I read a book this week that I was really enjoying. It kept me hooked right to the end, and then came the death blow: a sudden, out-of-nowhere, poorly executed ending. Without warning, or even the slightest hint that it was coming, the story just stopped.
I hate that. I hate it so much that I am deferring writing my review until I’ve got over my annoyance at it. The story was so good, and the characters so interesting, that I was completely absorbed in it. And then? Suddenly, POOF! It’s all over.
I dislike cliffhanger endings to books at the best of times. This one was not even the best of times. It wasn’t really a cliffhanger, either. It was more like the whole book got snatched out of my hands and thrown over the cliff, and might never be seen again.
It was possibly the worst sudden ending to a story I’ve ever experienced. It made me think that maybe the author did not know how to properly end a story, even though they obviously knew how to write the rest of one.
I fully understand why authors design those suspenseful endings – they want to keep readers guessing and anticipating what comes next so they’ll read the next book.
Here’s the thing, though: if the book is good, I’m going to buy and read the next one anyway. If the writing or editing is poor, or the storyline is weak, a cliffhanger isn’t going to make me buy or read the next one.
If there has to be a sudden ending, or a cliffhanger, there should at least be enough resolution in the final chapters to answer some of the questions raised in the book. By all means, leave questions unanswered. Just— not all of them.
I do quite like suspense and anticipation. I love the sensation of looking forward to the next book. I do not enjoy an ending that leaves me wondering if the author’s computer crashed and the final chapter was irretrievably lost.
I read a lot of books, and for me, a quality conclusion is as important as the opening paragraphs. You can win or lose readers right there, regardless of how good the rest of the book might be.
Of all the lines written by Shakespeare, this is possibly the single most misunderstood by a 21st century audience.
While it might be a romantic notion for a lovesick teenager to look out her window— not a balcony, by the way— and wonder where her beloved might be, that’s all it is. That is not what is happening in this scene.
In early modern English, “wherefore” meant “why”.
Juliet is not asking where Romeo is. She is asking why, of all the families in Italy, did her new boyfriend have to belong to the family with which hers had been feuding? Why did he have to carry a name that would be an immovable obstacle to them both?
She goes on to insist “that which we call a rose by any other name would be as sweet”— in other words, it’s not the name that makes someone what they are. If Romeo were to change his identity, he would still be the same person. What his name is should not matter — what sort of person he is, and the fact that she loves him, is what should determine their compatibility.
That’s why when you’re waiting for a friend or looking for your dog, it’s incorrect to ask “Wherefore art thou, Buddy?” It may sound cute, but it will make your Shakespeare-loving friends cringe, at least on the inside.
Yesterday was abysmal. That’s not even an exaggeration. In my string of at least a month’s worth of rotten days, yesterday hit new lows.
I can’t even pit into words how bad it was. It was a day in which I began to question everything I thought I knew about myself professionally, and some of the things I thought I knew on a more personal level.
It was a day of alternating between being in tears in my office and being in class pretending nothing was wrong.
If the fact that my students have no idea what I have been going through for the past five weeks is testament to my ability as an actor, then yesterday’s performance was nothing short of stellar.
Even leaving work didn’t help: things just kept getting worse.
Today has been better – not because anything has actually changed— it hasn’t at all— but because of the people who told me they believe in me.
It does not change the way things are, but it does empower and encourage me to keep going. For every person who has no faith in me, I have two who do.
So, I’m going to soldier through it and get things done. I’m going to focus on the positives. And if people try to bring me down, I’ll show them what I’m made of, and then I’ll probably put them in a story and kill them gruesomely.
Written in 1603 or 1604, ‘Measure for Measure’ is a play with enormous relevance to the 21st century.
As I listened to the play on the BBC’s ‘The Shakespeare Sessions’ podcast yesterday, it struck me just how timely and relevant it is.
The play features a man named Angelo who, having been left in charge by the Duke, totally abuses his power in the interests of sexual gratification. He tells Isabella he will pardon her brother Claudio, who has been sentenced to death, if she has sex with him. When Isabella refuses and threatens to tell everyone what he has suggested, he simply asks, “Who will believe you?”
Angelo is clearly relying on his powerful position, and his ability to hold something over her, to get away with sexual abuse and bribery. And he dares to call it “love”, when it is anything but that. He is attempting to romanticise his proposed rape and abuse of power, as abusers so often do.
This is exactly the kind of behaviour we’ve seen exposed by the #metoo movement. Men abusing their positions of power and pressuring women to give in to them because they have the power to grant what the women need – a job, justice, whatever… and relying on their position to give them more credibility than a woman in a weaker position in society. It really does foreshadow those now infamous words spoken in 2017 by yet another reprehensible character: “And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Not easily intimidated, Isabella points out that what he is suggesting is exactly the crime for which he has sentenced her brother to death. His hypocrisy is abundantly obvious to not only Isabella, but also to the audience. That she calls him out on it demonstrates her integrity and intelligence. Bravo to Isabella for not taking his crap or falling prey to his greasy manipulation.
