The Reason To Avoid That Bridge

There is a certain kind of personality that thrives on chaos, a personality who sees interactions with other people not as an opportunity to discover and appreciate the human experience, but as pure combat. It’s about getting a reaction, and the bigger the rise, the bigger the win. We all know these people. Like your gross uncle at Thanksgiving who can’t stop making fart jokes at dinner, these people have no sense of what’s appropriate and revel in creating discomfort, pulling out all the shitty stops to ensure that everyone pays attention to them. Scientifically speaking, these people are referred to as “jackasses”. Encountering jackasses used to be a matter of chance; you may or may not have run into one going about your day, and once identified, you could take pains to avoid them. (Unless your mom put you in the buffer seat next to your uncle at Thanksgiving. Sorry your mom did that.) However, the advent of social media provides almost daily exposure to particularly malevolent folks who practice their jackassery scorched-earth style. You see them in the comments section on YouTube, you see them shutting down conversation threads on Facebook, you see them starting flame wars on Twitter. I am talking about the trolls, and whenever I see a troll in action, I always think of Iago, that king of all trolldom from Shakespeare’s Othello.
Iago: What’s that thing?
Me: My laptop
Iago: Can I kill people with it
Me: Damn Iago not everything is a thing to kill people with

Othello tells the story of one man’s obsession with…well, obsession. Othello, an experienced soldier, is regarded highly by his peers and his superiors. As the play opens, the audience is introduced to Othello via a conversation between Othello’s fellow soldiers Iago and Roderigo, who discuss Othello’s new marriage to an adoring wife, his prowess as a soldier, and his skill as a leader. They are really happy for Othello and wish him all the best. HAHAHAHAHA just kidding. Roderigo’s pissed that Othello married the girl Roderigo wanted, and Iago’s pissed because—well, Iago’s just pissed, and he is not going to take Othello’s general success and popularity lying down. He takes some time to lay out his detailed plan to ruin Othello’s life by lying, manipulating, and generally gaslighting Othello (and everyone Othello knows and trusts). This is Iago’s show, and Othello is just living in it. While he would have been very effective behind a keyboard, Iago trolls the old-fashioned way – face to face –  but he gets it done just fine. Long held as one of the most repulsive characters in literature, Iago’s reason for wanting to destroy Othello is a disturbing and pathetic “just because”.
Iago: The means totally justified the ends
Me: That is not how that saying works
Iago: Troll big or troll home
Me: Bad. At. Sayings.

Online misbehavior makes headlines now almost weekly. Keyboard anonymity provides a safe, cushy place from which to engage in disruptive hostility. It seems generally agreed upon that trolling is a recent phenomenon, fostered by the internet, but I know better. Iago was trolling when people thought the world was flat and attending a witch trial counted as weekend plans. There’s trolling, then there’s trolling, Elizabethan style, which is infinitely more twisted courtesy Iago’s soulless pursuit of a bad time. This involves conveniently overheard conversations, conveniently planted handkerchiefs, more conveniently overheard conversations, and, of course, misinterpretations of innocuous body language. Put all that together, add Iago, and you have Othello convinced that his wife Desdemona is cheating on him with his favorite lieutenant Cassio. Spoiler alert: this play does not have a happy ending.
Iago: I have Elizabethan internet
Me: What’s that
Iago: I bribe a town crier with meat pies to improve my search engine ranking

Othello is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies – you can tell by all the stabbing and smothering – and while it’s definitely a familiar one, it isn’t as quotable as some of Shakespeare’s other work. What it does deliver, though, is a line from Iago that is one of the most famous lines from anything ever: “Beware jealousy, my lord. It is the green-eyed monster that doth mock the meat it feeds on.” As much as Iago talks in this play—and Holy Alpenhorn, he talks a LOT—this line about jealousy as close as we ever get to a true motive for Iago’s malice. And malicious jealousy is the only way to characterize Iago’s systematic deceptions that ultimately drive Othello to kill his wife Desdemona and commit suicide. Iago also manages to kill his own wife, Emilia, and his original partner in crime Roderigo. Because Iago is such an egomaniac he isn’t going to let anyone out-murder him.
Iago: All I do is win win win no matter what
Me: How do you know that song
Iago: Haters gonna hate
Me: Did someone show you the non-Elizabethan internet??
Iago: Subscribe to my YouTube channel

