Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Just Call Him Snakespeare

Marissa Skudlarek provides a snake-a-licious dessert course to yesterday’s Harry Potter smorgasbord.

In yesterday’s blog post, Ashley Cowan provided an introduction to the traits of the four Hogwarts houses, and then we Sorted seven of our favorite playwrights. But what about the Big Guy, the man we celebrate every April but especially this April (because as of April 23, the world has been bereft of him for four hundred years), the playwright whose works haunt and taunt every other English-language writer, Mr. William Shakespeare? What Hogwarts house does he belong in?

Ashley’s and my Sorting of playwrights was inspired by this piece in The Toast about Sorting 19th-century British novelists. In the comment section of that piece, someone suggested that Shakespeare was a “Ravenclaw who hung out with Hufflepuffs for inspiration,” which I kind of love, because it makes him sound like a real-life version of his character Prince Hal: a reserved, cerebral type who was often found in the company of earthier, jollier folks.

But upon further reflection, isn’t Prince Hal a Slytherin who hangs out with Hufflepuffs at the pub? (Hal isn’t intellectual enough to be a Ravenclaw, and his “Herein will I imitate the sun” soliloquy is pure Slytherin cunning.) And – strange as it sounds at first – mightn’t Shakespeare be a Slytherin, too?

Don’t be shocked. J.K. Rowling’s novels certainly paint Slytherins in a very sinister light, but it seems kind of illogical for one-quarter of all British wizards to be assigned to a house that represents pure evil. Therefore, many Harry Potter fans take a revisionist line on Slytherin. According to the Sorting Hat, Slytherins are “power-hungry” and “ambitious,” but those qualities need not always be yoked to amorality or corruption. Voldemort is the most famous Slytherin, but not all Slytherins are Voldemort. What Slytherins have in common is ambition, drive, resourcefulness, flexibility, and the cunning (if not necessarily the poison) associated with their mascot, the serpent.

For proof that you can be a Slytherin and still a good guy, as well as a talented and word-drunk playwright, take a look at Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda’s public persona is upbeat, nerdy, earnest, and amiable – pretty much as far from Voldemort as you can get. But he is incredibly driven and accomplished (note the inspirational meme that says “Remember, you have just as many hours in the day as Lin-Manuel Miranda”) and he identifies as a Slytherin.

He's got Professor Snape hair and a shiny green suit that makes him look like a snake. Yep. Definitely a Slytherin. (Photo credit: Sara Krulwich)

He’s got Professor Snape hair and a shiny green suit that makes him look like a snake. Yep. Definitely a Slytherin. (Photo credit: Sara Krulwich)

So, why do I think Shakespeare was a Snake? First, his plays deliver a fantastic rogue’s gallery of Slytherin villains and anti-heroes: Richard III, Prince Hal, Iago, Shylock, Edmund, Macbeth and his Lady. Indeed, Macbeth is basically a treatise on What It’s Like To Be Slytherin. These are incredibly memorable characters that created the template for the self-delighted, crafty, manipulative villains that we still see in movies and TV today. Shakespeare also enjoys playing with the audience’s sympathies, sometimes making us cheer these characters’ wicked deeds: the more evil Richard is, the more we love him. I think that any kind of playwright can write a Slytherin villain, but it takes a Slytherin playwright to make us like or sympathize with that villain.

Even many of Shakespeare’s non-villainous protagonists show the Slytherin traits of cunning, resourcefulness, and a willingness to bide their time till their plans come to fruition. Rosalind, in As You Like It, dressing up as a boy in order to train the man she loves to treat her better? Slytherin. All of Portia’s actions in The Merchant of Venice – mocking her suitors, waiting till the very last moment to save Antonio from the knife, and all that manipulative business with Bassanio’s ring in Act V? Totally Slytherin. And, while it may seem folly to sort as complex a character as Hamlet into a Hogwarts house, his feigning of madness in order to quietly pursue his goals is a very Slytherin move.

Shakespeare understood the dark side of human nature, even if he did not fall prey to it himself. He was an unusually empathetic Slytherin, to be sure, but a Slytherin nonetheless.

