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!