Troll Ave

Iago’s address, probably

Current conversations about making the internet a safer space often collide with the allowances of free speech. Can trolls be curtailed without limiting rights? It’s a complicated question, but not for Shakespeare. At the end of Othello, Iago’s machinations are revealed and he is recognized for the vile jackass that he is. I’ve always found it intriguing that Iago is not immediately killed, but instead arrested and dragged away for some Elizabethan-style questioning about his crimes. Iago isn’t deserving of the swift justice we see other Shakespeare villains get (Macbeth, I’m looking at you). Iago gets what a troll hates more than anything – rendered irrelevant, condemned to invisibility as he rots in a cell. When I feel helpless and frustrated at hearing another disgusting online trolling story, and I want to see justice done in a big way, I remember that Iago made a huge mess but he finally got his. It’s a small literary comfort, but I’ll take it.
Iago: What is Elizabethan questioning?
Me: Torture
Iago: CRAP


Action Items
If you are online trolling, stop it right now. Unless you are Kenneth McCarthy, in which case carry on with my compliments.

The Reason To Get It On The Side

Immortality is a perennial Top 3 finisher in the Literary Themes Pageant, just like Texas at Miss America. When it’s time to wrestle with the big ideas, all of your better-known Olden Days Writers pull out some form of eternity to make a point.  The Greeks had immortals descend from on high to mess around in people’s everyday business. Eighteenth century English Romantics were all “We are all immortal because nature! NATUURRREEEE!!!!” And then there are vampires, defining immortality ever since Bram Stoker decided to go all undead on our asses. In the past few years, literary vampires have been rock stars, the scourge of colonial America, and hot messes battling it out for supernatural supremacy in Southern Louisiana. There are also the curious Twilight vampires, who go all in on eternity by….going back to high school. Over and over. WTF. I don’t care how pretty Robert Pattinson is, he cannot make that idea remotely appealing.

All that being said, my favorite kind of immortality is the unintentional kind, the kind Julius Caesar achieved when a salad dressing first made in Mexico by an Italian-American during Prohibition intersected with a play that used ancient Rome to illustrate the problematic politics of transitioning from one British monarch to the next. Don’t believe me? Think about a Caesar salad right now. What comes to mind? TOGAS. You can’t buy that kind of viral marketing and brand reinforcement. Shakespeare and Julius Caesar have the Midas touch.
Me: Congrats on that whole most-famous-ruler-of-Rome thing
Caesar: K thx but I wanna be more immortal
Me: You can’t be more immortal than immortal
Caesar: I’m only immortal in Latin
Me: Yes
Caesar: I wanna be immortal in ENGLISH
Shakespeare: I’m on it

My I ♥ SHAKESPEARE list has a definite lean toward unnatural death. There is hella stabbing in all of the plays I really like. Why I prefer my Elizabethan entertainment pointy and bloody is ultimately for my court-appointed psychiatrist to determine, but since I’m not violating any of my restraining orders I’m not going to  worry too much about my subconscious. I love Julius Caesar because it meets minimal stabbing requirements and because it includes the searing, jaggedly perfect “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him” eulogy. In another unintentional twist, it’s also the Shakespeare production that I have seen the most often, including one staged on a set that looked like a building construction site where all the actors wore hard hats. Yellow hard hats. The whole show. Well, I am assuming they were actors. It’s certainly possible I stumbled upon a group of extremely politically savvy Shakespeare enthusiasts renovating a theater.
Caesar: Why do I have to wear the hard hat
Me: OSHA regulations for artistic integrity zones

Julius Caesar opens with Caesar fresh off a military victory and ruling over a happy and peaceful Rome. Because no good deed goes unpunished, and because it would be a terribly short play otherwise, Caesar’s motivations come under question by Brutus and Cassius, his two closest advisors, the Kelly and Michelle to his Beyonce. Not convinced that Caesar has Rome’s best interests at heart and suspicious that he wants to crown himself as King, Brutus and Cassius decide to stab their way out of their anxiety about the future and assassinate Caesar at what may go down as the worst committee meeting ever.
Caesar: I brought doughnuts!
Everyone else: Stab stab stab
Caesar: I thought you liked Krispy Kremes!
Everyone else: We told you we are low-carb, asshole


Publicity stunt

Publicity stunt.


