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There are many facets to the fare that a creative soul dishes out. P G Wodehouse is no exception.

Here is a post from the stable of Plumtopia which many of Plum’s fans would relish.

Plumtopia

The name Tony Ring is familiar to many P.G. Wodehouse enthusiasts — it pops up often and in an surprising variety of places: from journal articles and forewords of new editions, to theatre programmes. Tony’s books on Wodehouse’s life and work line many of our shelves, and his sparkling presence has enlivened Wodehouse society events around the world. It is an honour and a pleasure to add Plumtopia to his long list of appearances.

Another Centenary to Celebrate

The Sunday Times Magazine for 9 April this year included a four-page article saluting Andrew Lloyd Webber’s extraordinary achievement in having four shows in performance simultaneously on Broadway, though two of them are revivals. It suggests he shares this record with Rodgers and Hammerstein, and states that it hasn’t been done for 60 years.

Well, Rodgers, like Lloyd Webber, was a composer. Hammerstein was a lyricist. The paper overlooked Lloyd Webber’s one-time lyricist…

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Honoria Plum successfully investigates the ensemble of reasons which account for the enduring appeal of P G Wodehouse. Sherlock Holmes would heartily approve.

Read on to find out more.

Plumtopia

In 2015, BBC radio presenter Kirsty Lang interviewed director Rob Ashford and writer Jeremy Sams about their stage musical adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distress. It’s one of Wodehouse’s many transatlantic tales, and delves into the world of musical theatre. The central character is an American composer of musical show tunes, and he manages to navigate life efficiently enough without the assistance of a manservant.

KIRSTY: Now Jeremy, it’s a very engaging production, but the story’ is very much of its time. How confident were you that it would work for a 21st Century audience?

JEREMY: Well you say it’s of its time. What I love about it is, the things that attracted me and my co-writer Robbie Hudson, are absolutely how we feel now about America and England, and actually about theatre and high art, if you like. And the ideas that musicals, which I…

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Uncle Fred and Shakespeare

Yet another sterling example of Wodehouse’s use of Shakespeare is found in Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939).

When Alaric, Duke of Dunstable decides to take Empress of Blandings away from her loving master and get her fit, Lord Emsworth calls in the services of the redoubtable Uncle Fred. Fred arrives full of the joys of spring, with nephew Pongo Twistleton and old friend Polly Pott in tow, and despite the efforts of the efficient Baxter, endeavours to scupper the Duke and bring together a variety of romantic couplings.

The perils of a financial obligation

‘Beginning by quoting from Polonius’s speech to Laertes, which a surprising number of people whom you would not have suspected of familiarity with the writings of Shakespeare seem to know, Mr Pott had gone on to say that lending money always made him feel as if he were rubbing velvet the wrong way, and that in any case he would not lend it to Pongo, because he valued his friendship too highly. The surest method of creating a rift between two pals, explained Mr Pott, was for one pal to place the other pal under a financial obligation.’

Of Hamlet and optimism

When Pongo Twistleton takes a pessimistic view of the plan hatched by Lord Ickenham, the latter consoles Polly thus.

‘I hope he isn’t frightening you, Polly.’
‘He is.’
‘Don’t let him. When you get to know Pongo better,’ said Lord Ickenham, ‘you will realize that he is always like this — moody, sombre, full of doubts and misgivings. Shakespeare drew Hamlet from him. You will feel better, my boy, when you have had a drink. Let us nip round to my club and get a swift one.’

Of poets being commercial

When Ricky tries to strike a deal with Duke, a comment on poets having a keen eye on royalty returns pops up.

‘Poets, as a class, are business men. Shakespeare describes the poet’s eye as rolling in a fine frenzy from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven, and giving to airy nothing a local habitation and a name, but in practice you will find that one corner of that eye is generally glued on the royalty returns. Ricky was no exception. Like all poets, he had his times of dreaminess, but an editor who sent him a cheque for a pound instead of the guinea which had been agreed upon as the price of his latest morceau was very little older before he found a sharp letter on his desk or felt his ear burning at what was coming over the telephone wire.’

The art of soliloquising

Of Aunts who soliloquise

Many of those who belong to the so-called sterner sex might appreciate the sentiment expressed here:

‘As far as the eye could reach, I found myself gazing on a surging sea of aunts. There were tall aunts, short aunts, stout aunts, thin aunts, and an aunt who was carrying on a conversation in a low voice to which no body seemed to be paying the slightest attention. I was to learn later that this was Miss Emmeline Deverill’s habitual practice, she being the aunt of whom Corky had spoken as the dotty one. From start to finish of every meal she soliloquised. Shakespeare would have liked her.’
[The Mating Season (1949)]

When smoking habits come under the lens

Lancelot Bingley, an upcoming young artist, is engaged to Gladys Wetherby, a poetess, who not only has great skill with the pen but also has the face and figure of a superior kind of pin-up girl. However, for them to be able to take a saunter down the aisle, financial support from Gladys’ Uncle Francis, an obese game hunter, is necessary.

