4/23/09. Today I am 545. I celebrate this natal aberration with a breakfast interview conducted by a smug young pup from The New Yorker, who asks all the usual questions (what’s the correct spelling of your name, who was the Dark Lady, what about that second-best bed, are you a Catholic, are you gay, what are you working on now) to which I give the usual answers (William, Diana Rigg, you should have seen the third-best bed, nobody really is, are you kidding I’m effervescent, and a lawsuit to retrieve back royalties). Then he asks me to rattle off 25 Things You Don’t Know About Me, and I direct him to Harold Bloom, who knows more about me than I do, and is not afraid to say so to homeless people on the street. “I can particularly recommend his last three books,” I say. “Shakespeare Was A Poet, Not An Actor!, Hamlet Is A God Damn Poem, Not A Play! and Didn’t You Hear Me? I Said ‘Shakespeare was Not A Fucking Actor!’ Okay? "
After a liquid lunch, I spend a leisurely afternoon watching the Andy Warhol Macbeth, Orson Welles’ Macbeth, Scotland PA, and Throne of Blood. Not because I want to; because I have to. As many people during the last five centuries have surmised, the play is indeed cursed, and I am cursed with it. Not only is every production of The Play We Don’t Mention doomed to disaster, but while I am alive, I am constrained to attend every opening night whenever and wherever it is produced. Starting about 90 years ago, this grew to include movies as well. I have no idea how this came about, any more than I know how theatre tickets magically appear in my mailbox, along with plane tickets, hotel reservations, and (when needed) a passport under the name of Edward de Vere. I tried to explain this to Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh in ‘57 when we were throwing around the idea of doing Dunsinane (Exclamation Point), and the two of them ended up writing a song based on Coleman’s reply: “Witchcraft.” When they asked me for details, I could only tell them what I told everyone from Cole Porter to Kurosawa: “I am constrained by a geas laid upon me by the three Isobells -- Isobell Cockie, Isobell Gowdie and Isobell Ogg –- to e’er be wife to endless life until the grife that I did pour on MacBeth’s head be nae more said upon the spread of England’s shore. Until that day aine must I stay and watch the play forevermore.” As to why those three stanzas have such power over me, I dinna ken and kenna say. And there are only certain circumstances surrounding the curse which I am allowed to speak or write about. The time and place are two of those, though they can be deduced when I tell you that the original version of The Play We Don't Mention was twice the length of the Folio version, which combines the revision in which I inserted the Gunpowder plot allusions and the cut version I created (for my usual fee) for the touring version of 1607. Where is the original version now, you ask? Along with a great many other treasures, it went up in smoke and sparks during the curséd Globe Fire, an event which also burned away every last interest I have in writing plays for anyone, let alone the damned King’s Men. (Perhaps I will do that 25 Things list after all; God knows the events after the Fire would probably fill up half of it.) (And can I just say, what a relief it is to write the word “God” and not have some snippy censor immediately changing it to “Heaven?”)
There were a lot of “heavens” in the full version of MacBeth, but nothing heavenly at all in most of these film versions, the watching of which is an object lesson in all the different ways The Scottish Play in its abbreviated form is only slightly less successful than the construction of the Tower of Babel. The Warhol makes me laugh until I get a migraine. The Welles puts me to sleep. Scotland PA reduces everything to the level of a city comedy. (I despise city comedy; the one time I was asked to write one, I made it so topical that it was censored by that pinch-souled mental hunchback Tilney, who made Dick Cheney look like Falstaff.) Only Throne of Blood makes me happy, perhaps because feudal Japan is to modern Tokyo what medieval Scotland was to Tudor England: a murky, messy castle full of shadows and spiderwebs. (I much prefer the movie’s Japanese title, 蜘蛛巣城.) Of course, this is the one version of the story which the Dark Lady cannot stand. Her current favorite is the Patrick Stewart atrocity which played on Broadway last year, the one that felt so long it added another 500 years to my life. But then we never agree on anything, which is yet another instance of the truism that all things travel in threes, including deaths, running gags, and women who don’t agree with me. Pun always intended.
And all three of those women will be at The Mermaid tonight for my party.