Easter, Shakespeare and Bryson

by Peter Crockett

It’s Easter, a good time to relax, take a break and in my case, read. I didn’t know Bill Bryson had written a book about Shakespeare. I found a copy recently in an Oxfam book shop.

One of my very favourite speeches in Shakespeare’s plays is from the “The Tempest”. You may know the last couple of lines:

“We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”

Here is the whole speech by Prospero in Act 4 Scene 1:

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”

Every time I end a Zoom meeting “melted into air, into thin air” is in my mind like a poetic earworm – there we go, melting into air, into thin air.

Bill Bryson says there is a reason the book is relatively thin for one of his books: There are few facts known about William Shakespeare’s life. Apart from a few legal records and a baptism there is nothing known about what he was like and even the famous portrait could be him, but may not be. Bryson observes:
“Faced with a wealth of text but a poverty of context, scholars have focused obsessively on what they can know. They have counted every word he wrote, logged every dib and jot. They can tell us (and have done so) that Shakespeare’s works contain 138,198 commas, 26,794 colons, and 15,785 question marks; that ears are spoken of 401 times in his plays; that dunghill is used 10 times and dullard twice; that his characters refer to love 2,259 times but to hate just 183 times; that he used damned 105 times and bloody 226 times, but bloody-minded only twice; that he wrote hath 2,069 times but has just 409 times; that all together he left us 884,647 words, made up of 31,959 speeches, spread over 118,406 lines.”

“Shakespeare” is a great read. Bryson makes up for the paucity of information on Shakespeare by describing what life was like in 16th and early 17th century London giving us an opportunity to imagine being there ourselves.

Have a very Happy Easter and do eat slightly more chocolate than is necessary!


A Great Book

Never Split The Difference

“Never Split The Difference” by Chris Voss.

As an FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss spent his life learning how to negotiate the best outcome in some very difficult and dangerous situations. After leaving the FBI Voss set up a company to advise businesses.

He describes his development and learning over the years, lots of guns and hostages, but in this book his heart-felt wish is to help all of us negotiate better in our everyday lives.

Because think about it, our lives are filled with negotiations everyday. From arranging family outings to going out to buy something to finding a new job. It’s all negotiation.

Some of the advice is surprising. He distrusts “Yes”. He says there are three kinds of “Yes” and only one of them means they agree with you. The other two are devices to shut you up and make you go away. He says “No” is much more useful because now you can find out why they are saying no, not by asking “Why” (never ask “Why”) but by understanding and wanting to know more and asking how you can work with it.

The sweetest thing about this book is the constant advice to treat whoever you are negotiating with respect and patience, find out why they are taking that position and ways to reach a mutually beneficial and agreeable solution. Five stars!