Lancelot gets commissioned to paint a portrait of Uncle Francis, who is known to abhor tobacco in any form. However, Lancelot decides to smoke a quiet cigar in the garden when Uncle and her magnificent cook happen to come along. Hamlet gets invoked.

“That, or something like it, was what I said, and I dived into the shrubbery. The voices came nearer. Someone was approaching, or rather I should have said that two persons were approaching, for if there had been only one person approaching, he would hardly have been talking to himself. Though, of course, you do get that sort of thing in Shakespeare. Hamlet, to take but one instance, frequently soliloquised.”

[A good cigar is a smoke (Plum Pie, 1966)]

When hesitation takes over

In order to maintain matrimonial harmony, Bingo Little needs to establish an alibi which would undo the damage done since Rosie M Banks has discovered a photo of his in the Mirror, which shows him being led by a gruff policeman along with Miss Mabel Murgatroyd, a redhead of singular beauty.

Freddie Widgeon gets consulted at the Drones. The option of shoving his chin out and saying ‘So what?’ to the love of his life is ruled out. Freddie then reminds him of the old gag about ‘women being tough babies in the ordinary run of things but becoming ministering angels when pain and anguish wring the brow.’ An accident must come about. Getting hit by a cab is not favoured. An idea of a typewriter falling on Bingo’s toe then takes shape. Back in his Wee Tots office, Bingo attempts it.

When it comes to describing a state of hesitation, Shakespeare comes to one’s aid.

‘It really began to seem as if Freddie Widgeon’s typewriter-on-toe sequence was his only resource, and he stood for some time eyeing the substantial machine on which he was wont to turn out wholesome reading matter for the chicks. He even lifted it and held it for a moment poised. But he could not bring himself to let it fall. He hesitated and delayed. If Shakespeare had happened to come by with Ben Jonson, he would have nudged the latter in the ribs and whispered “See that fellow, rare Ben? He illustrates exactly what I was driving at when I wrote that stuff about letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’ like the poor cat in the adage.”

[Bingo bans the bomb (Plum Pie, 1966)]

Of Humour, Humourists and the Bard

Plum held the Bard in high esteem. He once said that “Shakespeare’s stuff is different from mine, but that is not to say that it is inferior.” The frequent use of Shakespearean phrases by Plum merely attests to the same.

Even when putting across a note on humour, Plum does not hesitate to quote the Bard.

“I only asked him how many crows can nest in a grocer’s jerkin. Just making conversation.”
“And what was his reply? Tinkling like a xylophone, he gave that awful cackling laugh of his and said ‘A full dozen at cockcrow, and something less under the dog star, by reason of the dew, which lies heavy on men taken with the scurvy’. Was that sense?”
“It was humour.”
“Who says so?”
“Shakespeare says so.”
“Who’s Shakespeare?”
“All right, George.”
“I never heard of any Shakespeare.”
“I said all right, George. Skip it.”
“Well, anyway, you can tell him from now on to keep his humour to himself, and if he hits me on the head just once more with that bladder of his, he does it at his own risk.”
[A Note on Humour (Plum Pie, 1966)]

How about a Plummy Kalidasa?!

Those familiar with the works of Kalidasa, a poet known for his delicately romantic works in the Sanskrit language, could justifiably rue the fact that Plum, a romantic at heart himself, never got around to quoting him. If a translation had been used by Plum, his fans would have had an even richer harvest to feast upon.

Imagine a distraught Gussie Fink Nottle pining for Madeline Bassett and sending messages to her through clods passing by above, a la Meghadootam. An exchange of letters and telegrams would have no longer been necessary. Clouds would have acted as a means of communication – a prospect which the younger lot exposed to the Internet of Things and Cloud Computing these days would have thoroughly approved of.

Ritusamhara, a compendium of lover’s escapades across diverse seasons, would have made rich contributions to the lake side jaunts of Honoria Glossop with Bertie Wooster, what with the latter scheming to push her younger brother into the lake waters. With Kalidasa’s support, the description of a harsh winter evening in Something Fresh – when Ashe Marson is being escorted to Blandings Castle – would have got bolstered no end.