Shakespeare didn’t just write Slytherin characters well and frequently. Though much of his life is a mystery, what little we do know is consistent with a Slytherin Sorting. He was an ambitious writer and a shrewd businessman. He went from being a provincial nobody to being a leading shareholder in the king’s own company of players. His plays flattered the monarch and nobility; he enjoyed thinking about power, and he enjoyed being close to power. He clearly valued knowledge, but I think he valued it in a Slytherin way, as a means to the end of writing good plays, rather than valuing knowledge for its own sake, as a Ravenclaw does. It is notoriously difficult to discern Shakespeare’s own personality or political views from reading his plays; he was slippery, like a snake. And, at the end of his life, he had “Cursed be he that moves my bones” chiseled on his tomb, and isn’t that a Slytherin epitaph?

It’s also interesting to contemplate the Slytherin strain in Shakespeare fandom: I am of course speaking of the Oxfordians, who assert that Shakespeare’s plays must have been written by a nobleman rather than a glovemaker’s son from Stratford. In Harry Potter, the Slytherins are the only House obsessed with “blood purity” and aristocracy, and the Oxfordians seem to have a similar obsession.

Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, St. George’s Day, and popular tradition says that he was born on St. George’s Day as well. George, who according to legend slew a dragon or serpent, is the patron saint of England; and England, like Gryffindor, is represented by a red lion. Meanwhile, Shakespeare is almost a secular patron saint of England, but make no mistake: he was no lion. He was the serpent.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright, arts writer, and Ravenclaw. For more: marissabidilla.blogspot.com or @MarissaSkud on Twitter.

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Cowan Palace: Wizards of Words: Sorting our Favorite Playwrights into Hogwarts Houses

In this two-part blog series, Ashley Cowan and Marissa Skudlarek attempt to sort some notable playwrights into their proper Hogwarts House.

Anyone else needing an escape from the adult world of taxes and other miscellaneous boring stuff? I am! Which is why I was so delighted when Marissa reached out to me about writing a blog together involving placing playwrights into their respective Hogwarts House. I was like, Marissa, are you Sirius? That sounds prefect.

And we aren’t the only ones contemplating Harry Potter “types” in the theatre world these days. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and II, a world premiere new play based on a story by J.K Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany, will be opening at the Palace Theatre in London later next month!

But in case you can’t quite afford a plane ticket to England (F you, evil taxes!), we will celebrate all this magical, theatrical fun Theater Pub blog style. So grab that sugary new Starbucks drink that’s supposed to taste like Butterbeer and read on!

HP Someecard Pic copy

Now, if you’re a muggle who hasn’t jumped aboard the glorious Hogwarts Express Train, here’s a quick rundown of the four Hogwarts Houses as told by the Sorting Hat himself in Book Four, The Goblet of Fire:

By Gryffindor, the bravest were

Prized far beyond the rest;

For Ravenclaw, the cleverest

Would always be the best;

For Hufflepuff, hard workers were

Most worthy of admission;

And power-hungry Slytherin

Loved those of great ambition.

–Sorting Hat (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

In other words, we’ve got four houses: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. Gryffindors are daring and bold folks who value a sense of honor. Ravenclaws are witty and steady minded and love academic achievements. Hufflepuffs are truth abiding, loyal friends who care for others often above all else. And Slytherins are cunning and passionate with a strong focus and drive. There’s so much more to say about each of their characteristics and attributes but I’ll leave that to JK Rowling for now.

If you had asked me a few years ago which house I best identified with, I would have told you I saw myself as “Gryffin-claw” (so, a hybrid between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw). It seemed like a good balance for someone who adamantly moved to California against the wishes of her friends and family at the time to follow a dream but who also spent a great deal of time alone reading whatever she could get her hands on while crafting detailed lists of new goals and color-coded schedules. But after researching the Houses a bit more for this blog, I gotta say, I think this Hugs and Cuddles blogger may be more of a Hufflepuff! I’m totally that person that stresses that I haven’t “liked” enough of someone’s Facebook content because I wants to make sure they feel loved and appreciated when I can’t see them in person.

And, this should come as no shocker, but Ravenclaws everywhere would be proud to have Marissa as a part of their crew. She’s totally that babe in the library casually taking in another book who will probably forget more facts than I’ll ever know. Marissa is the person you want on your debate team, your trivia team, and the gal you call for fashion advice when you want an authentic, beautiful look to wear to a themed party. So teaming up with her for this blog was a no-brainer.

