Columns - 2007

    Bard mitzvah

    Welcome to this morning's Bard Mitzvah celebration. This guide explains the service you are about to experience, and the fundamentals of our religion that lie behind it.

    No doubt you have already noticed the unusual head coverings and shawls that people are wearing. These are traditional adornments, similar to those worn since the very beginning, all the way back in the sixteenth century along the River Avon.

    Many people find the language you're about to experience cryptic, difficult to understand. However, with a little attention and study, it comes to people in time. The books in front of you provide translation into modern English as well as commentary on the original text to help guide you.

    The service is divided into four major parts, which are explained in the following paragraphs.

    The first part, the preliminary service or Prologue, sets the mood for what is to come. In expressing love and devotion, the Prologue includes the reading of many Sonnets. The Sonnets are a collection of the Bard's 154 poetic renderings, in many varied ways expressing affection and dedication.

    The second part of the service is a devotional. When we rise to our feet, we face northeast, the traditional direction from the western hemisphere and lower England toward the original, sacred Globe Theatre in London.

    Included in this part of the service is an expression of monothespism, the belief that there is only one true Shakespeare (referred to informally as HaShakes). This communal statement is a disavowal of the theories that there was no single Shakespeare or that his mastery was the work of other hands.

    The third, central part of the service involves a reading from scripture. Every week of the year is associated with a particular script, originally written on papyrus. Many of the scripts recount historical events, the lives of kings, while others are more allegorical on social themes. Some readings are lighter or philosophical, while others demonstrate war and intrigue at levels some consider surprisingly graphic.

    The scripts include the thirty-seven commonly attributed to Shakespeare, plus three others previously considered lost. These plus the eleven scripts in the Shakespearean Apocrypha comprise a full year of readings.

    Traditional establishments read an entire play every Saturday. Some newer movements follow a quintennial cycle, in which one act is read each year. This way all plays are read in their entirety after five years.

    This week's reading, the normal reading for this time of year, is best known for the pivotal role of a great storm and the people on a boat that weathers it: The Tempest.

    The readings themselves have a special rhythm and cadence in which they are performed. Every Bard Mitzvah student must learn an excerpt, but it often takes years of study to master the skill for all texts. Even more difficult is that the script itself does not include notation of the rhythm or cadence, and sometimes little more than paragraph breaks.

    The fourth and final part of the service is reminiscent of the sacrifices made in ancient times, figurative and sometimes literal, for the craft. While we don't indulge in the same practices today, this service is a reminder of what was once done for the stage, and that in some ways we continue to sacrifice even today.

    In ancient times, men performed all the roles involved in the service. Even today, relatively traditional, non-egalitarian institutions follow that custom. We are an egalitarian establishment, so women are allowed and encouraged to play women's roles. In some instances you might even find women performing roles originally intended for men as well.

    As mentioned before, much of our observance faces the location of the First and Second Globe Theatre in our ancient capital city of London. Of course, the First Globe burned due to a cannon accident during Henry VIII. The Second Globe was built on the old foundation, but it too was razed after too short an existence.

    Hundreds of years later, in the latter half of the twentieth century, the remaining Globe foundation was made accessible again. With a replica now built on those same grounds, hundreds of thousands now flock to this spiritual and cultural hub every year.

    If you had been here in a recent week you would have seen a special hut outside. It was part of an annual holiday celebrating the small temporary shelters in which traveling actors had to perform in the days before the Globe was built. The hut has a special thatched roof similar to those temporary shelters of old and to that of the Globe itself.

    If you have any questions, feel free to ask the people around you. While fair is foul and foul is fair, no fair question will be treated as foul. Even if you ask about the annual rite of spring: The Passover Satyr Play.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who generally prefers Christopher Marlowe. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.