A Plummy Shakespeare

Die-hard fans of The Bard might not be too amused at the Plummy version of the ageless poet. Some linguistic purists might also register a protest, possibly composing a nasty e-mail or two even as you read this piece, if piece is indeed the word I want. But there shall never be a doubt as to the additional layer of rich Shakespearean icing dished out by P G Wodehouse on top of so many of his oh-so-delicious Plum cakes, adding to the delight of his fans worldwide.

(Notes:

Inputs received from some ardent fans of Wodehouse are gratefully acknowledged. 

Related Posts: 

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/07/01/presenting-a-plummy-shakespeare-part-1-of-3

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/presenting-a-plummy-shakespeare-part-2-of-3

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/06/26/the-perils-of-not-suffering-from-shakespearitis)

 

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A tide in the affairs of men

Amongst the not-so-delicately-nurtured characters in the Wodehouse canon, there are at least three brainy coves we all admire – Jeeves, Lord Ickenham and Psmith. As to the last one, here is how one of his theories of Life gets bolstered by The Bard.

‘It was one of Psmith’s theories of Life, which he was accustomed to propound to Mike in the small hours of the morning with his feet on the mantelpiece, that the secret of success lay in taking advantage of one’s occasional slices of luck, in seizing, as it were, the happy moment. When Mike, who had had the passage to write out ten times at Wrykyn on one occasion as an imposition, reminded him that Shakespeare had once said something about there being a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, &c., Psmith had acknowledged with an easy grace that possibly Shakespeare had got on to it first, and that it was but one more proof of how often great minds thought alike.’

[Psmith in the City (1910)]

A dash of patriotic zeal

When it comes to loving their countries, both Wodehouse and Shakespeare do not disappoint.

‘He spoke of England’s future, which, he pointed out, must rest on these babies and others like them, adding that he scarcely need remind them that the England to which he alluded had been described by the poet Shakespeare as this royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden, demi-Paradise, this fortress built by nature for herself against infection and the hand of war. Than which, he thought they would all agree with him, nothing could be fairer.’

[Leave it to Algy – A Few Quick Ones (1959)]

Of soldiers with a growth of fungus

“Oh, there you are,” I said.
“Yes, here we are,” replied the relative with a touch of asperity. “What’s kept you all this time?”
“I would have made it snappier, but I was somewhat impeded in my movements by pards.”
“By what?”
“Bearded pards. Shakespeare. Right, Jeeves ?”
“Perfectly correct, sir. Shakespeare, speaks of the soldier as bearded like the pard.”

[Jeeves Makes an Omelette – A Few Quick Ones (1959)]

Of hard-working citizens guaranteeing the country’s future

‘In an age so notoriously avid of pleasure as the one in which we live it is rare to find a young man of such sterling character that he voluntarily absents himself from a village concert in order to sit at home and work: and, contemplating John, one feels quite a glow. It was not as if he had been unaware of what he was missing. The vicar, he knew, was to open the proceedings with a short address: the choir would sing old English glees: the Misses Vivien and Alice Pond-Pond were down on the programme for refined coon songs: and, in addition to other items too numerous and fascinating to mention, Hugo Carmody and his friend Mr Fish would positively appear in person and render that noble example of Shakespeare’s genius, the Quarrel Scene from Julius Caesar.

Yet John Carroll sat in his room, working. England’s future cannot be so dubious as the pessimists would have us believe while her younger generation is made of stuff like this.’

[Money for Nothing (1928)]

When decorum has to be maintained at the Drones

Members of this exalted club need to be persuaded to allow a kid to be allowed on the premises.

‘”Yes,” said a Bean. “He can try as much as he likes to cloud the issue by calling him ‘Algernon Aubrey’, as if he were a brother or cousin or something, but the stark fact remains that the above is his baby. We don’t want infants mewling and puking about the Drones.”
“Keep it clean,” urged a Pieface.
“Shakespeare,” explained the Bean.
“Oh, Shakespeare? Sorry. No,” said the Pieface, “we don’t want any bally babies here.”
A grave look came into the Crumpet’s face.
“You want this one,” he said. “You can’t afford to do without him. Recent events have convinced Bingo that this offspring of his is a Grade A mascot, and he feels that the club should have the benefit of his services. Having heard his story, I agree with him. This half-portion’s knack of doing the right thing at the right time is uncanny. I believe the child is almost human.”
His eloquence was not without its effect.’

