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Location, location, location..

24 Oct



King Lear and the demonstrative use of set and location to represent mental decline.

               The tragedy of King Lear is a play of progression and decline where the protagonist is demonstrably taken on a journey and literally walked through the tableaus of his own sanity. Not necessarily an odyssey of enlightenment but instead one of ever decreasing circles where ultimately the monarch discovers the truth behind the man whose crown he wears. An excruciating self-induced circuitous expedition and one that’s distinctly less travelled. Throughout the play we see a monarch on progress but not through the estates of his courtiers rather through the state of his own mind. Shakespeare offers us a personal psychological drama where the travelogue is picture-post-carded with a slide into dementia and loss of faculty by equating location with competence. It’s the symbolism of location that’s so important to the action that even if one had never read the text, one could certainly recognize an evolution in the debasement of self. Each location is cast deliberately to demonstrate mental health, each staged vignette an episode of cerebral degradation. In as much as the story line is vital, it’s the categorical showcasing of the inner workings of mind that is of equal importance The play is for all time, but no matter what personality a director gives the piece they must be true to the atmospherics of implied location. Shakespeare, through location and assisted by language, offers his audience an explication of the implicit. It isn’t only the action on stage that’s of significance, but where it takes place and what it reveals about the frailty of mind.

               Act 1 finds us in Lear’s castle, a stronghold of kingship, the center of royal control and the home of the divinely anointed. Ensconced behind thick walls, bourn above deep foundation we’re exposed for the first time to the mind of the king. Just as his home stands for stability, so are we met with a man who is clearly in control. His very first words are to disseminate orders, the progress of lucid thought and kingly endeavor forefront in his mind. “Attend the lords of France and Burgundy Kent.”(1,1,35) A clear command from a well ordered mind, a man considered of the future, what it holds and how he can manipulate it. A dynasty of kings of whom Lear is the regnal head and from which, we soon learn, wishes to divest himself. Lear we’re told is a man of years who wishes to relinquish himself of responsibility and abdicate sovereign cares by passing his crown down to “younger strengths.” What we’re really being shown by Shakespeare is the bulwark of psyche tormented by age, under siege and under tunneled, where the strong walls of mind that hold one together are beginning to crumble. One can assume that grass is growing through the paving slabs and the mortar that holds the great stones of the castle in place is in need of maintenance, ergo the onset of Lear’s dementia. Both castle and kingship are representative of mind; the immutability of statehood and the dexterity of Lear’s faculty. It’s this disturbing fact that’s presented to us within the symbolism of location. Lear then produces a map; or rather Shakespeare exposes the king’s inner psyche to the audience. By spreading his kingdom in full view, the map not only describes a location, it demonstrates inner conflict, the contention of mind and a “darker purpose.” Lear’s mental health is as splintered as the lines which divide the land on the map. His slide into dementia is further exacerbated by his banishment of his dearest daughter and his most trusted friend, both of whom are exiled and sent away from the castle and cast from the land. This is significant as the castle that represents a bastion of stability is now shown to be losing key pieces, revealing the king’s vulnerability and weakness. Both Kent and Cordelia are analogous of the king’s faculties and their banishment from the whole shows the disintegration of its parts. The castle or court is depleted of vital resources just as Lear is relieved of his senses; gone the dependability of the old and in with the insecurity of the new.

               Shakespeare continues to offer psychological diagnosis in Act 2 with the removal of the king from his castle and into the Duke of Albany’s palace, the home of Goneril his daughter. Why change location? The removal isn’t simply a set change but attempts to demonstrate that the mind of Lear is wandering, that he’s no longer of sound mind and that his judgment is impaired. He’s abandoned the castle of compos mentis and opted to move into the unknown, the daughter’s house representing those parts of the mind that are supposed to be left unvisited. If the castle was psychological stability then Goneril’s home is the fringe of insanity. That which Lear thought would be familiar is in fact foreign. Having moved into one new home, or transitioned his state of mind, he’s quickly ushered into another geographical shift, the home of the other daughter Reagan, describing schizophrenic tendencies or even split personalities. As with the revelation of Russian dolls from one another we understand Shakespeare’s location changes as demonstrative of Lear’s sanity. Briefly attended by the familiar, his knights, they’re as quickly removed as fleeting thoughts and his entourage, or rather the remainder of whatever senses he has left, banished. The king confused, a shadow of himself with his mind crippled, must once again remove his person and find accommodation elsewhere. The playwright hasn’t shown us the daughters’ homes for theatrical license alone but instead revealed a loss of the quotidian, or rather described a deeper context where the knowledge of oneself is no longer relevant and the inevitability of madness is in onset.

