The Thing About Shakespeare…

(Admittedly, we were a few drinks in. Former All Fired Up in the Big Smoke contributor Urban Sophisticat had dropped by, bearing libations and hummus – it’s always hummus with him. I was catching him up on what had been going on around these parts since he’d steadfastly refused to follow along, largely checking out in 2010. What follows is as close to the actual truth as I could possibly be expected to remember.)


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Urban Sophisticat [heretofore, US]: (reciting)

I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyok’d humour of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the Sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder’d at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But, when they seldom come, they wish’d-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So when this loose behaviour I throw off,
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And, like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend to make offense a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.

And scene! (bows and sits back down). Do you see what I mean?


Cityslikr [heretofore, CS]: (cocks his head, squints his eyes; clearly not knowing what he means)

US: It’s all an act, man. Dampen expectations and then wow them with greatness.

CS: This is what you think the mayor is doing.

US: Just like Prince Hal in Henry the Fourth, yes. All degenerate reprobate and then – BOOM! – Hank Cinq. Once more unto the breach, dear friends! Once more. St. Crispin… crispian… crisp, crisp, crisp.

CS: (pouring more drinks) I don’t know. That’s all too premeditated for this crew. Smacks of forward thinking and planning. Not exactly their strong suit.

US: But what’s the alternative?

CS: To what?

US: Alternative explanation. Nobody could be this… this… bumbling and openly incompetent, could they? This blatantly oblivious to possible repercussions to their actions, can they?

CS: You really haven’t been following along with this, have you?

US: Clearly not.


CS: The mayor has lived a life free of repercussions. There are no consequences to his actions. He is impervious to cause and effect.

US: But you don’t write a letter of support of a friend who’s facing charges of uttering death threats when you’re the mayor! Even a very close friend

CS: A friend you drop by to see four times a week for minutes at a time, you do. You can’t teach loyalty, remember?

US: (shakes his head; clearly he doesn’t remember) Do you know what Hal said to Falstaff when it became obvious their friendship was no longer tenable?

CS: Falstaff! Now we’re talking.

US: Presume not that I am the thing I was/For God doth know, so shall the world perceive/That I have turn’d away my former self/So will I those that kept me company.

CS: Friends don’t throw friends under the bus, buddy. That’s what differentiates our mayor from some toffy king. Hal was one of those greasy, conniving, say one thing, do another political types. That’s not the mayor’s style.

US: But he defeated France!


CS: Big deal. Mayor Ford rid our land of the vehicle registration tax. No, dude. If we’re getting all literary pretentious here, Mayor Ford is Toronto’s Falstaff, a popular rapscallion, so beloved by those who love their rapscallions that he just might get himself a sequel. The Merry Wives of Etobicoke.

US: (eyeing CS suspiciously for a long time before speaking) You’re fucking with me, right? You don’t actually believe that, do you?

(CS refills their glasses, finishing another bottle)

CS: (drinks; leans back in his chair) You know, the thing about Shakespeare, there was a certain kind of order in his universe, you know what I’m saying? His characters kind of got what they had coming to them. A comeuppance or… whatever the opposite of comeuppance is.

US: Just desserts.

CS: You think?

US: Sure.

CS: I mean, desserts make it sound like a positive thing but, you know, you usually hear it like, Well, that shithead got his just desserts. Not, Well that uplifting, positive person got their just desserts. I don’t think anyone actually wants their just desserts, do they?


US: Some people really have quite a sweet tooth, is all I’m saying.

(CS pauses to mull that statement over. He drinks. He leans back in his chair)

CS: So you’re saying that maybe somebody like the mayor is looking to get his just desserts? That all the astoundingly reprehensible shit he’s both allegedly and not so allegedly engaged in is him looking for a comeuppance? It’s actually just some scream for help. Help Me! Get Me Out of Here! I Hate This Job!