Little, Algernon Aubrey [A Few Quick Ones (1959)]

When the nerves are all of a twitter

Very often, Plum’s characters are all of a twitter. Confusion reigns supreme. Here are some snippets where The Bard comes to Plum’s aid.

When Oofy faces a financial dilemma

‘To say that Oofy was all in a dither is really to give too feeble a picture of his emotions. They were such that only a top-notcher like Shakespeare could have slapped them down on paper, and he would have had to go all out.’

[Oofy, Freddie and the Beef Trust, A Few Quick Ones (1959)]

A challenging assignment leaves Bertie shaken and stirred

When Aunt Dahlia tells Bertie to pinch the silver cow creamer, he is all of a twitter. ‘The cat chap’ gets quoted.

‘That is the problem which is torturing me, Jeeves. I can’t make up my mind. You remember that fellow you’ve mentioned to me once or twice, who let something wait upon something? You know who I mean — the cat chap.’
‘Macbeth, sir, a character in a play of that name by the late William Shakespeare. He was described as letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’, like the poor cat i’ th’ adage.’
‘Well, that’s how it is with me. I wobble, and I vacillate — if that’s the word?’
‘Perfectly correct, sir.’

[The Code of the Woosters (1938)]

Ringing for The Bard

In Ring for Jeeves (1953), we find Jeeves offering his services to William “Bill” Rowcester, the impoverished 9th Earl of Rowcester, whose stately home, Rowcester Abbey, is an encumbrance for which the Earl is seeking a buyer. He becomes embroiled in a complicated affair involving ‘fake’ bookies, stolen gems, a wealthy American widow and a big game hunter. Much excitement comes about before he succeeds in resolving matters to the satisfaction of all parties.

In praise of scoundrels

“Popped off like a jack rabbit, with me after him.”
“I don’t wonder you’re upset. Scoundrels like that ought not to be at large. It makes one’s blood boil to think of this . . . this . . . what would Shakespeare have called him, Jeeves?”
“This arrant, rascally, beggarly, lousy knave, m’lord.”
“Ah, yes. Shakespeare put these things well.”
“A whoreson, beetle-headed, flap-eared knave: a knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a beggarly, filthy, worsted- stocking.”

The slings and arrows of Fate

When questioned by Jill as to why she had not been informed by Bill about his knowing Mrs Spottsworth, he is convinced that his Guardian Angels are surely upset.

‘It seemed to Bill that for a pretty good sort of chap who meant no harm to anybody and strove always to do the square thing by one and all, he was being handled rather roughly by Fate tins summer day. The fellow—Shakespeare, he rather thought, though he would have to check with Jeeves —who had spoken of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, had known what he was talking about. Slings and arrows described it to a nicety.’

When enterprises of great importance are afoot

The Bard comes in handy when Captain Biggar, Bill and Jeeves discuss prospects at the races.

‘Captain Biggar lowered his voice again, this time so far that his words sounded like gas escaping from a pipe.
“There’s something cooking. As Shakespeare says, we have an enterprise of great importance.”

Jeeves winced.

” ‘Enterprises of great pith and moment’ is the exact quotation, sir.”’

When one is a fiancée short

When Bill rues the loss of a beloved, some consolation is in order.

“Precisely. You want to take the big, broad, spacious view. Bill. You are a fiancée short, let’s face it, and your immediate reaction is, no doubt, a disposition to rend the garments and scatter ashes on the head. But you’ve got to look at these things from every angle. Bill, old man. Remember what Shakespeare said: ‘A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.'”

Jeeves winced.

“Kipling, Sir Roderick.”

A magnificent idea, ascribed wrongly to Shakespeare

In The Code of the Woosters (1938), Jeeves advises Bertie to drop the policeman’s helmet out of the window.

‘Yes, sir. But since then I have been giving the matter some thought, and am now in a position to say ‘Eureka!’’
‘Say what?’
‘Eureka, sir. Like Archimedes.’
‘Did he say Eureka? I thought it was Shakespeare.’
‘No, sir. Archimedes.

(To be continued)

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/06/26/the-perils-of-not-suffering-from-shakespearitis

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/07/01/presenting-a-plummy-shakespeare-part-1-of-3)

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There are several reasons as to why P G Wodehouse, fondly referred to as Plum, is revered so very highly. For lesser mortals, one of these is surely the manner in which he makes fun of a decadent British aristocracy. He does so by skillfully juxtaposing strict social norms against nonsensical and ridiculous acts which rank rather high on the Goofiness Index. Then there is his unique use of the English language, with twists which could gladden the hearts of some of the most morose amongst us.

