“A BEACHED WHALE” IS A “STROKE OF GOOD LUCK”. The end of the year Economist had an article comparing the efforts of the French to keep their language pure and the efforts in Iceland to keep their language as close as possible to old Norse. In contrast to the 40 immortals of the French Academy, the language planning council in Iceland relies on consultations with fifty unofficial groups of enthusiasts. As an example of the Icelandic approach to adapting Old Norse words to modern life, the Economist gives the example of the coining of a new word in the 1960’s for a “computer”. The new word, “tölva”, combined “tala”, the word for “number” and “völva”, an old word for a prophetess.
The Economist concludes with the word for a “a lucky windfall”, which preserves the outlook of the historical way of life in Iceland: “hvalreki”. The word means: “a beached whale”—which would provide months of food.
EMMA RICE AND THE GLOBE—-EPILOGUE. This article by Michael Billington in the Guardian (July 17, 2017) analyzes the choice of Michelle Terry as the new director of the Globe. She has performed a number of Shakespearean roles, from Rosalind in As You Like It to the title role in Henry V. Billington praises her “profound understanding of Shakespeare’s language”. He singles out Terry’s playing of Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech as directed not to his army but to a single soldier who wishes to leave. (This seems to me both valid and original).
In this article in the Guardian (January 4, 2018) Mark Brown says that Michelle Terry intends to choose the actors for a cast and then have the actors vote on which of the actors will play each part. Brown also says: “Some eyebrows were raised because Terry, while a hugely accomplished Shakespearean actor, has never directed. On Thursday Terry said theatre culture was too ‘director-centric’ with ‘too much responsibility on one person’.”
This article in the Guardian by Vanessa Thorpe reported the announcement last July that Arts Council England will give Emma Rice two million pounds to set up a new company.
MY DEFENSE OF EMMA RICE. I took the position in 2012, before Emma Rice had come to the Globe, that alternative versions of Shakespeare’s plays that expose more people to the plays are a good thing. I’m sticking to my guns. A lot of critics and audience members liked what they saw. Michael Billington in the Guardian says that her Twelfth Night “palpably pleased the audience”. Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail called her production “the most entertaining, exciting Twelfth Night for years”. And this after (!) the brilliant Shakespeare Globe production starring Mark Rylance as Olivia which we saw in New York in 2014 (I posted on that production here).
I still maintain my lone qualification. Emma Rice can do her innovations in any other theater in the world. The Globe is a unique wonder.
WHO CARES ABOUT SHAKESPEARE’S WORDS? I have posted a number of times, including here, in support of the linguist John McWhorter’s argument that productions of Shakespeare plays should be “translated” into modern English. I supported this on the theory people should have that choice available—the more the merrier. (This led to a comment I cherish by loki-69: “I think Shakespear needs to talk in modern English, innit, bruv?”)
Emma Rice’s productions go beyond translation of Shakespeare’s words into modern English by cutting a lot of the words entirely.
Michael Billington says: “The treatment of Malvolio reveals a lot about Rice’s priorities. She cuts large swaths of the letter-reading scene in the garden, including all the deliciously dirty jokes….[the] elevation of the visual over the verbal underscores the whole production.”
Stig Abell commented similarly on the Emma Rice production of Romeo and Juliet (directed by Daniel Kramer) that: “…this entire production values appearance over anything else—especially the words written by Shakespeare.”
Abell concludes: “It seems now to be a rare thing to see an entire performance of Shakespeare in which some one doesn’t thrust and gurn, or inexplicably remove their clothes, in sheer panic that otherwise they might need simply to stand and speak to us.”
EMMA RICE’S PENULTIMATE SHAKESPEARE PRODUCTION AT THE GLOBE. In addition to directing Twelfth Night, Emma Rice produced another Shakespeare play at the Globe in her farewell season after she had resigned. The play was Romeo and Juliet, directed by Daniel Kramer. Stig Abell described some of the features of the production in a review in the TLS (May 5, 2017): “… the Capulet party is soundtracked by Juliet’s father yodeling ‘YMCA” by Village People…..Capulet walks around with a dog played by a man…who barks and scampers…the stage resembles an aerobics class for the middle-aged at several points….” At the end of the play, “Romeo takes his gun and kills his mother and father and the Capulets.”
