I Sometimes Feel

I sometimes feel
That the shoes I’m wearing are not mine.
But your shoes are mine.
The shoes in the corner of your room,
The ones with the scuff near the pinky toe,
Made when you boarded the bus
And your toe was snagged
By the metal stripping on the last step.
The snag was made
By that crazy encyclopedia salesman with the curly hair
Who insisted on riding the bus
With his goods in tow,
Laboriously lugging his huge metal book case,
Day after day.
You knew it would lead to trouble for you.
And it did.
You remember that day well.
Watching the bus driver look
More often into the rear view mirror
Than on the road ahead.
It was the day you first noticed
He had a tattoo
And you figured the guy was in the Navy,
Because it was 1963, and your father always told you
Only hoodlums and Navy men had tattoos.
And you hated the thought of his being a hoodlum.
Remember?
You were in such an irritable mood
Because you had scuffed your shoe,
When you asked him
About the “ink stains” on his arm
He told you he didn’t want to see you
On his bus again.
And he didn’t.
You must remember.
I remember.
I sometimes feel
As though I am everyone,
Every single person that ever lived.
I sometimes feel
As though I am everyone else
But me.

Creating a Backstory

Michael Armenia in the role of Federzoni, the lens grinder, in “Life of Galileo”, 2013.

Federzoni is a lens grinder. That’s about all Bertolt Brecht gives us in his play, “Life of Galileo” which was written in 1938. Although from the text of the play, we can surmise few things more, notably that he is a student and assistant to Galileo Galilei, the protagonist. And unlike Galileo and other assistants, Federzoni cannot read Latin. Yet, with no formal education, he is passionate about learning. So, who is Federzoni and why is it important that we know such a trivial character?

Federzoni isn’t the easiest name to pronounce merely because it isn’t familiar. As it is all that Brecht gave us, let’s give him a first name and call him Enrico. You know what? Let’s take it a step further and give him a nickname.: Enni or Enny or perhaps Rico. I did not do this much when I played Federzoni in 2013. But, I did create a backstory, just enough to give an identity or individualization for a character whose stage presence was brief.

A lens grinder naturally grinds glass. And Galileo knew Enrico was one of the best lens grinders in all of Venice, making eyeglasses fashionable since their invention in Italy at the beginning of the 14th century. Enrico was skilled at his craft, but everyone makes mistakes. One day at the grinding wheel he was distracted and the wheel propelled fragments of glass into his right eye, blinding him. And so, I wore an eye patch as a physical manifestation of the story and in gave the character a distinguishing feature. So, what made this skilled lens grinder lose his focus (the pun is only partially intended)?

It was his passion for knowledge and learning. He was a true philosopher – he loved (philo) wisdom (sophia). But without a formal education, the best he could do at the time was to work with Galileo and vicariously satiate his hunger for a universe revealed by Copernicus to be heliocentric. He did not read the works of Copernicus in Latin, but he had read De l’Infinito, Universo e Mondi (On the Infinite, Universe and Worlds) written by Giordano Bruno in 1584, which among Bruno’s other works was the most damaging to the world view of the Catholic church.

[Bruno connected Copernicus’ heliocentric theory with the idea of other populated worlds orbiting other stars. So, not only was the earth no longer the center of the universe, ‘man’ was no longer at the center of the universe. Vatican alarms went off! You can just imagine theologians pacing: “And what of man’s God and the savior? Was Jesus Christ the savior for other people on an infinite number of worlds? Are their other saviors for these worlds? The Bible doesn’t speak of these worlds, only man and our world. And the Bible is God’s word. So, no! This heresy cannot be allowed. ” Copernicus’s works were not prohibited by the Vatican, but their teaching was. Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600. Galileo recanted and was put under house arrest.]

Let’s now conclude as much of the backstory that I gave to Enrico. Although Bruno had written many works in Latin, he had also written a number of dialogues in Italian, his mother tongue. For he truly believed that in order to effect the religious reform which he desired, his work needed to be accessible by peasants and farmers as much as the clergy and scholars. The concepts in De l’Infinito, Universo e Mondi absolutely fascinated Enrico. The day after he first read the dialogue he could not help visualizing these other worlds that Bruno suggested. Even at the grinding wheel these thoughts dominated. While his mind’s eye saw visions of world’s revolving around what had been previously thought to be the ‘fixed’ stars, his real eye saw shards of glass as his hands relaxed and slipped off the wheel. One could say (to corrupt a phrase from another brilliant man not yet born at that time) he ‘saw a universe in grains of sand.’