One other factor which endears Wodehouse to his ardent fans is the manner in which he draws upon the works of such other literary figures as Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley, Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde.

In the Wodehouse canon, The Bard has a unique place. Almost all of Plum’s works are littered with references to the literary outpourings of Shakespeare. This enriches the very texture of Plum’s whodunits, placing him at the magnificent table of our literary high priests and priestesses. A fan of his cannot be blamed for savouring the delectable cocktails Wodehouse serves, much like the warm inner glow of spring sunshine she relishes, especially after having braved a prolonged spell of harsh winter.

The Bard’s contribution to Plum’s scintillating humour

When someone’s obesity is to be commented upon, The Bard comes in handy. When the protagonist or the narrator faces an apparently insurmountable challenge, the term ‘sea of troubles’ gets deployed. When confusion reigns supreme, as it invariably does when such woolly headed characters as Bertie Wooster or Lord Emsworth happen to be around, poor Macbeth – ‘the cat chap’ in Bertie’s lingo – reinforces the scenario. Lady Macbeth, when taunting her husband for being indecisive about murdering King Duncan and occupying the throne of Scotland, would have little imagined the kind of indelible impact she has left behind in the realm of humour.

A lay reader, while navigating her way through one of Plum’s narratives, could suddenly come upon a turn of Shakespearean phrase and get surprised, much like a nymph while bathing. Many of the phrases are so very well-knit into these narratives that one who is not familiar with the extensive works of The Bard could be forgiven for simply missing out on the same. The notion that ‘it’s always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping’ is one such fine example. The phrase ‘harsh slings and arrows of fate/life’ perhaps falls in the same genre. Another one is Jeeves’ reference to ‘quills upon the fretful porpentine’, a phrase deployed by the ghost in Hamlet. Yet another one is about ‘some rain falling in each one’s life’.

If poor Macbeth and Hamlet get mangled up by Bertie in quite a few of Plum’s narratives, King John and Henry VI pop up in Something Fresh. Whether a work was published in the 1920s or in the 1970s appears to make no difference, what with Shakespearean references popping up at frequent intervals, much to the delight of Plum’s fans.

Here is a random sample of some such references.

Diving into a sea of troubles

Not surprisingly, ‘a sea of troubles’ is an expression which pops up rather frequently.

Making Bertie dive into a sea of troubles

In Jeeves in the Offing (1960), we have in residence at Brinkley Court an American family, the Creams, who need to be handled delicately so as to facilitate a big business deal with Bertie’s uncle. The Rev. Aubrey Upjohn is around, with his stiff upper lip chilling Bertie’s soul; so is his daughter Phyllis, who is infatuated with the supposedly kleptomaniac Willie Cream, and must be put off. Roderick Glossop, the eminent loony doctor, is there disguised as a butler. To add to all this we have Roberta Wickham! The scenario is ripe for the Bard to come in.

‘I quivered like a startled what-d’you-call-it. She had spoken with a cheery ring in her voice that told an experienced ear like mine that she was about to start something. In a matter of seconds by Shrewsbury clock, as Aunt Dahlia would have said, I could see that she was going to come out with one of those schemes or plans of hers that not only stagger humanity and turn the moon to blood but lead to some unfortunate male—who on the present occasion would, I strongly suspected, be me— getting immersed in what Shakespeare calls a sea of troubles, if it was Shakespeare. I had heard that ring in her voice before, to name but one time, at the moment when she was pressing the darning needle into my hand and telling me where I would find Sir Roderick Glossop’s hot-water bottle.

Many people are of the opinion that Roberta, daughter of the late Sir Cuthbert and Lady Wickham of Skeldings Hall, Herts., ought not to be allowed at large. I string along with that school of thought.’

When falling in love with the wrong sort of person

In The Right Approach (A Few Quick Ones), Shakespeare comes to the aid of Augustus at the very moment he discovers he is in love.

‘”I am relieved to hear it. He used to be troubled a good deal by clergyman’s sore throat, like my niece Hermione’s father, the late Bishop of Stortford,” said Mrs. Gudgeon, and it was at this moment that Augustus came to the decision which was to plunge him into what Shakespeare calls a sea of troubles.’

The famous Gussie speech

Who can forget the hilarious and abusive speech delivered by a thoroughly sozzled Gussie Fink Nottle at the Market Snodsbury Grammar School? [Right Ho, Jeeves (1934)]

“What I wanted to say was this—and I say it confidently—without fear of contradiction—I say, in short, I am happy to be here on this auspicious occasion and I take much pleasure in kindly awarding the prizes, consisting of the handsome books you see laid out on that table. As Shakespeare says, there are sermons in books, stones in the running brooks, or, rather, the other way about, and there you have it in a nutshell.”

