“Well, during the time he was alive, Titus was his most popular play.”
“Really!”
“Yeah, Titus, which is interesting because it’s so violent. Just outrageous, what they do to one another in that one. And I wonder if that’s what drew the crowd back then, you know? But it’s a little too much for me, man. In answer to your question, I’d probably say Macbeth. ‘Cause it has this really, it has this sort of X trajectory between the two protagonists, you know what I’m sayin’?”
“Okay,”
“Yeah, ’cause Macbeth starts off being all hesitant to abuse his power and acquire more of it, and Lady Macbeth eggs him on, as you know. But as shit progresses, they begin to switch places, where Macbeth gets more and more power-hungry, and Lady Macbeth realizes this shit has gone too far, especially when she gives that sweet monologue towards the end explaining it. So they gradually switch places on the whole corrupting influence of power, which is kinda tight.”
Coriolanus is better.”
“Really?”
“Yeah.”
“I saw the movie version with Ralph Fiennes, but I haven’t read it.”
“Oh, you gotta read it, bro. But Hamlet is Shakespeare’s best.”
“Oh, totally. It’s so huge.”
“And Hamlet is only thirty-five! He’s a hipster. He’s hangin’ out with actors and comedians. That’s why his dad wants him to kill Claudius. And Romeo, he’s nineteen, and Juliet, is, like, twelve.”
“Oh God.”

Who was having this intellectually stimulating, cultured, erudite conversation? Where were they sitting? What did they look like, and how did they dress?

These were a couple of hood brothas riding the bus round about midnight, deep in the bowels of Rainier Valley, Seattle’s most crime-infested realm. One was homeless, missing an eye, lugging a backpack and duffel along, the gleaming muscles on his arms sculpted not for show, but from grinding necessity; and the other, tall, wearing oversized grey sweatpants and broad-brimmed skater shoes, the kind you leave untied. His energetic afro practically sprayed out from under his Rainer Beer hat.

You may lie in bed at night, waiting for sleep to beckon. Your mind may drift, wander to the vast nether depths of the city, the blocks of buckled pavement and uncut weeds, the rife low angles of neglect and violence, our very own downtrodden wild west. What are they thinking about, those dark figures in the gloam and rain? What are they saying to each other, right this minute?

Know that sometimes, the cowboys of the new age talk just as they’re talking above. Exchanging educated thoughts on life and art, as you and I do, expounding on the great literary works which line my bookshelf, and probably yours too. Thematics and structural organization in Shakespeare plays.

That’s the honest truth.

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Nathan Vass is an artist, filmmaker, photographer, and author by day, and a Metro bus driver by night, where his community-building work has been showcased on TED, NPR, The Seattle Times, KING 5 and landed him a spot on Seattle Magazine’s 2018 list of the 35 Most Influential People in Seattle. He has shown in over forty photography shows is also the director of nine films, six of which have shown at festivals, and one of which premiered at Henry Art Gallery. His book, The Lines That Make Us, is a Seattle bestseller and 2019 WA State Book Awards finalist.

1 COMMENT

  1. Titus Andronicus, my favorite Shakespeare play. You have to see it performed live. I did not care for the movie version — too much visual distraction. It’s a play (like all Shakespeare) that stands on its words alone.

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