Creating a backstory can be a formidable instrument in an actor’s process of forging a character. No matter how large or small the role, there is infinite room for a backstory; limitations exist only in the actor’s mind. In fact, the smaller the role, the larger the backstory should be. Non-speaking characters should have the largest backstories – at least, that is what I would encourage my cast members to explore throughout the rehearsal process. Write it. Draw it. Paint it. Sculpt it. Talk about it. What results could be described as magic; with an audience having no knowledge or sensory contact to any backstory, they are still affected by it through the actor’s performance. In the alchemical process of creating a character, the backstory is the philosopher’s stone added into the alembic while the heat of an actor’s work is applied. The backstory once instilled in the actor’s imagination is transformed on stage into authenticity, belief, truth – all which can be exuded merely through a posture, a glare in the eye, a facial tic, or her gait as she exits stage left.

There’s no end to a backstory. It can be transformed into a work of art. I’ve taken one to that extreme. A backstory of a very minor character in a tense drama was flushed out into an epilogue, and finally into a short play called A Streetcar Named Napoleon.

So, who’s your character? Write your story. It doesn’t need to live on the written page or in a blog (although that could enhance the effect). A home in your imagination is all that’s required to bring magic to the stage.

Meaningful Synchronicity: Enameling

Looking through my art books today in the throes of reducing my personal library by at least fifty percent (what I call “The Great Culling of 2020” which I’d like to write about later), I pulled from one box ‘The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini’ illustrated by Salvador Dali. I had saved that book for decades, as well as ‘Essays’ by Michel de Montaigne (also illustrated by Salvador Dali) because the illustrations are outstanding, some of Dali’s most magnificent work! As it was highly prized by two of my favorite mentors, Giordano Bruno and William Shakespeare, Montaigne’s ‘Essays’ is on my short list to read this year and awaits my attention on a shelf in my bedroom . But as I held Cellini’s book in my hands, I wondered if I shouldn’t also consider reading it, too. Perhaps the fact that Dali illustrated both books speaks to the virtue of Cellini’s writing, as comparable to that of Montaigne. But the illustrations were the only reason that this autobiography was in my box of art books in the first place.

I decided to open the book to an arbitrary page and read a little. Here is the first sentence that caught my eye, the first sentence of the second paragraph just above the middle of the page:

Click image to see higher resolution

I must not omit the exquisite art of enamelling, in which I have never known and one excel, save a Florentine, our countryman, called Amerigo. I did not know him, but was well acquainted with his incomparable masterpieces. Nothing in any part of the world or by any craftsman that I have seen, approached the divine beauty of their workmanship.

I then flipped pages, read an occasional sentence, and it did seem more an more intriguing as I went along. But why should I submit to reading the biography of this 16th century Italian artist? Why not another? So I set the book aside with the others I planned to keep and repack into the box.

The next book I pulled out, one I often used as a reference from time to time, was ‘Outlines of Chinese Symbolism & Art Motives’ by C.A.S. Williams. Differences in book subjects as well as their cultural disparity made this consecutive book selection from the box seem quite random to me. . . or so it would seem. I opened to an arbitrary page from which I would also begin a journey of flipping from spot to spot. I opened to page 174. Imagine my surprise when I read the section title in the middle of the page , “ENAMELWARE”, and no doubt its equivalent in Chinese characters just below. If that doesn’t put a tingle in your spine, know this: the first sentence of the second paragraph begins with the phrase, “the art of enameling.” That sentence reads as follows:

Click image to see higher resolution

The art of enameling is said to have been introduced into China from Constantinoble by the Arabs, and the Chinese term Fa lan t’ieh, “iron of Fa-lan,” is said to be derived from Folin, a medieval name for Stamboul, though others believe that Fa lan is equivalent to Frank or France.