The delightfully capricious thing about immortality is that you can’t choose it. It has to choose you, and when it does it’s liable to be for something you couldn’t possibly anticipate. Julius Caesar was one of the greatest military strategists who ever lived, famous for his battlefield victories fought for the glory of Rome. Then Shakespeare comes along and tells his version of Caesar’s story, and Caesar becomes famous for being assassinated and for his last words that he never actually said, “Et tu, Brute?”. Three hundred years later, Chef Caesar Cardini improvises a salad on a busy night with a handful of ingredients he had on hand in his restaurant kitchen. It catches on in a big way because DELICIOUS and suddenly Julius Caesar is famous all over again because his likeness is the go-to illustration on almost every bottled version of Caesar dressing.
Caesar: Wait. What?!?
Me: I thought you knew
Caesar: Is this a joke? I hate salad
Me: Just eat the croutons. It’s what I do

Given the choice, what would Julius Caesar have preferred? Fame from what he actually did, fame from a fictionalized version of himself, or fame from aisle 3 at the grocery store? It’s his embarrassment of riches that he doesn’t have to pick. He gets it all. Over two thousand years later, we’re still talking about him. Shakespeare has done pretty well too, but he’s got work to do in the food department because I can’t remember the last time I ordered a Shakespeare salad.
Caesar: I’m not picking any of those
Me: Okay how do you want your fame
Caesar: I want to go to the New York High School For The Performing Arts
Me: …so you want to spend eternity at high school
Shakespeare: I’m changing my name to Cookie Dough Ice Cream

Action Items
You probably want Caesar salad by now.



The Reason For Date Night

Romance isn’t dead! Unless the romance in question is Romeo and Juliet in which case, yes, romance is unequivocally dead. If your version of a love story with a  happy ending is “deceased newlyweds and resolved grudges” then Romeo and Juliet is the play for you. Normally, I am completely down with a high drama forecast of 100% chance of accidental poisonings with intermittent stabbings. Who wouldn’t like that? Romeo and Juliet is Shakespeare’s greatest hit, his most well-known work, and literature’s definitive tragic love story. The narrative around Romeo and Juliet is what sells-the instant love, the white-hot chemistry, the inevitability of their union and the tragic ending. I am not here for any of that, though. Nope. I do love this play, but not for why you think.
Romeo: what do you mean
Me: wait for it, damn
Romeo: tell me now
Me: ok  THIS is why you make me nuts

It’s not terribly romantic to admit it, but I don’t crush on Romeo and Juliet’s romance.  I blame myself for lacking depth and an inability to relate to human emotion. My problem begins and ends with Romeo. We meet him pre-Juliet, hanging out with his friends and mooning over the beautiful and unattainable Rosalind. He goes on and ON about her. By the time he’s done extolling her virtues, he’s convinced me to date her.  His boyishness and impulsiveness are intended to charm but because I am mostly dead inside, he seems more sulky and capricious than anything. It’s not a case of active dislike. It’s just that Romeo is so relentlessly self-absorbed as we get aquainted with his character that I want to punch him. By the time Romeo dons his disguise, sneaks into the Capulet costume ball, spots Juliet and dumps Rosalind, I am done with him. Is Romeo really in love, or does he have the earliest dramatized version of ADHD? It’s hard to tell and as it turns out I don’t particularly care. Since I am not invested in Romeo, I’m not capable of working up the energy to swoon when he goes gaga over Juliet. I just wait patiently through all the Romeo and Juliet parts of Romeo and Juliet so I can enjoy the character it feels like Shakespeare created just for me.
Romeo: not cool
Me: omg did you hear that

One of the timeless aspects of Romeo and Juliet is how Shakespeare captures the dynamics of adolescent male friendship. The comraderie, the dirty jokes, the restless energy –it’s all there and it’s perfect. It’s just like any modern group of high school students, with fewer codpieces.  I love the wordplay and the fights and the teasing, but make no mistake. I am here for Mercutio, Romeo’s best friend. Can I please get a Tiger Beat with him on the cover? Plus a bonus poster that I can hang over my bed? I also need him to have a spinoff series, endorse a line of activewear, and maybe host the Golden Globes next year. I JUST NEED HIM IN ALL THE THINGS. Mercutio is Team Montague, the solid, acerbic yin to Romeo’s boy toy yang. He is a dreamy combo of smart and smartass and I want to have all his iambic pentameter babies.
Romeo: but I’m ROMEO
Me: meh
Romeo: what do I have to do
Me: plot more stabbings?
Macbeth: totally on board with that

