Sunday, April 23, 2017

Words and Thoughts

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
that struts and frets its hour upon the stage,
and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing. 
- William Shakespeare

I heartily recommend to all - irrespective of your political leanings - devoting a period of time every day to reading a newspaper.  I am well aware of the fact that Al Gore's monstrosity is awash in sources of information, ranging in quality from reliable to "Hey, let's make some shit up and see how many hits and retweets we receive".  I subscribe to the New York Times, which arrives on my doorstep every morning after I have already left for work, but which I am able to read on-line (my print subscription gives me unfettered access to the on-line version of the paper) during the day when time permits, and at night when I return home.  I also read the New York Post as well as parts of the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post on-line daily.  

Does it take a bit of time every day to get through my required reading?  You bet.  Yet as someone whose day begins at 3:00 AM and typically consists of anywhere from twelve to sixteen hours of work, substantially more often than not I carve out the time necessary to do it.  If we opt to, any of us can use "lack of time" as our default excuse for not doing something.  None of us feels as if we have more time than we need.  The problem, of course, is not lack of time but, instead, lack of commitment to making productive use of time.  Pointing our finger at the former as opposed to the latter makes us feel better, I suppose.  We, the people, have grown accustomed to blaming someone and/or something other than ourselves for any misfortune that might cross our path during our day-to-day.  

If you opt to take the plunge and subscribe to the New York Times then perhaps one of your favorite features of the paper's on-line edition shall be the "Right and Left:  Partisan Writing You Shouldn't Miss" feature that appears every few days and directs you to other publications that span the full spectrum of these United States and opinion pieces that appear in them.  It not only provides a cross-section of viewpoints, it exposes you to language, its employment, and its deployment. As someone whose love for language far exceeds my ability to use it, I find that to be a gift of incalculable value. 

Today marks the birthday of William Shakespeare and, also, the anniversary of his death.  In his honor, a trip in the WABAC Machine, piloted on this particular jaunt by the late, great Alex McDougall, without whom I likely would not have developed the appreciation for Shakespeare that I have carried with me for close to forty years. 


Willie the Shakes & the McDougall Method

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”
-William Shakespeare

Willie the Shakes was born on this day four hundred and fifty years ago.  Were he still alive today, he would be really, really old.  He is not.  He died, in fact, at age fifty-two.  He had a playwright's sense of timing even in death - dying fifty-two years to the day from the day on which he was born.  Tough break for the stone mason at the cemetery I suppose having to carve a headstone that read "04/23/64 - 16" as opposed to two separate lines (one for the date of birth and one for the date of death).  

My education was not that different from the rest of the world I suppose in that at W-H, Shakespeare was thrust upon us in several different English classes.  The best time I had studying him was in 8th grade.  My English teacher was Alex McDougall, who was Martin and Ruth's father.  Mr. McDougall was a Scotsman and a trained actor who had performed in a variety of Shakespearan plays in small theatre companies in England and in the United States.  

In Mr. McDougall's class, we did not just read Shakespeare, we inhaled him.  Among the most vivid memories of my secondary school education are those of Mr. McDougall, who was a hair or two more than five feet tall, in full-on acting mode with his little face all scrinched up and his entire head turning beet red, which when set off against his stark white hair gave him the visage of the world's smallest killer tomato.  Picture if you will Linda Blair in The Exorcist both during and immediately after one of her 'episodes' and you have a pretty good understanding of the transformation that Mr. McDougall would undergo while reciting Shakespeare's words.  At the time, there were days when it veered off the tracks temporarily from entertaining to terrifying but it never once was anything less than enthralling. 

I enjoyed Shakespeare when I read his plays in high school.  Three-plus decades later I still do.  I think my appreciation for him is owed in significant part to the way in which the work was taught to me.  Alex McDougall's love for Shakespeare's work was genuine and absolute and he shared his love for it with those of us in his class with unbridled enthusiasm.   If there is a better way in which to teach such works to 13 and 14 year-old American school kids, I know not what it might be.  

For me, the McDougall Method made all the difference.   

“Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.”
- William Shakespeare
"Julius Caesar" 


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