Sunday, March 23, 2014

This Wooden "O" (book)

Finally completed Barry Day’s This Wooden ‘O’ a book which is at once very interesting but also unsatisfying to read. This book remains as the only document of the struggles of Sam Wanamaker to have built what is now known as Shakespeare’s Globe, and as such was necessary reading.

Unfortunately, like many who write tales tangential to the works of Shakespeare, he indulges in a great many wearying verbal flourishes, and punctuates every page with quotes from the canon which are sometimes barely evocative of the subject at hand e.g.: the description of a minor 1970s city council appearance, juxtaposed with some obscure reference from Henry VI, presumably relevant because it has something to do with battle.

A couple years ago I expressed my frustration with the short shrift this author lends to Wanamaker’s experiences at the Great Lakes Exposition of 1936. As with much of the narrative, Day imagines what Wanamaker was thinking at any given moment in his life. There are very few quotes attributed Wanamaker, those evident are from available records. In other words (or, as Day would inevitably have written, “to wit;”) the author never met or spoke with his subject.

So he makes stuff up, as he did when denigrating Wanamaker’s Olde Globe Theatre experience in Cleveland. Day suggests that Wanamaker’s imagination was captured by the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago, which the Chicago native may have attended. However, upon witnessing a model Globe he had commission to promote the project back in 1964, Wanamaker was quoted as saying, “The years rolled back and I was that kid again in Cleveland.” (emphasis mine)

The quest to build the Globe began in Cleveland, not Chicago. He said so.


Recently, we took the kids to see Mr. Peabody & Sherman. While I was surprised by the sheer volume of poop jokes, what surprised and delighted me was Sherman’s use of the word apocryphal. That tales you learn in school - in school, from teachers - might actually be entirely false, is something most are unaware of.

Perhaps these tales were originally devised to teach some valuable lesson about honesty or integrity (the example in the film is Washington chopping down a cherry tree) but that they are not shared as tales is irresponsible and even dangerous. That’s how religions get started.

It did not surprise me that Day would flog the old saw about Queen Elizabeth loving the character of Falstaff so much in the Henry IV plays that she requested Shakespeare write a new tale for him, one of “Falstaff in love” and so he penned The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Never mind the fact that if your Queen asked for a story of Falstaff-in-love and you gave her a story of Falstaff-as-lascivious-scheming-would-be-multiple-rapist ... Well, that would be rude. The cold fact is Nicholas Rowe first pulled this story of his ass in 1709, it’s fanciful nonsense, like so many other references to Shakespeare I found in This Wooden ‘O’.

What is truly disappointing is that the exact same story is recounted as truth in Players, a book which otherwise toils valiantly to dispel precious legends of Shakespeare.

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