Caught in between wanting to save her brother’s life and not wanting to have sex with Angelo, Isabella verbalises the impossibility of her situation in that very poignant and thought-provoking line: “To whom should I complain? Did I tell this, who would believe me?”
Still, even though she understands that what he says is probably true, she neither yields to him or gives up on her brother. Instead, she finds another way to solve her problems and expose the bad behaviour of Angelo.
As suggested in the title, justice is received at the end of the play in the same measure with which it is meted out at the beginning.
In this, we see a woman standing up for what is right, defending herself, refusing to give in to a man’s manipulation and sexual pressure, and winning. Angelo is punished for his corruption, and Isabella saves both herself and her brother.
This is a powerful contrast to most of the women in Shakespeare’s other plays, and indeed in the early modern times in which he lived and wrote, few of whom had any real agency or ability to stand up for themselves against the will of men.
‘Measure for Measure’ is a thought-provoking and entertaining play which demonstrates that while times have changed, the effect of power and position on human nature has not. Even so, it does remind us that evil people can, and should, be resisted, and we should never stop pursuing justice just because it’s difficult to do so.
That is truly a message pertinent to life in the 21st century.
Over the past few months I’ve been making changes to my social media usage in an effort to take better care of myself.
I have for quite some time now had a pattern of posting, responding to other people’s posts, and then looking for posts of value or interest to share. While those are all great things to do, I came to realise that I needed to put some limits on how much I did of each.
It’s so easy to get sucked into the mentality of thinking that we have to be perpetually present, always available, and never really “switched off”. That way of thinking is a lie— and a dangerous one at that. It’s a really unhealthy pattern that leads to a sense of social obligation that is really hard to break.
Sure, we all want to interact with friends, respond to their posts and see what’s interesting out there in cyberspace. We all want to share our own posts and, for those of us who are authors or other types of Indie creative, we need to promote our work.
That doesn’t mean that we have to do it constantly.
Consequently, I’ve made some changes. I have chosen to take control of my social media, instead of it controlling me.
I’ve cut down the number of times a day I check my various social media. I have found that checking in a couple of times a day is actually just as effective as checking in far more frequently.
I’ve made a deliberate effort to reduce the amount of time spent scrolling through my newsfeed. Scrolling through when things are new and there are people and posts I want to respond to is fine, but the mindless scrolling that often followed wasn’t helping me get things done. Once again, I have found that I’m interacting just as much, but wasting less time and energy in between.
If I need to post something in between as I often do, I post it, check my notifications for anything important, ignore anything that can wait until later, and leave again.
I feel a lot less distracted and far less pressured to “perform” on social media.
I’m using my time more constructively without losing out on contact or interaction with others.
I’m resting better. Because there’s less “white noise” in my thoughts, I can get the peace I need to relax.
Making my social media work for me is far better than me trying to fulfill its never ending demands.
I’m not saying I have total control of the circus, but at least now I am a lot closer to directing the show.
Since then, I’ve noticed one really annoying thing when I’ve been scrolling through my feed. It’s not actually the fault of Pinterest, but it is there that I am continually reminded of a matter that really needs to be corrected.
There’s a super popular quote that keeps coming up on my feed because Pinterest knows I love Shakespeare. It’s all over the internet, and it seems every second person on Pinterest is sharing it.
The problem is, while it sounds like something Shakespeare might have written, those lines do not appear anywhere in the plays or poetry of the Bard… not even close, actually.
The quote is a translation from an Italian opera by Arrigo Boito titled ‘Falstaff’, based on one of Shakespeare’s plays, and which uses a number of lines from several other plays, too. Given that Boito borrowed from the Bard quite freely, it’s not really surprising that other lines from the libretto have been wrongly attributed back to Shakespeare. Some might suggest it’s karma, but it’s really just careless.
I’m more than happy for people to continue posting pretty images of the quote, but it would be great to see them attributed to the right person.
As a poet and author, I know full well what many do not: delivering a message of great import in one hundred words is much more difficult than writing it in one thousand. Condensing meaning, crafting and shaping ideas with an efficiency of words, is harder than it looks.
I enjoy the challenge, though, of telling a story in such a very compact form. A well-written drabble is a thing of beauty, and while I am not suggesting every one I write is excellent, some of them are.
The poem ‘Inside My Head’ was published on The Drabble blog yesterday. It is one hundred words long, yet captures the experience of being inside my own mind perfectly. It’s so relatable, so deep, so powerful – and yet, so concise. I doubt I could explain it better, so I am sharing it here for your enlightenment and enjoyment.
