Lunedi Lunacy

In a comment on a recent in-depth posting on Shakespeare by my friend Debra in deepest darkest Alberta someone mentioned a piece by Robert Benchley the American humourist, journalist, and actor. Benchley is perhaps best know for a telegram he sent to his editor when he arrived in Venice. “Streets flooded. Please advised.”

In the following little vignette he out-scholars the scholars.


Carrying on the System of Footnotes to a Silly Extreme


Enter first Lady-in-Waiting (Flourish, [1] Hautboys [2] and[3] torches[4]).

First Lady-in-WaitingWhat [5] ho![6] Where[7] is [8] the[9] music?[10]


1. Flourish: The stage direction here is obscure. Clarke claims it should read “flarish,” thus changing the meaning of the passage to “flarish” (that is, the Kings), but most authorities have agreed that it should remain “flourish,” supplying the predicate which is to be flourished. There was at this time a custom in the countryside of England to flourish a mop as a signal to the passing vender of berries, signifying that in that particular household there was a consumer-demand for berries, and this may have been meant in this instance. That Shakespeare was cognizant of this custom of flourishing the mop for berries is shown in a similar passage in the second part of King Henry IV, where he has the Third Page enter and say, “Flourish.” Cf. also Hamlet, IV, 7: 4.

2. Hautboys, from the French haut, meaning “high” and the Eng. boys, meaning “boys.” The word here is doubtless used in the sense of “high boys,” indicating either that Shakespeare intended to convey the idea of spiritual distress on the part of the First Lady-in-Waiting or that he did not. Of this Rolfe says: “Here we have one of the chief indications of Shakespeare?s knowledge of human nature, his remarkable insight into the petty foibles of this work-a-day world.” Cf. T. N. 4: 6, “Mine eye hath play’d the painter, and hath stell’d thy beauty’s form in table of my heart.”

3. and. A favorite conjunctive of Shakespeare’s in referring to the need for a more adequate navy for England. Tauchnitz claims that it should be pronounced “und,” stressing the anti-penult. This interpretation, however, has found disfavor among most commentators because of its limited significance. We find the same conjunctive in A. W. T. E. W. 6: 7, “Steel-boned, unyielding and uncomplying virtue,” and here there can be no doubt that Shakespeare meant that if the King should consent to the marriage of his daughter the excuse of Stephano, offered in Act 2, would carry no weight.

Drawing by Gluyas Williams

4. Torches. The interpolation of some foolish player and never the work of Shakespeare (Warb.). The critics of the last century have disputed whether or not this has been misspelled in the original, and should read “trochies” or “troches.” This might well be since the introduction of tobacco into England at this time had wrought havoc with the speaking voices of the players, and we might well imagine that at the entrance of the First Lady-in-Waiting there might be perhaps one of the hautboys mentioned in the preceding passage bearing a box of troches or “trognies” for the actors to suck. Of this entrance Clarke remarks: “The noble mixture of spirited firmness and womanly modesty, fine sense and true humility, clear sagacity and absence of conceit, passionate warmth and sensitive delicacy, generous love and self-diffidence with which Shakespeare has endowed this First Lady-in-Waiting renders her in our eyes one of the most admirable of his female characters.” Cf. M. S. N. D. 8: g, “That solder’st close impossibilities and mak’st them kiss.”

5. What—What.

6. Ho! In conjunction with the preceding word doubtless means “What ho!” changed by Clarke to “What hoo!” In the original Ms. it reads “What hi!” but this has been accredited to the tendency of the time to write “What hi” when “what ho” was meant. Techner alone maintains that it should read “What humpf!” Cf. Ham. 5: O, “High-ho!”

7. Where. The reading of the folio, retained by Johnson, the Cambridge editors and others, but it is not impossible that Shakespeare wrote “why,” as Pope and others give it. This would make the passage read “Why the music?” instead of “Where is the music?” and would be a much more probable interpretation in view of the music of that time. Cf. George Ade. Fable No. 15, “Why the gunnysack?”

8. is—is not. That is, would not be.

9. the. Cf. Ham. 4: 6. M. S. N. D. 3: 5. A. W. T. E. W. 2: 6. T. N. I: 3 and Macbeth 3: I, “that knits up the raveled sleeves of care.