               Perhaps the most desperate location we’re shown is the heathland where Lear is left to wander the moors and “abjure all roofs;” a pathetic fallacy of wind and rain-riven heather where a king of fools rants and raves to a deaf heaven. Why isn’t he stalking the abandoned corridors of some great house or screaming his last from the ramparts of an Elsinore? Shakespeare instead deliberately takes his audience into that which Elizabethans feared, the empty spaces and faerie hollows of the countryside – a place of rape and murder – in order to horrify. Nothing is familiar and all is strange; the heath is representative of the total separation of mind and wits. What are the realms of madness like, he seems to be asking, and who’s returned, if any, to tell of the horrors that lie there? Shakespeare with all the drama he can muster knows that the moorland is a country from whose boarders few of his characters will return and we’re deliberately led into the storm. Lear has abandoned by choice, or rather whichever personality at the time was dominant in the realms of his madness, and sought refuge in the ravages of the storm. Red in tooth and claw, the heath represents the finality of insanity, the complete isolation of the king’s mind and an empty stage. Left alone on the heath with rude shelter and a madman for company and with the distinct possibility of death, the Elizabethan audience would’ve been more than aware of the logic behind yet another location change. What was being enacted before them was their worst nightmare. King Lear isn’t just a tragedy but a horror story and the groundlings knew exactly what terrors were being represented on the scaffold before them. One can only imagine the hush that this would have elicited in an open-air roofless theater with the rain beating off their faces. Reality T.V. for a renaissance crowd perhaps?

               Finally we see Lear imprisoned all be it with his daughter. He’s achieved nothing and destroyed everything, left to rot in a cell with the body of his dead Cordelia. The cell is clearly the end, the closure of mind and an end to sensibility. The idea of prison to an Elizabethan audience would’ve been familiar but was generally reserved for the rich and landed. Most crimes committed during this period would have resulted in death by hanging or worse. Therefore the isolated cell location, rather than a representation of punishment, would’ve probably elicited the idea of the demise of conscious thought and reason.

                How does a sane man react with the onset of dementia, with the self-knowledge that mental fecundity is diminishing? This is the purpose of the geographical challenge the playwright sets for his characters. One can imagine Shakespeare pondering thoughts of madness and how he should demonstrate this to an audience. The staging of a mad rant would have been too simple and the allusion to insanity and multiple personality disorder could be accomplished by the continued reimagining of the stage. After all why interrupt the willing suspension of disbelief, time and again, without reason or just cause? Set change, or its Elizabethan equivalent, and multiple locations where obviously extremely important to the sub-plot and rather than stage the whole in a Forest of Arden, Shakespeare chose to change location continuously during his play.  The metaphor of mind and location are self-evident when one considers the Elizabethan understanding of corporal humors. The body, so they believed, was controlled and compartmentalized by various forces – bloods and bile’s – and the movement of humors through the body could easily be equated to location and state of mind. Very cleverly Shakespeare leads his audience through various palaces offering them the view from each and then quickly relocating them to one from which the vista is far worse. The diverse locations are an allusion to mental stability and its inconstant aspects and are representative of a fragility of life that would not have been beyond an Elizabethan understanding.

A critique of literary theory

13 Oct





A Critique of Literary Theory

               Reading is supposed to be an enjoyable pastime and so one may posit that the employment of literary criticism detracts from one’s pleasure and instead of offering insight into an author’s work will simply dissect and present a fractured sum of its parts rather than a work in its entirety. The purpose of critical application is to engender the insight necessary to help the reader develop an understanding of what’s written between the lines and even why the lines where written in the first place. It offers a position of intelligence rather than one of ignorance. With these critical tools in hand, the reader is more likely to appreciate and understand the literature being studied. Instead of reading a text and accepting it at face value, the reader is able to garner a more complex understanding of the subject, able to discuss the finer literary points, analyze the text and compare and contrast it with contemporary writings whilst simultaneously applying other disciplines of scholarly pursuit to embellish one’s reading. Two such disciplines are Formulistic and Marxist literary criticism, as described by Dobie in her book “Theory into Practice,” that offer very different literary lenses both of which can be applied separately to the same writing. Although there are several different methods, these both offer a juxtaposition that allows one to enjoy the writing for itself and its intrinsic beauty whilst enabling one to recognize the characters social standing, understand hierarchical influence and recognize the inclusion of itinerate politic. By understanding both forms one learns not only to appreciate the craft and skill of the author but also to comprehend what inspired them to write what they did and from what view point their words flourished. Formulistic and Marxist theory are therefore complimentary bedfellows when exploring and analyzing any literary text.