Mercutio is my first action hero, the guy who made brains and brawling an irresistible mix. He’s got Romeo’s back, challenging his friend’s moody ruminations on love with vulgarity and humor while trashtalking the rival Capulets whenever the opportunity presents itself. His quicksilver personality is alluring and his intelligence is just sexy. In the play’s climactic battle scene, the rival gangs from the houses of Montague and Capulet clash and Mercutio is mortally wounded. His death sets in motion the chain of events that get Romeo banished from Verona. Even while he’s bleeding to death, he’s snarky and joking, laying the groundwork for the dialogue in every single 80s action movie.
Romeo: i don’t understand what’s happening
Me: so…did Mercutio ask about me?
Romeo: what?
Me: tell him I said hi but just like, hi, not HI
Romeo: ffs

Mercutio might have stayed in the background, perennial Hot Boy #2, but for the amazingly silky Queen Mab speech. It’s just beautiful, one of my favorite things ever written. Hypnotic and foreboding, the Queen Mab speech is delivered right before Romeo enters the Capulet’s ball, meets Juliet, and changes his life forever. Using the story about the how Fairy Queen Mab delivers dreams, Mercutio ruminates on the many faces love wears. The language, the rhythms, are deceptive, seducing  while describing’s love’s worst possible outcomes. Mercutio shows his vulnerability and hints at the bad stuff coming and now I’m planning our wedding and I’m thinking bohemian with pastel colors.
Romeo: what was that sound
Me: everyone’s panties dropping
Romeo: for that?!?
Mercutio: happens every time

church flowers

These flowers will be the perfect detail at the ceremony

I’m always bummed when Mercutio dies halfway through the play, but I hang in there while everything spools out. In the perfect execution of a bad idea, Juliet fakes her death, and that’s all it takes to fool Romeo into thinking she’s really dead. One double suicide later, it’s time to flip back to page one and start over. Just let me fix my hair and lipstick first.

Action Items
For a coma lasting longer than four hours, consult your apothecary.




The Reason Foul Is Fair

I could claim that I’ve read all of Shakespeare’s plays, but inevitably I would be stone cold busted by someone asking me “So what is your favorite part of Cymbeline?” and responding with “The part where the scrappy underdog rocks it in her first cymbal solo.” So, NO, Shakespeare scholars, I haven’t read them all and I’ll immediately concede everyone’s superior knowledge on the Shakespeare catalog. I’ve read a few, though, and it’s not a contest but MACBETH WINS. I’m not just saying that because I am afraid Lady MacBeth will kill me in my sleep. This play just blows my hair back. I like Macbeth so much that I automatically love anything remotely Macbeth-related, including but not limited to getting blood on my hands and/or clothing, presidential election cycles, and haggis. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA just kidding I loathe presidential election cycles.

This story of an ambitious warrior who murders his way to the throne in ancient Scotland is ubiquitous. Even if you haven’t read Macbeth, you’ve bumped into it. You have, really. You can’t help it. It’s like pumpkin spice—it gets everywhere. “Something wicked this way comes”? From Macbeth. “Out, out, damned spot”? Macbeth. “Double, double, toil and trouble”, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury” and I’ll spare you but there is much more. This play has provided some of the most fundamental ways in which we communicate in the English language and it’s an amazingly long list from a relatively short work.  Macbeth was written around 1606, is the shortest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, and is really, really murdery.

There is something so satisfying about a great ghost story, and that’s where my love affair with this work germinates. It’s so moody and dark I’m convinced Shakespeare was in his Goth teen phase when he wrote it, hanging out in his room practicing black eyeliner application and bingelistening to Morrissey. At its core, Macbeth is about how our choices and our decisions haunt us, about how consequence becomes our fate. Shakespeare illustrates the failings that result from arrogance and hubris with creepy, psychic elements like bloody visions and sleepwalking. Also trees come to life and ambush people. (The first draft had a Loch Ness Monster subplot. Probably. Because Scotland). It’s a big pile of kilt-wearing spooky greatness.

