultural logic without promoting fear and despair.

One of the smartest theories of comedy I have heard is Andrew Schulz talking about how comedy hits on this unconscious level, he calls it reptilian, that is not something that we would or should be ok with, but we are. The joke, he says, aims at something that we know is true in our gut but that is unacceptable in official culture. In his conversation with Jordan Peterson, he elaborates further suggesting that it is by attacking the institutions that are repressing those ideas that comedy shows the absurdity of most conventions and frees up that repressed unconscious energy in the form of laughter. Comedy searches for the edge and plays with the limits of the acceptable.

In Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing we have a comedy that has some very serious topics. There is a common way of misunderstanding the title as meaning something similar to making mountains out of mole hills. It suggests that there has been an exaggeration, some tendency to hyperbolize the problem when in fact it is based on nothing. When you listen to the play, though, you realize that the much ado is actually very monstrous. 

It is a comedic illustration of how we rush to judgment in a culture based on shame and purity. The premise of the play is that there is to be a marriage between two respected members of society, a man and woman of value. Before the ceremony, however, someone intervenes and tricks the groom to be into believing that his fiancé has been unfaithful and has been having sex with another man. Like many of Shakespeare’s plays, there are plays within the play at work.

In this case, Don Julio stages a fake scene of romance to convince the duke that he is being duped. This leads Claudio to show up to the wedding ceremony, but with the false intentions of exposing Hero, his would be bride. The fragility of a woman’s reputation is given full display in the hysterical reaction the men have to the thought that Hero has been sexually active. Their response to this false accusation of impropriety with a death sentence. She must be killed for this offense. The extreme misogyny of the response is only made more horrific by the fact that she is innocent and has been framed.

These are all of the ingredients of a tragedy. We have an Iago figure who is creating chaos by provoking jealousy with false narratives. The death sentence is given. What prevents this story from ending in a bloodbath is the intervention of a priest who suggests that they have some patience and wait to make sure that the truth is known before such a harsh sentence is executed. Instead, he suggests that they pretend that she has been killed to see how people respond.

In Hamlet, the play within the play is used by Hamlet to reveal the guilt of his uncle. In Much Ado About Nothing a kind of fictional performance is used to reveal the innocence of the accused. The direction of the play moves from corruption and dishonesty to justice and truthfulness. 

There are many more ideas to analyze and conclusions to draw about this fun and philosophical play. One of the great things that Shakespeare does is to show us how fictions can be used to get at the truth or they can be used to change reality. The tendency of the character in Shakespeare is to be deceived, to not understand something critical about reality. In the tragedies, these misconceptions fuel action that leads to violent ends. In the comedies, the characters exercise enough patience to allow the truth to eventually come to light before any irrevocable actions have been taken. 

How can we use these plays to help us to think about media in the contemporary moment? Is there some connection between how fictions are used in Shakespeare and current cultural trends, including the prevalence of editorial journalism (fake news) and the rise of stand-up comedy as defenders of the freedom of speech? 

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.