               “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,” the very first line of the dystopian novel 1984 published in 1948 by Eric Blair under the pen-name George Orwell. Orwell was a committed socialist who understood the value of life, who during his own fought against both fascism and communism and concluded that anything that was centrally controlled, no matter how represented, was essentially evil and detrimental to the pursuit of happiness and the welfare of humanity. That aside let’s take the first line and apply formulistic criticism. Formulism concerns itself with imagery, scene-setting and the engendering of emotion through metaphor and allusion. Observed through this lens one simply views a clock, no matter where it is, marking time. The clock has just struck one o’clock and so we may perhaps have encountered a satisfactory period directly after lunch. We’re also told that it’s April, that part of the year when we’re coming out of winter and heading into spring, a time of rebirth and continuity, the cold in the air suggesting that we’re still within the clutches of the old season but fast approaching the brightness and clarity of the new; a foreboding perhaps of pleasant weather and happier times? At this point we know nothing of Orwell, his politics, or as yet what the novel has to offer. In fourteen words we’ve been given a statement of facts offering us place and time, imagery of a chiming clock, a sense of season and very little else. A fairly simplistic opening until we explore this from the point of view of Marxist criticism.

               In order to do this we have to step back from the page and consider the author, his works, his life, and his political inclination. George Orwell was the product of an upper-middle-class family who’d attended the best preparatory school in England, Eton, and who was destined to go to Oxford. Instead of becoming a scholar he neglected his studies and through lack of funds or scholarship joined the Imperial Police and become a colonial policeman in Burma;  a job which entailed the wearing of a uniform, the carrying of a weapon and which came replete with the full force of the British Empire to back his every action. In effect he’d become a colonial slave master who was supposed to hold the indigenous population in subjugation in order for the British Empire to continue its criminal rape of the country and its resources for the benefit of His Britannic Majesty. Knowing only this about Orwell we can now apply Marxist criticism, as we can clearly define hierarchy and identify the Proletariat, Bourgeoisie and define the practice of hegemony.

               “… And the clock struck thirteen.” Now we see that time is being defined for a reason, everything must run to schedule in order to insure continuity and uniformity. A clock signifies control and the fact that it’s striking is either an order or a command to which a required response is expected. But why thirteen, why not one? The twenty four hour clock, or military time as it’s known in America, is both a little austere and forbidding. Instead of an image in the mind of a clock on a mantel piece gently chiming the hours of the day we now have an image of a monolithic military time piece dictating the march of time rather than indicating the passing of time. The seasonal change also takes on a different context as the chill in the air now denotes not the representation of change but rather that of permanence; classic foreshadowing which will reach far into the chapters of the story. By applying different lenses we now have two very different interpretations of what the Orwell’s words represent and that from just the very first line of the novel; such are the contrasts of Formulistic and Marxist criticism. In one example we’ve enjoyed the language and accepted an image and in the other, by understanding a little about the author’s viewpoint, have put the writing into its true context and quite differently defined the projected image.

               The application of both of these forms of criticism to the same piece of work adds a depth that would not otherwise be appreciated. In the sonnets of Shakespeare we are offered beautiful imagery where allusion and metaphor are compounded with iambic pentameter adding nuance and precision to the spoken word. Shakespeare’s words conjure not just imagery but sound and innate color, creating a three dimensional experience from a two dimensional page. One can spend hours or even a lifetime pondering the significance of his words, but what if we employ Marxist criticism and apply that, are the sonnets quite as beautiful? We know that the Renaissance England under Elizabeth was a police-state and that religious antipathy existed between the recently formed Anglican Church and the older established Catholic order. Relationships were therefore inflamed and confused, causing the people to accept cognitive dissonance and lives of ill ease. Was Shakespeare caught in this struggle, or more to the point how could he not be, and how did that affect his writing? We know that in his sonnets he’s extremely deferential – accepting that he’s not the equal of the receiver of the sonnets – and can therefore understand that when writing, was clearly aware of the established class system. We know he sought patronage, as unless protected by a wealthier person of higher status couldn’t have continued in his chosen profession.