When obesity needs to be captured in all its glory

Those of us who fret and fume over the losing the flab can surely draw some comfort from the fact that Wodehouse often casts a critical eye on characters which possess too many layers of fat onto their physical frames.

A grave challenge for bathing suit designers

‘It was the photograph of an elderly man in a bathing suit; an elderly man who, a glance was enough to tell, had been overdoing it on the starchy foods since early childhood; an elderly man so rotund, so obese, so bulging in every direction that Shakespeare, had he beheld him, would have muttered to himself “Upon what meat doth this our Horace feed that he is grown so great?” One wondered how any bathing suit built by human hands could contain so stupendous an amount of uncle without parting at the seams. In the letter he had written to Oofy announcing his arrival in England Horace Prosser had spoken of coming home to lay his bones in the old country. There was nothing in the snapshot to suggest that he had any bones.’
The Fat of the Land (A Few Quick Ones)

Of agents who ‘recover’ potentially harmful letters from chorus girls

Residents of Plumsville would recall the character of R. Jones, who is commissioned by Freddie to “recover” some letters he had sent in the past to a certain chorus girl who they would readily recognize as Joan Valentine. [Something Fresh (1915)]

This is how he gets described.

‘On the theory, given to the world by William Shakespeare, that it is the lean and hungry-looking men who are dangerous, and that the “fat, sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o’ nights,” are harmless, R. Jones should have been above suspicion. He was infinitely the fattest man in the west-central postal district of London. He was a round ball of a man, who wheezed when he walked upstairs, which was seldom, and shook like jelly if some tactless friend, wishing to attract his attention, tapped him unexpectedly on the shoulder.’

When a tedious tale has to be told!

In the same narrative, whereas Lord Emsworth thinks the scarab discovered in his coat pocket is a gift to him from Mr Peters, the latter suspects the Earl to have stolen the same. He is offering £1,000 to anybody who can pose as his valet and retrieve the scarab from Blandings Castle. Ashe Marson appears for an interview.

In Mr. Peters’ version the Earl of Emsworth appeared as a smooth and purposeful robber, a sort of elderly Raffles, worming his way into the homes of the innocent, and only sparing that portion of their property which was too heavy for him to carry away. Mr. Peters, indeed, specifically describes the Earl of Emsworth as an oily old second-story man.

‘Shakespeare and Pope have both emphasized the tediousness of a twice-told tale; the Episode Of the Stolen Scarab need not be repeated at this point, though it must be admitted that Mr. Peters’ version of it differed considerably from the calm, dispassionate description the author, in his capacity of official historian, has given earlier in the story.’

(To be continued….)

(Notes:

Inputs received from some ardent fans of Wodehouse are gratefully acknowledged. 

Related posts: 

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/06/26/the-perils-of-not-suffering-from-shakespearitis

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/presenting-a-plummy-shakespeare-part-2-of-3)

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To be or not to be a die-hard fan of a particular literary figure is perhaps decided by our Guardian Angels. Mines have been benevolent and ensured that I suffer from acute Wodehousitis.

But when it comes to William Shakespeare, much revered by all and sundry, my GAs have ensured that I never qualify to be even a mild case of Shakespearitis. One of the several challenges I have faced in my life is that of understanding the literary fare dished out by William Shakespeare. Given the high level of what Bertie Wooster might label as my Pumpkin Quotient, repeated attempts on my part to comprehend the ingenious outpourings of The Bard have failed miserably.

But an absence of Shakespearitis does not necessarily guarantee peace of mind. On the contrary, it makes life even more of a challenge. The brow is invariably furrowed. The heart is leaden with woe. This is so because he is to be found everywhere and apt to spring surprises at all times, not a very pleasing prospect for a faint-hearted person like me. Such are the perils of not suffering from Shakespearitis.

The omnipresent Bard

The simple irony is that my GAs have always managed to make The Bard keep popping up through all stages of my life. His persistence to engage me over the past few decades deserves to be commended. His near-omnipresence in my life merely testifies to his feeble hope that one day he may be able to assist me in improving my intellect in some way, much like the aspirations of Florence Craye with respect to Bertie Wooster (as in ‘Joy in the Morning’). I suspect I might have left him severely disappointed, disgruntled, dismayed, disheartened and dispirited. I offer my sincere regrets for the same.

