Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

Category Archives: Shakespeare

Read Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature Banquet Speech – Rolling Stone

Good evening, everyone. I extend my warmest greetings to the members of the Swedish Academy and to all of the other distinguished guests in attendance tonight.

I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person, but please know that I am most definitely with you in spirit and honored to be receiving such a prestigious prize. Being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is something I never could have imagined or seen coming. From an early age, I’ve been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus, Hemingway. These giants of literature whose works are taught in the schoolroom, housed in libraries around the world and spoken of in reverent tones have always made a deep impression. That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words.

I don’t know if these men and women ever thought of the Nobel honor for themselves, but I suppose that anyone writing a book, or a poem, or a play anywhere in the world might harbor that secret dream deep down inside. It’s probably buried so deep that they don’t even know it’s there.

If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon. In fact, during the year I was born and for a few years after, there wasn’t anyone in the world who was considered good enough to win this Nobel Prize. So, I recognize that I am in very rare company, to say the least.

I was out on the road when I received this surprising news, and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it. I began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he 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?”

When I started writing songs as a teenager, and even as I started to achieve some renown for my abilities, my aspirations for these songs only went so far. I thought they could be heard in coffee houses or bars, maybe later in places like Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium. If I was really dreaming big, maybe I could imagine getting to make a record and then hearing my songs on the radio. That was really the big prize in my mind. Making records and hearing your songs on the radio meant that you were reaching a big audience and that you might get to keep doing what you had set out to do.

Well, I’ve been doing what I set out to do for a long time, now. I’ve made dozens of records and played thousands of concerts all around the world. But it’s my songs that are at the vital center of almost everything I do. They seemed to have found a place in the lives of many people throughout many different cultures and I’m grateful for that.

But there’s one thing I must say. As a performer I’ve played for 50,000 people and I’ve played for 50 people and I can tell you that it is harder to play for 50 people. 50,000 people have a singular persona, not so with 50. Each person has an individual, separate identity, a world unto themselves. They can perceive things more clearly. Your honesty and how it relates to the depth of your talent is tried. The fact that the Nobel committee is so small is not lost on me.

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?”

So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.

My best wishes to you all,

Bob Dylan


A Worthy Adaptation of Macbeth

The other day I noted to my friends on Facebook that I did not wish to live in a world where loving Marion Cotillard could be construed as morally wrong in any way or under any circumstances. I did, however, neglect to recommend the latest Macbeth that she starred in.

Really, it’s best construed as an adaptation, a very daring one that in my view lowers the volume on Shakespeare, to balance his near-perfect cadences with visual poetry and narrative.

Maybe I’m growing soft in my old age, or maybe I love Marion Cotillard a little too well, but I thought it very good if not excellent.

But you must see this on a big high def TV to get the full effect.

Hal’s Great Transformation (#1)


Can no man tell me of my unthrifty son?
‘Tis full three months since I did see him last;
If any plague hang over us, ’tis he.
I would to God, my lords, he might be found:
Inquire at London, ‘mongst the taverns there,
For there, they say, he daily doth frequent,
With unrestrained loose companions,
Even such, they say, as stand in narrow lanes,
And beat our watch, and rob our passengers;
Which he, young wanton and effeminate boy,
Takes on the point of honour to support
So dissolute a crew.

The quote above is from the end of Richard II, from King Bolingbroke (Henry IV).  The two, of course, are foils beginning in this second play of the Henriad, which consists of Richard II, Henry IV (1 & 2), and Henry V. The king is asking out loud about his ne’er-do-well son. At that time Prince Hal is hanging out with the wrong crowd, drinking, and generally embarrassing the King.

We first see Harry Percy (Hotstpur), Northumberland’s bold son, in Richard II.  Hal (Henry V) is only mentioned in passing at the end of that play (quote above). In the quote below, from the beginning of Henry IV (1), we hear the King’s frustration with his underachieving son, whose lassitude is contrasted with the achievements of Hotspur.

This quote captures the depths of the King’s frustrations with his son (O that it could be proved…)  who at this point is barren of achievement and appears to have a most unpromising future ahead. The language is evocative and shocking. As we read it, we must resists the temptation to look forward and force ourselves to feel the King’s despair that has him wishing against hope that Hal was not his son. The despair is acute because the civil war – “civil butchery” – is coming. We do not know, yet, of Hal’s gifts and virtues. We do not know yet his ambitions.


In faith,
It is a conquest for a prince to boast of.


Yea, there thou makest me sad and makest me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son,
A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue;
Amongst a grove, the very straightest plant;
Who is sweet Fortune’s minion and her pride:
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him,
See riot and dishonour stain the brow
Of my young Harry. O that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,
And call’d mine Percy, his Plantagenet!
Then would I have his Harry, and he mine.
But let him from my thoughts.



