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ashokbhatia

Fans of P G Wodehouse (Plum) often wonder as to why their favourite author of sublime humour is often found missing on the high table of English literature.

Comparisons are odious, but let us take the case of The Bard, considered one of the literary geniuses of our times. If he has dished out narratives rooted in such human emotions as greed, revenge, jealousy and love, so has Plum. Many of their characters are as quirky as they come. Both have contributed in so small measure to the enrichment of English. To the current generation, both sound a trifle outdated and, by and large, incomprehensible.

The Incomprehensibility Quotient

Perhaps, the reason I find The Bard’s works relatively unfit for human consumption can be traced back to their high level of Incomprehensibility Quotient.

Is there really any fun in picking up a book where, after each sentence, one has to consult…

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I conclude this series in celebration of the 10th anniversary of this blog site! I wish to thank all my followers and readers who have always encouraged me (and keep doing so) in this journey.

ashokbhatia

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…

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ashokbhatia

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…

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ashokbhatia

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…

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Those of you who had gone through my earlier post might recall the fact that the trauma of cardiac surgery was adequately compensated for by my Guardian Angels. On the positive side, other than a career breakthrough, pending family obligations got met successfully; marriages of both my children got fixed up in this period. Moreover, in subsequent life, I became a sort of cardiac expert, dishing out sage advice to my colleagues, friends and relatives.

Incorrect Choices and the Value Spectrum

This change was just a way for life to reinforce within me the importance of observing values and ethics in whatever I did.

The strategic flaw in the scheme of things was that I had willy-nilly landed in an organization the value system of which did not match that of my own. It was my pumpkin headedness which led me to continue with the organization for as long as I did. Like a pilot in a flight hit by an enemy’s missile, I might as well have pressed the cockpit eject button much earlier.

If you are one of those who twiddle their thumbs wondering as to why I tend to place a high premium on sound values to be followed in business can rightfully blame my corporate career for the same. Having worked in organizations which were at two opposite ends of the value spectrum, I have seen at close quarters the perks of being value-driven and also the perils of not being so. That is how, in yours truly, you are apt to find a fierce critic of any kind of compromises on this front. The underlying belief is that business ships which are built on a keel of sound values end up not only having a better brand equity but also yield better returns to their stakeholders. When businesses are broad minded and give back to the society at large, they serve a higher purpose.

Our personal Brand Equity gets built by the kind of choices we makes and the kind of company we seek over a long period of time. The right strategy to follow in any career is to give due weightage to this single factor when choosing organizations we decide to work for. We consider this issue in some detail somewhere else in this compilation.

No Fault in Our Stars! 

When one undergoes a humiliating experience, one feels as if one has been simply used and thrown into a trash bin. One’s stock is down. The market is sluggish. Only bears, having come out of hibernation, rule.

The first response is to blame it on our stars. But it is the choices we make ourselves which lead one to suffer in life. We create our own destiny, so to say.

Shakespeare was bang on when he said that ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings’ (Julius Caesar: Act 1, Scene 2).

A Chiselling Towards Perfection

One may say with a reasonable degree of accuracy that Life has indeed been wired to act like a Master Sculptor. Life has not learnt the art of sculpting by means of a correspondence course which was not even completed but left midway.

All this chiselling business, you see, comes in pretty handy in life. Each of these highlights at least one glaring deficiency in one’s personality. At the time it happens, it startles one, much like a nymph surprised while splashing about in her Jacuzzi in the comfort of her home and hearth. Shock and disbelief quickly follows. A deep resentment gets felt, in the vein of what-have-I-done-to-deserve-this.

Eventually, once reason starts returning to its throne, a pitiless analysis follows. Root causes get identified. An action plan to address these gets made and then worked upon. A better self emerges. Weaknesses often get converted into strengths. It is as if our Guardian Angels are gently nudging us to mend our ways, develop healthier attitudes, acquire better working habits and enjoy life better.

All of us have villains in our lives. With any change in the family setting or in the organization we work for, the name and the face of a villain alone changes. The element of villainy simply refuses to go away.

