Today, Thursday, is the anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth in 1564, or his death in 1616, or both.
Preparing for this double event, I have just finished reading “Shakespeare,” by Anthony Burgess, with lavish illustrations, a treasure that seems to have been a college textbook of one of our children.
My lasting impression of Shakespeare is the so-called Chandos portrait, believe to be of the bard, but without proof. All I know is that when you walk into that room in the National Portrait Gallery (closed now for three years of repairs) you see the smirk on somebody’s face, and an earring glittering on his left ear.
I am more than willing to assume it is Shakespeare, thinking of a good writing day he just had, or an assignation ahead of him, or both.
My fascination with Shakespeare stems from having attended Hofstra College from 1956-60 when the absolute best thing on campus (with all due respect to our great sports teams) was the annual Shakespeare Festival, on the stimulus of the school president, Dr. John Cranford Adams, a major authority.
The school had a Globe theater, installed every March. I can still see an undergraduate named Francis Ford Coppola with a hammer tucked into his overalls, working on the sets, and I see a classmate – now known as Lainie Kazan – playing one bawdy role or another.
For all the drama classes I took, and the performances I witnessed in the John Cranford Adams Playhouse, I am still learning about Shakespeare.
Burgess quotes Rev. John Ward’s notebooks as saying that, in retirement in Stratford, Shakespeare had a “merrie meeting” with Michael Drayton and Ben Johnson and ate too many pickled herrings and drank too much Rhenish wine. “He sweated, took cold and died.” He was 52.
Lately, much has been made that Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” in 1606, during a major plague. (The Guardian had an article yesterday, citing James Shapiro as the source, and that more than works for me.)
If he could write during a plague, what are mere scribblers like me doing with our time? Blogs? I don’t think so.
Burgess is very good on innuendo and gossip. In this book I learned that Shakespeare took a room for many years in a place run by one Marie Mountjoy. Given my dirty mind, I can only think that if she did not exist Shakespeare would have created her.
Also, I don’t know why it took me so long to discover that a noted writer named William Davenant was rumored to be the illegitimate son of Shakespeare, who often passed through an inn in Oxford where Davenant’s attractive mother worked as a hostess. Davenant himself seems to have advanced the rumor.
Shakespeare clearly lived a busy life, however slight the documentation, and I have no doubt he wrote all the plays attributed to him.
Today, my wife and I plan to watch the latest offering by the National Theatre of London, currently closed down, of course. “Twelfth Night” was filmed during a live performance in London recently, and we saw it at the Kew Gardens Cinema in Queens.
One of the quirks of this version is that Malvolio has switched genders from male to female (Tamsin Greig.) Given that young men played all the female roles during Shakespeare’s time, this is not such a big leap.
Looking out from the Chandos portrait, the smirk and the earring seem to twinkle even more brightly. Shakespeare lives.
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(Link for "Twelfth Night" below, 2 PM Eastern.)
(The trailer for "Twelfth Night," starting today at 2 PM, Eastern. Donations are welcome.)
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.