Birthday — John Currin

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Birthday, 1999 by John Currin (b. 1962)

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Riff on William Shakespeare

  1. William Shakespeare, the Greatest Living American Author, turns 450 today.
  2. (There may be some, uh, factual, problems with the preceding sentence, but I’ll let it stand).
  3. (After all, to write after Shakespeare requires some gall, a bit of fakery, maybe an outright lie or two).
  4. 450! (Could I even hit 450 points on a riff?)
  5. “Shakespeare invented us,” Harold Bloom repeatedly insists in his big fat book The Western Canon.
  6. (I might be misquoting; the prospect of putting the effort of fact checking into this riff horrifies me).
  7. “Shakespeare—whetting, frustrating, surprising and gratifying,” F. Scott Fitzgerald jotted down in his notebook.
  8. We don’t actually have a record of Shakespeare’s birth, although we do know he was baptized on 26 April 1564.
  9. And died 23 April 1616.
  10. It’s likely that Shakespeare was born on 23 April 1564.
  11. Or, perhaps: There’s something symmetrical, neat, poetic about Shakespeare dying on his birthday.
  12. Ingrid Bergman died on her birthday.
  13. As did Thomas Browne.
  14. As did Yasujrio Ozu.
  15. And, according to tradition: Moses, David, Mohammad.
  16. So why not Shakespeare, born on his deathday?
  17. We want a teleological neatness with Shakespeare: We want his last play to be The Tempest, a tragicomedy that somehow synthesizes all before it; we can claim Prospero a commanding stand-in for Shakespeare.
  18. (These claims overlooking of course that Shakespeare’s last work was likely a forgettable collaboration with John Fletcher, The Two Noble Kinsmen).
  19. The Two Noble Kinsmen was based on Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale.
  20. (Shakespeare of course “based” his works on other works; the man was not one for original plotting (thank goodness)).
  21. “Chaucer had a deeper knowledge of life than Shakespeare,” claimed Ezra Pound.
  22. “Let the reader contradict that after reading both authors, if he chooses to do so,” he truculently added.
  23. To Coleridge though Shakespeare was “myriad-minded Shakespeare” — Our myriad-minded Shakespeare.
  24. Dryden credited him with “the largest and most comprehensive soul.”
  25. Suggesting also that, “Shakespeare’s magic could not copied be.”
  26. I’m not sure about that.
  27. How many versions of Hamlet have been attempted?
  28. Were not some of these Hamlets magical—magical enough, at least?
  29. Ulysses?
  30. Infinite Jest?
  31. The Lion King?
  32. Oedipus Rex?
  33. David Markson points out somewhere—forgive me for not rising from my fat ass to go verify—that Shakespeare couldn’t possibly have read Sophocles’ Oedipus as there was no English translation yet available.
  34. And how many books did Shakespeare read?
  35. (Chaucer, often credited with a library of sixty).
  36. Speculation, speculation!
  37. Shakespeare Truthers.
  38. Or Anti-Stratfordians—whatever you want to call them.
  39. Walt Whitman was a Shakespeare Truther.
  40. Believing no commoner could write the plays, but “only one of the ‘wolfish earls’ so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works.”
  41. Amazing that, that Walt Whitman, who could so bombastically conceive himself every man, woman, child, a cosmos, etc.—that he couldn’t credit a commoner with the depth of imagination to produce the plays that Whitman called “greater than anything else in recorded literature.”
  42. David Markson: “Scholars who are convinced that Shakespeare must certainly have been a military man.  Or a lawyer.  Or closely associated with royalty.  Or even a Jew. To which Ellen Terry: Or surely a woman.”
  43. For some Shakespeare Truthers, evidence of his lack of authorship is to be found in the different ways he supposedly signed his name!
  44. Willm Shakp.
  45. William Shakspēr.
  46. Wm Shakspē.
  47. William Shakspere.
  48. Willm Shakspere.
  49. William Shakspeare.
  50. The last of these from his 1616 will, in which he famously bequeathed his second-best bed to his wife Anne Hathaway.
  51. “He was a rich country gentleman, Stephen said, with a coat of arms and landed estate at Stratford and a house in Ireland yard, a capitalist shareholder, a bill promoter, a tithefarmer. Why did he not leave her his best bed if he wished her to snore away the rest of her nights in peace?” Continue reading “Riff on William Shakespeare”

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