10. music. Explained by Malone as “the art of making music” or “music that is made.” If it has but one of these meanings we are inclined to think it is the first; and this seems to be favored by what precedes, “the music!” Cf. M. of V. 4: 2, “The man that hath no music in himself.”

The meaning of the whole passage seems to be that the First Lady-in-Waiting has entered concomitant with a flourish, hautboys and torches and says, “What ho! Where is the music?”

July 22 is Casual Pi Day – People in countries that write their dates correctly in the date/ month format celebrate Casual Pi Day on 22 July or 22/7. Go figure – repeatedly.

It’s Only Words

Honorificabilitudinitatibus – is the dative and ablative plural of the medieval Latin word honorificabilitudinitas, which can be translated as “the state of being able to achieve honours”.

“AND … ?” say both my faithful readers, with one eyebrow arched quizzically.

Well it is the longest word of the 31,534 different words used by William Shakespeare in his writings. (Yes dear reader not only has someone counted but they also calculated that 14,376 of those words appear only once and 846 are used more than 100 times.) And it has the distinction to only feature alternating vowels and consonants!

So how is it pronounced?


And the point of this tidbit of useless ephemera on a Tuesday morning would be?

Well to flaunt announce that I aced a Folger Shakespeare Library Ultimate Shakespeare Trivia Quiz. That including knowing in which play some poor bugger of an actor has to wrap their tongue around a word which takes less time to define than to pronounce.

It not be the best day to go down in the woods as July 9th is Teddy Bears Picnic Day! So many things I could say but I’ll just leave it there.

Lunedi Lunacy – More Shakespearean Jackanapery

It seems that the internet is being flooded with Shakespeareana to celebrate the good man’s birth/death whatever.  Some are educational – as witness my friend Spo’s comment on the previous post – others are pure jackanapery.  And no that was not one of the some 1700 words that the Bard of Avon added to our language – though it would appear that tomfoolery is!  So here are three little pieces of jackenapery that could very well pass for tomfoolery.

In the true spirit of the millennium generation I found this particularly amusing:


And aside from the words he gave us there’s all those idioms – who knew he was the originator of the “knock knock” joke?


And when it comes to insults – whoa did this guy know how to parry a thrust (as it were!).  And the best we can come up with these days is “BITCH”!


Once again Happy Birthday you whey-faced rump fed playwright, you!  Sorry was that “playwright” thing a bit too much of any insult?

On this day in 1859: British and French engineers break ground for the Suez Canal.

Happy Birthday/Death Day Bill

Shakespeare-CaricatureSo you can take you pick on April 23, if tradition is to be believed, to either celebrate or commemorate one of the two defining events in Bill Shakespeare’s life:  his birth and his death.  So today we can either say Happy 452 Birthday to the most influential writer in the English language or express belated condolences to Anne and the children on his passing 400 years ago today.

I think it’s better to always look on the bright side of life (did you catch it?) so to celebrate the arrival of the third of Mary and John Shakespeare’s eight children I’ve chosen a piece by a 20th century master of the language – and the music –  of Shakespeare and Milton and the Bible. (Anyone catch that one – I am on a literary role I tell you!)

With his usual wit and grace Cole Porter manage to work 13 of the 38 play titles, one of the poems, and a passing reference to the Sonnets into a rowdy bawdy little piece of show stopping fun.  A little birthday gift from a master wordsmith to the master wordsmith of them all.


On this day in 1516: The Bayerische Reinheitsgebot (regarding the ingredients of beer) is signed in Ingolstadt.

Raising the Tent – 1953

When the Stratford Shakespeare Festival was founded in 1953 Tanya Moiseiwitsch’s iconic stage was at the centre of a concrete amphitheatre. However there was neither sufficient monies nor assurance of longevity to do other than enclose the “wooden O*” with canvas. For the first four years of the Festival history the Bard was declaimed in a large tent, often to the sounds of pounding rain, whistles from the nearby train yards and umpires’ calls from the local baseball diamond.

