03 January 2017

A Clean Sweep For The New Year....In 1898

If you ever want to see or read a Shakespeare play for fun....

Some of you may not believe that such a thing is possible.  You still have nightmares about some English teacher who made you feel foolish for not understanding the language--or, worse, not interpreting something the same way the teacher saw it.

I really try not to be one of those instructors. Really, I do.  And, yes, some students actually enjoy Shakespeare plays after I teach them.

One I have yet to teach, but am sure most students would enjoy, is A Midsummer Night's Dream.  To tell you the truth, what I have always enjoyed about it is that it messes with readers and viewers.  As you might be able to tell, there's a part of me that likes to do just that with people.   Sometimes, anyway.

And how can you not love Puck, the mischievous character who, at the end of the play, suggests to the audience that everything they just saw may be, in fact, only a dream.

(Some have suggested that the hockey puck derives its name from that character, because it is capricious and flighty, and messes with players, especially goaltenders.  Others have said it's a corruption of the "poke" used to strike or push the ball in the game of hurling.)

There was once a magazine named after the Shakespeare's character.  It ceased publication nearly a century ago.  I have seen only reproductions of a few issues.  But, from what I've seen, I'm guessing that it must have been poignant, funny and intelligent:  sort of what a magazine of New Yorker cartoons might be like if their creators (or the magazine's editors) weren't so conscious of the fact that they were New Yorker cartoons.

While most of Puck's cartoons were political editorials were political, the magazine's editorial point of view was non-partisan:  Politicians of all stripes were fair game.  Donald Trump might have pledged to "drain the swamp"; the folks at Puck would have wanted exactly that, as evidenced in this cartoon ushering in the New Year of 1898:

"A Clean Sweep For the New Year".  On a bicycle, yet.  Where are cartoons like that when we need them?


  1. How to enjoy Midsummer Night's Dream? Have your students watch the 1935 Hollywood movie version of it. Partial cast: Puck: Mickey Rooney, Bottom: James Cagney, Flute: Joe E. Brown, two of the young lovers: Olivia de Havilland and Dick Powell, all directed by Max Reinhardt. Music is of course all Mendelssohn. It is far and wide the best movie version ever made. In later years somebody asked Cagney how he could take a break from playing gangsters and do Shakespeare. He looked at the interviewer like he was feeble minded, and said, "They gave us the script, we learned it and then we performed it". Real professionals. I see that the entire 2 h 13 min movie is on line these days. I saw it when I was 12 and loved it. And half a dozen times since.


  2. Leo--I did see that movie years ago. It is indeed great, and a lot of fun. Now I want to watch it again.