               In sonnet 29 Shakespeare offers “bootless cries to heaven.” From the Marxist point of view one has to appreciate that during the Elizabethan era there was no higher law than god or that of his representative on earth the Queen; a clear assignation of hierarchy.  When we understand that by offering prayers to a “deaf heaven” in a time when church attendance was mandatory and belief total then the lines are defamatory, heretical and even treasonous. Is Shakespeare saying that god is deaf and impotent and in doing so, by implication, the monarchy as well? On the other hand if we use the formulistic process then we have beautiful imagery of a bootless, destitute, hopeless individual for whom even heaven offers no solace and where prayers simply bounce off the iron work of the pearly gates!

               The use of both types of criticism can be justified in that they offer different depths or strata to an author’s works. Instead of staring at the reflection of one’s self in the waters of a lake, to use the Formulistic metaphorical method, we can instead see through the glassy layer and understand the machinations of the currents and the creatures that live beneath its surface and reveal its Marxist qualities. A combination of political awareness and literary imagery completes a fuller and richer digestion of any explored text. By offering two separate and polar opposite criticisms one can experience and reveal both the implicit and explicit.


30 Aug


The book LORD ALF is on KINDLE.

If you click the side-link or go to Kindle you can download the book.




27 Aug



HOORAY – It’s finally out. Now it just needs to be read and reviewed.

This is where you come in. Please take the time to read and leave your thoughts on the book web page at Amazon.







22 Aug

Busy putting the final touches to the cover before the book goes onto KINDLE and AMAZON.

The book should be available in the next couple of weeks — I know, where have you heard that before?

Let me know what you think. Personally I think it’s bloody  good!




19 May


SHAKESPEARE IN THE VALLEY OF THE SUN – A free-lance piece for the Arizona Magazine

(The surprising popularity of Shakespeare’s plays in a desert landscape.) 

An investigation into the popularity and influence of Shakespeare’s writings in 21st century Phoenix.

By Colin James 

            Margery fusses with her wig and quickly applies another coating of grease-paint. She can feel the swell of voices beyond the curtain — sense their expectation. An audience that’s wined and dined and who now expect to be entertained; after all they’ve paid their $15!
            The Pebble Creek Players have rehearsed for months, in fact the best part of a year. If they haven’t got it down by now they never will. They’re word perfect, and perfectly practiced. It wasn’t easy; a passage of trial and tribulation — long afternoons fortified with iced whatever’s. But tonight’s the night, the moment her amateur thespians will eke out their lives as shadows and poor players as they pace the boards of the Pebble Creek community center.
            Margery adjusts the prosthesis underneath her shirt, looks across the void, and smiles nervously at one of her fellow cast members hidden in the shadows. Slowly she ambles to center stage; difficult to do with one leg in Plaster of Paris however, assisted by crutches she does her best. Suddenly there’s a hush, the only voice that of the compere. “Ladies and Gentleman welcome to this evenings performance.” The voice is a mumble, the words barely audible through the thick curtain that separates the performers from the audience, or rather the Christians from the lions. “Ladies and Gentleman I give you The Greys, Pebble Creek’s answer to Shaftsbury Avenue and Broadway.” Applause. The curtain is lifted.


            Arizona sunshine beats down on black top as Snow-birds and visitors from colder states caper nimbly in newly acquired tennis sneakers defending their own side of the net. The laughter and mirth generated by an afternoon of tennis is palpable in contrast to the intensity of a small but dedicated “band of brothers” that while away the hours in rehearsal and recitation of a Shakespeare play in a private home across the street. Pebble creek, a Robson Retirement community on the west side of Phoenix, caters to those lucky enough to have left the work place far behind; an active adult retirement resort where no matter your flavor of distraction, it can be found behind it’s secure stucco walls. 

          Wendy Jackson, 65, a native of Madison Wisconsin and grandmother to six, holds a copy of Spark’s Notes “No fear Shakespeare” in her hand and reads aloud to the assembled mixture of silver haired ladies and gents who sit comfortably in a semi-circle around her. The text is Henry the V, the notebook a study guide for those introducing themselves to the works of Shakespeare. The Greys, the Pebble Creek Players is an erudite bunch who intend to perform the play later this year. The “happy few”, with drinks in hand, listen intently to Mrs. Jackson as she enunciates; sipping gratefully from freshly made iced-tea. 

