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Thursday, October 28, 2004

Shakespeare and the Turtle

Once upon a time, William Shakespeare was walking on Stratford Street, across from Avon. He stopped at the curb, and slowly, a turtle passed by him and began to cross the street.
As the turtle crawled into the distance, Shakespeare turned to hear an idling crowd. Go walk and get the turtle, they said, and we shall applaud.
A theater manager, knowing a good thing when he saw it, said skip to the turtle and I will pay you money.
A pretty girl in the crowd then said, twirl as you walk and I will kiss you!
A man then cried out, reach the turtle before I do and you will be a better man than I.
Then he heard from the palace window the Queen, who said hop to the turtle and I will make you a knight!
Several friends beckoned to him. And show us moves that we can perform with similar acclaim!
Finally, a ghost appeared to him, and said to Shakespeare, make it all original, and I the ghost of posterity will remember you.
And so Shakespeare pondered for some time the diverse requests of his audience, and with budding excitement came to a solution. Then, in a balletic motion that would do Balanchine proud, he walked and he ran and he twirled and he hopped. He did it all with originality, with speed, and with panache. And so his walk across the street became choreography for the ages, and perhaps maybe, just maybe, he even got the turtle.

In the movie Shakespeare in Love, our hero was muddling over a new play that was not coming on at all well. It was titled 'Romeo and Ethel, the Pirates Daughter'. Burdened with an uninspiring title and plot, he at first despaired of his own genius. Inspiration of course came to the rescue, but the muse was dressed in a dozen very different robes, and represented the mundane things that filled his world. And so were such inspirations cast as a crowd that demanded sex and violence, a playhouse owner wanting a popular play, a girlfriend longing for lines of romantic intimacy, a Queen desiring pratfalls, and actors in his troupe clamoring for good lines. And of course, for pride's sake he had to surpass the efforts of his rival Christopher Marlowe, and above it all, forever beckoning, was the specter of posterity.
With such inspiration, or rather, inspirations, Shakespeare could not help but create works of surpassing genius, and be charged with the motivation that created them. The cauldron of genius is seasoned with a dozen motivations, and the more diverse the demands, the greater heights does it vault. Genius requires not an audience, but audiences, and it is diverse demand that is the spark of motivation that electrifies the mind. Educational psychologists would do well to learn this lesson, that genius comes when it is wanted, from everywhere.
Note: (Oh yes. And the real Shakespeare? Consider an environment full of external motivators for a pastime as addictive to its age as our time is for television. To quote Daniel Boorstin’s book ‘The Creators’ (pp.307-310): "The theater had risen in London during Shakespeare’s youth. "The suddenness with which the new pastime had appeared raised the alarm of the learned and the pious. Like television in our time, theater acquired its frightening popularity within a half century." "…..In two weeks during the 1596 season a Londoner could have seen eleven performances of ten different plays at one playhouse, and on no day would he have had to see a repeat performance of the day before."…."Of the twelve hundred plays offered in London theaters in the half century before 1590, some nine hundred were the work of about fifty professional playwrights." (It should be noted that the London of 1590 had about the population of present day Jackson, Mississippi!!) This author wonders what a Vesuvius of inspiration would follow if present day authors had such willing ears, and what any of us would trade for such extrinsic motivation!)

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