Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, June 16 2005
A Lame Story About A Lame Excuse

By Hamdu Mia

Frodo is this dumb guy who apparently lives in a world where Nike and Reebok don't exist because he never wears snickers. (He can't even afford to think of wearing leather shoes because he has to do a lot of walking, running, climbing and other physically demanding stuff.) He is very gullible and is quite a "pushover", although he thinks he's doing the world a huge favour by being all nice and kind.

Frodo has this companion called Sam, who is actually more of a "chamchaa" than a companion. (Apparently, Sam hasn't heard of Nike and Reebok too.) Frodo, however, being the marginally smart guy he is, treats Sam like a friend to save himself from all the pain human rights (read "hobbit rights") organisations give regarding fair and gentle treatment of one's page boys.

Frodo and Sam are on this really dumb mountaineering trip to this volcanic mountain, a trip they wouldn't have gotten themselves into in the very first place had Frodo not been such a "pushover". (Frodo, however, thinks he's doing the world a really huge favour by setting off on this journey.) As I told you, these guys are kind of dumb, which is why they don't even know the way to this mountain they're going to. So to show them the way, they hire Gandalf, this really old guy with a really huge beard (who apparently has never heard of Gillette) and a whole bunch of other weirdoes who are really not that significant in this story.

However, this guy Gandalf turns them down in a short while because he suddenly becomes fashion-conscious and feels a tremendous urge to change the colour of his entire wardrobe from grey to black. (His wardrobe consists of only a cloak, which I think never makes it to the laundry.) Finally, the duo (actually Frodo) hires this travel agent called Gollum to take them to their destination. This guy Gollum is kind of weird too. I don't know whether this guy has ever heard of Nike or Reebok. From the look of things, it seems that it wouldn't be much of a help even if he did, because he looks too poor to even afford any shoes or clothes. Man, the clothes he wears are even smaller than the ones you see on Baywatch! No wonder he had to take this pathetic job as a travel agent!

Now from the very beginning of their journey together, Sam can't tolerate Gollum. Sam can't take it when Frodo gets all friendly with Gollum and chooses to hang out with him instead of Frodo. (Sam's attitude would remind one of the way Smithers feels about Mr. Burns in The Simpsons.) So Sam is always conspiring to get rid of Gollum. One fine evening, he finally does get rid of him for good, the details of which are really not that significant in this story.

Now when Frodo asks Sam about the sudden disappearance of Gollum, Sam is caught off-guard. He can't think of anything to say, being the dumb chamchaa he is. (The dumbness of his kind can be related to the fact that in the hobbit world, brain size is directly proportional to body height.) However, sparks of intelligence suddenly light up in his head (which is a rare occurrence in his case). He comes up with the greatest excuse of them all: the "crossfire".

"Mr. Frodo, Mr. Frodo, Gollum and I were having a pillow fight when he suddenly got killed in 'crossfire'!" Frodo, being the stupid little hobbit he is, has no idea what the "crossfire" means, except that this is something one can never question, in the same way that one can never question the intellectual level of George W. Bush.

So, being the stupid little hobbit that he is, he simply accepts the story of the "crossfire" without question. Sam, on the other hand, saves his butt at the end of the day by the king of all excuses: the "crossfire". How lame is that?!

The band and the rabble

By Aditi Charanji

William Shakespeare, the highest in canon literature. We've all heard of him, possibly some of us have studied his work in school or university. Reading Shakespeare for pleasure is perhaps not everyone's cup of tea, as it certainly wasn't mine when I first started out as a literature student. For me, the Bard's plays comprised just another paper I had to pass, holding no import for me whatsoever. As far as I was concerned, the "beautiful poetry resounding through his use of language" translated as "blah!" I couldn't understand why he was so grand and so renowned.

Shakespeare has been canonized, no doubt, and almost everyone has a copy of The Complete Works. You will find volumes of the plays, printed together or separate, hard-bound or paperback, and you'll find them lying conspicuously on coffee tables and easy-to-spot bookshelves. If one reads (or makes people think he/she reads) Shakespeare, it's a matter of great smugness and arrogance. Many people are economical with the truth on this subject. They lie and fib and concoct tales on their love for the Bard in order to appear more sophisticated and refined. Little do they know that Shakespeare himself was hardly cultivated and often scorned by his contemporaries.

Shakespeare was, in fact, an exceedingly no-nonsense individual, undoubtedly a jack of many useful trades, and a shrewd businessman in theatrical, commercial and real estate circles. He came from the Tudor market town of Stratford-on-Avon, a local government and commercial center within a larger rural setting. His education included standard Elizabethan curriculum strong on Greek and Latin literature, rhetoric, and Christian principles. These influences are evident in Shakespeare's works, and it is also clear that Shakespeare cultivated knowledge of English history through chronicles written shortly before and during his adolescence. Shakespeare left school at the age of fifteen and did not pursue formal education any further: he never attended a university and was not considered to be a truly learned man.

So why is he the known as one of the greatest dramatists and poets ever, even 400 years after his death? It is because his writing is timeless. Liking Shakespeare comes automatically once you figure out what he's trying to do. The man makes sense; take for instance: "All the world's a stage,/And all the men and women merely players:/They have their exits and entrances:/And one man in his time plays many parts,/ His acts being seven ages." Isn't that true of life? Aren't we all playing one part or another, fitting ourselves into socially constructed personas? And the well-known question by Shylock the Jew: "If you prick us do we not bleed?" How appropriate in times of violence and discrimination, how appropriate all over the world, in all communities and societies, in all ages.

Shakespeare's audience included everybody from the University Wits to the court to the bourgeoisie and even the lower classes. The language of his plays is colloquial and peppered with contemporary slang, obscenities, oaths and curses. Double entendre is used to quite a large extent.

Even in his most tragic plays there are comic scenes with clowns, idiots and such like. He relies on the use of spectacle to amuse the ordinary folk as he probably understood they wouldn't care much for great and tragic stories. He completely deviated from the classical method of play writing and wrote only to please the masses. That is why he's so loved; not because he wrote anything very profound and deep, not because he was very original (most of his plots were borrowed from various sources e.g. Othello is based on a story located in Cinthio's Hecatomitthi), but simply because he spoke to the common man. He brought old legends alive and he gave the poor an education in his own way. All his works resound with his trademark wit and humour, and his use of irony is pervasive in all his plays.

All this and more I realized studying Antony and Cleopatra, the first Shakespearean play I ever read. The value of the Bard is not in his built-up reputation or in anything specifically he has produced, but in the fact that he was the first writer for the populace. He is great because he is one of us, son of a yeoman and nothing better. He has the ability to make one laugh and cry and often at the same time, to recoil in horror and to become distracted with suspense. His words are still studied and read and re-read because they are everlasting. There's no need to be wary of the man: he wrote for the hoi polloi and that's what we all are.


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