Sunday, August 7, 2016

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow--up? Older?

If age brings wisdom, does the wisdom arrive through the understanding of nuance or the invasion of cynicism.? And what about you; are you any the wiser because you are more aware of the difference between what is said and what is meant? 

Or are you, perhaps, more cynical because you've seen cases where too much insistence on a statement of fact being in fact closer to the truth cause what is professed as truth to be less truthful?

There is little doubt in your mind that your default position has been one of literalness through much of your life; a thing first heard or read means what it says, even  when you have to stretch a bit to get at the truth of the intent. The first time you heard:

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

you did not question the it was, indeed brillig.  You took the matter at face value until, caught up in the merriment and mischief of the language, you questioned its entire meaning and context, whereupon you assigned meanings to the other words you did not recognize.

You were so literal of mind that you were gobsmacked with the information, coming to you early in high school, that all the female characters in Shakespeare, including those in Anthony and Cleopatra, which you'd encountered in junior high school, were performed by boys, thus someone of your approximate age and, then, voice, portraying Cleopatra.  This was about the age where you were finding faults beyond reason with your parents and many adult authority figures.

As you write this, there is great probability you are older than Lear was when he asked of his daughters the question regarding the degree of their affection for him.  

This age is no doubt old enough and skeptical if not cynical that the entire matter of the play could have been avoided if Cordelia had not triggered the entire drama by asking of her sisters the question that got them cooking up their answers. Add that how, the question in effect turned Cordelia into a copyeditor or fact checker so far as her own response to Lear when he questioned her about her regard for him.

You also have to do some reaching beyond to consider how the three daughters were portrayed by young boys, perhaps taking on a falsetto or learning their lines before their voices had changed.

Were you to have the opportunity to see a performance of Lear today, say at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival, you'd not have to worry about such things; Ragan, Goneril and Cordelia would not be performed by boys. But, were you to see such a performance, you think your takeaway would be to watch yourself for any tendencies within yourself to mistake the stubborn insistence of Lear to hear better explanations with the accuracy of obvious explanations.

This is more about meanings and interpretations than it is about Shakespeare, even though, as you write this, you are aware that Juliet had reasons to think perhaps Romeo had been a bit too insistent in pressing his feelings and that your first experience with seeing the drama performed was a motion picture version, in which Leslie Howard, the actor playing Romeo, was forty-three.

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