Of names, Shakespeare, and hugging your destiny.
So in this week’s comic, any of those of you out there who were still waiting finally got themselves a name to call our cheerful trespasser by. Is it her real name? Suzie doesn’t seem to think so, but what’s in a name? I’m reasonably sure The Lord Humongous was not given that name at his birth, and yet it’s a quite fitting moniker for The Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah. By any other name, he would still smell as sweet — “sweet” in his case probably being a mix of dirt, sweat, and pustulent head tumors.
This is also the second time I’ve used a partial line from Shakespeare as the comic title, perhaps proving beyond a doubt that I can’t help but let a bit of pretentiousness creep into my works — that or I’m just trying to make some use out of years of formal stage training in high school and college. In my defense, though, I would point out that quoting Shakespeare wasn’t always considered pretentious. In fact, let’s talk about a historical tidbit that’s not generally remembered nowadays: Shakespeare was huge in the Old West.
Surprising? If you’ve delved into The Bard beyond a half clueless high school English teacher trying to ram him down your throat as “culture”, not so much. Shakespeare’s original audiences consisted of no small amount of undereducated farmers and tradesmen, and if you look past the outdated language (sometimes you don’t even need to do that), you’ll find quite a few sexual references, instances of bodily function humor, and other elements I can’t quite bring myself to call highbrow: for example, one of the main characters in Twelfth Night is named “Sir Toby Belch“. Even The Bard’s most somber historical works will usually contain a scene or two that seems to have no point to it but random puns and vulgar slapstick on par with the Scary Movie films, which means they’re often cut from productions or left out of school editions entirely.
But this doesn’t mean Shakespeare should be considered lowest common denominator entertainment, either. Though he wasn’t above pandering to the baser amusements of the audience, he also achieved soaring heights of poetry and emotion in his works that connected to that same audience, no matter if they were illiterate rat-catchers or cloistered noblewomen. The greatest crime committed to Shakespeare in the modern age was this social/psychological shift into the mindset that his plays are the province solely of the elite and educated minority, able to be understood and enjoyed only by them.
In the West of 19th Century America, this prejudice didn’t exist. Cowboys and trappers and miners, many of whom couldn’t read, still loved to gather round and listen to the guy who could as he read from a tattered copy of Julius Caesar, often interspersing his own unique oaths and embellishments like the best tale-tellers do. Or better yet, there was the occasion that some big name actor or troupe from back East might pull into a town and put on a professional performance at the local theater, though the experience was closer to the rowdiness of the original Elizabethan crowds than the prim and sophisticated silence expected of today’s audiences. One of my favorite anecdotes–though one terrifying to contemplate as an actor–was about a fellow so adept at playing the villainous Iago in Othello that a drunken attendee clambered onto the stage with a loaded six-shooter and threatened to gun him down where he stood unless he confessed his crimes to the other dramatis personae. I reckon in that instance there was a quick improvisation, and the play enjoyed a happier and much shorter resolution that night to prevent a bullet in the head of one of the leads.
You could hold up that example to show how savage and lawless and disrespectful the theatergoers of the Old West were, but think about it a moment: the reason it happened was because the man got that worked up about what was happening on stage. This was an era where Shakespeare still lived and breathed and was the province of the common man and woman, stirring their passions and speaking to their own experiences. In fact, if you don’t mind clicking off a couple of pop-ups, I present to you a piece that goes into a lot more fascinating detail on the subject, as well as pondering what happened between then and now: LINK
Let’s see, what else is on the news docket for today: oh yes, the possible exciting news I had mentioned last time.
We’re gonna be on a panel!
Long Beach Comic-Con has confirmed us for a 1pm panel on Sunday, Oct. 31st, called “Starting Out: Independent Publishers/Independent Creators”. I know, what a waste to have a panel on Halloween and not be talking about zombies, right? But this is our first time ever doing a convention panel, so we’re not going to be too picky; right now, Dawn and I are just both wavering between being very excited and very nervous. Hopefully we’ll have enough good insights to talk about for all five or so of our family and friends that show up to see us. Then again, maybe we’ll get a crowd and be terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.
But as The Tick would tell us: “You can’t hide from it. You’ve got to hug it. Hug your destiny…!”
Who can say no to that big, blue mug?