My Favorite Books and Why

Below are my favorite 10 books of all time, chosen on three criteria: gravitas, fun, and poetry. I first list them according to category and assign points for placement. Next I do a tally and list according to points earned in each (un-weighted) category.

Finally, I list my favorites in order. Interestingly, only Melville does not crack the top five on any of the lists. Perhaps I should only have a top nine? Only Shakespeare and Homer make the top five on every single category. Proust takes a big climb on subjective criteria. I have read the first volume recently and look forward to the rest. Dante takes a dive only because it’s not one I have studied with vigor.

All in all, these books are wondrous. They are to me indispensable and, in a few cases (The Bible, Shakespeare, and Cervantes) proved thoroughly life-altering. But I love them all, more than I am capable expressing in words {see my terrible poem below as proof of this}. Here is a random bullet on each that jumps in mind:

  • Hamlet tells Horatio that there is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow
  • Jesus chases the tax collectors from the temple…and a herd of swine into the sea.
  • Don Quixote in love.
  • Proust explains why he loves Bergotte.
  • Achilles comforts Priam.
  • Foote peerlessly portrays Lincoln’s kindliness — and his Machiavellian vigor.
  • Machiavelli instructs us to seek wisdom in literature, biography if one is an aspiring prince.
  • Virgil chides Dante for being slothy and prods him along with the memory of Beatriz.
  • Whitman reminds us that the powerful play goes on.
  • Ishmael realizes that he’d rather be in bed with sober pagan than a drunk Christian.

The Lists:

Gravitas: Moral instruction and philosophical insight

  1. The Bible (10)
  2. Shakespeare, Tragedies and Henriad (9)
  3. Cervantes, Don Quixote (8)
  4. Homer, The Odyssey & Iliad (7)
  5. Machievelli, The Prince and Discourses (6)
  6. Dante, the Divine Comedy (5)
  7. Foote, The Civil War (4)
  8. Proust, Remembrance of Things Past (3)
  9. Whitman, Leaves of Grass (2)
  10. Melville, Moby Dick (1)

Fun: The most joyous to read

  1. Cervantes, Don Quixote (10)
  2. Shakespeare, Tragedies and Henriad (9)
  3. Homer, The Odyssey & Iliad (8)
  4. Foote, The Civil War (7)
  5. Machievelli, The Prince and Discourses (6)
  6. The Bible (5)
  7. Dante, the Divine Comedy (4)
  8. Melville, Moby Dick (3)
  9. Whitman, Leaves of Grass (2)
  10. Proust, Remembrance of Things Past (1)

Poetry: Because in fifty years I think I would love to be able to recite it all by heart

  1. Shakespeare, Tragedies and Henriad (10)
  2. Homer, The Odyssey & Iliad (9)
  3. Dante, the Divine Comedy (8)
  4. Whitman, Leaves of Grass (7)
  5. Proust, Remembrance of Things Past (6)
  6. The Bible (5)
  7. Melville, Moby Dick (4)
  8. Foote, The Civil War (3)
  9. Cervantes, Don Quixote (2)
  10. Machievelli, The Prince and Discourses (1)

Overall according to the point system:

  1. Shakespeare, Tragedies and Henriad (28 points)
  2. Homer, The Odyssey & Iliad (24)
  3. The Bible (20)
  4. Cervantes, Don Quixote (20)
  5. Dante, the Divine Comedy (17)
  6. Foote, The Civil War (14)
  7. Machievelli, The Prince and Discourses (13)
  8. Whitman, Leaves of Grass (11)
  9. Proust, Remembrances of Things Past (10)
  10. Melville, Moby Dick (8)

Subjective: In order, what I today would pick to have with me in the dungeon

  1. Shakespeare, Tragedies and Henriad (27 points)
  2. The Bible (20)
  3. Proust, Remembrances of Things Past (10)
  4. Cervantes, Don Quixote (20)
  5. Foote, The Civil War (14)
  6. Homer, The Odyssey & Iliad (25)
  7. Machievelli, The Prince and Discourses (13)
  8. Dante, the Divine Comedy (17)
  9. Whitman, Leaves of Grass (11)
  10. Melville, Moby Dick (8)

An awful poem from the heart:

Abandoned down below for fifty years alone,

From these forced I to choose just one

I’d pick for gravitas, for rhyme, for fun.

The last shall not be under sold, by me or time;

For this explains why Russians fail to shine,

Why Proust and Foote and Melville are sublime.

For fifty years alone all huddled in my cell,

For each itself there is no deeper well.

Arkangel now on

Happiness is when you notice that all of Arkangel’s Shakespeare collection has been added to I really enjoyed the ones I have heard. I think the Henriad is astonishingly good as is Julius Caesar. Almost all of the performers are Royal Shakespeare peeps. These performances are real treasures. The text for all the plays can be found at MIT’s Shakespeare Collection.