Over a ginger-y cocktail in a dimly lit bar, we chatted about playwrights in between sharing select secrets from our earlier days as writers for the San Francisco theater scene and its residents. It was as delightful as it sounds. So without further ado, here are some of our thoughts as Sorting Hat Hotties.

Ashley and Marissa as Hats copy 2

Tom Stoppard
“It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter.”

Sorting Hat Marissa: Schoolboy wit, punster, lover of books and ideas, cramming his plays with erudite references, the favorite playwright of the academic classes: there’s no doubt about it, Tom Stoppard is the Head Boy of Ravenclaw House. “It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter,” from Arcadia, is the line that sums up Stoppard’s ethos, and also sums up the key values of Ravenclaw. He also once claimed to write plays because it’s the only socially acceptable way of arguing with himself, and of all the Houses, Ravenclaws are most likely to welcome a good debate and be swayed by a good argument.

Oscar Hammerstein II
“I know the world is filled with troubles and many injustices. But reality is as beautiful as it is ugly. I think it is just as important to sing about beautiful mornings as it is to talk about slums. I just couldn’t write anything without hope in it.”

Sorting Hat Ashley: When I brought up Hammerstein over drinks, Marissa knowingly said something along the lines of, “only a Hufflepuff could help create Oklahoma!” and as the Ravenclaw she is, I believe she’s correct! Hammerstein was a known collaborator, co-writing nearly 900 songs! He was involved with creating a community of artists that would go on to pave an encouraging path for future music makers and lovers. He was known for being fairly sentimental, which seems obvious given his musical theatre resume, but he was also a socially conscious spirit who wrote with sincerity. He guided and influenced countless collectives, filling their hearts with love and music. Well, mine is pretty full, anyway. As Hufflepuffs are thoughtful team players with a strong sense of justice, Hammerstein would be a cherished Hufflepuff alumnus.

Caryl Churchill
“What’s poetry? It’s not real but maybe it’s more than real. It’s dreaming while you’re awake.”

Sorting Hat Marissa: Another candidate for Greatest Living British Playwright, and another Ravenclaw, though of a less flashy variety than Stoppard. Her plays are coolly perceptive and draw inspiration from a wide range of sources; while they often deal with political themes and reflect her socialist and feminist beliefs, they do not feel polemical (as a Gryffindor’s plays might be). Her work has also gotten more, rather than less, experimental over the years, testifying to her Ravenclaw creativity and questing intelligence. Churchill shuns publicity and does not grant interviews, preferring to let her plays and their ideas speak for themselves – a very Ravenclaw thing to do.

Will Eno
“I think we’re born with questions, and the world is the answer.”
Sarah Ruhl
“This is what it is to love an artist: The moon is always rising above your house.”

Sorting Hat Ashley: I’m linking Eno and Ruhl on this thought bubble because I feel like they share some similarities in their House placements and I go back and forth between sorting both of them in either Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw. I think I’ve landed on Will Eno being a Ravenclaw (who probably marries a Hufflepuff) and Sarah Ruhl as a Hufflepuff with an endless stream of Ravenclaw crushes. Eno writes (and writes) questioning our roles and our humanity while forever swimming in this sea of existential thought and meaningful observations. And Ruhl’s writing often plays like a dreamy poem. Her work seeks to explore love’s communication style and it’s impact on relationships. If Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff had a love child House, I think these two would be in it. But for now, Eno’s wearing a Ravenclaw hoodie and Ruhl’s decked out in cozy Hufflepuff knits.

Tony Kushner
“The work of artists is to find what’s humanly possible – possibility’s furthest reaches.”

Sorting Hat Marissa: A very smart guy who writes verbose and encyclopedic plays, so there is a temptation to put him in Ravenclaw, but look closer, and you’ll see that he’d do better in Gryffindor. The most memorable moments in Kushner’s plays often revolve around the key Gryffindor trait of bravery: think of Baz’s monologue in A Bright Room Called Day about how he lacked the courage to kill Hitler; or the epilogue of Caroline or Change, where Emmie describes how she and her friends vandalized a Confederate statue. Kushner also values the Gryffindor traits of hope and optimism: he once said “It is an ethical obligation to look for hope; it is an ethical obligation not to despair.” And writing a fantastical seven-hour drama that climaxes with the protagonist going to heaven and arguing with the angels to give him “more life”? You can’t get much more Gryffindor than that.

