Friday, November 23, 2007

An Engineer's Take on Shakespeare

My dear husband, an engineer who never read Shakespeare in high school because he grew up in Central America, finally watched his first Shakespeare movie. It has taken me years to get him interested in English living books that he missed because he read Don Quixote and other Spanish classics. Last night, we sat down and watched The Merchant of Venice (Warning: the movie is rated R because ladies of the night flaunt their "goods" in some crowd scenes and two merchants talk business at a brothel where they handle some "merchandise"--nothing beyond handling, however).

Me: "Honey, you might like the story and Al Pacino plays one of the leading role." Like many men, my dear husband has a weakness for gangster movies.

He: "It's not on a stage, is it?"

Me: "No, it's set in Venice. It is like real movie, only with dialogue by Shakespeare."

He: "Well, turn on the subtitles."

Me: "Uh, I tried that. They're in French. Closed caption doesn't work either. But, I'll explain any confusing parts."

He reluctantly agreed to watch. The first hurdle was the caskets of gold, silver, and lead. I explained how Portia's deceased father set up a lottery in which she would marry the man who picked the casket with her picture after reading the poem assigned to each. His engineering mind began to whirl, "But, wait a minute! By the third guy, everyone will know."

I tried explaining that only one suitor could be in the room at a time, but it took seeing how the suitor scenes played out for him to get it. When the Prince of Morocco came with his men, my dh says, "So, that's like his posse, huh?" Yeah, sure, whatever. He did get it when Portia insulted the Prince with what appeared to be compliment in Act II, Scene I ("Yourself, renowned prince, then stood as fair as any comer I have look’d on yet for my affection"). In that same scene, Steve perked up when he heard, "All that glitters is not gold," and remarked with surprise, "That came from Shakespeare?"

Of course, he got wrapped around the axle when Bassiano was deciding which casket to choose.

He: "Oh, come on! She knows which casket has her picture. All Bassiano has to do is watch her reaction."

Me: "Yeah, but look he's not watching her. He is thinking about the meaning of gold, silver, and lead and the poems in making his choice."

He: "Yes, but she's so obvious. All he has to do is look at her."

Me: "But, he's not!"

Shakespeare's plot drew him into the movie. He had to find out if Shylock would really demand a pound of flesh. And, in the court scene, he grabbed the book to compare how faithful the movie was to the original text, remarking "I'm impressedeth." He could not imagine how Portia would be able to save Antonio from his fate, and I was surprised he resisted the temptation to scan the text and figure out her strategy. (With the Bleak House DVD, he could not wait for the third disc from Netflix and looked up a synopsis of the book online.)

Just to give you an idea of how an engineering mind processes Shakespeare, we had to pause the court scene and rewind it several times to calculate the number of ducats Shylock meant when he said, "What judgment shall I dread, doing were in six parts and every part a ducat I would not draw them; I would have my bond."

We heard the word pots, not parts. When I pulled out my hard copy of the play, Steve said, "Parts? Oh, well then, that's easy. It's 36,000 ducats."

As they bind Antonio's limbs to the arms and legs of the chair and tighten the belt tying his chest to the chair, he eyes the straps skeptically, "Do you think those straps are strong enough to hold him?" Then, as Shylock places the point of his blade on Antonio's chest, he comments, "Hey, why didn't Antonio fatten himself up? He could have taken estrogen shots or something . . ."

Then, the whole ring prank with Portia and Nerissa got him going, "Why those ______!" I will leave you to fill in the blank so that my blog may remain chaste.

In the end, my dear husband enjoyed his first Shakespearean movie. In sooth, my lord demandeth of me that he shall heareth nought but the Shakespearean tongue part from my lips from this day forth. So fare thee well since I needs be gone!


Anonymous said...

Way hey! A success then. I have trouble watching movies with my other half too. He likes happy ending but I like realism [misery]. For us it's best if we watch something with an ambiguous ending.

LAA and Family said...

I love your husband's comments! We like watching Shakespeare together. One of our first dates was going to see MacBeth.

Prince Andrew and the Queen Mum said...

ok- i have to say i'm your hubby when it comes to Shakespere. Both you and Wardeh (suchtreasures blog) recently bloged on Amazing Grace so I looked at it in Costco yesterday....i looks so...Shakespeare. I may have to re-think my thinking if I'm gonna do A/O...I just don't 'get' it! i need to watch Amazing Grace or a Shakespere flick w/ a lover of it I think before I venture into it myself. (oh -yea I was an engineer. probably shouldn't have gone that route because it didn't fit..but alas that is what I some of it 'stuck.')

walking said...

I did not get Shakespeare in high school. AO is the reason why I started to get it. As I read through the various years at AO, my ears and eyes got acclimated to more antiquated versions of English. As my knowledge of history improved, I began to understand the backstory to period pieces. Until I got into AO, all I remembered from Shakespeare was learning "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, throw me a beer. We come to bury Weaver [our principal], not to praise him . . ."

My mother watched Amazing Grace with me last night. German is her native language, and Shakespeare is beyond her grasp. When the movie was over, she said Amazing Grace is one of the best movies she has ever seen. One thing that might help is to have subtitles! I always do that with period pieces to help Steve, whose native language is Spanish, catch on in spite of the antiquated language and English accents.

Bonnie said...

LOL! I drive my DH crazy when we watch movies b/c I have to rewind, and ask questions...

Anonymous said...

Your account of your conversation with your husband had me laughing out loud! Really. I bet he and my husband would get along great. (Except my hubby is not so math oriented).

I have been spending a lot of time on your blog lately, reading your wonderful posts on RDI with Pamela. I have a very high functioning but very lonely daughter with Asperger's Syndrome, and I am trying to figure out how to implement RDI with her. I have thoroughly enjoyed my visits here.


Anonymous said...

tagged you!