            “Theater has always been in our blood,” explained Wendy, “My mother was a dancer and my father, during his military service, worked for a glee-platoon that put on productions for the troops. Although my father was often a little embarrassed of his service, he often spoke of his wonderful-war, entertaining front line soldiers. My father had been a painter and decorator before the war, so when they came looking for volunteers he was a shoe-in, as they needed someone to paint and construct the sets. I guess you might say that the grease paint and limelight was spooned into me as a child. Shakespeare came later for me, probably around the time I went to college.” 

            Wendy looks wistful as she relates her amateur dramatic experience. “Of course it all started in high school with the Christmas show and the annual production the drama society would perform for the parents and students. Once bitten by the bug, I never really lost touch with the stage, and the discovery of a deeper more thoughtful production developed in me with my first taste of Shakespeare. I remember it was Twelfth Night and I was lucky enough to get the part of the maid. Quite an undertaking however, clearly my director saw something in me that, looking back now, was probably a turning point. I’ve been involved in amateur dramatics, and in particular Shakespearian productions, even when pregnant with my two boys ever since. There is something in the language that is so enduring and meaningful. As my old director would say there is ‘cadence on the tongue and music in the ears’ when his plays are performed.” 

            But how much enthusiasm can there be for the Bard in a retirement community on the far edge of Phoenix? Is there really a market for a 16th century play-wright in the Valley of the Sun? 

            Wendy laughs, “You’d be surprised. Of course there’s always enthusiasm for the golden oldies,” as she calls the more popular Broadway productions, “but there’s always a lot of interest in Shakespeare. You’d be surprised how many people have made it to retirement, who only now are listening to, and enjoying his plays. She shakes her head and smiles, “Seems like a waste to me, but better late than never.” 

            The Pebble Creek Players have to date performed 3 sold out productions of William Shakespeare’s plays and alongside their theatrics have created both a reading club and a study group. “A lot of the residents,” explains Wendy, “can’t seem to get enough, and we’re always being approached by new people interested in joining our various groups.” 

            There is no age limit, or statute of limitations that makes the plays popular. When one thinks of Shakespeare penning his prose and performing his plays for the mob in London, clearly it wasn’t sunbaked Arizona that he had in mind. 

            It’s Friday night and a group of around 10 teenagers sit on a stage beneath florescent lighting at Saint Luke’s Church on the corner of 19th Avenue and Camelback road, a location popular on Sunday mornings with a largely Hispanic congregation. The group of young enthusiasts waits eagerly, chatting and browsing on their smart-phones. The teens have volunteered to participate in a Shakespeare workshop run by the Brelby Theater Company on the West side of Phoenix in Glendale. This older, less in vogue area of town, has suffered the effects of economic malaise. During the 16th century, when Shakespeare’s plays were being performed for a half-penny a time for the groundlings in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames in London, The Globe Theater hardly had an address to boast of either. Glendale is now populated by lower income families, with a large Hispanic demographic. At least half of the kids waiting for Geoff Shelby, the organizer of the workshop and one of the principals of the theater, are the children of Latino immigrants and not all of them are legal. 

            Geoff a tall, gangly, salt and peppered veteran of the theater calls the kids to order and hands out copies of this evening’s texts. Romeo and Juliet; the balcony scene. 

            “Something they all know about even if they don’t realize it yet.” Geoff throws me and infectious grin and launches into Romeo, oh Romeo. 

            “Alright then who’s heard that before?” asks Geoff. A couple of hands go up in the air. “Who’s heard of Romeo and Juliet?” Several more hands appear. “You guys have been holding out on me. Seems you’ve have already heard of this Shakespeare character.” Laughter ripples through the small group that’s excited to get down to business. 

            “Shakespeare,” Geoff tells me, “is as relevant today as he ever was. It’s simply a case of getting young people’s attention. With so many distractions and sources of instant gratification one has to bring the plays to the fore, sit the kids down, and show them what they’re missing. It’s amazing to see the transformation from disinterest to over-the-top enthusiasm; their pride in being able to recite and remember tracts of text. You literally see the kids grow as they stand on stage and recite for their parents at the end of the course. 

