06 December 2007

Bard Humbug

I've spent some of today writing a short story for B. and me to send out with our Christmas cards. I started this tradition in 2006, and last year's story (a midwinter fantasy called "Sol Invictus") should be appearing at my website at some point between now and Christmas itself. I may as well post it here as well.

If you need entertaining in the meantime, you can always read my latest column about dystopias at Surefish.

Today I've also been scouting out Christmas presents online, including the latest Arden Shakespeare for our goddaughter E.'s collection. We've been giving her a play every birthday and Christmas since she was born, making (Antony and Cleopatra) her thirteenth (and E. herself, of course, six). We calculate that, including the poems and sonnets, there's an adequate supply of Shakespeare to last her until her twentieth birthday, following which we can make the whole library redundant by giving her the Complete Shakespeare for Christmas 2021.

Obviously we're having to be judicious about this. On the one hand, we want to be able to give her some of the interesting plays when she's old enough to appreciate them. On the other hand, when she reaches an age to take an interest in a long-dead verse playwright, we don't want her to look through the selection she's got and realise that most of them are frankly rubbish.

With the best Will in the world (ho ho), not many teenagers these days read Timon of Athens or Pericles, Prince of Tyre for pleasure, and the few who do are probably as disturbed by the obsession with father-daughter incest as amused by Pericles' Pythonesque description of fish as "the finny subject of the sea".

So, we've been trying to alternate the interesting (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Henry V, Antony and Cleopatra) and less-interesting (Richard II, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry IV Parts One and Two, Pericles, The Comedy of Errors) plays, as well as keeping up a vaguely even balance of the genres.

We have two lists, of Good and Not Good plays, each title colour-coded according to whether it's a Tragedy, a Comedy, a History or the one of difficult-to-categorise Last Plays. (Identifying Good Histories has been a bit of a challenge, of course. Once you've done Henry V and Richard III you're a bit stuck.)

She may, of course, have to study some of the plays at school or college, which might mean we have to alter our plans. Some plays we're keeping back for specific life-stages: Hamlet is obviously an ideal gift for a moody teenager who hates their parents, while Titus Andronicus -- a cheerful tale of murder, rape, revenge, mutilation and cannibalism -- seems ideal for her Goth phase.

I wonder slightly whether I should be revealing future plans for presents on a blog which is archived indefinitely. While a six-year-old is unlikely to be browsing the web in search of people she knows, a sixteen-year-old might well be.

On the other hand, I rather suspect E. will have better things to do in 2017 than reading ten-year-old blog posts by her 46-year-old godfather. As for 415-year-old plays by a 450-year-old playwright... well, the jury's still out on that one.

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