After the stun wore off, I set both books aside with the intention of writing about this uncanny synchronicity. So here we are. One can take a sign in many ways, especially when the path is indirect, obtuse, and protracted. So I choose to give meaning to this synchronicity and that meaning is a simple message: yes, there is something for me in this book – find it.

Did Shakespeare read Cellini’s autobiography? Did any of Cellini’s philosophy make it into Shakespeare’s works? Did Shakespeare transform any experience of Cellini’s work into his own uniVERSE? (That is intended as more of a provocative question than a pun…but it’s also punny!)

Now I will put the book of Chinese symbolism back in the box and make a new home for ‘The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini’ in my bedroom, in a spot right next to Montaigne’s ‘Essays’.


Scattered light, scattered worlds.

In early morn when scattered light doth fall
Onto the grooved and blemished hardwood floor,
Suspended in the liquid air in dance,
In frolic, frenzy and delight, are specs
Of worlds and universes only seen
In open hearts, occulted to the eyes
And ears and other senses of the mind.
Intuit life and laughter in abundance there
Until the rising sun disturbs the spell
And charm of the enchantment suddenly.
Sublime for merely seconds and just then,
As nature’s subterfuge makes all this seem
A dream, the dream itself but fades away.
A calm and stillness lingers for awhile.

Hamlet: Discerning the Real Tragedy

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is often considered the quintessential Elizabethan revenge tragedy, a victim’s quest for retribution against the villain who committed foul play, most popular in England in the 16th and 17th centuries. We typically expect the protagonist to go through obstacles in the planning and execution of revenge, securing the means and opportunity which develop as the plot thickens. However, Shakespeare does not dwell on this aspect as much as he does on Hamlet’s spiritual or existential crisis. The only planning Hamlet sees to fruition is the determination of his uncle’s guilt and that the Ghost (of his late father) is an honest one. With opportunities for action, Hamlet instead is immersed in his philosophy, including his own observation that he is delaying in revenge and he himself doesn’t know why – “I do not know why yet I live to say ‘This thing’s to do’, since I have cause, and will, and strength, and means to do ’t.” And it is my contention that, despite the deaths of eight characters during the course of the play (three of them offstage), the only true tragedy is Ophelia’s madness and her subsequent suicide (or a death she passively accepted due to an unhinged mind), described by Gertrude in detail:

Ophelia,
Sir John Everett Millais
(1829–1896)

There, on the pendant boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And mermaid-like a while they bore her up,
Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element. But long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.
IV.vii.

Each of the other deaths, regardless of where on the spectrum one places the diabolical planning and violence, was a result that must include factors of the victim’s own conscience. It was karmic consequence; in other words their fates were their own doing. Karma (Sanskrit: कर्म ) means action, work, or deed. Poor Ophelia’s was oppressed by her father, slightly less by her brother, and spurned and emotionally abused (if not traumatized) by her lover, Hamlet. She knowingly allowed her father to spy on her and Hamlet, and lied about it to Hamlet; yet this was merely in obeyance of her father’s commands. Circumstances beyond her control took her brother away to France and then her father’s life. One could imagine the final straw being that her mad lover was the one that killed her father.

The play does end with what one could construe as act of revenge in Hamlet bringing about the death of the King, Claudius. Yet, I believe that between the time Hamlet was sent under guard to England (a trip interrupted by pirates) and his return, he reached a new level of awareness, a certain illumination that elevated his spirit beyond the existential crisis that was burgeoning since his father’s death. While he doesn’t speak of the Ghost again, there is one last vestige of the spirit of revenge which I contend is merely a rhetorical remark to Horatio:

“Does it not, think thee, stand me now upon—
He that hath killed my king and whored my mother,
Popped in between th’ election and my hopes,
Thrown out his angle for my proper life,
And with such cozenage—is ’t not perfect conscience
To quit him with this arm? And is ’t not to be damned
To let this canker of our nature come
In further evil?”

While he seems no longer prompted to revenge, he does fear the King’s plans, that the fencing match against Laertes may be a trap.

HORATIO You will lose, my lord.
HAMLET I do not think so. Since he went into France, I have been in continual practice. I shall win at the odds; but thou wouldst not think how ill all’s here about my heart. But it is no matter.