I fully agree with it for the most part. And yet, the past three weeks would have been a lot more satisfying and a lot less sucky if my car would quit jerking me around, the garage door would open and close as it’s supposed to, and if the costumer for my show had not done a “no show” on me seven weeks out from putting my school’s musical on stage.
I’m independent. I’m resilient. But golly gosh, sometimes satisfaction does come from outside oneself.
Before dying at the age of 68, Seneca the Younger made vast contributions to the school of philosophy, most notably in Stoicism.
The influence of Seneca’s work, however, would reach far greater than the school of ancient philosophy, and many of his principles and letters have moulded the landscape of the modern self-help world.
During his retirement and not long before his death, Seneca spent his days writing letters to his friend Lucilius, which have since been collated into a series of 124 letters known as ‘Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium’— Moral Letters to Lucilius. (These are summarised in the modern-day translation, ‘Letters From a Stoic’.)
Seneca’s letters detail his innermost thoughts, offloading his lifelong wisdom before passing. These writings contain a wealth of thought-provoking and insightful material…
‘Julius Caesar’ is a brilliant play in which Shakespeare demonstrates his genius is in taking a story we all know and making the characters familiar in a personal and almost tangible way. Shakespeare takes one of the most famous men in history and portrays him as fully human, flawed and even vulnerable in different ways. It’s not the way we’re accustomed to thinking about ‘historical giants’ like Caesar., but Shakespeare makes it all seem quite natural.
At the beginning of the play, even while he is being celebrated as Rome’s all-conquering hero, his first interactions cast him as a husband who is acutely aware of his wife’s childlessness. We don’t know if his instructions to Calpurnia and Antony are motivated by sorrow or by his desire for an heir to whom he might pass his empire, but either way, Caesar doesn’t miss an opportunity that might make a difference.
Before long, we see him as a man afflicted by disease when he is struck by a seizure, and is obviously bothered by the fact that is happens in public. He may control all of Rome and its empire, but he cannot control his illness. We also see him as a man keenly aware of popular opinion, sen in his public refusal of the crown not once, but three times, yet ignorant of the way his own senators feel about him personally. Regardless of his aspirations, he is astute enough to know that actually accepting a crown as Emperor is not the best move for him at this point in time.
In these things, the audience begins to see the great historical hero Julius Caesar as a complex, thoughtful man, one who holds a variety of responsibilities and obligations that he takes very seriously. He is very much human, in contrast to the Roman tendency to venerate their heroes almost as gods. We see his humanity rather than his pride, although we know that exists because it is his hubris that brings about his downfall.
Shakespeare’s portrayal of other characters is equally powerful.
Caesar’s assessment of Cassius is profound: “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much: such men are dangerous.” In those few words, Shakespeare establishes a vivid image that shapes our perception of the man and positions the audience to distrust the character.
Brutus is shown as a moral man struggling with a dilemma that weighs heavily on him. A strong sense of foreboding settles on the audience when he puts his trust in Cassius, making himself vulnerable to a man whose thoughts and conspiracies are indeed dangerous, particularly for Caesar. At this point, even though both Caesar and the audience like Brutus, his destiny as one of the conspirators is sealed.
In all of this, Shakespeare makes expert use of dramatic irony and foreboding to keep the audience in suspense as Caesar’s train speeds ignorantly toward its derailment. This is established right at the start of the play with the mysterious soothsayer who delivers the warning, “Beware the Ides of March”.
While it is a history play, it has some elements of a tragedy in that Caesar is completely oblivious to the fact that his actions are contributing to his own eventual demise at the hand of the conspirators whom he still perceives as friends and allies. The pathos of his question to Brutus: “Et tu, Brute?” — “You too, Brutus?” makes the moment of his all-too-late realisation one of almost palpable betrayal and sorrow. In that moment, Caesar dies knowing that he is truly friendless and alone.
It’s important to note that the play makes it clear that assassinating anyone is not a good idea, and the assassins do not prosper as the result of their actions. It wasn’t in Shakespeare’s interests to be seen to promote or condone assassinating the established ruler, as he was reliant on the good favour of Queen Elizabeth I and, after her, King James. He wasn’t encouraging anyone to try to kill their leader: he was showing that, historically, doing so didn’t actually achieve what the conspirators hoped it would.
It’s a very direct and straightforward play – there are no real subplots and the political undercurrents are all really obvious because they are what drives the play. This makes it a great play for a “first Shakespeare play” for those who are just beginning their Shakespeare journey.
For the word-nerds, this is the text from which we get great, still commonly used phrases like “It’s all Greek to me” and “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”. It’s also the source of the title of John Green’s enormously popular novel ’The Fault In Our Stars’.