Arkangel Shakespeare

The Greatest Play


Here is a roundup of what five scholars say about The Bard’s greatest play. Lear and Hamlet, of course, are noted by two. One says about Hamlet, “It’s the pinnacle of Shakespeare’s artistic achievement. Hands down.” Just a few years ago I would have agreed. To my mind, Lear has gained ground and surpassed it. Gospels aside, Lear, I think, might be the greatest love story I have ever read. None of it, though, is about romantic love.  The French King’s love for Cordelia is brushed aside early and we don’t see him again. There is Edgar’s lascivious love with the sisters. “Let copulation thrive…”, says Lear sardonically. Other loves abound and are explored, that of fathers and daughters, fathers and sons, and masters and servants. Lear provokes haunting horror, love, and tenderness. 

Other tidbits in the piece are a case made for Othello, which I don’t buy. I loved the case made for The Winter’s Tale that has convinced me to seek out a production ASAP. Still, I’m not buying this argument either.

A more intriguing argument made by one scholar is for Henry V. As the author notes, however, it is one piece of the Henriad and does not stand alone. To my mind, there is one great epic play within the Henriad. After trimming the fat — and there is a fair amount of it across the four plays — we could be left with an play to rival Lear and Hamlet.  Interestingly, after many years of studying these plays, I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that Hamlet and Lear are ultimately a rejection of Machiavellian politics. Lear is blatantly so whereas Hamlet is more cunning on this point. The Henriad, in contrast, is a celebration of politics and a deft rejection of monarchy that would make Machiavelli smile.


Sonnet for the end of 2013

Sonnet XV: When I Consider everything that Grows

By Shakespeare, William

When I consider everything that grows

Holds in perfection but a little moment,

That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows

Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;

When I perceive that men as plants increase,

Cheered and check’d even by the selfsame sky,

Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,

And wear their brave state out of memory;

Then the conceit of this inconstant stay

Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,

Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay

To change your day of youth to sullied night;

And all in war with Time for love of you,

As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

What to Read on Statecraft and Leadership

     A former student of mine and I talked recently about what books she should read to aid her on ambition’s ladder. She was recently admitted to the Kennedy and Harvard Business Schools.  I expect her to have a shot at becoming congresswoman or senator one day. If she eschews this path, I don’t doubt for an instant that she will go far in business, politics, or in the NGO world. Perhaps all three eventually.
     Machiavelli gives advice to would-be princes like her on what they should study.  She is a myriad-minded person who reads voraciously.  Still, she would benefit from the great philosopher’s wisdom. Here is what he says:
“But to exercise the intellect the prince should read histories, and study there the actions of illustrious men, to see how they have borne themselves in war, to examine the causes of their victories and defeat, so as to avoid the latter and imitate the former; and above all do as an illustrious man did, who took as an exemplar one who had been praised and famous before him, and whose achievements and deeds he always kept in his mind, as it is said Alexander the Great imitated Achilles, Caesar Alexander, Scipio Cyrus. And whoever reads the life of Cyrus, written by Xenophon, will recognize afterwards in the life of Scipio how that imitation was his glory, and how in chastity, affability, humanity, and liberality Scipio conformed to those things which have been written of Cyrus by Xenophon. A wise prince ought to observe some such rules, and never in peaceful times stand idle, but increase his resources with industry in such a way that they may be available to him in adversity, so that if fortune chances it may find him prepared to resist her blows.” The Prince, Chapter XIV (The entire chapter is pasted below).
     I think this is brilliant advice for those who study princes as well as those who seek to become better princes such as my former student.
     Below I list authors and books that  provide insight into the art of politics, statecraft, and leadership that have best aided me in my life-long effort to understand politics. I have no doubt that my former student has read some of these. I hope she will re-visit some and engage new ones. Each is a treasure trove of insight and erudition.  Each is immensely entertaining. A few are masterpieces of English prose and poetry, pleasing to the heart as well as the mind.
  • Plutarch, Lives
  • Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative, Volumes 1-3
  • Thucydides, Peloponnesian War 
  • Shakespeare, Richard II, Henry IV 1&2, and Henry V AND the major tragedies
  • Machiavelli, The Prince & Discourses (University of Chicago editions)
  • Robert Caro, Master of the Senate 
  • David McCullough, Harry Truman and John Adams
  • Robert V. Remeni, Andrew Jackson works.
  • Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals
  • Homer, Iliad & Odyssey
  • Elliot Cohen, Supreme Command