But he will meet it to whatever end. And when Horatio offers to call off the bout, Hamlet says, “…we defy augury. There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come – the readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be. “

When Hamlet finds out from the dying Laertes that the anointed rapier and poisoned cup was the Kings idea, Hamlet rages against the king, effectively killing him twice”. He runs him through with the rapier so that he may feel “the venom,” and in addition pours the remains of the poisoned cup down his throat, saying “follow my mother.” It seems to say, “This is for me (stab) and this is for my mother (pour).” At no time at this point does he address the King’s crime of the murder of his father; it wasn’t on his mind. Thus, it is my contention that after all that was said and done, Hamlet did not ultimately avenge his father’s death, i.e. he did not fulfill the ghost’s request for vengeance in the spirit with which he was originally incited.

If Hamlet did not die, would his worldview have been like that of a nihilist, existence in a cosmos void of meaning? I truly believe we can never know from Shakespeare’s text. He accepts that there is “a certain providence in the fall of a sparrow” and “a divinity that shapes our ends rough hew them how we will.” However, this would not preclude him from assigning virtue or creating meaning to his own actions in the future. Alas, he did not live long enough for this second phase of the existential crisis.

From Nietzsche’s “The Birth of Tragedy,” we read,

“In this sense the Dionysian man resembles Hamlet: both have once looked truly into the essence of things, they have gained knowledge, and nausea inhibits action; for their action could not change anything in the eternal nature of things; they feel it to be ridiculous or humiliating that they should be asked to set right a world that is out of joint. Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion: that is the doctrine of Hamlet, not that cheap wisdom of Jack the Dreamer who reflects too much and, as it were, from an excess of possibilities does not get around to action. Not reflection, no–true knowledge, an insight into the horrible truth, outweighs any motive for action, both in Hamlet and in the Dionysian man.”

Hamlet reveals his understanding of this, that his “action could not change anything in the eternal nature of things,” in his final private colloquy with Horatio at the start of the last scene in Act V, Scene ii. And had he survived, Nietzsche leaves us with a glimpse of a possible future for Hamlet if he had survived.

“Here, when the danger to his will is greatest, art approaches as a saving sorceress, expert at healing. She alone knows how to turn these nauseous thoughts about the horror or absurdity of existence into notions with which one can live: these are the sublime as the artistic taming of the horrible, and the comic as the artistic discharge of the nausea of absurdity.”

To consider Hamlet’s alternative future would be speculative. But for the author of this essay, art is indeed the saving sorceress, the sole possessor of alchemical secrets capable of transforming the horror and absurdity of human existence into a tolerable life.

Hamlet: Plot Revealed Early in the First Quarto (1603)

If you have read and/or know the plot of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, you will have no doubt wondered whether or not Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, knew any of the villainy committed by her new husband, Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius. Questions such as “was she complicit” or “did she even know that Claudius killed her late husband, the elder Hamlet” make for good literary criticism and broaden the dramatic range an actor may explore when playing her part. Decisions have to be made to justify words and actions for all characters.

Regardless of the publisher and edition of the play you’ve read, it is most likely that you will recall a sequence of events that follows the killing of Polonius, and it goes something like this: Hamlet is sent to England under the supervision of his school chums, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ; they are given a sealed written commission to the King of England by the King of Denmark (Claudius) whereby Hamlet is to be executed upon arrival; Hamlet suspecting as much secretly discovers the commission, alters it to instead have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern killed and reseals the commission with his father’s seal which he had with him; and by happenstance, Hamlet was able to escape the ship by sneaking aboard a pirate ship that had overtaken them on the way. Upon his Return Hamlet shares this only with Horatio and sends a letter to the King by way of a messenger, not Horatio himself, requesting leave to see his “kingly eyes” and to “recount the occasion” of his “sudden and more strange return.” I will stop here at the end of Act IV. Of all the published editions of Hamlet in modern times this is the story as we know it. HOWEVER, if you were to go by the First Quarto, the copy of the play first published in 1603, you would have a very different scenario and there is a problematic arc of the story that doesn’t get resolved.

