My Shakespearean Problem

I’ve got a problem. [Duh, don’t we all? And just one? Cue the violins.] Anyway, to use today’s jargon, it’s not really a problem. It’s a challenge, an opportunity, a chance to learn. And compared to all that’s happening in the world, it ranks somewhere less than zero and only slightly greater than nil on the planet’s crises charts.

As you may already know, I’ve been working on a project call Your Day/Your Tao, applying ancient Chinese observations to today’s world. If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out at  It’s unlike anything you’ll see in the “inspirational” Taoist posts that clutter our web pages. Along the way I stumbled onto some Taoist teachings that resembled some of Shakespeare’s lessons. So I began another project, called Shakespeare’s Tao. For the most part it’s fun. I know enough about each subject to be dangerous and enjoy the research that goes into creating the images you’ll see on Facebook, Twitter and the website.

But now to my problem. Excuse me, my challenge –

You may recall that Will the playwright was also somewhat of a propagandist for the Tudors. It was important that he show the correct uses and misuses of royal power on the way to his heroes’ and villains’ just desserts. Lao Tzu, on the other hand, was more of a flower child. Legend has it that he created the book as a gift to a border guard on his way to a self-imposed exile from a corrupt Chinese empire. The Tao’s references to the use of power are thinly veiled cynicism and satire. Come to think of it, so are many of Shakespeare’s references. In each case, “you had to be there” to understand the full import of a speech or verse.

So what’s the big deal? Should I match an out-of-context Shakespearean quote with an out-of-context Taoist quote, just because the ostensible thoughts match? After all, it works in politics. In each case the unlettered, such as ourselves, would be oblivious to the intended meanings of ironic statements. Chinese and English cognoscenti would smirk or groan at my presumed ignorance.

It might take me a little longer, but I’ll do my best to retain the spirit and meaning of Shakespeare and Lao Tzu wherever I pair them. I’ll trust you to differentiate between metaphor and fact. As you’ll see in the My Tao piece on the website, my epigrams are responses to the Tao, not translations.

And if I err? I’ll be in good company, along with those who misquote the Bible, Quran and US Constitution in partisan efforts to arouse the like-minded and antagonize everyone else. Just remember where I’m publishing. As Abe Lincoln told us, you can’t trust everything you read on the internet.

And now for the nitty-gritty –

Shakespeare’s Tao is easy to find as a gallery tab on the Your Day Your Tao page. I’ll be posting images there on an irregular basis, following my discovery patterns. There will always be more images here than you’ll find in other media.

The Facebook and Twitter pages will usually see a single post each week, so if you decide to follow me on either site your own page won’t be inundated with Shakespearean profundities.

I you hope enjoy the new project – and will be looking forward to your thoughts.

2 Comments on “My Shakespearean Problem

  1. Hi Jim,
    I enjoyed wandering through your musings on your Tao-not-Dow website. Nicely done. Unfortunately I find that I spent too much time these days in my bubble with the NYT, Washington Post, and Economist. Like a moth to flame. It is important to be informed and take action, but it is also important to broaden one’s perspective beyond the dross of the latest new cycle. These fine news sources have much to offer beyond the Headlines and Political section. I need to pace myself and delve deeper. I avoided the news cycle for almost 20 years. Number 45 woke me up. Thanks for taking the time to share your wisdom. I don’t participate in Twitter or FaceBook. Thanks for including me in your e-mail chain.

    • Thank you, Mark, for your perspective. While it’s borderline impossible to avoid the news, I use the NYT and WaPo paywalls as a disciplinary measure to conserve both my time and brain cells. [Of course there’s local media and events I need to pay attention to…] One of the joys I’ve found in putting together the two Tao projects – beyond the learning that goes with them – is the chance to wade through my old photo files. It leads to pleasant digressions that digress from themselves to other good things. As you saw, the website is still a work in progress. I’m expecting to have a full slate of 81 Shakespeare images sometime in the next few months and have a backlog of images and sayings for the other sections as well. It’s an enjoyable trip for me – and I hope that every now and then you’ll stop back to see the additional thoughts I’ve found along the way.

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