Listening to: Missa L’Homme Armé – Josquin Desprez
I don’t need to insert a spoiler warning for Shakespeare, do I?
William Shakespeare. Considered one of the greatest artists of all time, or a talentless hack who didn’t even write his own plays, depending on who you ask.* His works deal with universal themes of the human condition, such as love, revenge, ambition, envy, jealousy, more love, more revenge, depression, gender identity, discontentment and contentment, even more love, and even more revenge. (Even some of Shakespeare’s comedies have revenge plots, such as The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Tempest.) Because of this, and the timeless quality of his writing, Shakespeare’s plays have remained relevant and popular today.**
*Alternate viewpoints will be provided at the end of the post.
**I am engaging in what George Bernard Shaw would refer to as “bardolatry.”
With all that love floating around, Shakespeare created a multitude of iconic married couples: Othello and Desdomona, Katherine and Petruchio, Richard and Anne, Romeo and Juliet, and so on. However, there are fairly clear-cut problems with all of these relationships; problems which usually comprise a good chunk of the play’s main plot. Despite his protestations to the contrary, Othello has such a poor opinion of Desdemona’s faithfulness that a few whispered words and out-of-context moments are sufficient evidence to him of her infidelity. Katherine and Petruchio spend most of the play fighting each other, and by the end of the play it’s left ambiguous whether or not their relationship is even remotely healthy. (This does tend to make The Taming of the Shrew a more interesting play to develop, on the other hand.)
Richard and Anne’s relationship is one of the most deliciously twisted to be brought to the stage, kicking off with Richard killing her fiancé and seducing Anne over the corpse of her father-in-law, then culminating in Richard having Anne poisoned (maybe) so that he can move on to a more politically advantageous match with his niece. Not much more needs to be said on what the problem is with that. And Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s most famous couple? Well, their entire relationship culminated with marriage after around 24 hours and double suicide by the end of the week.
“But if you’re just going to be trashing all of these Shakespearean couples, why did you name this post Shakespeare’s marriage champions?” Well, I’m glad you asked, Hypothetical Interested Party, because I’m about to tell you. You see, there’s one couple in Shakespeare that actually does a good job with the whole marriage thing, and it’s not who you’d expect.
It’s the Macbeths.
“Say whaaaat?” Ah, Hypothetical Interested Party, allow me to explain. (Read: cherry-pick instances where the text corroborates my opinions.) While it’s true that the Macbeths are bloodthirsty, conniving, and Scottish, it’s important to note that they are in all of those things together. For instance, when Macbeth gets a prophecy from the witches at the beginning of the play, what’s his first reaction? Why, to write his wife a letter, of course. Petruchio could hardly be bothered to give Katherine the correct time of day, but Macbeth is sure to communicate with his wife. “Honey, some strange bearded women in the middle of a heath told me that I was going to be king someday. I will remember to bring back milk and eggs. XOXO.”
Lady M, being her husband’s perfect match as far as ambition goes, immediately begins planning on how to set him up as King. Now, if Lady M were Desdemona, she would make her plot to kill Duncan and set Macbeth up with the throne into a big, special surprise. (And also not plot to kill Duncan at all, because Desdemona is a big softie.) However, like the supportive wife she is, she immediately gets Macbeth in on her nefarious schemes. “Honey, I think that we should murder the king. Now, I’ve brainstormed a few possibilities, but I want to run them by you first.”
Not only does Lady Macbeth handle the plotting, she also heroically upholds her end of the bargain by taking an integral part in the plan. After the king is dead and the murder is pinned on his drunk guards, she hustles Macbeth out of the way to wash his hands before he answers the door, making some pointed remarks about his fear while doing so. Then the pair cover for each other with unmatched skill, managing to convince everyone that the guards did it without rousing any suspicion. I imagine that they exchanged metaphorically bloodstained high-fives after everything was taken care of. If they had been Romeo and Juliet, their celebration would probably have been mutual suicide.
When Lady Macbeth dies, Macbeth’s immediate response is to soliloquize on the pointlessness of life. “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour on the stage/ And then is heard no more. It is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.” In contrast, Richard’s reaction to Anne’s death is casually adding her name to a list of all the other people he’s killed. I think it’s clear who’s the better husband.
From these few carefully pruned examples, one can see the Macbeths as an ideal couple: supportive of each other, engaging in life as equals, and not afraid to criticize each other’s faults. Other couples, both Shakespearean and modern, could learn from their example.
COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT BONUS ROUND!
This bit highly intellectual, so try to keep up. Shakespeare didn’t actually write his plays, and I will prove it with the power of analysis.
Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616. Another person who died on that very day was Garcilaso de la Vega, a Spanish chronicler. Garcilaso de la Vega was also the name of a Spanish poet, who had died exactly 80 years earlier. If you square the number of people named Garcilaso de la Vega you get the number 4, and 80 divided by 4 is 20. Hold on to that number, it will be important later.
Now, if you take the number 1616, then invert it and look at it in a mirror, you get 1919. 1919 is also a year, but a long time in the future. World War I ended in 1919. The president of the United states at the time was Woodrow Wilson. WWI… W.W. There is a clear connection between these two things. If you put the two pairs of W’s together into a mathematical formula, you end up with a result of (WW)^2, which can also be written as W^4. Now, since superheroes do not exist, we can remove the superscript, which leaves us with W4, a United States Tax Form. This is under the jurisdiction of the IRS.
Now, if you take the letters I, R, and S, and assign them numbers, you get 9, 18, and 19. By carefully recombining these numbers, you can discover a wide variety of things. Firstly, by putting 9 and 19 together, you end up with 199. There are three digits in this number, which makes the number in total 1993. Now, going back to Shakespeare’s original death date, we take the numbers and invert them, giving us 432. This is a tricky number to deal with, but can be easily simplified. By dividing it in half, we get 216, which backwards is 612. Dividing the 18 left over by 2 yields a 9, and by flipping it over we get a 6, which cancels out the first digit and leaves us with 12.
Now, recombining that with the previous, three numbers remain: 12, 20, and 1993. Actually, this spells out a date: December 20th, 1993. December 20th is my birthday. I am William Shakespeare.
This is the Bard of Avon, signing off until next week! Parting is such sweet sorrow.