The First Quarto (1603) differs from all the subsequent Quartos (1604, 1605, 1611, 1622) – as well as the First Folio edition of 1623 – in a few ways. It is roughly half the length and much of the dialogue is, frankly for Shakespeare, quite bad. It has often been called the “Bad” Quarto. It is actually very useful in studying the play, but it would clearly be a “bad” version to perform. When considering the whole of the text, it reads as though it were copied from the memory of a minor actor who had performed the play (perhaps someone who played Marcellus) or, perhaps, a prompter who had attended as many performances. A few scenes resemble the other editions, but much is quite different. For example, the famous soliloquy that begins, “To be, or not to be, that is the question: / Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, is nauseatingly paraphrased as follows: “To be, or not to be, Ay there’s the point, / To Die, to sleep, is that all? Aye all: / No, to sleep, to dream, aye marry there it goes,” to which I must ask – what…the…hell…is…that??? It’s neither indicative of Shakespeare’s poetic genius nor the incredible memory of an actor that played the role of Hamlet.

What follows is the brief scene that not only reveals to Gertrude the King’s plot to kill Hamlet whilst in England, but it also reveals that Hamlet rewrote and resealed the order to have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern killed upon their arrival in England. Despite appearing to accept this information as fact, Gertrude’s behavior towards the King and Hamlet does not seem to differ from the other editions.

Enter Horatio and the Queene.

HoratioMadame, your son is safe arrived in Denmark.
This letter I even now received of him,
Whereas he writes how he escaped the danger,
And subtle treason that the king had plotted,
Being crossed by the contention of the winds,
He found the packet sent to the king of England ,
Wherein he saw himself betrayed to death,
As at his next conversation with your grace,
He will relate the circumstance at full.

Queen: Then I perceive there’s treason in his looks
That seemed to sugar o’re his villainy:
But I will soothe and please him for a time,
For murderous minds are always jealous,
But know not you Horatio where he is?

Horatio: Yes Madame, and he hath appointed me
To meet him on the east side of the city
Tomorrow morning.

QueenO fail not, good Horatio , and withal, commend me
A mothers care to him, bid him a while
Be wary of his presence, lest that he
Fail in that he goes about.

Horatio:Madam, never make doubt of that:
I think by this the news be come to court:
He is arrived, observe the king, and you shall
Quickly find, Hamlet being here,
Things fell not to his mind.

Queen: But what became of Guildenstern and Rosencrantz ?

Horatio: He being set ashore, they went for England ,
And in the packet there writ down that doom
To be performed on them pointed for him:
And by great chance he had his father’s seal,
So all was done without discovery.

Queen: Thanks be to heaven for blessing of the prince,
Horatio once again I take my leave,
With thousand mothers blessings to my son.

Horatio:. Madam adieu.

So, what do you think of this undeveloped arc? In all likelihood it was a confused and poorly remembered scene on the part of whoever supplied the publisher with the manuscript. But could this short scene be a remnant (it never appears in print again) of another version of Hamlet with an alternate ending? It is a point of deviation whereby one could stage a slightly less tragic finale in terms of body count, and perhaps our protagonist could actually live to tell his own tale.

For me, this is fascinating and a prompt for more research.

The Path To The Philosopher’s Stone


Michael Maier, Atlanta Fugiens, Epigramma XXI

While I’ve been on a hiatus from my magnum opus (a speculative historical drama about love, magic, witchcraft and the wars of religion in Renaissance Europe), I am recalling an essay I wrote which is as applicable now in planning next year’s all-female production of Hamlet as Shakespeare is to my drama — you’ll have to wait to read about that! But, I promise that once my Hamlet obsession is dissipated next year, I will resolve to finish writing my play. After all, my Latin teacher has been eagerly nudging me to finish so that she can read/see it before she shuffles off the mortal coil.

Without further ado, here’s that essay.

Beyond Feminism: The Path To The Philosopher’s Stone

"Through Love all that is bitter will sweet. 
Through Love all that is copper will be gold.
Through Love all dregs will turn to purest wine.
Through Love all pain will turn to medicine.
Through Love the dead will all become alive.
Through Love the king will turn into a slave!"