Perhaps all these villains keep popping up to show us our place in life. They teach us the value of humility. The day we are feeling on top of the world and patting ourselves on the back on the successful accomplishment of a long cherished goal, fate, donning the mask of a villain, quietly sneaks up from behind and hits us with a nail studded club.

Blessings in Disguise

In a way, these turn out to be blessings in disguise. If these do not happen, we are likely to trudge along on a straight and narrow path. We are apt to keep wallowing in our comfort zones in a protracted state of procrastination, refusing to budge from our prejudices, much like an obstinate Balaam’s Ass!

We cannot change others. But we can look within and be open to change ourselves. That is indeed possible.

While at school, I won many prizes in local as well as in national level essay writing competitions, but never on the subject of scripture knowledge. However, I do believe that if the concept of reincarnation is believed, whatever Life leaves incomplete in us during this life time perhaps takes it up with missionary zeal in our subsequent lives!

In other words, the earlier we shape up, the easier it is. The choice is entirely ours!

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/12/29/a-not-so-plummy-encounter-with-an-arm-of-the-law

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2021/01/17/some-more-encounters-of-a-weird-kind

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/08/01/the-karma-operating-system)

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Fans of P G Wodehouse (Plum) often wonder as to why their favourite author of sublime humour is often found missing on the high table of English literature.

Comparisons are odious, but let us take the case of The Bard, considered one of the literary geniuses of our times. If he has dished out narratives rooted in such human emotions as greed, revenge, jealousy and love, so has Plum. Many of their characters are as quirky as they come. Both have contributed in so small measure to the enrichment of English. To the current generation, both sound a trifle outdated and, by and large, incomprehensible.

The Incomprehensibility Quotient

Perhaps, the reason I find The Bard’s works relatively unfit for human consumption can be traced back to their high level of Incomprehensibility Quotient.

Is there really any fun in picking up a book where, after each sentence, one has to consult a dictionary? The whole experience becomes very stiff-upper-lip-ish, if you know what I mean. Serious tomes which need super-intelligent persons to pop up in public spaces like libraries where they may enjoy their solitude, dig deeper into the contents and try and fathom the depths of the language are best avoided, I would say. Leaves the nerves a bit overburdened, don’t you think?

On the other hand, gliding through the works of Plum is sheer delight. The contrast is that reading Plum’s books in buses, trains and parks is fraught with risks. These are best devoured in private spaces, so those around, seeing one guffawing and shaking with uncontrollable mirth , do not start searching for the contact details of a loony doctor in the same class as that of Sir Roderick Glossop.

But what all this comes to is a deeper reality. The tendency of Homo sapiens to value seriousness and tragedy over humour and laughter. Anything humorous is treated by us as being frivolous and fit to be scoffed at. At management seminars and conclaves, serious talks get appreciated, but a speaker conveying the same message quoted in humour is blamed for playing to the gallery. In companies, at board meetings, detailed power point presentations of a serious kind get appreciated, whereas anything said in a lighter vein is greeted by scorn.

A Premium on Intellect and Seriousness

Martin Amis, in his new novel Inside Story, blames our tendency to put serious tomes and tragedies on “the intellectual glamour of gloom… the idea that sullen pessimism is a mark of high seriousness”.

Brainy coves are invariably in awe of intellectual gravitas, even if the narratives are pale, dark and authoritative. What appeals to them better is a stiff upper lip approach. This segment of the population is apt to cast a supercilious glance at lesser mortals who thrive on reading fluffy stuff which makes them keep falling off beds and sofas, making their insurers uneasy.

Award winning works are an output of as much intelligence as is essential to dishing out juicier works which mask equally serious messages about handling life’s harsh slings and arrows. In fact, the sugar coating of delectable humour makes the underlying message more palatable.

If the spectrum of human emotions were to be examined in some detail, seriousness may form one of its ends and humour the other one. This might give an impression that the two are opposites of each other. Not necessarily. My own knowledge of literature is very shallow, but I am sure there are authors out there who strike a balance between the two. Perhaps, therein lies the origin of satire.