Nestled in Queen’s Park the original home of the Festival rose 61′ above the landscape and was 150′ in diameter.  It’s original cost was $23,000.
From 1953 to 1956 canvas covered Tanya Moiseiwitsch’s thrust stage set in a concrete
amphitheatre. When money became tight that first year local contractor Oliver Gaffney
refused to stop work and completed the theatre in time for opening night.  His daughter
Anita is now the Festival’s Executive Director. 

In 1953 Tent Master Roy “Skip” Manly and his crew – many of them local volunteers – raise the tent for
the first time.  It took two whole days to complete the operation.  Two miles of cable and 10 miles of rope kept audience and performers protected and dry – most of the time!  This photo was the inspiration for the sculpture group that now adorns the lawn in front of the theatre.

It’s hard to imagine sitting for three hours of Shakespeare in
one of these original seats from the tent days.  And what’s with the
single armrest?  I guess there was no fighting to see who got it.

At the end of the 1956 season when Christopher Plummer had sounded his final call to the troops at Agincourt the tent was struck for the last time.  By the opening of the 1957 season Robert Fairchild’s unique round structure resounded to the, by now, familiar sound of Louis Applebaum’s trumpet fanfare and the answer to Plummer’s Hamlet was:  it is “to be”.  The building has undergone major changes since I first saw it back in 1958 most involved reconfiguring the stage.  But in 1997 the theatre itself was totally renovated with the addition of public spaces for talks, food and drink, a very pleasant members’ lounge, as well as an expanded backstage.  And the Festival has grown to four theatres and a season that stretches from April until October – all of it inside without a train whistle to be heard**!

Robert Fairchild’s innovative re-imagining of the original tent was expanded in 1997 and turned into an event centre that would have brought joy to the hearts  of Sir Tyrone, Tom Patterson, Miss Moiseiwitsch, “Skip” Manley, Oliver Gaffney and the incredible people who had a vision back in 1953. 

To celebrate the next stage in the Theatre’s life and the first raising of the tent a sculpture grouping was created by a talented group of artisans working at the Festival.  As well as honouring the people who made the renewal in 1997 possible designer Douglas Paraschuk paid tribute to the remarkable “Skip” and stage carpenter Al Jones, who’s handiwork included that first thrust platform.

This sculpture group on the lawn in front of the Festival Theatre celebrates the many people who’s contributions made the renovation of the theatre possible.  But it also commemorates that first exciting day when “Skip” Manly and his crew – many of them local volunteers – raised the canvas on one of the four Queen poles. 

Design Coordinator Douglas Paraschuk’s concept was realized in the Festival Workshops by property maker Ruth Abernathy with the assistance of Frank Holte and Brian Mcleod.  Another example of the exceptional creative work that comes out of the Festival shops.

Tent Master extraordinaire Roy “Skip” Manly (right) was known throughout the circus world as one of the greats – and as the years passed Festival veteran Al Jones (left) became as much a legend for his wizardry as a stage carpenter.

The one thing I find a bit puzzling is the little girl and her dog sitting in the bleachers watching – for some reason it strikes me as more Dorothy pointing the way to Oz than anything.  I don’t really see where it was needed – those two figures straining at the ropes are enough, in my mind,  to convey the dream and the hard work that established the Festival.   I’m also not fond of the ostentatious statue of the Bard that stands nearby either.  However I do find the lovely rose garden with it’s simple plaque remembering Ann Casson (Campbell) a touching tribute to a much respected member of the  company.

The gardens around the Festival Theatre are quite lush – almost too much so – however this simple rose garden serves as a memorial to Ann Casson.  The daughter of Dame Sybil Thorndyke and Sir Lewis Casson she came to Canada with her husband Douglas Campbell.  He was a member of the original company and she was to appear in subsequent seasons.

Though the Festival has grown well beyond the hopes of any of those original (in so many senses of the word) dreamers who watched as that first tent was unfurled in Queen’s Park there remians a slightly homespun atmosphere to it all.   We are still in small town Ontario, there is still a nearby baseball diamond and there is still a wonder that this is all here.

*Well okay the concrete O in this case but let’s be literary rather than literal!

**Stratford was once a railway hub with as many as 30 passenger trains going through a day – now there are only four though an old chap at the station was optimistic that there would be an increase in service in the future. 

September 9 – 1839: John Herschel takes the first glass plate photograph.