― Rumi

When I read the above poem, the first image in my mind was that of the elusive philosopher’s stone, the alchemists’ most precious source of trans­formative power. The words of Rumi’s poem make patently obvious that love is a catalyst for transformation.

“What is religion if not love. Through love 
one sees the heart, where lies ever hidden
the philosopher's stone."
― Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa

Only in seeing women in an egalitarian light ­ and, I would argue, beyond egalitarian distinction, taking men and women not separately but as a man­/woman, masculine/­feminine, yin/­yang-system of complementary perspectives ­ can we, humankind, achieve a spiritual transformation of a higher order. Yet, it seems to me that since the dawn of dogma, the world’s religions have suppressed this very necessary ascension while providing fertile ground for misogyny to flourish within what is still largely a patriarchal society. Why is clear to see: the perpetuation of a dualist view of the universe. Yet, even at a time when Christian dogma taught that a woman’s sole virtue was the viability of her womb to bear a child, Renaissance women had a defender in the unlikeliest of people, a theologian by the name of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. In 1529, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486 – 1535), a German polymath who was also physician as well theologian, wrote De nobilitate et praecellentia foeminae sexus (On the Nobility and ​Preeminence ​of the Feminine Sex)​ in which using Christian doctrine he argues, “No one who is not utterly blind can fail to see that God gathered all the beauty of which the whole world is capable of in woman…” and “Woman is therefore the completion, perfection, happiness, the blessing and glory of man.​”

Before this in 1518 Agrippa successfully defended a woman against an accusation of witchcraft. In 1617 Michael Maier, a physician and alchemist to Rudolf II of the Holy Roman Empire, published a treatise with a lengthy title that we will abbreviate Atalanta Fugiens. In it he has an emblematic figure and some verse in Latin which is available in many translations and one follows:

Let man and woman grow a circle 
From which grows a square;
Around these put a triangle,
Embed them all in a sphere:
Then you will have the philosopher's stone.
― Michael Maier, Atlanta Fugiens, Epigramma XXI

What I think Rumi, Agrippa and Michael Maier were onto, is the heart of a true philosopher’s stone. Only, it is not a material one ­ It is a spiritual one with no less of a real essence and form.

Upon a staunch cornerstone of feminism we can build a foundation. But, this foundation is not our goal. It is means to spiritual growth. We must go beyond feminism, beyond chauvinism (male and female), beyond dualism, and only then will we see our relationships as something more than the sum of the parts. To know is to love. Thus, through love we may no longer exclude, but include. There will be no us versus them. Gender equality ceases to be an issue once we know and love each other as we know and love ourselves. We shall not see the material shells of the sexes nor shall we weigh differences with similarities because regardless of whoever we look upon, we will see ourselves, one spirit manifesting as material multiplicity.

The Hamlet Doctrine

In over 400 years of literary criticism, Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, must hold a position among the most analyzed. And beyond the gamut of academic fields from which many scholars have shared their perspectives, it would surprise me to discover if an article or book had not been written by a fishmonger about the relevance of the play to their profession. You may rest easy and release your breath. At this time I have no plans to add my own thoughts on Hamlet. Compiling an unabridged edition of the play for performance next year and directing the production has me busy enough.

Now in the course of preproduction, I try to read a different book on the subject each week and this week’s encounter was Stay Illusion: The Hamlet Doctrine by Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster, respectively a philosopher and psychoanalyst, husband and wife team who published the book in 2013. It was an intellectual romp, both stimulating and stupefying because of the analytical depth explored in both of the authors fields. At least it was so for me. My familiarity with Freud is limited: while myths are useful as analogies in analysis, I pretty much reject the Oedipus Complex as a strong model of human behavior. Besides, I’m much more Jungian. Yet, there seems to be some threads of value in the arras which Freud has weaved regarding Hamlet, at least insofar as the authors have presented. So, clearly I must re-read and absorb more Freud, particularly regarding Hamlet. Similarly, my studies of the classics are more than rusty – they are ancient in themselves. I can recall large portions of Hamlet’s soliloquies which I memorized in 1981, but none of the concepts of Euripides or Socrates which I read in college in 1984. So, I had to access the encyclopedia as I tried to figure out why I identified so much more with the Dionysian man than the Apollonian man. Again, the authors intrigued me; I was captivated but confused. The book is an invitation for me to go further into the philosophical and psychological aspects of Hamlet, far beyond what is essentially needed to direct my vision of the play. And by this, I mean this book has the potential to help me with further personal growth.