Tennessee Williams
“A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.”

Sorting Hat Ashley: My goodness, y’all. I thought about this placement for awhile. Like four coffees and two episodes of Fixer Upper on Netflix worth of thought. I texted friends and chatted to castmates over it. Because it seems like he could almost go anywhere and nowhere at the same time! Williams was gifted with a beautiful grasp of language but vowed to write honestly, once stating, “I only write about what I experience – intuitively or existentially”, which could be a Ravenclaw thought but also seems like a Hufflepuff promise. And while his characters populate Slytherin and Gryffindor, as a writer destined to tell the truth about social realities and humanity, I think I’m going to keep Williams in Hufflepuff!

That’s our start to this glorious conversation; fun, right?! And we’d love your thoughts! Marissa will be discussing a well known writer within the Slytherin House tomorrow but if you have a playwright you think needs to be sorted, let us know so we can keep this Hogwarts party going! See you tomorrow, fellow witches and wizards!

Everything Is Already Something Week 17: How to Have a Nemesis

Allison Page has your name on her list.

Sherlock has Moriarty. Superman has Lex Luthor. Harry Potter has Voldemort. (Uh oh, I probably shouldn’t have typed his name.) And I have some girl named Sheila (that’s totally not her name). Having a nemesis is pretty common amongst both fictional characters and Allisons.

Sheila auditioned for a lot of the same parts I auditioned for – particularly on-camera stuff – and I hated it. I tend to audition, and then immediately put it out of my mind. But it seemed any time I allowed myself to have the thought “BOOOOOM! NAILED IT! ROLL OUT THE RED CARPET AND DRESS ME IN SEQUINS!”, I wouldn’t get the part…I bet you can guess who did. IT WAS SHEILA for those of you with no powers of deduction. It began to dawn on me that Sheila was just a better version of me. Talented. Taller. Thinner. Absolutely gorgeous. Shiny, frizz-free hair. (The hair is what really got under my skin. It was like a beautiful cascade of black velvet that made me want to throw myself into the river.) Fantastic timing. Really funny. Photogenic. Great range. Totally likeable. Comfortable in front of the camera. She was basically my worst nightmare all wrapped up in fashionable clothing and a sunny disposition. That’s the other thing – she seemed really nice. Isn’t that terrible? I wanted to dislike her, and she wouldn’t even let me. I mean, I don’t really know her so it’s possible that she’s just a horrible human being who likes to start fires in orphanages, but everyone we have in common seems to think she’s a sparkling angel and I tend to believe them.

(She(ila) who must not be named.)

She(ila) who must not be named.

About a year or so after I started considering her a threat, she moved away. I WAS PUMPED. Yes! Get out of here, go be amazing somewhere else! I sort of forgot about her eventually. Then, at a party, a newish friend of mine – let’s call her Juniper – says to me “Ya know, my friend is kind of obsessed with you.” I clearly found this a delightful shock. Naturally, I had to know more.

“What do you mean she’s obsessed with me?”

“Well, she just thinks you’re a better version of her and you’re going to take all the parts she wants.”

Yes, that’s right. The exact thing that I thought about Sheila, someone else thought about me. That’s just bananas. I couldn’t believe it. It blew my mind. I’ve never considered myself a threat to anyone, but now completely unbeknownst to me I was dangling over someone’s brain, stealing parts from her and running off into the night like the Hamburglar!

The truth is, I’ve had nemeses all my life. I sort of enjoy it. Particularly if they have similar aspirations, because instead of sitting around thinking about how much evil they’re doing, I’m actually just shining a light on my insecurities and faults. Yes, I do think that’s a good thing. I can’t be better at something if I think I’m already the best at it. There’s no inspiration there. No reason for growth. But if someone steps up and shows me something I don’t think I can do – then I want to do that thing. I want to figure out why they can do it, and I can’t. Or why I can, but they can do it better. What’s Sheila got that I don’t have, and why do I want it? And what can I do that she can’t? Because I promise you this – there’s always something you can do better than the next guy, no matter how shiny their hair is. Sheila’s existence caused me to try harder. Caused me to look more closely at my goals, and the steps I’m taking to achieve those goals. I’m a better performer because of Sheila, and she doesn’t even know it. (LIKE I WOULD EVER GIVE HER THE SATISFACTION OF KNOWING.)