The taming of a student

His omnipresent nature can be readily appreciated. His works were there at school, shoring up the proverbial Tyrannical Quotient of the Classroom. Unlike Bertie Wooster, I never won a prize in Scriptural Knowledge. Yes, I did win several prizes and trophies in various essay-writing competitions. Surprisingly, I even managed to secure an all-India rank in the final school leaving examination. On all such occasions, his works kept finding their way to my bookshelves.

His plays were often staged at the University I went to. With renewed enthusiasm which is so very typical of Homo sapiens at a tender age, I attempted to burrow deep in his works. The intention was merely to impress some of the delicately nurtured around. But the language was beyond the capacity of my limited grey cells. The best I could achieve at one of the performances was the unique distinction of drawing the curtains in and out for a stretch of two and a half hours, merely to make a young lass in the troupe happy.

Much ado about nothing

Then came the whirlwind phase of my life in the corporate sector. At times, there were bosses whose state of indecision would remind me of Macbeth, the one alluded to by Bertie Wooster as ‘the cat chap’. In smaller businesses, there were owners who could have mentored even someone of the deviousness of Shylock. Often, I had morose colleagues who might have inspired Shakespeare to fashion Hamlet. And yes, there were indeed subordinates who could have been scoundrels, perhaps described by the poet as being ‘arrant, rascally, beggarly and lousy knave.’

When the entrepreneurial bug caught up with me, there was never a dearth of ‘enterprises of great pith and moment’ to be undertaken.

In the realm of entertainment, I kept running into movies which were either based on, or inspired by, one of his works. Even when trying to relax and enjoy a vacation, The Bard has been apt to pop up without fail and throw a spanner in the works.

The Merchants of Venice

While visiting Venice recently, I ran into a branded showroom where the manager took no pains to hide his Shylockian leanings. The stone-paved streets were not without their normal quota of small shops peddling their inane stuff at prices which might make even Hollywood celebrities cringe. Even those selling seeds to be fed to a swathe of pigeons at the Piazza San Marco were extorting prices which would have cheered up any farmer in the hinterland and pulled him out from his current state of depression.

The famed couple of Verona

When the family decided to visit the house of Juliet in Verona, all we were hoping for was to spend a few moments of togetherness, something we miss these days owing to the temptations offered by the world-wide-web we have spun around ourselves.

Alas, that was not to be. The courtyard outside her house was swarming with those eager to claim their fifteen seconds of fame when their photo grabbing a part of the anatomy of the famed heroine got uploaded without any delay, courtesy the smart phone carried by a friend/relative. There was a long queue of wide-eyed tourists wanting to clamour up to the famous balcony where the two lovers are supposed to have had their midnight rendezvous.

Immediately upon entering the hallowed premises, we encountered a shapely statue of Juliet. Right opposite was the bust of The Bard, appraising her comely profile with a stiff upper lip and a steely eye. Romeo, had he been around, might not have been amused by the poet’s presence in quarters where he would have appreciated privacy more than any kind of literary upliftment.

The hapless lover might already be turning in his grave, wondering as to how his name has become synonymous with ‘eve-teasing’ in a far off land known as India, where one of the state governments has recently thought it fit to set up so-called anti-Romeo squads so as to ‘control’ public display of affection. One, he was never known to be a roaming lecher. Two, his passion was heartily reciprocated by the party of the other part. Three, with such juicy choices available as Casanova and Don Juan, not to mention several CEOs who have recently hogged the limelight due to all the wrong reasons, there are certainly better options available when it comes to projecting someone as an unwelcome lover. Shakespeare’s star-crossed creation continues to get bad press for all the wrong reasons. But we digress.

As you do not like it

This uncanny habit of The Bard to keep popping up at regular intervals in my life has left me all of a twitter. Several times have I mustered up enough courage to pick up any work from the Shakespeare canon. With renewed enthusiasm and gusto have I tried to wade through a work of his. But the experience has repeatedly left me with a highly enfeebled state of nerves.

My worst nightmares have been those wherein I have been conferred a literary honour of some sort, only to be gifted with a big parcel containing some tomes of his. The mind boggles. The chin goes down. The jaw slackens. The shoulders droop down further.

The English Proficiency Pyramid

Pray do not get me wrong. I have nothing against Shakespeare. Given his everlasting popularity, there is no doubt that he must have captured all facets of human emotions in an impeccable manner. His usage of quite a few phrases appears to have spawned a veritable stream of English literature, and continues to do so today.

He must have also set high standards for Queen’s English. He must have enriched the language in a manner which might be more vast and deep than those who have either preceded or succeeded him. This surely warms the hearts of our linguistic purists. But lesser mortals like me, surely at the bottom of the English Proficiency Pyramid, are apt to feel very dense.

