Sunday, October 11, 2009

Shakespeare's Got Game!

Do you see the old lady, the young woman, or both?
I was just flipping through Stephen Covey's book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and ran across this image. I've seen it many times before, and know that there are two completely different images within, but for some reason I could just see the old lady.
I kept trying to see the young lady, but could not. Arggg!
Thanks to Covey, I can tell you what Einstein observed. "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."
Are you stuck on seeing things with your writing one way? Are you stuck on just the old lady or just the young lady?
Beyond that, how could we make a shift and see new ways of writing?
Well, Alex made a comment about Shakespeare in her last post that has stuck with me. She basically said that just because she can identify the genius of Shakespeare that does not mean that she can write like him. Well, what if we could? Go ahead and laugh, but what if we could steal a move here and there?
Back when I was a kid at basketball camp I watched a film where one of Magic Johnson's moves was demonstrated. I could see it, and then (at least at the school age level) I could do it. Same principle applied with soccer. Identify the move, practice it, do it. Cool.
The odd thing is that I happen to know a bit about how Shakespeare was schooled. He learned rhetorical techniques, ways of wording things that sound cool. I'm talking about figures of thought and figures of sound. Shakespeare learned the moves and then put them to use.
Here are my challenges:
1) Report back on if you can see the old lady, the young woman, or both.
2) Report back on what you think Shakespeare's genius is.
I remember a line from Romeo and Juliet that goes something like this, "My only love, my only hate." There's contrast and there's irony. There's so much going on in so few words.
Here's another shot at identifying something inspiring in Shakespearean plays. The characters are well orchestrated. By that I mean there is a strong contrast between the cast of characters. Take a Mid Summer Night's Dream. Puck (the trickster faery) is humorous and youthful, compared to the vengeful Oberon (King of the faeries). Titania (the queen of the faeries) is powerful and beautiful, but Bottom is an ass, literally. Puck uses magic to give the guy a donkey head, and uses a love potion to get Titania to fall for the ridiculous human. There's so much irony and contrast going on within just these few characters. You could identify it within each character within the play.
I'm going to add one more thing, and make it brief. Shakespearean plays make cool tragedies. I can't say that I've read that many great American tragedies or seen that many great tragic movies. How does he pull it off? He shows how what people believe in can be their undoing. Again, there's irony.
I'd say that the heart of irony is that what is shown is unexpected; it moves in the opposite direction.
Perhaps by practicing some of Shakespeare's moves, we can put them to use too. What do you think about that? Genius may already be within us. It might just be a matter of finding a way to express what is already there.


  1. I've seen this image a few times before and I always, always see the young lady first. Then I look a little harder and I can see the old woman.

    I enjoy the contrast in Shakespeare's writing and the strength of his characters, characters I'd be afraid to try to mimic. But there's always a moment in our own writing where we must learn to step outside the box--the one we've set up for ourselves. Risks can pay off.

    Thanks for the interesting post!

  2. I've always been able to see both the old lady and young maiden. I was raised to think that there are many sides to everything, both physically and metaphorically.

    As for Shakespeare, I think one of his true geniuses is that he takes ever day situations and creates lasting images with them. For example, with Romeo and Juliet, it's a fairly typical 'my family doesn't approve of you' situation. But Shakespeare creates a family war out of it, with dramatic results. Midsummer Nights Dream can be viewed as a manifestation of the 'ideal love, and getting caught up in the idea OF love' vs the love you discover that you already have. And the King Lear, and Hamlet, well, who doesn't have strange secrets in their families? Shakespeare just makes them awe inspiring.

  3. Great post!

    1) Report back on if you can see the old lady, the young woman, or both.

    I only see the young lady. My eyes are all crossed now trying to see the old woman. What does this say about us???

    2) Report back on what you think Shakespeare's genius is.

    My husband knows everything and anything about all of Shakespeare and all his plays. I've seen him act in many of the plays. All I can say is that Shakespeare is a genius because he is a genius. He blows me away. Every. Time. It's the layers, the irony, the messages, the themes, the characters, even all those phrases he invented.


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