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. 

Why It’s Funny When Comedy Fails

Lots of comics enjoy watching comics bomb. The funniest part of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the audience’s response to the awful play performed at the duke’s wedding. This scene is funny because of the irony. We have watched these passionate but unexperienced actors preparing for this night throughout the play and it is exactly how wrong they were that makes it so funny. 

When we first meet these aspiring thespians, they are gathered in the woods to rehearse and from the very first moment they get it wrong. It is a failure of leadership, due to a lack of experience that summons the fearful critic among them to point the ship in the opposite direction. They start out concerned that the subject matter is too disturbing for the women in the audience, showing a double misunderstanding: they don’t get theater and they have a false idea of women.

This concern over the violence leads them to horrible stylistic decisions that then shape the rest of the play. To avoid offending the ladies, they invent a prologue to explain that the violence is only symbolic and that nobody is going to be hurt during the play and that the lion is not a lion, etc. To work, a play must create the tension needed to get people’s full attention so that it can then reverse their expectations and surprise, delight, or otherwise entertain. Afraid that the ladies in the audience would not understand how to suspend their disbelief, these actors choose to violate the 4th wall and bring the audience into the show.

This device makes it impossible for the audience to take it seriously, though, and so they are left to critique the choices and to laugh at their unintended buffoonery. The players lack of understanding how they are perceived causes them to botch their shot, and this flat-footed clumsiness makes it even funnier when Bottom is turned into an ass by Puck at the service of Oberon to trick Titania, queen of the fairies. They turn bottom into an ass and give Titania a potion so that she falls in love with him.

To take the stage, in order to win the affection of a fairy goddess you have to have some belief in self, and it is Bottom wrestling with his insecurities and his delusions of grandeur that is so similar to what the path of an aspiring comic likely entails. Bottom is a phase, a stage that must be overcome grown through.

The process of finding out just how funny you are, of seeing an audience respond to you in real time makes for some vicious therapy and it is no wonder that actors and comics have a hard time sometimes making sense of where their act begins and ends. You must love anyone who attempts the feat and give thanks to those who succeed, because it makes our world a much more pleasant place to live. Long live the failure of comedy.

Good Headlines Save Lives: The Importance of Powerful Titles

Every day, people publish thoughtful and creative articles, and they dream up some amazingly artful headlines to grab a reader’s attention. Grab is the right word, too. It’s almost an assault. Some of these click bait listicles are so offensively tantalizing they practically give you an unrequested massage. What is a listicle you might ask? It is a title that states: 4 Ways Listicles Will Help You to Win. 

Titles have more importance than ever in a world so noisy with content. We need a way to navigate the chaos, and titles are convenient rafts of easy meaning. If we take the role that titles play in our culture seriously, then we will be able to counter the click bait watering down of journalistic credibility. Making it easy for your readers to recognize that your essay is the kind of writing they want to read is best achieved through creative titling.

The art of writing titles depends upon an ear for tone. How can we make this story pop out in a list of potential search results? How can we entice or excite a reader to engage with an article? The title should match the tone of the essay, but in a distilled and potent manner. It is a shot of espresso, a dab of concentrate.

Without a great title, you are standing naked facing the mighty wind coming off the Pacific Ocean. Unprotected, you expose yourself to becoming chapped and sore at the world. The fog bites at you. Spending time to craft a winning title is putting on your favorite clothes and pair of shoes, of stepping out in the world feeling good about how you look.

Writing is like a boombox without batteries until someone picks it up and reads. It is useless, meaningless inert exhausted energy expired and out of date. The second someone begins to read it; it turns back on. Alive and active in a reader’s mind, the writing blooms into being, has form and substance that morph inside someone’s mind. The words become a copper cable for ideas to follow like electrical current.

For the alchemy of reading to occur, the reader must choose the article. Until this engagement begins, the words are dead and dumb. This simple fact of reading and writing makes the title hold so much weight. The title is the on switch of the reading machine. It is a neon open sign. It is a red lightbulb.

Stoners Only: Jakespeare’s Rule

I am studying Shakespeare to become a better writer. Being a writer is great because you get to make your own rules. You can process your own thoughts and feelings and share what you want and edit out the rest. The better you are at writing, the more control you have over how you tell your story.

The point of humor is to make people laugh, to release some tension, and to lighten the mood and to inspire hope. The point of tragedy is to provide us with an outlet for our tears. If you want to help people, if you want to entertain or inspire them, then you must learn how to do that.

When I become Jakespeare, I’m going to have one rule: you must be a stoner. If you want to be a part of what I dream up, you must consume cannabis daily. I will not tolerate failure in this department. This is a cannabis fueled operation and non-stoniness will not be permitted. 

Cannabis only makes you paranoid if you’re being a jerk. If you aren’t smoking often enough, you might have developed some real POS habits and then when you do finally smoke it will all come crashing in on you. It’s not the cannabis, though; it’s the stupid things you did when you weren’t stoned. 