Stay Illusion: The Hamlet Doctrine was one of the dozen or so books I’ve borrowed this month from the public library via the interlibrary loan program. Unfortunately this copy must be returned, but not before I write down all the references, quotes and revelations indicated by the sticky note page markers you can see in the above photo. I want to reread it again later this year, but I will definitely have to obtain a copy for my home library.

I have so much to say about the portions of Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy which these authors have included in the book; it deserves an essay in itself. However, I must first study Nietzsche’s work in its complete form. With only two semesters of German and so many years ago, I think I will read it in English. (But not until after the OISS all-female production of Hamlet next year. No more distractions, please!)

Nietzsche wrote:

“In this sense the Dionysian man resembles Hamlet: both have once looked truly into the essence of things, they have gained knowledge, and nausea inhibits action; for their action could not change anything in the eternal nature of things; they feel it to be ridiculous or humiliating that they should be asked to set right a world that is out of joint. Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion: that is the doctrine of Hamlet, not that cheap wisdom of Jack the Dreamer who reflects too much and, as it were, from an excess of possibilities does not get around to action. Not reflection, no–true knowledge, an insight into the horrible truth, outweighs any motive for action, both in Hamlet and in the Dionysian man.”

And in me! Finally, someone can define a fragment of my existential angst in terms that resonate. Who would have thought that it would be Nietzsche? Alan Watts, of course. But, Nietzsche? Noted. Onward.

“Here, when the danger to his will is greatest, art approaches as a saving sorceress, expert at healing. She alone knows how to turn these nauseous thoughts about the horror or absurdity of existence into notions with which one can live: these are the sublime as the artistic taming of the horrible, and the comic as the artistic discharge of the nausea of absurdity.

Yes! Art is my salvation, the muses – all of them – my saviors. (Don’t get me started on saviors: I am my only savior. While rejecting solipsism, I believe all of reality — all that is within the realm of my psychical existence — is but my fantasy. That means I’m the only alchemist who can transform my disgust into an Epicurean delight. The infinite and eternal unity — be it the Brahma of the Hindus, the monism of the neoplatonists, the God of Bruno and Spinoza with all the trappings and the suits they don — is filtered through the only singular psychical experience that may said to exist objectively, revealing the finite and temporal multitudes of psychical experiences which our egos call our subjective realities . And in this is Dionysus and Apollo, two different sides of the same coin which is, ultimately, an illusion that we beg to “stay” for fear of our identity being equated to nothing. As usual, I wax a digression.) Suffice it to say, while I have been only in recent years able to see the sublime through the banal, it is only through art that I can overcome this existential crisis. The dots are connecting. The veil is dropping for me, but to relate it I must erect a curtain and bring my reality to the stage; don the sock & buskin, cleave the general ear with horrid speech, make mad the guilty, appall the free, confound the ignorant and amaze indeed the very faculties of eyes and ears.

Stay Illusion: The Hamlet Doctrine is an analytical tool I plan to use now and again, to explore Hamlet and better find my voice. After Hamlet, I will continue with OISS and Shakespeare to my bitter end. But, I will return immediately to my magnum opus, the epic Renaissance historical drama with Bruno as a protagonist. And the relationship between Shakespeare and my play are so striking, I can hardly contain my passion.

In the Eye of a Wasp

I’ve recognized that when I’m reading my mind occasionally leaps ahead of my eyes to anticipate what words may follow. Am I alone in this? Is it impatience? I don’t know. It’s clearly possible to read something and misinterpret the intended meaning. I also find that the results can be fairly creative if not provocative.

Knowing the Orcas Island Shakespeare Society would be reading William Shakespeare’s play, The Comedy of Errors, I was re-familiarizing myself with the text beforehand when I came across an interesting metaphor.