What Up, Witches Can we talk about the witches? Because they make me fangirl HARD. There are three of them. They live in a cave, they dance for hours around a cauldron (see? Shakespeare even invented raves), and they probably haven’t brushed their teeth ever. If they meet an endangered species? They’ll cut it up for spellcasting. If you won’t share your snacks with them? They’ll find your husband and screw him to death. THEY DO NOT CARE. I realize all the death and mangling is supposed to turn me off but I love them so much. For all the forwardness and enlightenment that was the Elizabethan age, women were still regulated to very specific roles, and didn’t get many chances to be in charge of their own destinies. Shakespeare wrote these weird sisters as profoundly, refreshingly powerful. They are not here for small talk, thanks. They are here to terrify people and chew bubblegum, and they are all out of bubblegum. Chief among their interests is career counseling, evidenced by telling Macbeth that they have prophesized that he seems destined to wear a crown. This is awesome because gold is SO his color. (Compliance tip: Your yearly performance review should not contain “Ensure throne appropriation via aggressive death blueprint” as a development item because regicide is a very serious HR violation.)
Witches: Dude we had a vision you will be King
Macbeth: ok gonna go kill someone so it’ll happen
Witches: well that escalated quickly

Real Housewives of Scotland If you ever get cast on any Real Housewife series, I would not look to New Jersey or California for tips on how to best conduct your privileged life of social climbing. I’d go straight to Scotland for that playbook. If any couple in the history of couples was made for reality TV, it’s the Macbeths. They’re ambitious, morally ambiguous, and fashion-forward. (Macbeth begins and ends the play in full battle armor and I don’t want to live in a world where that kind of bold choice doesn’t at least get you a shot at Vanity Fair’s Best Dressed.) Lady Macbeth is ride or die when it comes to helping her husband climb that career ladder. As soon as she hears he’s got witch juju on his side, she’s ready to take it to the mat. Some long-time married couples put some spice back in their relationship by investing in vacation real estate, and some do it by murdering a bunch of people to ensure ascension to the throne. Guess which track is more likely to land you on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live?
Disclaimer: I don’t recommend political assassinations as a joint hobby. Or as a singular hobby. What is wrong with you? But if I did, I’d point you to the Macbeths and tell you that the number one indicator of success when you are trying to murder people to be King of Scotland is a supportive partner. One who shares your dreams. Someone who can pick you up when you are feeling down. Someone who can call on the gods to surgically excise all of her humanity so that stabbing someone doesn’t feel like a bad idea.
Macbeth: Some random women from the woods said I might be King someday
Lady Macbeth: seems legit, let’s kill people to make that happen
Macbeth: well that escalated quickly

Can’t See The Forest For The Treason Call it an Elizabethan special effect or an arboreal miracle. Either way, the witches’ prophecy about Macbeth staying King until “Birnam Wood do come to Dunsinane” isn’t the get out of jail free card that Macbeth thinks it is. TWIST: it’s a big Scottish loophole. Macbeth is assured by the witches that he’s King until the trees in a nearby Birnham forest can walk to his castle in Dunsinane. It never occurs to Macbeth to take this prophecy anything but literally, because Macbeth is an asshat. In fact, Macbeth’s exact line is (paraphrasing) “Pfft. Trees can’t walk. I’m hiring a contractor to renovate the throne room.” Meanwhile, back at the ranch, opposition leader MacDuff raises an army to attack Macbeth’s fortified castle. The army gets close enough to attack by disguising themselves with branches from Birnham forest. Think of it as the original manscaping. I love this scene. It’s so satisfying to see karma delivered in such a creative and decisive way. It’s also fun to imagine how the bagpipe player managed to look like a tree while playing his bagpipe. (In my version of this, there’s always a bagpipe player. Because Scotland. Sorry, Scotland.) MacDuff and his troops breach the castle, throw down some trash talk, and before you know it Macbeth’s been beheaded. Let that be a lesson-never piss off an armed tree. Malcolm, the rightful heir, takes the throne and we have our happy ending.
Malcolm: didst thou vanquish MacBeth, Thane Of Asshat?
MacDuff: totes!
Malcolm: I just can’t waaaaiiit to be King
MacDuff: I cut off his head, here ya go
Malcolm: well that…….EW.
MacDuff: not the line
Malcolm: kings make their own punchlines

Action Items
There is an interactive Macbeth HOW COOL: