Better Strangers?

Strangers- outlined with citation

Why did you choose “Better Strangers” as the name of your blog?

I get asked that question a lot. Okay, not really. I just started this blog on Tuesday, and pretty much my audience consists of my wife and my mom…and I’m not sure my wife actually read the first post. But since you asked (assuming you read this out loud), I’ll tell you.

I love Shakespeare.

Most people who are products of the American public school system have at least a cursory knowledge of one or more of the Bard’s great tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, etc. To a lesser extent, I imagine, they may even know some of the comedies: The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, The Merchant of Venice, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Whether categorized as comedy or tragedy, Shakespeare’s plays are great stories in their own right. But what makes them special is the language. Shakespeare’s plays are replete with fantastic wordplay that helped elevate the author to the master-status he so rightly deserves. An example from As You Like It (Act 3, Scene 2):


Jaq.     I thank you for your company; but, good faith, I had as leif have been myself alone,

Orl.     And so had I; but yet, for fashion’s sake, I thank you too for your society.

Jaq.     God be with you: let’s meet as little as we can.

Orl.     I do desire we may be better strangers.

Jaq.     I pray you, mar no more trees with writing love-songs in their bark.

Orl.     I pray you, mar no more of my verses with reading them ill-favouredly.

Jaq.     Rosalind is your love’s name?

Orl.     Yes, just.

Jaq.     I do not like her name.

Orl.     There was no thought of pleasing you when she was christened.

Jaq.     What stature is she of?

Orl.     Just as high as my heart.

Jaq.     You are full of pretty answers. Have you not been acquainted with goldsmith’s wives, and conned them out of rings?

Orl.     Not so; but I answer you right painted cloth, from whence you have studied your questions.

Jaq.     You have a nimble wit: I think it was made of Atalanta’s heels. Will you sit down with me? and we two will rail against our mistress the world, and all our misery.

Orl.     I will chide no breather in the world but myself, against whom I know most faults.

Jaq.     The worst fault you have is to be in love.

Orl.     ‘Tis a fault I will not change for your best virtue. I am weary of you.

Jaq.     By my troth, I was seeking for a fool when I found you.

Orl.     He is drowned in the brook; look but in, and you shall see him.

Jaq.     There I shall see mine own figure.

Orl.     Which I take to be either a fool or a cipher.

Jaq.     I’ll tarry no longer with you: farewell, good Signior Love.

Orl.     I am glad of your departure; adieu, good Monsieur Melancholy.

I hate Shakespeare.

Was this your response after reading the sample above? I bet some of you had that thought before you even got to that part. A natural reflex, probably, if your only exposure to Shakespeare was in your middle- or high-school days. But did you notice something different?….Okay, I’ll tell you. No footnotes!

And that’s how you have to read Shakespeare to really enjoy it. Don’t read the footnotes. Just the words. I learned a long time ago that the footnotes (which can be as much as half of the printed page in some texts) usually tell you 1) something you already knew or figured out from the context of the writing or 2) something you don’t need/care to know.

If you read that passage from As You Like It and had to stop every four or five lines and drop your eyes to the bottom of the page, the pace of the verbal exchange would be totally destroyed. And trust me, this exchange in particular was meant to be a rapid swapping of not-so-subtle insults between the two men. Any pause ruins the intended effect.

I do desire we may be better strangers.

Brilliant! This is one of my favorite lines from…well, from anything, really. Orlando and Jaques clearly dislike each other, but are compelled by the decorum of the day to refrain from blatant mudslinging. Instead, they mask their insults with wordplay. Orlando’s quip is a fine example.

In Shakespeare’s play, “better strangers” is used to mean the speaker wishes he and the other man never crossed paths in the first place, and he sincerely hopes they never meet again.

As the title of this blog, Better Strangers is meant to be an homage of sorts to perhaps the greatest playwright who ever lived, as well as a bit of humor. Unlike Orlando in his encounter with Jaques, I hope you (the reader) and I can become better strangers in the sense that we will likely remain strangers–a product of internet interaction (that’s just reality, folks)–but perhaps we may get to know each other better. Or you may get to know me better, at any rate.

(Unless I truly don’t like you. Then I refer you back to Shakespeare’s turn of the phrase.)



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