Thursday, May 18, 2006

put up and shut up

I have learned, in my years of wisdom, that there are times when you need to really just shut up. It may be that you are straining to say something, desperately wanting to deliver a verbal blow or tear off a caustic remark, but you keep your mouth closed and live to die another day. I don't think I'm necessarily spouty, or much of a hothead. But there are times when someone says something ridiculous, disarming, or - what's worst of all - whiny, and I want to just let fly the first thing that pops into my head. Sometimes I feel like the world is so unfair or that the scales are so imbalanced that it becomes hard not become a reactionary zealot. I'm not alone in this. It's human nature. Parenting, for one thing, has taught me that I need to think before I speak, because children tend to take everything you say to heart and imprint it on their little psyches, and bring it up as artillery when they are sixteen. (Or so I'm told. I'm only halfway there.) I don't consider myself to be the greatest leader in the world, but one thing I can do is stay quiet when I need to and make decisions when I have to.

But there are times when you can't stay quiet. When everything inside of you compels you to let 'er rip and give 'em hell. I have those moments as well. And sometimes I admire people who can't keep their mouths shut, because typically they are the ones who both change the world and suffer for it.

Oddly, I've been thinking about this today because I visited Kensington Palace and Gardens, the former home of Princess Diana. Everyone seems so fascinated by Princess Diana, and I'm not sure I get it. I think she was really pretty in a royal, in-bred sort of way, and I think she had a special little diminutive voice, and you know how I feel about the death conspiracy. There's a lot to think about with her, but I find it hard to turn her into iconography. I already do that with Shakespeare, and that's bad enough. All the same, I felt a little bad for her today. Because what got her into trouble, in the end, was the fact that she wouldn't stay put. She gets a divorce and they toddle her off to Kensington Palace where she has everything she needs to stay silent and sip tea for the rest of her life, (including an amazing Koi pond and a Chippy shop right around the corner,) and yet she keeps popping up for air. Shuttling aid to Africa. Dancing with - heaven help us all - John Travolta. Yachting around the Riviera 3 months pregnant with Dodi Fayed's baby. Oops - conspiracy! I don't know if the royal family had her bumped off (they did! they did!) but if they did, they had their reasons. How dare a person live an interesting life, and have an opinion, and dress well, and make a difference in the world? I don't understand the audacity.

Coriolanus had a similar problem, except his was all tied up in Oedipal issues. Mom's the word. We saw the play tonight at the Globe Theatre, and its about bloody time, since we've been talking about it in my Shakespeare class all week. I gotta tell you straight up: Coriolanus is probably the Shakespeare play I am least familiar with. It's a doozy. Like, how many times have you seen Coriolanus? That's what I thought. So teaching it has been incredibly daunting and but also surprisingly fulfilling, because now I rank it as one of my favorites.

Word to Coriolanus: shut up. It's a play about politics, really, and how the best ones learn how to look like they are men of the people, and the worst ones are the ones who can't hide the fact that they were born with silver spoons and trust funds. Coriolanus is the latter. There are all these scenes where his advisors, anxious to have him elected consul of Rome, beg him to pretend to be humble and plebian in order to win votes from the people. And he won't. Because, in the end, he's a great soldier with a bad attitude and the inability to fake one for the team. When he gets mad, watch out. A little sampling of typical Coriolanian invective, directed at the poor people of Rome:

What's the matter, you dissentious rogues,
That, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,
Make yourselves scabs?

He's a charmer! And yet, you gotta admire the guy for sticking to his guns, even when the play ends with his arch enemy literally tearing his heart out. This was done to wondrous effect at tonight's performance. They threw the stabbed Coriolanus off the stage into the audience, mobbed him in the middle of the crowd, and magically pulled a gooey red heart out of his chest. Try that trick, Mary Poppins! It was a brilliant piece of stage business, and had somewhat of a resonant effect on me. I guess having your heart ripped out, figuratively and literally, is the price you pay for honesty and the inability to hold your tongue. Coriolanus couldn't do it. Diana couldn't do it. Chris Clark is getting better at it. But I have to admit feeling a tad bit compromised in the process.