            The Brelby company has been a feature of the Phoenix theater scene for well over 15 years and was formed by Geoff Shelby and fellow thespian Anita Rodriquez . 

            “At the time,” says Geoff, “there was no real theater. Sure there were movies but it wasn’t the same thing. Live theater grabs an audience by the throat and forces their senses into the action without the distraction of popcorn and product placement. We originally formed the company to perform one play however, since then we’ve done over forty. Shakespeare has always been a main-stay of our revue, an evergreen that audiences don’t seem to grow tired of.” 

            The Brelby, a not-for-profit organization, has benefitted from Arizona for the Arts funding, hence their community give back. “Ticket sales,” says Geoff, “ are unfortunately only half the story, and alongside our theatrical work we all hold regular jobs. Theater is our passion, unfortunately not our profession.” The look on Geoff’s face at the interaction of the kids is worth the million dollars the Brelby Theater Company truly deserves. He believes that keeping Arizona’s kids on the stage and off the streets is money and time well spent.


            Arizona is a keenly diversified state where one can ski Flagstaff in the morning and bathe in Phoenix sunshine in the afternoon; a state known more for copper, cattle and cotton than Elizabethan English theater. One can rodeo-ride in Buckeye or sling six-shooters in old-town Tucson, but one can also find the theater in all its diversified forms throughout the state, and surprisingly that of William Shakespeare. There is a ground swell of enthusiasts and over 20 independent theater companies, private individuals and interest groups, who devote their time to either studying his works or performing his plays.


            In the heart of downtown Mesa a very different atmosphere can be found from that at Saint Luke’s, although their intent is the same. The Desert Rose Theater, “The best theater you’ve never seen,” as they advertise themselves, are in the throes of final preparation. Unlike the Pebble Creek Players who were surrounded by garden furniture and cooling beverages there is a sense of urgency, a heated atmosphere of needs-to-be-done; a group in excess of 30 people, swarm around the theater building preparing for an opening night that is only a week away. The posters are printed, the blurb gone to the local press, and ticket sales haven’t been too shabby either. They intend to perform William Shakespeare Midsummer Night’s Dream and Kathryn Stewart, the director of the theater, is in no mood for half-measures, and even less time for anybody not directly related to the play. 

            With tousled brown hair and eye-glasses pushed up on her fore head, Kathryn is the epitome of efficiency. She continuously shuffles papers through her hands while we talk, and despite the interview, is keen to engage several people in conversation at any one time. In between her directions for stage management and interjections between actors, I discover her passion for the plays. 

            “I finished college in Washington, and joined a theater group directly afterward. With a liberal arts education and a passion for the stage, much to the disappointment of my parents, I took to the road. For me it’s always been Shakespeare. I’ve worked with other companies in the past, but it’s always a welcome return home when I go back to doing what I love best.” 

            Kathryn has trod the boards for the past 30 years and is clearly a devotee to her art. But why Phoenix? Why Arizona? 

            “The Rose Theater first came to Phoenix in ‘92.  At the time we performed mainly for schools and colleges. Now, much to my distress, the study of Shakespeare and his works has nearly disappeared from the curriculum and so we’ve had to make ourselves more affable to the public. This has meant more elaborate stage craft and a sense of utter professionalism in order to attract paying audiences. Although we’re a volunteer organization we do employ several professionals and very often contract actors for our leading roles. This allows us to take our plays on the road, and during any given year we cover most of Arizona. Our season is generally made up of four plays two of which are always Shakespearian in nature whether Shakespeare, Marlow or Johnson for example.” 

            Judging by the amount of people involved and the projected two weeks of four performance plus matinees, Kathryn has her hands full. I leave her to her work and head for my final Shakespearian experience.


            My destination is the aluminum and glass edifice of the Mesa Arts Center, An opulent, outwardly expensive monument to the theater and performance art. The center features art, dance and music, and is home to the Southwest Shakespeare Company, the most auspicious of all the Shakespearian players within Phoenix’s city-limits. I step into a polished steel elevator and wend my way to the office of Margaret Monroe, the current publicity director for the company. As expected Ms. Monroe is dressed in impeccable business attire and exudes and air of supreme confidence. A total contrast from Geoff Shelby and his make shift accommodation in Glendale. 