US: (thinking about it for a moment) That’s good. I don’t think that’s what I was getting at but, you know, who knows. Maybe subconsciously.

CS: Maybe subconsciously who? You or the mayor?

US: Maybe all of us.

(CS finishes off the last of the hummus with his finger. He then reaches into one of his desk drawers, pulls out another bottle and opens it. Carefully pours another drink just for himself)

CS: I think you’ve had enough.


US: The thing about Shakespeare, to continue your thought, and just desserts and comeuppances and what have you—

CS: (raising his glass) Here’s to what have yous.

US: Who gets what and what gets done to whom… who… whom? who? whom?

CS: Don’t ask me. I got a friend Mikk who… whom… who? whom? who? answers that one for me.

US: In Shakespeare, who gets to be king and who gets to be murdered in the Tower of London depends entirely on whether or not it’s a tragedy or a comedy. The wheel turns and all is as it should be when the final curtain comes down. So the question you have to ask yourself is—

CS: Do ya fell lucky? Well, do ya? Punk. Dirty Harry Act 1, scene 1.

US: And again in the last act.


CS: What can I tell you. Don Siegel was my Shakespeare.

US: And Clint Eastwood your Richard Burbage?

CS: I’m guessing some Elizabethan actor?

US: Just let me finish here. This is important. I think. (taps his drink for a refill)

CS: (pouring a drink) Important? We’re just players, strutting and fretting and blah, blah, blah…

US: How this thing plays out is going to depend on what exactly we’re dealing with here. Is it a comedy or is it a tragedy?

(US sits back in his chair and takes a sip of his drink, leaving CS waiting for more. But nothing)

CS: That’s it?

US: Consider me exeunt!


CS: That was hardly worth waiting for.

US: Don’t blame me. Blame Shakespeare.

CS: No, I’m not going to blame Shakespeare. Even he knew it wasn’t all just tragedy or comedy. Life wasn’t that clear cut. I mean, some of those later plays he wrote. They were tragicomedies. Your Wintertales and Tempests. I mean, look. John Cassavetes and Molly Ringwald. All serious meets light and fluffy. Just like life.

US: Technically, those plays are known as a romances.

CS: Point is, mighty eruditee, things don’t always turn out like you expect they should. Sometimes idiots prosper. Sometimes those most deserving of getting their just desserts don’t because everything’s loaded in their favour and they run roughshod over every rule of proper narrative structure. The story simply doesn’t unfold according to the poetics of Aristotle. Play the string out long enough, there’s going to be as many setbacks as there are steps forward. If you’re lucky.

US: So we’re due for a step forward, is what you’re saying.

CS: Nope. Who knows? Maybe. I don’t have a crystal ball. What I do know. What I do know is I that I have an absolute belief in the fundamentals of science. And eventually, a critical mass will be reached, heavy with bad behaviour, worse choices, overweening entitlement, monumental arrogance and hubris, all collapsing into one another until the whole fucking shit show event horizons into a big gaping black hole.


US: (waiting for the rest of the story) … and then?

CS: Then what?

US: After the black hole.

CS: I said I believed in the fundamentals of science. Didn’t say I understood them. Does anybody know what happens after a black hole? Everything not sucked down into it goes back about its interstellar business, I guess. Doing their best to avoid the gravitational pull over their shoulder and pretending that life as they it know just barely avoided a cataclysmic end. How do you think black holes end?

(US pours a drink, sits back in his seat)

US: I think I prefer Shakespeare to science.

(CS pours a drink, sits back in his seat)

CS: Yeah well, don’t we all wish life was sung in iambic pentameter and Hamlet killed his uncle and became king and Beatrice married Titania and they all lived happily ever after.

US: You haven’t read much Shakespeare, have you.

CS: Just enough to get it all fucked up. That’s more than enough to qualify you for positions of great power in these parts.

(They lean in toward one another and clink their glasses just because it seems like they should)takeabow


recreatively submitted by Cityslikr