A COLLECTION OF STORIES BY LUKE TAGG
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SMOKE: Email To Shakespeare

Originally published: Thursday 4 March, 2004

Just like any good South African high school kid in the 80s I did my fair share of Shakespeare (a different one each year), but I have to be honest - I never really grooved on him.

I understood him some of the time but the rest of the time I either busked, or read the side notes that came on each page of some standard high school edition.

Then I left school and went to drama school, and needless to say Bill was there to greet me - and he never left. I performed in a number of Shakespeares, but despite getting caught up in the wonders of modernising his work for a while, it quickly grew too much.

Oddly - my dream was to get into the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), but I realised that my attitude would have to improve somewhat in order to be considered for entry to the pinnacle of theatre achievement, and it just seemed like far too much hard work.

But Will Shakespeare has got a lot of street cred in recent times, with any number of funky young Hollywood actors believing themselves capable of doing justice to the Bard. And I believe Bill is getting just a little too much cred, and hence he needed an email.

Dear Shak

And how art thou? Prettier than a maiden's fair rose, quoth I, but warn that of fair temperate I am not and hence not given to silly trifles nor childish buggery.

Of the Western region come I to seek your abundance and trigger joy in the heart of the cuckold, but must hence haste-poste-haste ere the winds doth wrack and the storm doth moan.

Fair thee well, thou brigand of the heart, for not four score and twenty years shall pass ere my ship tastes the horizon, as Pelops would an Athenian well in the mysteries of midsummer.

When upon my return shall I seize mine lordship and squeeze him till the cock hath crowed, and shower him with jewels brought from far treasures in Antioch.

Like a mare shall I whinny that my love not be misconstrued, for thou art sometime a rock and sometime a very, very hard place, and to find mind and soul trapped between the two can be no greater pain than that felt by a fair wench rolling naked in a field of nettles.

Hey? How do you like that, my brother? See? It's not difficult to write homo-erotic literature with faint references to places you feel you should know but don't - stick in a few thees and thous, bung in a wench or two, talk a bunch of nonsense, make a fortune and have centuries of people admiring the sheer poetry of it all.

I'm onto you, Brother Will. I'm onto you.

Sorry for just barging into your inbox like this unannounced, like some poor courtier with weak etiquette skills, and feel free to set me in stocks in the town square and tickle my feet with thorns, if you I have offended.

But it is my belief that you are given far too much credit for what amounts to a bunch of rhyming couplets cobbled together with a weak storyline, which usually involves some king with erection problems and associated neuroses, who can't keep his temper nor emotions in check.

It's not hard to understand why you are so popular and revered - it all begins in high school. Since your work is largely impossible to understand kids think it must be the truest, greatest form of literature, and hence boys will say they like your work in order to impress girls, and girls will say they like it because they probably do.

Chicks, huh? Hah! Sheesh.

Anyway - my loathing for you began in Standard Eight (Standard Six was OK because we did Midsummer Night's Dream, and could laugh and joke about the guy playing the ass ... you know ... the guy playing the ass, the guy playing with the ass ... no? ... ah well), but in Standard Eight we did King Lear, you bastard.

What did you have to write that play for? Some lonely old git with three corrupt but hot little daughters, who spends hours outside in the eye of a Highlands thunderstorm in the middle of winter, bitching and moaning about going mad.

Yeah, well, join the club, geezer. At least you've got three little hottie daughters - all I have is one pathetic dog who gasses the room every five minutes or so due to her delicate constitution and abnormal digestive system and I tell you - I'm not far away from the madness myself.

But I don't go bitching about it like anyone's big wet Julie - I get on with things, you know? Which is a philosophy you could seriously do with, somewhere around the middle of the fourth Act of any given play.

Now here's a task for you - I want you to explain this following quote, which is uttered by the fair Miranda in Scene 2 of The Tempest:

You have often begun to tell me what I am, but stopp'd
And left me to a bootless inquisition,
Concluding 'Stay: not yet'.

Hey? WTF?? "Bootless inquisition" - the only bootless inquisition I'm familiar with is the one where they arrest you and put you in a holding cell and take your shoelaces away so that nobody will garrotte you in the night.

But that hardly seems appropriate to your story, so what the bleeding stuck pig are you talking about?

I'm sure someone could explain it to me, but that's my point - I don't want to have it explained to me, I want to understand it myself. You're alienating your audience, man, which is one of the big no-nos in theatre.

How about this one (from Coriolanus - not quite Hamlet, eh? Lol @ Will):

When steel grows soft as the parasite's silk,
Let him be made a coverture for the wars!
No more, I say! For that I have not wash'd
My nose that bled, or foil'd some debile wretch.

Now - you've gone from parasites to silk to war to hygiene to nosebleeds to some debile wretch, all in the space of three sentences. And every word of it is bollocks! How do you explain that? Drugs?


Yet rich and clever people all unite as one to sing your praises and swoon over the fetid porridge you serve up, while the working class folks - the very people you were writing for - go: "Stuff that, china, let's go watch the rugby."

Paradox? Irony? Past participle? You know more about that stuff than I do.

So yeah - you got the most of 'em fooled, but not me. You're right up there on my list of overrated, boring twats who everybody likes for all the wrong reasons, a list which includes the likes of Sting, Oscar Wilde, Larry King and the artist formerly known as symbol.

Symbol. We get that kind of shit these days - asexual, transmogrified girly-boys who get everyone excited with their filthy ass-talk and outlandish costumery which does no more than cover an ocean of ineptitude and insecurities that no hole on Earth could swallow.

And I just thought you'd like to know.

Gotto dash and feel free to reply to this mail with all grammar corrected in red. In keeping with our playful repartee, here's my epilogue:

Give our merry banter rest,
Ere we come off second best,
Though the winds did wrack and wrench,
I found me yet another wench,
Firm of breast and wet of lip,
I copped her ass and cupped a tit,
If poor souls we doth offend,
Our graphic nature shall we mend,
Judge us not for simple fun,
Stick your finger up your bum.

And that's the way we do things in Cape Town.

Best,
Luke Tagg

PS: what's with the pantaloons and flowery collars and stupid, pointy goatees? Jeans and t-shirt, dude, a splash of Tommy under the jaw, a tantalising glimpse of yer CK boxers and they'll be all over you like a bad karma. Claremont chicks, man - you gotta see it to believe it.

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I sent the mail off to Shakespeare last night and got a reply this morning, which was brief and to the point:

Dear Luke

Bite me, bitch.

All my hate,
Will

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Now that's what I'm talking about, Will. To the point, with intent - no mixed metaphors and a clear sentiment which requires minimum effort but which gains maximum effect. I understand it perfectly. I know how you feel about the situation and me, and it's even kinda nouveau, in an Anglo-Harlem sort of way.

Love your work.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

Look at me now - all the way from Uitenhage to the bright lights of the big internet.

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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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