December 12, 2016

Shakespeare had to wonder "Where am I going to get a human skull?" and, Bob Dylan says, "Some things never change."

Let me take you to the heart — the skull — of Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize speech. He says that when he got the "surprising news" that he'd won the Nobel Prize in Literature, he started thinking about William Shakespeare....
Well, Shakespeare, he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells
Speaking to some French girl
Who says she knows me well...
That's just me, quoting a Bob Dylan song. That's not from the speech. Here's the speech, the part I want to show you:
I would reckon [Shakespeare] thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: “Who’re the right actors for these roles?” “How should this be staged?” “Do I really want to set this in Denmark?” His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. “Is the financing in place?” “Are there enough good seats for my patrons?” “Where am I going to get a human skull?” I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question “Is this literature?”...

But, like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters. “Who are the best musicians for these songs?” “Am I recording in the right studio?” “Is this song in the right key?” Some things never change, even in 400 years. Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, “Are my songs literature?”
That bit about the human skull got me thinking about something in "My Dinner with Andre," a movie in which 2 men talk mostly about theater. At one point, Andre Gregory is talking about directing the Euripides play "The Bacchae":
Pentheus has been killed by his mother [Agave] and the Furies, and they pull the tree back, and they tie him to the tree, and fling him into the air, and he flies through space and he's killed, and they rip him to shreds and, I guess, cut off his head. My impulse was that the thing to do was to get a head from the New Haven morgue and pass it around the audience. Now, I wanted Agave to bring on a real head and that this head should be passed around the audience so that somehow people realized that this stuff was real, see, that it was real stuff. Now, the actress playing Agave absolutely refused to do it.
And the songwriter Bob Dylan refused to show up and receive the prize. There are always questions about life’s mundane matters.  

Am I recording in the right studio? ≈ Is this speech meant for reading out loud in a Swedish ceremonial hall?

You've got to think about the right thing in the right place...

Well, he can be fascinating, he can be dull/He can ride down Niagara Falls in the barrels of your skull...

15 comments:

David Begley said...

"The Globe had three stories of seating and was able to hold up to 3,000 spectators in its’ (sic) 100 foot diameter.

Globe Theatre Fact 6
At the base of the stage was an area called “the pit” which held “the groundlings” – people who paid just a penny to stand and watch a performance."

From nosweatshakespeare.com

traditionalguy said...

Bob would play Hamlet a perfectly crazy-funny. He could use Joan Baez as Ophelia.

Dylan in his Christian phase will ever be a conundrum to many Christians. They know he is right, but that doesn't seem fair to these men of peace.

Owen said...

So here's the speech you wanted, so elegant and wise,
It flatters you as you do me, with yet another prize
That leaves me like a prisoner
Who cannot be released
Condemned to sing of Satan, dressed as a man of peace

Sebastian said...

"I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors." Something Shakespeare didn't say.

tcrosse said...

In the great Canadian sitcom 'Slings and Arrows' the director of a theatre festival loosely based on Stratford wills that his skull be used for future productions of Hamlet. He dies, and hilarity ensues. The skull ends up as a paperweight.

Trumpit said...

Dylan said in his speech that it is harder to sing before 50 people than 50,000. He was aware of the 50 people as individuals, if I may try to paraphrase. His self-comparison to Shakespeare seemed apt to me. I found the speech good. I also thought Patti Smith's rendition of a folk song about post-nuclear-war world quite good. Ironically, Patti was quite nervous to perform in front of a bunch of wealthy Swedes in tuxedos. She surely would have preferred to perform for waddling penguins in feather tuxes at the South Pole.

mikee said...

What is so difficult about getting a skull? My wife and her med school friends ordered entire skeletons for use in their anatomy studies. The bones came from India, were not at all expensive, and made quite a conversation starter there in our living room for a year.

I'd guess that in Shakespeare's time a skull could be had from the poor house or a prison for small change. Might need some cleaning up, but slicing off the flesh, pulling the brains out the nose or neck, boiling in salty water overnight and thorough drying would work. Not that I know from personal experience, or anything.

Arthur James said...

"You've got to think about the right thing in the right place..."

I found the stumbling of Patti Smith during 'Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" moving. She did a wonderful job, the mistakes perfect in semblance.

Arthur James said...

Another line from 'My Dinner With Andre', causing the self-obsessed Gregory to declare he was forced to leave a Bergman movie weeping and collapsing against an alley wall: “I could always live in my art, but not in my life.”

n.n said...

Your neighborhood Planned Parenthood. The sacred chamber of life unworthy of life. A progressive pot of diverse body parts and [colorful] clumps of cells. An unparalleled resource to meet every poet and actor's theatrical needs.

LA woman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amexpat said...

I'd guess that in Shakespeare's time a skull could be had from the poor house or a prison for small change.

There might have been religious prohibitions against it. I know that doctors in Europe, early on, had a hard time getting cadavers for dissection.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Bob Dylan sends Patti Smith to perform on his behalf without quite enough practice, and writes a speech to fulfill the lecture requirement to be read by the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden. I can't stop laughing this is so funny. And the speech itself scored quite a coup in complimenting the Nobel Prize committee as an audience, while at the same time putting Dylan across as an unapologetic tradesman and capitalist in the same line as William Shakespeare.

Humaun Kabir said...

Thanks for the great post on your blog, it really gives me an insight on this topic.

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Diamondhead said...

Great quote at the end of an unknown song on a sadly unappreciated album. Shot of Love always seemed like Dylan's neo-con album. Always ahead of his time!