In one of her scintillating posts, Honoria Glossop of Plumtopia fame speaks of the book ‘Bestsellers’ by Clive Bloom. To quote her:

‘Bloom tracks the development of ‘the bestseller’ alongside increasing literacy levels in Britain, showing how new literature classifications emerged (high-brow and low-brow) to keep class distinctions alive in literature, once the lower classes were no longer illiterate. He exposes ‘literary fiction’ as little more than snobbery, suggesting that serious literature is made purposefully unfathomable and dire to ensure it remains the province of an expensively-educated elite.’

Plum’s Messages Couched in Pristine Humour

When it comes to Plum, a master wordsmith in his own right, we often miss the underlying messages of a spiritual, economic and managerial kind. Simply because these are hidden beneath layers of what sound like inane and repetitive narratives.

Whosoever deals with goofy kids like Thos, Seabury, Edwin the Scout and others experiences a spiritual enlightenment of sorts. When Bertie Wooster tries to solve a problem single handedly, he messes things up and starts practicing detachment. He lets go of his favourite piece of apparel. He abandons his ego and decides to give up his initial resistance to a proposal made by Jeeves to go off on a cruise, thereby escaping the wrath of Aunt Agatha. Many other characters elsewhere tackle their defeats with a healthy attitude of surrender, much like Roderick Spode when confronted with the Eulalie affair.

Take the example of ‘Something Fresh.’  It covers a wide span of issues – health and fitness, perils of ageing, gender parity, economic disparities, class distinctions, the spirit of enterprise, the subtle art of delegation, importance of comforter friends in one’s life, to name just a few.

Consider the character of Reginald Jeeves. Notice the way he manages to keep his career prospects intact by using tact and resource. He maintains that bosses are like horses. They need to be managed. His methods may be rough at times, but the neat results obtained do provide satisfaction to all concerned. He believes that one needs to break a few eggs to make an omelette. He registers dissent in a diplomatic manner. He is a respectful and dignified listener, speaking only when necessary. He leads others while appearing to be a devout follower.

Dishing Out Comical Stuff

Above all, one is left awestruck with the kind of complicated plots Plum comes up with. He handles tiffs between many couples at the same time, while bringing in obdurate aunts, sulking uncles, temperamental chefs, American millionaires and their sisters and daughters, moody creatures of a canine and feline kind, and even horses and pigs. Painting a narrative on such a wide canvas obviously needs hard work – a fertile imagination, lateral thinking, a thorough knowledge of such diverse subjects as scarabs, scriptures, literature, psychology, French resorts, movie making, et al, besides and what not. Characters often get swept in a swirl of madness and mayhem, forcing a lay reader to at least chuckle and suppress a smile. When it comes to either pulling off a gag or unleashing a comical situation, the author is always a step ahead of the reader.

In other words, humour, even though appearing to be farcical and classified as escapist, is serious business indeed!

We would do well to consciously cultivate our capacity to take a lighter view of things and learn to laugh at ourselves. Many more awards along the lines of Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize deserve to be instituted.

(Related post:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/wodehouse-misremembered

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

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/07/17/the-enduring-appeal-of-pg-wodehouse-if-you-think-its-just-farcical-butlers-and-upper-class-twits-think-again)

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ashokbhatia

One of the reasons for the persistent allure of Shakespeare’s works is obviously the depth as well as the range of human behaviour these capture. One can easily relate to such elements as greed, power, jealousy, suspicion, love and lust which form the undercurrent of all his characters.

These are precisely the ingredients which producers, directors and script writers in Bollywood bank upon to whip up larger than life narratives, keeping the viewers enamoured and enthralled.

If a movie is said to be either ‘inspired by’ or ‘adopted from’ a literary classic, the intellectual coves are left more than satisfied. The critics could anyway pan the movie for its digressions from the original, but the common man is quite happy to have connected with a classic which he might otherwise never have the time, inclination or capacity of devouring in his saner moments.

A dash of spicy item numbers further…

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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 clouds 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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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 of 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 delectable 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

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/presenting-a-plummy-shakespeare-part-3-of-3)

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