Letters to Holly

Tuesday, June 20

Secrets of Shakespeare

The Brevard Friends of the Library sponsored a lecture on Shakespeare by a traveling English professor. He spoke about 2 years ago on the history of the English langauge. We got to the new library building about 20 minutes early and found a packed parking lot. Inside the lecture room was even more crowdeder. About 300 old people and the two of us showed up. Turns out, this was also the first meeting of the Friends of the Library Club in this new building. We didn't know the group was holding the event.

When we entered the room, a man hawking tickets asked if we were Friends of the Library. I, not knowing the group's name, told him I had a card. To me, that says I'm right chummy with the place. No, he said, that's not good enough. You can't be involved unless you're a Friend of the Library, he says. I take this to mean I can't see the lecture and get a bit miffed. Then he explains only Friends can join in the raffle for a gift basket. No, I told him, I don't want that basket (it's sitting right there and looks like it's filled with bath soap). I just wanna hear the guy. He then tries to sell me on joining the group, but his initial comments put me off of that. And if we had joined, I suspect we would be the only two younger than 50 in the group. Seriously, the place was jam packed with senior citizens. The event started with some club business and a rambling speech by the outgoing president. I started to worry that tthe affair would stretch too long and we would miss our wrestling. We have our priorities.

But the lecture was quick, fun, and a little disappointing. What was billed as "How William Became Shakespeare" was more about the Globe Theatre's influence on our language and customs. He told us these facts:

1) Because the Globe Theatre was in the middle of England's ghetto, the ushers only carried tiny boxes to collect the admission price (four pennies). They would constantly trade out full boxes for emtpy ones in a room behind the stage. This was called the box office. That's where the name comes from.

2) The concession stand move inside the theatre to avoid competition with the local businesses. Then they could charge whatever they wanted. They sold oranges, meat pies and tomatoes. But no one ate tomatoes; they were for throwing. If a play didn't get good within 15 minutes, the audience would chuck them at the worst actor.

3) The groundlings only paid a penny for the show, but that got them inside and in the front rows, touching the stage and standing (not sitting) for three hours. They were so stupid and unsophisticated that they would gape at the plays and drool on the stage where they stood. One actor's diary notes he was afraid of slipping in their puddles. Because actor's were very superstitious, they wouldn't wish each other good luck. Instead they would say words to the effect that "I hope you're so good that the groundlings are so immersed that they drool all over the stage, and you slip and break your leg." This is where we get "break a leg."

4) Because Shakespeare wrote for the uneducated, paying audiences, he started each play with a bang and made the plots simple to follow. For instance, King Lear is about a king and his three daughters -- two evil, one good. The youngest is the good one, a device taken from fairy tales, which William knew the groundlings would remember from childhood.

5) All his tragedies can be summed up wby the first two lines of "Humpty Dumpty." Overachieving people put themselves in a position of peril and tumble to their deaths.

6) He then listed a clutch of phrases used in everyday language that all come from Shakespeare.

It lasted maybe 45 minutes, and we didn't miss one minute of wrestling. Culture abounds!

Moving Picture of the Day
A fascinating look at how special effects were used to manipulate Marlon Brando's face for the new Superman film.

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