In Act II, scene ii, lines 216-217, the character Adriana speaks with the man she believes to be her husband: I read,

Come, come, no longer will I be a fool, 
To put the finger in the eye of a wasp

I stopped reading, looked up from the page and attempted to bridge the context of Adriana’s speech with what Shakespeare might have meant. I thought by “in the eye of a wasp” he might mean something akin to “poking or stirring a hornet’s nest”, but even more particular, with cleverly adding the hue of futility one would find in actually trying to poke or point to something so small as a wasp’s eye. It seemed a fool’s errand to me. Shakespeare never ceases to amaze me! But, then I thought, “Let me read this again more slowly.” And so I did.

Come,   come,   no   longer   will   I   be   a   fool,
To   put   the   finger   in   the   eye   and   weep

To put the finger in the eye AND WEEP!

Where in hell did the WASP go?

‘Twas ne’er in mine eye’s sight,
And e’er in my mind’s eye.

Revisiting Rothko

For many years I never cared for the works of Mark Rothko ( 1903-1970). While I have a strong affinity for abstract art, I never considered his work to qualify as art anymore than fabric swatches or Pantone color cards. Granted – art is subjective and its value can only be assigned by the observer. But, I balked for reading that someone paid $86.9 million dollars in 2012 for a few shades of orange paint on canvas (Rothko’s 1961 painting, “Orange, red, yellow”)

Google “Rothko” and the results show the images that come to mind when I hear his name. Over the years, I would walk briskly through museum rooms in which his work hung. I admit it is possible to look at an egg yolk and see a chicken. However, my imagination is enough; I do not need to look at the yolk with my eyes and certainly cannot conceive of paying more money for one than would be necessary to save a small country from bankruptcy after a natural disaster.

But I never studied Rothko from the perspective of art history, and never considered the fact that, like most artists, he went through various periods – perhaps crucibles. Furthermore I cannot blame a single artist for what collectors are willing to pay for their work.

Today, for the second time this year, I discovered an early Rothko work that I found arresting, beautiful and full of something extraordinary – I could study it for hours. Both times it happened to be the same painting, the “Rites of Lilith” created in 1945, and that is why I’ve decided that it is important enough to document it now.

Rites of Lilith Photo
Rites of Lilith, 1945 by Mark Rothko

It seems one has to become an art historian to appreciate the genius often dulled or obscured by an artist’s exposure to life’s tribulations and the passage of time. The first time I saw this image, it was accompanied by a quote of Rothko’s which I will include here:

“In art, as in biology, there is a phenomenon that can be described as mutation, in which appearances radically change at a tempo much more rapid than that at which they normally proceed. As in the case of biology, we have no means to determine the process by which this radical change occurs. Yet we do know that it is a reaction to a form of congestion. It is a desperate change due to the arrival at a point where the corollaries to a situation are exhausted, when the stimulus to additional growth is sluggish and a rapid rejuvenation is needed so that art, through disuse, does not atrophy in much the same way as an unused human organ. Here art must attain a new start if it is to survive. Then, assiduously, it renews its traditions by marriage with alien traditions, by the reexamination of its own processes, and by those means reestablishes contact again with its own roots. It is in this way that new plastic worlds are born. For art, like a race, cannot inbreed very long without losing its incentives to continue; it needs the rejuvenation of new experiences and new blood. These mutations, it must be clear, however, do not constitute a change in properties, or mean that art has discarded its past. On the contrary, mutation involves a more conscious evaluation of art’s inheritance and the redirection of that inheritance into channels where it can be continued with greater force.”
― Mark Rothko, The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art

It is hard for me to envisage the chain of mutations leading one from works like “Rites of Lilith” to those like “Orange, red, yellow”, which appear to be a banishment of dynamic geometry in favor of plain and vibrant color textures that seem to carry a much simpler message. The later work of Rothko seems to be no longer a complex product of alchemical processing, but a mere question: “what is it that you think you see here?” It’s hard to imagine the progression, but the National Gallery of Art gives us a brief look at the brilliance of Rothko’s early years.

[See https://www.nga.gov/features/mark-rothko-introduction/mark-rothko-early-years.html]

I suppose I am now a Rothko fan.