I love this time of year because summer theatre begins.
Yesterday we went to the Stratford Festival’s production of The Pirates of Penzance, by Gilbert and Sullivan. The plot revolves around a mistake in words. Frederic, the leading character, has just finished his apprenticeship as a pirate. Years ago his father had instructed Frederic’s nursemaid to indenture him to a “pilot” – one who guides ships. The nursemaid mishears, and indentures the boy to a “pirate.” Much hilarity ensues from the mix-up. And as usual, Stratford doesn’t disappoint.
One reason I enjoy theatre so much is that it reminds me of the importance of words. So many twists and turns on the stage, as in life, come from how we use and think about words.
Shakespeare, of course, is the master of word mayhem. His great comedy Much Ado about Nothing is playing at Stratford, and I’m looking forward to it.
Scholars believe that the title of the play, Much Ado about Nothing, is in itself a play on words. In Shakespeare’s time, “noting” was pronounced the same as “nothing.” The word “noting” means observing or listening. “Noting” is the essence of the plot, taken to extreme lengths through eavesdropping, spying, rumours and innuendoes. Some scholars observe that “noting” was also an Elizabethan slang word for “vagina,” a fact that was probably not lost on Shakespeare.
In the world of Shakespeare, language is everything. The use and misuse of words are always getting in the way of truth or creating mischief. There are moments, too, when words produce startling clarity and insight. In Shakespeare’s comedies, words inevitably lead to a resolution of sorts – usually the triumph of true love.
Are words important to people’s lives? Just go to a Shakespeare play or a Gilbert and Sullivan musical. Or ask Frederic, destined to live the life of a pirate instead of a pilot.