A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules, and it is of such force that it not only upholds those who are born princes, but it often enables men to rise from a private station to that rank. And, on the contrary, it is seen that when princes have thought more of ease than of arms they have lost their states. And the first cause of your losing it is to neglect this art; and what enables you to acquire a state is to be master of the art. Francesco Sforza, through being martial, from a private person became Duke of Milan; and the sons, through avoiding the hardships and troubles of arms, from dukes became private persons. For among other evils which being unarmed brings you, it causes you to be despised, and this is one of those ignominies against which a prince ought to guard himself, as is shown later on. Because there is nothing proportionate between the armed and the unarmed; and it is not reasonable that he who is armed should yield obedience willingly to him who is unarmed, or that the unarmed man should be secure among armed servants. Because, there being in the one disdain and in the other suspicion, it is not possible for them to work well together. And therefore a prince who does not understand the art of war, over and above the other misfortunes already mentioned, cannot be respected by his soldiers, nor can he rely on them. He ought never, therefore, to have out of his thoughts this subject of war, and in peace he should addict himself more to its exercise than in war; this he can do in two ways, the one by action, the other by study.

As regards action, he ought above all things to keep his men well organized and drilled, to follow incessantly the chase, by which he accustoms his body to hardships, and learns something of the nature of localities, and gets to find out how the mountains rise, how the valleys open out, how the plains lie, and to understand the nature of rivers and marshes, and in all this to take the greatest care. Which knowledge is useful in two ways. Firstly, he learns to know his country, and is better able to undertake its defence; afterwards, by means of the knowledge and observation of that locality, he understands with ease any other which it may be necessary for him to study hereafter; because the hills, valleys, and plains, and rivers and marshes that are, for instance, in Tuscany, have a certain resemblance to those of other countries, so that with a knowledge of the aspect of one country one can easily arrive at a knowledge of others. And the prince that lacks this skill lacks the essential which it is desirable that a captain should possess, for it teaches him to surprise his enemy, to select quarters, to lead armies, to array the battle, to besiege towns to advantage.

Philopoemen,(*) Prince of the Achaeans, among other praises which writers have bestowed on him, is commended because in time of peace he never had anything in his mind but the rules of war; and when he was in the country with friends, he often stopped and reasoned with them: “If the enemy should be upon that hill, and we should find ourselves here with our army, with whom would be the advantage? How should one best advance to meet him, keeping the ranks? If we should wish to retreat, how ought we to pursue?” And he would set forth to them, as he went, all the chances that could befall an army; he would listen to their opinion and state his, confirming it with reasons, so that by these continual discussions there could never arise, in time of war, any unexpected circumstances that he could not deal with.

     (*) Philopoemen, "the last of the Greeks," born 252 B.C.,
     died 183 B.C.

But to exercise the intellect the prince should read histories, and study there the actions of illustrious men, to see how they have borne themselves in war, to examine the causes of their victories and defeat, so as to avoid the latter and imitate the former; and above all do as an illustrious man did, who took as an exemplar one who had been praised and famous before him, and whose achievements and deeds he always kept in his mind, as it is said Alexander the Great imitated Achilles, Caesar Alexander, Scipio Cyrus. And whoever reads the life of Cyrus, written by Xenophon, will recognize afterwards in the life of Scipio how that imitation was his glory, and how in chastity, affability, humanity, and liberality Scipio conformed to those things which have been written of Cyrus by Xenophon. A wise prince ought to observe some such rules, and never in peaceful times stand idle, but increase his resources with industry in such a way that they may be available to him in adversity, so that if fortune chances it may find him prepared to resist her blows.

Shakespeare gave company to Mandela in jail

The Bard provided tutelage and wisdom for Mandela while he was in prison. It seems that words inspired the great man while he served time. Two words in particular have always stood out when I think of Lincoln, and now Mandela: equanimity and magnanimity. They both seemed to have cultivated these virtues while they suffered, endured, and reflected on the Bard.

Puns in Shakespeare: “Thou globe of sinful Continents!”

In Henry IV (2) Hal and Poins, in disguise, bust Falstaff in the Tavern, drinking and cavorting with Doll Tearsheet. I love Shakespeare for many reasons, but no one has or ever will pun so well in English.  I’ve always loved how Hal greets Falstaff in this scene and very taken in particular with “what a life dost though lead!”, ribbing Falstaff for being a lecherous drunk gormandizer. (Below #A)  “Globe of sinful continents” always struck me as funny straight up. It finally struck me that it is actually a double pun, particularly when we think of the two definitions of “continence.” (Below #B). The first pun is ironic, of course, with Doll Tearsheet (Below #3) on his lap. The second definition, though, implies that Hal is also calling Falstaff a fat sack of shit. Funny stuff.



Why, thou globe of sinful continents! what a life
dost thou lead!

Def. 1 self-restraintespecially : a refraining from sexual intercourse
Def. 2: the ability to retain a bodily discharge voluntarily <fecal continence>


Look, whether the withered elder hath not his poll
clawed like a parrot.


Is it not strange that desire should so many years
outlive performance?

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