EMMA RICE’S LAST SHAKESPEARE PLAY AT THE GLOBE. I posted a number of times last year about how Emma Rice, who had been appointed to be artistic director of the Globe Shakespeare Theatre, had said in interviews that Shakespeare makes her “very sleepy” and that “a lot of Shakespeare feels like medicine”. This post described how she resigned in November, 2016.
I was curious about what her final Shakespeare production—of Twelfth Night—at the Globe would be like. This review by Michael Billington in the Guardian (May 25, 2017) describes some of the plot points in the production:
When “Malvolio has been tricked into donning yellow stockings, she [Malvolio] behaves like an oversexed stoat leaping into Olivia’s arms and making obscene thrusting motions against a pillar.”
“When the audience is engrossed in Viola’s seeming betrayal of Olivia, Rice interrupts the rhythm of the scene by having a pair of priests dancing to a jaunty calypso.”
“Feste is played by the massively bearded drag-artist, Le Gateau Chocolat.”
SOME LINGUISTS LOOK AT PERIODS IN TEXTING. I posted here about how “um” and “uh” are used in conversation as a signal to show that the speaker is not done.
Lauren Collister on the Quartz website writes here about what seems to be a similar convention which has developed for texting. She argues that a period at the end of a text message can be rude because it suggests that the conversation is being ended unilaterally, perhaps abruptly. There is also some evidence from researchers that the use of a period at the end of sentences is often taken as a sign of insincerity, apparently because it seems excessively formal. It appears that with texting the use of periods is following the conventions of speech, rather than of writing.
For myself, I have trouble with small keyboards. When I am texting, I always try to put a period at the end of each sentence. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t.
The other signal I use is a capital P, which often signals that I tried to hit “send” and hit the wrong key.
HOW BUILDING A SET OF STEPS ILLUSTRATES “A FUNDAMENTAL PROPERTY OF THE UNIVERSE”. I think it’s worthwhile to emphasize by repetition the life lesson that John Salvatier draws from building a set of stairs.
“It’s tempting to think ‘So what?’ and dismiss these details as incidental or specific to stair carpentry. And they are specific to stair carpentry; that’s what makes them details. But the existence of a surprising number of meaningful details is not specific to stairs. Surprising detail is a near universal property of getting up close and personal with reality.”
The lesson is: “We run into a fundamental property of the universe and mistake it for a personal failing.”
MY EFFORTS TO REPLACE A SET OF STEPS. Salvataier’s essay about building things with his brother brought back memories. There came a summer when my mother decided that my brother Elmer and I could and should replace some steps to a porch whose wood was giving way. We were overmatched, but with the advice of a kind neighbor, Mr Mosher, we eventually got it done. Mr. Mosher’s key advice was that if we built the steps according to our plan, they would fall down.
Elmer and I were frustrated every step of the way but perhaps if I had had access to the essay that John Salvatier wrote in 2017, it would have been easier. Not just the advice about screws and wood angles. The life advice. Salvatier describes how you feel when you are struggling with learning how to do something:
“Then you got more practice and then you told yourself ‘man, it was so simple all along, I don’t know why I had so much trouble’. We run into a fundamental property of the universe and mistake it for a personal failing.”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO BUILD A SET OF STEPS. One of Katja Grace’s initial observations is that: “Inventions are usually more ingenious than they seem”. She links to this blog post by John Salvatier, who supports the proposition that “Reality has a surprising amount of detail.” Salvatier illustrates his argument by an example from the substantial time he spent as an adolescent building things like flooring and sheds.
Salvatier uses the example of building a set of steps. He describes the task as simple at first: “just two long, wide parallel boards (2” x 12” x 16’), some boards for the stairs and an angle bracket on each side to hold up each stair”.
Salvatier says: “The first thing you’ll notice is that there are actually quite a few subtasks. Even at a high level, you have to cut both ends of the 2x12s at the correct angles; then screw in some u-brackets to the main floor to hold the stairs in place; then screw in the 2x12s into the u-brackets; then attach the angle brackets for the stairs; then screw in the stairs.” Salvatier describes in detail the actual problems that arise—the wood may be warped, the screws may need to be put in new holes, and so on. He concludes that: “Surprising detail is a near universal property of getting up close and personal with reality.”
The analogy to inventing a rope is that more is involved than the idea of a rope; there are many skills to be learned and used in making the rope.