(Hello, SHEILA.

Hello, SHEILA.

What would Sherlock be like if not for the existence of Moriarty? A guy who’s always right and has no obstacles apart from his opium use and the fact that he seems to have no sexual interest in anyone? YAWN. I want a hero who’s fighting someone, or some thing, or some force, or some idea, or themselves. Someone who’s striving for something. I want a hero with imperfections. It’s the job of their enemies to toy with those flaws, to exploit them, to test them, to keep them grounded in their fictional reality. Can you imagine what a dick Superman would be if there were no kryptonite? Just a guy with great hair who’s constantly on top of the world? Ugh, gag me. In the end, though I may have labeled Sheila as my nemesis, the truth is that I am my own nemesis, and I always have been. I look for my own flaws and try to correct them, or use them to my advantage somehow. And thank goodness for that, because my own personal forever-plateau sounds like a fucking nightmare. I need the Sheilas of the world to remind me that my work is never done.

I hope that the girl who sees me as her own Sheila is getting something out of it other than daydreaming about throwing me into a volcano as a glamorous ritual sacrifice. I hope that she thinks, “Okay, Allison got that thing I wanted…why did I want that thing, and how can I get that experience somewhere else? Are there reasons she may have gotten what I wanted? Are those things qualities that I’m able to work on, or is it something stupid like her hair is the right color?” (And we all know that sometimes it is totally the hair thing.) I’m completely fine with being someone’s Voldemort if that’s what works for them, though I’d obviously like to think that I’m a nice person and if she knew me she’d be like “Just kidding, I don’t want to kill you!”

Truthfully, when it comes to acting or writing or a bunch of other shit, the only person you can control is yourself unless you have access to a lot of booby traps.  You are your own tool, your own instrument of creation or destruction. Make sure you’re tuned up, so that when Sheila comes in, you don’t just hand everything over to her…you give her a good, solid fight. It’s what Harry Potter would do. Don’t try to be Sheila, just learn from watching her. I’ve spoken previously about professional jealousy in a slightly different way, mostly the “fuck ‘em, go your own way and don’t compare yourself to others” idea – which I think is still important, but there’s nothing wrong with observing the other people in your field, and applying those learnings to your own life. Or not applying them if they don’t…well…apply. A lot of times the annoying strengths we see in others are just the weaknesses we think we see in ourselves, and the quality I value most in other performers and writers and humans, is their ability to be self-aware. I can’t buy into a show if it doesn’t seem like the actor really knows who they are and what they’re workin’ with – and that’s what I want out of myself, too. I don’t want to let myself off the hook that way. It actually bothers me if I say, “I’m shitty at this.” And someone immediately pipes up with “NOOOOO, don’t say that!” because it’s important to me to know my weaknesses. You know what’s never going to help you improve? Never admitting that you could use improvement. And sometimes the best way to figure that out starts with grumpily narrowing your eyes at your computer screen when you see that someone got some shit you thought was meant for you. It’s okay; they’re probably doing it to someone, too.

Yeahhh, KEEP LAUGHIN', SLICK!

Yeahhh, KEEP LAUGHIN’, SLICK!

Don’t tear yourself apart for not being Sheila, just be the best you that you can be, and if she can help push you to do that, then that’s awesome. The great art of rivalry doesn’t make you a bad artist or a bad person – it just means you’re human. Sure, it’s nice to say “Let’s all applaud each other and buy each other cakes!” and believe me, I applaud others on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean that I think they’re the only ones who should be achieving that goal. It’s possible to clap heartily while thinking “You win this round, Ra’s al Ghul, but the Bat’s comin’ in hot next year!”

It’s not about feeling bad about yourself or wanting to take people down – it’s about encouraging a drive within you each day. Otherwise I’d just nap for weeks at a time. There’s a reason Sheila doesn’t know she’s my nemesis and that’s because it’s not for her. It’s for me. It’s not to serve her; it’s to serve me.

And it’s just really fun to have your own personal Newman.

You can see Allison acting in MENELAUS at the SF Olympians Festival at the Exit Theater November 7th, and you can see her short play THE GOLDEN APPLE OF DISCORD November 20th as part of the same festival. She’s also on Twitter @allisonlynnpage if you’re into that.