Friday, October 8, 2010

Flogging It

Hahahahahaha! You nasty-minded readers probably think that post title means I'm gonna discuss ... um ... let's just say "the act of self-pleasuring".

You people disgust me.

I am not that lowbrow an animal.

What it means is, despite having already written eleventy billion words on the play a mere two daze ago, I'm gonna discuss Othello yet again, specifically in relation to the burning1 issue of farts.

Because here's the opening of Act III:
ACT III, SCENE I. Before the castle.

Enter CASSIO2 and some Musicians

Masters, play here; I will content your pains;
Something that's brief; and bid 'Good morrow, general.'

Enter Clown3

Why masters, have your instruments been in Naples,
that they speak i' the nose thus4?

First Musician
How, sir, how!

Are these, I pray you, wind-instruments?

First Musician
Ay, marry, are they, sir.

O, thereby hangs a tail.

First Musician
Whereby hangs a tale, sir?

Marry. sir, by many a wind-instrument that I know.
And so but there you go. For all of you foax who always thought Shaxberd was so high-falutin', there he is, shock-jock Will-Bone S. and Teh Morning Zoo Crew with your fart joke right smack dab in the middle of the tragic 20-song music marathon Othello.

O, sure, you gotta work for it: The tale/tail pun and where are tails located? Right above the @$$. And what do @$$es produce? Gas or "wind"5. Making then "wind instruments", of a sort.

Hahahahaha! And doesn't the fact that I explained how this joke works make it that much funnier? Because I don't know about you, but for me, nothing makes a comedian funnier than when his joke is so needlessly esoteric that it gets no reaction from the dumbfounded audience and he has to stop his routine and condescendingly explain to you why it's funny and also why you're not worthy of his intellectual talents6!

That slight circumlocutory aspect to the joke is why the scene-let above is not my favorite of Shxpr's cloacal excursions; I vastly prefer this classic but rarely-quoted line from The Tempest:

Monster, I do smell all horse-piss; at
which my nose is in great indignation. 

Because whose nose hasn't been indignant at the smell of horse-piss? Or just piss in general?

Back in the day (mid-1980s), I used to work at the West Wing of Independence Hall, which, back then, was a book store. And out front, there were all these horse-drawn carriages for the tourons so they could tour Independence National Historical Park while staring at the @$$-end of a horse, which they considered win-win. And so whenever I left the building, my nose was in constant indignation at the horse-piss smell, not to mention the horse-shit smell. And it was not uncommon for tourists to come into the the West Wing book store, having somehow not noticed the horse-drawn carriages, and ask: "What is that awful, awful stench? Is Dennis Miller performing somewhere nearby?"
But why, you might ask, am I returning to, and once again needlessly flogging, Shakespeare's Othello? Merely to let rip (as it were) with a good, though elaborate, fart joke? Just to take a few mean-spirited jabs at former-funnyman Dennis Miller?

Now, admittedly, either of those would normally be sufficient reason for me, but in this case, they are not the only, or even the main, reason I have returned to this topic. My real reason is what Henry James called the figure in the carpet7. And, well, essentially, the figure in the carpet is that one thing that one overriding theme that would tie an author's work together, make his oeuvre a cohesive whole. And the author in James' novella claims that no one — no reviewer or critic, including the novella's nameless narrator — has ever successfully discovered the figure in the carpet of his own works. And the author, Hugh Vereker, refuses to reveal what that theme is.

Well, in my previous post on Othello, not only do I get nowhere near discovering Shakespeare's oeuvre's figure in the carpet, I don't even manage to discover the figure in the play's own carpet: I never manage to kinda tie it together, which I consider to be utterly lame on my part. Because even though I mention in passing the theme of appearances-versus-reality, which is there in Othello and, indeed, in all of Shakespeare, that seems too general and frankly rather commonplace to be the Big Issue in the works of the author universally thought to be the greatest who ever lived. It's trite.