            “You have to understand that Shakespeare can be performed in many different ways,” she explains, “and have been on many different occasions. The fact that we’ve this beautiful facility and the ability to hire top notch actors doesn’t detract from the work being performed by others. You have to remember that during Elizabethan times there was also a differentiation between those who paid pennies to stand and watch performances in the rain, and those who sat on cushions in the balconies. Shakespeare is for everybody and in order to proliferate his works we offer a first class location with a first class experience.” 

            Although the company does receive some arts-council funding, it is a self-sufficient organization and turns a profit. When not performing in Phoenix, they take their plays on the road and even internationally. “Phoenix is a great base for us,” explains Margaret, “as everybody here is from somewhere else. Many residents have come from larger cities where they’ve enjoyed quality theater and so expect the same.” A classic case of the market will provide.


            Mrs. Menendez watches her teenage son as he leaves the house, walks down the garden path, turns, waves, and disappears into inky blackness. Menendez crosses herself; not in fear for her son but in thanks for a certain individual who’s come to town — a voice that will take her beloved boy off the street and keep him safe from harm. She knows exactly where Jose will be for the next two hours; in fact she knows where he’ll be every Tuesday and Thursday for the next two months. Secure and surrounded in the caring environment of the Brelby Theatre and Geoff Shelby; free from the scum who pollute the streets.
            So who is this masked man, the caped-crusader that has arrived to save the youth of Glendale? No man of steel, rather a man of words; a warrior poet whose plays and sonnets have brightened the planet for over 400 years; a writer who has chased away the shadows and illuminated the lives of millions. Parents of Glendale and Phoenix take heart. William Shakespeare abides in Arizona.


The End


14 May



  When the first rock hit the windshield I was surprised. When the second hit I was terrified. I’d experienced situations like this on television; anxious protagonists pursued by crowds through cramped, white-washed, laundry-draped streets. But that was Hollywood, the stuff of fiction; something you’d pay ten dollars for to entertain yourself on a Saturday afternoon; a thrill ride of virtual terror accompanied by a soda and a tub of popcorn. Not so much on that street in Nablus. There was I, having arrived in the country less than an hour previous, with nothing on my mind but sleep, embroiled in civil unrest. 

The flight to Tel Aviv from Washington had been long, nearly eleven hours. I’d watched everything they’d provided, read my magazines and eaten the obligatory meals.

Fish or beef?” The litany of the stewards, as they struggled to push trolleys through an aircraft filled with restless people, anxious for their journey to end. The worst part of traveling, as every experienced back-packer will tell you, is traveling itself. The airports, the delays, the flights, the inconsideration all of those who don’t give a fig about your odyssey, amount to an extremely unpleasant experience. Gulled by glossy brochures, and photo shopped web-sites the average traveler has nothing on his mind but sun, sand, sea and a week away from the boss. The magazines never mentioned the overcrowding of cattle-class, or the flatulence of my new best friend who, slightly larger in the waist than most, was spilling into my seat. 

A week in Israel, how bad could it be? A final jaunt on the boss’s dime before I handed in my notice and went off to college. Having been with the company for a little over seven years, I deserved it. Heck they owed me! Of course I’d been to Israel before and so knew what to expect. I’d been promised top-notch accommodation at the King David, a very select hotel in the center of the beach-side tourist district of Tel Aviv. I’d booked the room the previous week and even though I wasn’t paying, had nearly choked on the price of $375 dollars a night. I had of course informed the boss who’d simply waved a hand telling me not to worry about it, as he smudged his signature onto my travel permission request. 

 “Israel is expensive. You know that?” he’d asked. Of course I knew that, but the best part of $400 a night, in a hotel frequented by the likes of Madonna and the rest of the pop-erazzi seemed excessive, especially when the same man would usually quibble over per-diem expenses. 

The purpose of the journey was to support colleagues struggling with a project; my allocation was for a seven days jaunt to Israel. As per usual everything was covered, accommodation, travel, food and this time, thanks to previous visits, I actually knew some people who lived in the country and so the acceptance of an invitation to somebodies back yard to eat grilled meat and choke down a few cold beers was inevitable. I wasn’t excited, more resigned. I had to go. 

C’est la vie! I kicked the wife, stroked the dog, and bid my children farewell. “Off to the Holy Land — see you in a week.”

