For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
July 17, 2002 - Shakespeare Cometh
Shakespeare is hot.
Consider several high profile films: Kenneth Branaugh's "Henry V," "Much Ado About Nothing," and "Hamlet;" Lawrence Fishburne's critically acclaimed "Othello;" Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, Callista Flockhart in "Midsummer Night's Dream;" Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, in "Romeo and Juliet;" and even Gwyneth Paltrow in "Shakespeare in Love."
What's the appeal? Yes, Shakespeare has stood the test of time. But how come?
Much of it is the pure power of his language.
It's amazing (and a little sad) that most of us get by with fewer than 1,500 words in our speaking vocabularies. Shakespeare INVENTED at least 2,000 words. The opus of his work racks up over a quarter of a million unique words. That's the scope of a good college dictionary.
There's an old joke about why one precocious youngster didn't like reading Shakespeare: "He writes nothing but cliches!"
Here's a sampler of phrases that didn't exist until Shakespeare created them: one fell swoop, in my mind's eye, to be in a pickle, vanish into thin air, budge an inch, play fast and loose, the milk of human kindness, remembrance of things past, the sound and the fury, to thine own self be true, cold comfort, salad days, flesh and blood, foul play, tower of strength, and (as Bill Bryson, in "Mother Tongue," put it) "on and on and on and on."
These days, some people find it hard to decode Shakespearean language. This is particularly true for Baby Boomers whelped on the inane linguistic paucity of Dick and Jane. ("Oh! Oh, look! See Jane! See Jane run! Run, Jane, run!")
There's one group that doesn't have any trouble at all, though: the folks that relish the magnificent King James Bible. The creators of this most moving, rich, and poetic version of Scripture were contemporaries of Shakespeare.
Shakespeare happens to have lived at a time of profound change in the English language. "Thee" and "thou" were in decline. The "-eth" ending (as in "he goeth") was then giving way to the more simple "-s" ("he goes"). The "-ed" suffix could be either a full extra syllable ("help-ud") or not ("helpt"). Many contemporaries of Shakespeare grew up speaking one language (Middle English), and died speaking another (modern English, or near enough).
There is, too, the mystery of his identity.
Who WAS Shakespeare? He could have been himself, of course. The facts are scarce. A country boy, born in 1564 in Stratford, England, he may have had a grammar school education. He had a wife and three children. Seven strangely blank years after he turned 21, he burst upon London as a published poet and playwright. He also acted. At his death in 1616, he left his wife his second best bed. In 1623, his First Folio was published. This constitutes almost all that is known of his life.
This same man, the son of a simple country glover (one who makes gloves), displays some incongruous knowledge. He had intimate knowledge of court ritual. His plays drew upon Italian texts not yet translated into English at that time. He referred to law, music, classical mythology -- not generally, but specifically.
This prolific author of sonnet, comedy and drama, left no letters, no diaries. The few documents that do bear his name (and handwriting) are laughably inconsistent: Shakspere, Shaxpere, Shagspere, and so on.
Was he a sheer, native country genius who inexplicably blossomed while simultaneously performing nightly on the stage?
Or was he a front for one Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, classically educated, a diplomat to Denmark's Elsinore (the setting of Hamlet), a lawyer, a man who had a lifelong fascination with actors, whose life was riddled with scandal, and who might well have sought a nom de plume? Edward de Vere died of the plague in 1604, the same year Shakespeare retired from London. Coincidence?
There are other explanations for Shakespeare's enduring appeal. There's the power of his plots. There's "Romeo and Juliet" -- for all those who once were young and defied their families. There's "King Lear" -- for those who are no longer young and now must deal with their families.
There's the power of Shakespeare's characters, and the wrenching, riveting nature of their monologues. What could be more fundamental and profound than ,"To be or not to be?"
Thanks to the generosity of many players -- the Douglas Public Library District (and in particular, the energy and vision of Katie Klossner, our Community Relations Manager), TheatreWorks (the roving company from Colorado Springs), the Gay and Lesbian Fund (for their extraordinary donation of $10,000 to make this event possible), and our many other donors -- we are pleased to announce the absolutely FREE performance of Shakespeare's tragedy, "King Lear."
Where? Under the big top, in the parking lot of the old Safeway (the new Philip S. Miller Library), S. 100 Wilcox Street, Castle Rock.
When? July 24-28, at 7:30 p.m. That's five separate performances.
Cost: that's right, absolutely free. HOWEVER, tickets will be distributed on a first come, first served, basis, and the number of tickets is limited for each performance. We start handing them out at 6 p.m. -- and early visitors will be rewarded by strolling performers.
And after that?
In the words of the Bard, "Our play is done, and we'll strive to please you every day."