Smoking weed regularly ensures that you won’t walk around unaware of your bad vibes. If you don’t consume cannabis and you don’t think that you are a real jerk, then smoke a little cannabis and see what you think. Cannabis reveals us to ourselves. It points to the work we have to do. 

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.

To Conspire or Not: Prospero’s Forgiveness

Conspiracy theorists should love Shakespeare. So many juicy plots are formed in secret. Conspiracy is daily bread. It’s how people live and how they die in Shakespeare’s dramatic world. In the Tempest, we have a series of conspiracies that unfold, and it is ultimately Prospero’s deception that leads to resolution if not redemption. 

In a world full of dishonesty and betrayal, where conspiracies are everywhere, it becomes a kind of test of survival to form conspiracies. To exist, you must conspire, and you must do it better than the parties who are against you. Prospero learns this lesson the hard way, after miraculously surviving an attempt on his life. 

He washes up ashore an island with his daughter and some books. It is not merely a stroke of good luck or divine intervention that saves their lives, but it is the secret decision of Gonzalo to help them to survive. Prospero is conspired against, and he only survives because he manages to solicit empathy from a double agent. Gonzalo betrays his orders and conspires with Prospero out of sympathy for his situation.

The timeline of the play, however, is ruled by conspiracies shaped by Prospero himself. Having lived on the island with his daughter, the spirits he controls with his spells, and the slave that he has do his bidding, Prospero has achieved a mastery of his situation. He uses this advantage to create an extravagant false reality to manipulate his enemies and to create new relationships with allies. 

The most interesting thing about the character of Prospero is that he forgives. He contrives this elaborate situation to regain his rightful place of power and to potentially punish his enemies, but when the time comes where he can have his revenge, he chooses forgiveness instead. Prospero becomes a figure of self-realization and actualization. He becomes bigger than an emotional need, more generous than his detractors.

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.  

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.

Why Write? Separating Facts from Feeling through Composition

Does writing improve when the writer has a thesis? Is the point of writing to stake a claim and to defend that point of view with evidence? In school, we learn to write a certain way without really questioning why. What is better about this method? What if you don’t have an argument to make? What if you are better at asking questions?

What can writing do? Everything must have a context to get clear answers. Writing can perform so many different functions. The rules for journalism are different than for creative writing or political rhetoric. Each use of writing has a set of options that makes the most sense for the purpose trying to be achieved. Writing can educate, it can inspire, it can influence. 

One of the things that we need to work on culturally if we are to have a more harmonious and prosperous future is to learn to separate facts from feelings in our decision-making process. Writing can help us to advance in this direction through making the contours of a problem visible and able to be discussed.

Once you set out a problem in writing, it becomes clearer what you don’t know. The other thing is to take accountability. This is the problem. What is my part in it? We must find ways to work around our blind spots to see what can and needs to be improved. Writing is a kind of psychic mirror we use to navigate and to see how we look to others. 

It is not an automatic process, however. You must be deliberate in your intention to be as objective as possible. If you were to write about a situation that is troubling you as though it were written by a stranger, what would it look like? Then, what do you do with it? If you look in the mirror and see you have spinach caught in your teeth, what do you do? You fix it.

Writing is different than talking but they are obviously closely related. The advantage that writing has is to take something that occurs in time and to freeze it in place through the choice of words. If you talk about a subject, you might say something important that you forget and don’t have the opportunity to build on, but if you write it down, then you have a paper trail of ideas that you can draw from in your work. 

Do we know better what we feel or what we think, and which instinct leads us to better outcomes? Again, this is context specific. More important than some set of skills is the overall intention and that is where separating feelings from facts becomes evident. Fictional portrayals of human relations give us examples of how this works. We can analyze these stories to see why situations fail and what to do about it.

In Shakespeare, we have characters who are overwhelmed by their feelings a lot of times. They are spurred into action by a feeling inside of unworthiness or envy. They orchestrate horrible events with deadly outcomes for the people they feel resentful towards. They are motivated by feeling and feeling can be contagious and unreliable. When feeling becomes alienated from thought it leads to violent outcomes. Thoughtful writing seeks to discern between facts and feelings precisely to avoid or mitigate such events. It serves to govern our instincts that are out of line with the spectrum of safe and legal options for action in any given situation. 

To be thoughtful, we need to try and separate what can be verified independently with what we personally feel. Writing can be a way to come to terms with our feelings, too. By giving expression to our desires, we can see how reasonable they are. This creates the possibility of revising our thinking. It is an effective method of recognizing bias. Writing out our thoughts and feelings is the first step to separating them and to gaining control over our decision-making process.

We must understand our weaknesses to improve them. If we are blind to our own susceptibilities, then we are vulnerable to people who seek to manipulate us.