“Out, Out Damned Spot!”
by Gary Corseri
March 25, 2004

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Dana Gioia, talking head of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), spoke at Harvard University’s/Radcliffe’s Aggaziz Theatre on February 9th, outlining his plans to bring Shakespeare performances to high schools, military bases, and universities around the country. “I refuse to believe that arts funding is controversial,” Mr. Gioia declared, “and I’m frankly bored with talking about controversies of the previous century.”

So, the Great Helmsman has spoken. We must not bore him with talk about funding—who gets what, how judgments are made, what agenda is served. That is SO last century. Nor dare we breach etiquette by inquiring about cultural relevance, the nature of the performance, suitability, message, etc.

Is bringing theater to the schools and bases going to make a difference? Depends . . . Peter Brooks' Shakespeare with Puck jumping through fiery hoops -- could be. Same-o, same-o--probably not.

Shakespeare, of course, is rather like the Bible: you can read almost anything into it. And we know what W.S. himself had to say about that: “The devil can cite Scripture for his purposes.”

But let’s take Mr. Gioia at his word. Bring Shakespeare the Revolutionary, not Shakespeare the Arch-Conservative, into the classrooms and onto the bases. How might that sound? Well, maybe something like the following, where all the dialogue is dripping wet from the Bard’s own quill!

Out, Out, Damned Spot!

Dramatis Personae: Dubya, Cheney, Rummy, Powell, Rice, Tom Paine’s Ghost (TPG).

Scene: The oval office. The drapes drawn. Murmurings and chanting from without.

Rice (to Dubya): Thou art in a parlous state.

Cheney (to Rummy): Seeking the bubble reputation—

Rummy (officiously): --from hour to hour we ripe and ripe.

Dubya: I am sick at heart.

Rummy (to Powell): His nature is too noble for the world.

Dubya: How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world.

Rice: These are but wild and whirling words.

Dubya: I do not set my life at a pin’s fee.

Rice: Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.

Dubya: The time is out of joint.

Rummy (to Rice): That he is mad, ‘tis true; ‘tis true ‘tis pity; And pity ‘tis ‘tis true.

Dubya: O! what a rogue and peasant slave am I.

Powell (aside): A dull and muddy-metaled rascal. A king of shreds and patches!

Dubya: How all occasions do inform against me!

Rummy: When sorrows come, they come not single spies But in batallions.

Rice: (comforting Dubya, stroking his hair): Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs?

Dubya: I am not in the roll of common men.

Rice (tearfully; to Powell): If the rascal have not given me medicines to make me love him, I'll be hanged.

Powell (aside): I owe him little duty and less love.

Rummy: Ill-weaved ambition, how much art thou shrunk.

Dubya: Farewell! A long farewell, to all my greatness!

Cheney (to Rummy) Men of few words are the best men.

Dubya (bitterly, to all) Unbidden guests Are often welcomest when they are gone. You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!

[Enter Tom Paine’s Ghost.]

TPG (aside): Courage mounteth with occasion.

Dubya (noting TPG; to others): Let me have men about me that are fat! He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.

Powell (noting TPG; to Rice): He reads much; He is a good observer, and he looks Quite through the deeds of men.

TPG (to all): This is the excellent foppery of the world…we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon and the stars, as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves and treachers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence.

Rummy: Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.

TPG: Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile. Men must endure Their going hence, even as their coming hither.

Powell (kneeling before TPG): Pray you now, forget and forgive.

TPG: Taffeta phrases!

[Louder murmuring, chanting from without.]

Dubya: I am bound upon a wheel of fire!

TPG (to Dubya): Thou lilly-livered boy!

Rice (to TPG): Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased?

Dubya (his head in his hands): I have supped full with horrors. I am in blood Stepped in so far that should I wade no more Returning were as tedious as go o’er.

Rummy (to Dubya): Things without all remedy Should be without regard: what’s done is done.

TPG (aside): Now does he feel his title Hang loose about him like a giant’s robe Upon a dwarfish thief. How like a fawning publican he looks! Few love to hear the sins they love to act.

Dubya: Call back yesterday, bid time return.

TPG: I am not in the giving vein today.

Cheney (to Rummy): We have seen better days.

Powell (to TPG): ‘Tis mad idolatry To make the service greater than the god.

TPG (back): That was laid on with a trowell.

Powell (back): My pride fell with my fortune. Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly.

Dubya: Blow, blow thou winter wind, Thou art not so unkind As man’s ingratitude. O, how full of briers is this working-day world.

TPG (to Dubya): Thou speakest wiser than thou art ware of. (to Powell, Cheney, Rummy) I do desire we may be better strangers.

[Exeunt Powell, Cheney, Rummy. Rice lingers.]

TPG (as they leave) A foul and pestilent congregation of vapours! The best actors in the world. To be honest as this world goes, Is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.

[Rice weeps, collapsed on a sofa.]

TPG (turning to Rice): Get thee to a nunnery!

[Exeunt Rice.]

Dubya: I have not slept one wink.

TPG (handcuffing Dubya): One may smile and smile and be a villain.

Dubya: I could be bounded in a nutshell, And count myself a king of infinite space Were it not that I have bad dreams.

TPG: This is miching mallecho.

[TPG opens the drapes and light pours in. He takes the Executive Chair and breaks the windows of the oval office. Fresh air pours in. On the White House lawn, the peace-environment-education activists have been patiently waiting. When they see TPG and Dubya in cuffs, they cheer.]

Dubya (to himself): My offense is rank, it smells to heaven.

TPG (to activists): The hey-day in the blood is tame, it’s humble, And waits upon the judgment.

[Exeunt all, solemnly.]

Gary Corseri’s dramas have been performed on Atlanta-PBS and in five states. His articles, fiction and poems have appeared in The New York Times, Village Voice, Common Dreams, Intervention, Redbook and over 100 other publications in the U.S. and abroad. He has published two novels, two collections of poetry and recently edited the anthology, Manifestations. He can be reached at corseri@comcast.net.  


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