And so my thought was to kinda ease into talking about Shakespeare himself, or a version of him, being the figure in the carpet; because in Othello you have Iago, who's constantly trying to stage-manage the other characters in the play and get them to do what he wants for reasons that remain inscrutable, and thus kinda play god with them; and of course this moves us right into the obvious analogy between God (author, playwright, of the Cosmic Drama that is Our World) and Shakespeare (the "God" of the dramas he authored, Creator of those characters and manipulator of their actions) and how Iago, in a sense, is the author-figure in Othello, almost a version of Shakespeare himself. And that's kinda weird, because Iago is just Pure Evil, the Devil Incarnate it's suggested, and why would Shakespeare make that guy his stand-in?

Well, because it's not always that guy. Because in Hamlet, the author figure is the Good Guy Hamlet himself, who is trying to get the other characters to think as he does (Why is no one else upset that Dad is dead? Because they should be) and at one point you see him actively instructing the actors of the play-within-the-play on how to play their parts and he even re-writes the play they do so that it better mirrors what he thinks happened in the "real world" of the play Hamlet itself and of course his attempt to stage-manage — to be author of — his own world is as doomed as Iago's attempt to be author of his world. Iago fucks up in his own way and Hamlet does in his own way.

But the point is you find this author-surrogate figure-in-the-carpet in just about all of Shakespeare (and just about all of Henry James, too, it should be noted) and one of Shakespeare's favorite conceits is describing the "real world" as an elaborate drama in which each actor has his part. Shakespeare's theater itself was called the Globe, and he constantly calls attention to how the (real) World is like the (fictional) Globe.

But ultimately, even this is profoundly unsatisfying as a unifying theme in the work of Shakespeare because it just seems too insular and hermetic and self-referentially pomo to be What Shakespeare Is All About. I mean, it is there, bit it's not It, I don't think.

And to me the frustrating thing about Shakespeare is also the frustrating thing about what we laughingly call The Real World: His plays seem to intimate a greater Meaning, but it is a Meaning that remains stubbornly liminal, just beyond our grasp and comprehension; but we can't restrain ourselves from coming back to them to search for that meaning, to find the key that will Reveal It Unto Us.

In a sense, Shakespeare's play are so much like the real world because they're nearly as resistant to a full understanding as the real world is. And if they don't ultimately add up, well ... maybe the world doesn't, either.

There's a really neat image in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow in which Slothrop — who, if anyone can be said to be the main character in GR, is the main character in GR — having just discovered all these seeming elaborate plots going on about him, plots that may or may not actually exist, and even if they do exist, may not be the Main Plot; or they may just be the delusions of a paranoid mind ... Slothrop, as I was saying, is walking through an incipient slow rain and sees fall this large raindrop that leave a wet mark on the pavement that looks like an asterisk, as though the world itself were suggesting that there were this footnote somewhere in the hidden "text" of the world that might explain or clarify everything, if only we could find it. Because we see the text of the world, which is confusing to us, and perhaps we even perceive that asterisk suggesting that there's some elaboration elsewhere ... but we can never actually find that footnote, that subtext; and even if we could, there's no guarantee that it would contain The Revelation that we're looking for

And that's kind of what Shakespeare's Wor(l)d is like, to my mind.
It occurs to me that I may have alarmed a few of you unnecessarily about the state of my marriage by mentioning in two separate posts within the span of one week that I forgot my and Teh 'Bride's 19th anniversary.

Well, let me put your minds at ease with this update:

1 Let's hope not literally burning, because nothing is worse than those farts that give you that burning sensation because they also tend to be extra stinky. Fortunately, no Mexican or Thai food is consumed in Othello — unless it be by the audience — and burning farts are never mentioned in the text.

2 Yeah, I consistently (= twice) misspelled Cassio's  name as "Casio" in my original Othello post. Don't bother going back to the post to look because, anal librarian that I am, I fixed it already.


Geez! If you people don't fact- and spell-check this blog, who's gonna? Me? Pffftttt! Like that's ever gonna  happen!1!

