Friday, September 09, 2016

The Broncos vs. The Bard

A writer, dead for 400 years, caused me to miss the first half of the Denver Broncos season opener.

I know, where are my priorities? William Shakespeare vs. two NFL teams that battled it out in Super Bowl 50?  Denver, our southern neighbor, was at a fever pitch for weeks leading up to the game. My Colorado hometown may no longer be a cow town but it still bleeds orange and blue every fall. Three Super Bowl championships, multiple Super Bowl appearances (we don't talk much about the first three or the one in February 2014), many league championships and wins over the dreaded Raiders. I was a jock in high school and a sports reporter as a young man. Sports are in my blood.

But so is Shakespeare. My accountant father's library still had his college Shakespeare texts but nothing on finance and economics. I was more interested in reading first-hand accounts of World War II. Dad seemed happy that his eldest child loved reading and books. I think he was a frustrated academic, one who would have been more comfortable surrounded by books than IRS rules and regs. Not a teacher but /probably a researcher, as he wasn't all that good with people.

Shakespeare's First Folio is touring the U.S., courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. Actually, six of the first folios are touring and one landed at the State Museum in Cheyenne. Published in 1623, it is kept under lock and key in a climate-controlled glass case watched over by a security guard. The pages are open to Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be" speech. The text is small and difficult to read, not only because of its size but because the language -- Early Modern English -- is arcane to us. Here's a sample:

A bad quarto was basically a bootlegged copy of the script, written hurriedly by an audience member or recalled later by actors. Think of a bootlegged copy of, say, a Grateful Dead concert in the 1970s. The good quarto was a copy of the play taken from the source. The first folio is the 1623 version that featured 36 plays, 18 of which had never before appeared in print.

I didn't have to read the fine print to know the value of what I saw. The first folio saved 16 of Shakespeare's plays from oblivion. They include Macbeth, The Tempest, Henry VIII and Twelfth Night. Forsooth, what would Hollywood have done without the three witches or Prospero's island? I would never had been treated to a nude version of Macbeth's witches at Gainesville's original Hippodrome Theatre. My life would be leff without it. 

If you want to talk monetary value, a first folio was sold at auction in 2001 for $6.1 million. I'll take two! When it was hot off the presses, a first folio went for about a pound. In today's money, that's somewhere between $150-$250.

But it's not the money really now is it? As the State Museum exhibit points out, Shakespeare and his plays have given us phrases that we use every day and countless hours of entertainment at the movies. I believe that I first heard lines from Romeo and Juliet in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Every state boasts a Shakespeare company, usually one that tours performances every summer. In Wyoming, that's the Wyoming Shakespeare Company out of Lander. I recall a memorable version of King Lear on the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens lawn. Nature provided its own thunder and lightning for the famous storm scene with King Lear and The Fool. Here's Lear: 
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulfurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' th' world,
Crack nature’s molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!
Now that's a storm. 

Last night was rounded out with a presentation by UW Prof Peter Parolin: "From the Fringes to the Folio: Crossing Borders with Shakespeare in Life, on Stage, and in the Globalized World." Fascinating talk, and I was surprised on how many stayed after the food and wine and entertainment to hear an academic speak. I had not thought about "migration as one of Shakespeare's principal themes." But Parolin has, at length. He accompanied it with  a PowerPoint presentation, his first, which acted as a helpful assistant to the talk. 

I had not thought of migration and immigration as big Shakespeare topics. But crossing borders happens a lot. The Merchant of Venice and Othello are good examples, with their "foreigners" as key characters. Parolin even quoted a brief snippet from Shylock's speech: "In Aleppo once..." The Syrian city has been in the news lately as it suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune -- and the forgetfulness of presidential candidates. 

Thanks to everyone at Wyoming Cultural Resources for bringing the folio to Cheyenne and staging the event. The First Folio will be in town through the end of September. 

I made it back to my Smart TV to watch the second half, in which the Broncos staged a comeback. With 9 seconds left, the Carolina Panthers kicker nailed a field goal but it was negated by a Broncos timeout. The second kick went wide to the left. That kicker was feeling some slings and arrows last night on Twitter. In Denver, they were partying like Falstaff and Prince Hal in 1402. 

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