A tide in the affairs of languages

Modern day communication thrives on simplicity. Complex ideas which get conveyed in a language which the masses understand. It appears that most of our great poets and literary figures perfected the art which is just opposite. Simple ideas couched in high-profile and complex language, which only those at the top of the Language Proficiency Pyramid might fathom.

When it comes to this particular trait, Shakspeare has good company. In Urdu poetry, Mirza Ghalib is not always easy to understand. In Hindi, the poetry of Jai Shankar Prasad comes to my mind. In Sanskrit, Kalidasa often keeps a lay reader guessing.

The cause of sustained Shakespearitis is possibly purely literary. Perhaps there is a commercial logic to this web of poetic complexity. Publishers of his works might still be laughing all the way to their respective banks. Besides, those publishing dictionaries would also not be found complaining.

Presenting soon: A Plummy Shakespeare

Somehow, the bulldog spirit in me refuses to give up.

In order to soothen the frayed nerves, I plan to present to you a Plummy Shakespeare very soon. Since the Wodehouse canon is littered with quotes and references to The Bard, I shall soon take the liberty to sharing with you some references in the weeks to follow. This might help many others like me, already suffering from acute Wodehousitis, to also have a brush with yet another dreaded affliction – Shakespearitis.

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/07/01/presenting-a-plummy-shakespeare-part-1-of-3

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/presenting-a-plummy-shakespeare-part-2-of-3)

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Be it Blandings Castle or Totleigh Towers, summer is eternal and the sun beams benevolently across the books of Mr Wodehouse. And Mr Ashok Bhatia, who has spent much of his 60-odd years curling up in bed with the works of the great humourist, hails from a land where the sun-shine is as eternal, although not quite so benevolent. It is more prone to broil the citizens till they totter on the brink of the loony-bin.

In Amsterdam, however, even as the calendar assured that it was nearing the end of April, the weather was having a cold hearty cackle at the expense of misguided tourists shivering in their light jackets. Thus, the erstwhile management consultant and his wife turned up at Restaurant Szmulewicz wrapped from head to toe under many, many layers of wool, fleece and polyester.

Ashok is done with navigating the highways of the corporate world. He now spends his time with NGOs in the rather diverse and distinct disciplines of Management and Spirituality. That is provided he can tear himself away from his lifelong perusal of the antics of Jeeves, Ukridge, Lord Emsworth and the rest of them. He has recently authored a book himself, which takes a humorous look at the principles of management and, as a corollary, mismanagement. But perhaps he is happiest when adding thoughts and reflections to his blog, which, needless to say, is dominated by PG Wodehouse.

Mrs Bhatia has not really been an avid Wodehouse reader herself. But matrimony comes with associative afflictions. She is not immune to the moments when her husband is spotted variously chuckling, guffawing and, to use a modern illusion, rolling on the floor with laughter. Investigations carried out at these junctures do keep popping up Wodehousean passages as chief suspects. And she excels at that profound quality found in the better or worse halves of devoted readers, without which the very pursuit of reading would be rendered impossible – indulgence. She indulges Ashok as he reads, and tolerates him even as he sometimes reads aloud to her. It was this sterling indulgence that had brought her to Szmulewicz, withstanding the association of not only her husband but three more Wodehouseans.

Josepha Olsthoorn and Wil Brouwers had turned up before one could even say ‘Bring on the Girls’, charming and hospitable, eager to spread sweetness and light. And Arun too had been allowed in the restaurant … although as he entered there had been a distinct sound of a very old sheep clearing its throat in the southern alps, followed by the words, “Long hair, sir, in my opinion, is dangerous.”

Thus glasses were clinked, old Plum was toasted, Empress was remembered, Ukridge was discussed. It grew louder and funnier by the minute, an evening filled with humour and hapjes, Galahad and gezelligheid.

In short, it was a perfect what’s-its-name of the thingummy and the thing-um-a-bob of the what d’you-call-it.

(The aforesaid write-up, whipped up by Arunabha Sengupta, appeared in ‘Nothing Serious‘, the magazine unleashed upon its members by the Dutch Wodehouse Society at regular intervals.

Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and freelance sports journalist based in Amsterdam. He also has a past in the software industry that still gives him the jitters. Apart from being a Wodehousean, he is also a Holmesian and is the author of the pastiche ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes.’

Permission to reproduce this piece, if piece is indeed the word one wants, is gratefully acknowledged.)

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/05/03/a-drones-club-meeting-in-amsterdam)

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