3 N.B.: Clowns in Shakespeare were not big-red-nose-wearing, floppily-shod, Krusty-looking individuals who carried honky-horns and were routinely hit in the face with creme pies; the word "clown" normally just designated a "rustic or otherwise uneducated individual" who tended to dress more like this. Plus? They had severe cases of potty-mouth; with them it was always "fuck this" and "fuck that" and "My lamp is a c*ck$ucker".

They could make a librarian blush with their language, which ain't easy3a.

3a Full disclosure: I'm a librarian and I'm easy.


3a1  Fuller disclosure: Yes I am.

4 Hahahahahaha! KERTWANG!1! Take that, Neapolitans, with your nasal accents! You've just been served ... Shakespeare-style!

5 Among other pleasant and more substantial offerings.

6 What's known, in the business, as "Dennis Miller Syndrome". Because the only time Dennis is funnier than when he's being elaborately esoteric in his "jokes" is when he's on Fox News explaining how Dubya was a Great President and liberals? Don't you just hate them?

Hahahahaha!!1! You might not be laughing at this, but remember, a lot of the humor is in his delivery, which I'm really not doing justice to. So if you're not laughing, it's your fault, not Dennis'.

And please don't read too much into the fact that Dennis appears here in footnote 6 right underneath footnote 5 which coyly alludes to substantial piles of shit.

Hahahaha! Just kidding! You should read all you want into that fact!

7 In his short novella called — WAIT FOR IT!!1! — "The Figure in the Carpet".


  1. Dude, I was with you until the fart jokes stopped. I picked back up for a second at

    BUT I'M NOT A WHOO-WER!1!3a1
    3a1 Fuller disclosure: Yes I am.

    Saw David Sedaris live last night. You've seen/read this guy, right? He recommended a book that I'm going to pick up and if it's any good I'll pass along the info.

  2. For a few minutes there you had me impressed. Oh yes, very impressed. Not many Americans would know that D Miller was advised not to give up his day job as Mayor of Toronto to be a funny-man. Then I realized the mayor was David Miller. So much for being impressed.

    There's lots of rudeness in Shakespeare. You don't get to be number one in the biz without knowing what your audience wants, and those Elizabethans were a rowdy lot.

    And this post gets into why I think literary criticism is mostly full of it. Yes they make some interesting points, it's true. BUT, why assume there actually IS a figure in the carpet. Maybe the author's oeuvre (1) ISN'T a cohesive whole. It takes a lot of nerve to be telling an author what his or her work means, or what they intended. As if the author is an ignorant jerk who didn't pay any attention to the words being put onto the page.

    People have been talking and writing about Shakespeare's work now for 500 years, and if anyone has figured out his figure in the carpet, it's news to me. So don't feel bad if you don't get it. Enjoy the fart jokes, and other in-joke digs at the establishment, tip the players on your way out, and go for a beer.

    (1)Have I ever mentioned how much I despise that word? So pretentious. So full of I know something you don't and I'm going to rub your nose in it.

  3. Cloacal?!?!

    I am sooooo exicted I had NO IDEA the Bard was into monotremes!

    This DOES make the series much more exciting to me.

    Does a platypus figure in to his plays somewhere? Since I did not get the fart joke, I was thinking maybe I missed the platypus in A Midsummer's Night Dream.

    I was always surprised when he went with a shrew in Taming of the Shrew, because as mammals go shrews are not nearly as comedic as a platypus or an echidna.

    For the record, you need to continue your flogging. I still do not know what the fuck happened in Othello. You do not expect me to actually read the fucking thing do you?

    And that lamp was a c@cks*cker and no longer resides in my house. I hear it and SQ are very happy.

  4. @RBR: The oven's jealous (been doing a lot of self-cleaning lately). Shakespeare never knew there were such things as monotremes; he also never saw a fork (metal not being generally forged at the time in such a way that forks were feasible) - so he never had a play where someone "forks" a platypus in the cloaca.