Arriving at Tel-Aviv airport I should have recognized the signs. Normally the place is bustling, with soldiers and uniformed officials, merchants and fellow tourists; a melting pot of travelers and returners, a hive of industry – but not today. Getting off the plane we were met by the usual brown-uniformed, machine gun toting conscript. On previous visits we’d been collected by bus, and ushered into a receiving area where passports were checked and questions asked. The Israelis, for obvious reasons, take their security seriously, and so it’s not unusual to face a barrage of questions that can go on for at least half an hour. I know, I‘ve had to endure the inundation of where-are-you-goings and who-are-you-staying withs. Questions repeated over and over again, until one becomes so exasperated, one is willing to divulge the inner most secrets of the heart to receive a release and one’s passport returned from some dead-pan official’s sweaty palm — but not today.

I walked through the corridors of an airport bereft of people. An old Arab, pushing broom, nodded to me which was more recognition than the half- asleep passport official gave, who just waved me through. “What no questions?” I carried on, I knew where I was going, off to the rental car agency on the other side of the reception hall. Stepping outside into sticky humidity I mounted the escalator and whisked myself above the road to the office where Hertz keeps their brightest. A dower faced man in a crumpled suit who looked over my paper work, threw me a set of keys and pointed to the vehicle. 

“You fill up,” he said.

“What?” I asked.

“When you return, car is full. Gas!” Exasperated, he threw his hands into the air. 

 Nothing like customer service, and believe me fellow would-be travelers, outside of the good old U.S. of A there is nothing like customer service. Non-committal platitudes of, “Have a nice day,” and, “did you enjoy your stay?” Is anathema to all, but the 320 million who reside within America’s purple mountained majesty. 

Bags in the car, engine started, and map open on the front seat, I’m good to go. Haifa is about thirty minutes up the coast road, an old crusader town that has been inundated by Palestinians, Arabs, British, French, and more recently with German tourists. I gunned the engine, turned the wheel and squealed the tires of the rent-a-wreck out of the garage, and into the Mediterranean sunshine. Following directions I’d printed out, I simply pointed my nose, headed north along the E1, the main drag that goes from North to South along the coast; a pleasant drive with the Mediterranean on one side of me and the olive groves, and brown hills on the other. Nice enough, but a typical sand blown, fly bitten, Mediterranean country. Honestly, when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Sure the cultures are different, but there is always a vista of unfinished grey concrete, lack of air conditioning and a pervasive smell of inner city garbage. 

The soldier at the checkpoint insisted something unintelligible and pointed to a road that diverted from the main drag. Instead of heading north I was now heading away from the sea in an easterly direction. With a dust plume reflected in my rear-view I drove for the best part of twenty minutes until I came to the town the soldier had indicated, and turned left. A pretty little village, the type you’ve seen on picture postcards, and posters welcoming one to Israel. The sort of place you want to get out of your car, walk around, meet the locals, and enjoy a glass of the local brew and perhaps some of that lamb you’ve imagined being turned slowly on a spit. To be honest I really thought my vacation was just beginning, an experience I was looking forward to having. 

I saw my first Hasidic Jew just ahead of me, a gentleman dressed in traditional garb; black flowing clothes and an oversized, wide-brimmed hat. He waived at me and I waved back. Friendlies obviously, and in complete ignorance drove on, rounded the corner, and came face to face with the parade. 

The smack from the rock instantly evaporated my reverie; the crack, spider webbing across the glass, urging me to rethink my touristic plans. The second rock bounced off the hood, before ricocheting into the wind screen, leaving a large, dull, opaque smudge, right in front of my eyes. Understanding immediately the urgency of the situation, I slammed the vehicle into reverse and raced back from whence I’d come. The old Jewish man still stood on the corner, but now instead of waving, he was pointing. I guess some things just don’t translate well, and did my best to grimace through broken glass, before returning to the main road. 

Unbeknownst to me I had landed in Israel on Haditha, a deeply religious festival that celebrates some pertinent event enjoyed by fundamentalist Jews. A national holiday also, which accounts for the ghost town of an airport I’d just walked through and the couldn’t-care-less attitude of the renter-car agent. The only idiot that didn’t know anything about it was me. Clearly I hadn’t done my research, and with a comfortable hotel room on my mind, had stumbled into the middle of one of the local festivals. Luckily for me, and with innate Indiana Jones dexterity, had extricated myself with consummate precision. 

I recommend going to Israel if you’ve never been; the high country to the North is probably the most picturesque you will ever see, the people relaxed and friendly. Just don’t go there on Haditha. Like me, you may just get more than you budgeted for.