October 6, 2008
Tempest #4 — Money & Fools

[Next posting: Monday, 10/13]

First, Money. ”In Tempest #1” I mentioned that this project was provoked by a grant opportunity. Opened the mail this past Thursday: we didn’t get the grant. So how, pray tell, do we go ahead without the $40 grand?
Well, we do.

Money may seem an odd subject for a log of unbridled creativity. But even Shakespeare’s only extant signatures are on papers related to his will, lawsuits and deeds. No matter your artistry, you think a lot about money unless you’ve got a lot of it. It’s as much your creative “material” as your actors, your paintbrush, or your papier mache. You need to eat & fix your teeth & pay the mortgage, just like the barber my mother once advised me to be.

What’s freaky about the artist, maybe, is that once the vision has snagged you, like the trout taking the fly, you can’t let go. You fall in love with that barbed hook in your jaw even if it lacks a worm. A jollier metaphor might be the monk in the arms of the succubus — damned to hell, but lotsa fun along the way.

So we go forward. We look for more bucks, we rebudget, we get back to serious attention to our addiction. And the same day as the rejection, there’s an unsolicited $900 gift in the mail.

Now, Fools–

Reading and thinking a lot about Trinculo. He’s one of a small clutch of Shakespeare’s court fools, those who actually make a living in service to nobility. Historically, that profession extended from ancient times through the Renaissance, dying out in England by 1660, on the Continent a bit later. In Shakespeare’s time, there was a distinction between the “artificial” fool and the “natural.” The former was the professional entertainer, perhaps combining skills as singer, comic, juggler, etc. The natural was retarded, mentally ill or deformed, sometimes a dwarf, who served the various functions of a pet: affection, display, social diversion or abuse, depending on the owner’s mood. Many gradations, of course: the artificial fool might be a bit bonkers, like many present-day comics; or the natural might be trained in performing skills.

Where does Trinculo fit? He’s been called the least interesting of Shakespeare’s court fools, lacking the wit of Touchstone, the lyricism of Feste, the dark bite of Lear’s Fool. So what is interesting about him?
I’m seeing him as a dwarf, not very bright though he’s learned a few skills. To his superiors he’s an object of sport, the ill-tempered, abused clown. A fool who fits the Naples Court.
And in context of the “comedy team” with the stuffed-shirt egotist Stephano, he’s Stan Laurel without the sweetness. Stephano is the King’s butler, the servant in charge of the wine cellar, and seems to have scant respect — the King refers to him as “my drunken butler..” But like Malvolio, he has higher aspirations; and the bedrock of his friendship with Trinculo is self-aggrandizement: Trinculo will take his abuse and still look up to him. Stephano’s behavior echoes the nobility.
To Trinculo, Caliban is a threat to his status in the team. Caliban wants in, and he’s a better-trained slave, willing to abase himself to the point of kissing his master’s shoe. Trinculo, deformed himself, exults in calling Caliban “monster” and fantasies beating him. So the “liberation movement” forms: a drunken egomaniac, a quarreling underclass, and a battle-cry of “Freedom!”

In our first glimpse of Trinculo and Stephano, they’re simply ”commedia dell’arte” clowns. But as Caliban comes into the mix, the comedy shifts to a darker tone, a pathetic sourness that’s antithetical to ”commedia.” No less comic, but more akin to Jack Cade’s rebellion in Henry VI or the rioting plebes inĀ Julius Caesar — absurd yet murderous, a grotesque replication of the Alonso/Antonio/Sebastian trio and the power structures of the outer world.

A friend once said that every revolution had resulted in something worse. One might argue, true, but there’s no question that, to ears hearing the echoes of the 20th Century and celebrating their birthday this week, the trio’s song of freedom does not inspire hope.
–Conrad Bishop