Hamlet At The ‘Gonq

We ended up at the Algonquin Hotel last night. It’s known as the location of the Algonquin Roundtable, where Dorothy Parker and the American literati of the ’20s held forth. It’s also known as the home of Hamlet, the house cat. There’s been a house cat at the ‘Gonq for at least 90 years -and I think they’ve all been called Hamlet.

This morning, Hamlet was guarding the front desk when we left. I’m not a “cat person,” but I think a house cat is pretty cool.

Neither A Borrower Nor A Lender Be

Recently two members of my extended family have learned a valuable, if somewhat painful, lesson:  loaning money to purported friends can end up being an enormous, friendship-wrecking hassle.  Fortunately, the memory of the difficult experience no doubt will discourage future forays into the personal banking business.

William Shakespeare aptly captured the concept in Hamlet, when wise old Polonius says:

Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

As Polonius recognized, the reality is that, when you loan money to an acquaintance, the relationship inevitably changes.  You go from mutual friends to a debtor and a creditor.  And frequently the resulting interpersonal behavior mirrors the change.  Although the borrower has been helped by the lender’s generosity, the borrower often comes to resent the lender.  It’s as if the borrower rationalizes that the lender must have plenty of money or he wouldn’t have made the loan in the first place.  From there, it’s a short, easy step to concluding that the lender really doesn’t need the loan to be repaid — at least not right away — and therefore the lender is being a jerk in asking about when the money will be repaid.

In many instances, too, the borrower concludes that other things take priority over discharging the debt.  I’ve heard friends bemoan the fact that their personal borrower has taken high-end vacations, eaten at fancy restaurants, and even purchased expensive cars while the loan is still outstanding.  And, as often as not, the lender’s innocent inquiry about when repayment might be forthcoming draws an angry response — and an even more extended period of stalling and dodging any personal interaction that will inevitably involve the repayment question being asked.

And, ultimately, if the borrower doesn’t repay the loan, what do you do?  Sue them?  How often do the parties to these loan arrangements memorialize the loan in any kind of writing?  I’ve had friends seek my legal advice about what to do in these circumstances — and I’m sure that when they made the loan in the first place they never suspected that they might need to talk to a lawyer, even informally, about it.

No, Shakespeare had it right:  neither a borrower nor a lender be.  Save yourself from future headaches, and don’t worry about being deemed a cheapskate by the pal who is in tough financial straits.  If your friendship is contingent upon cash, it’s probably not much of a friendship in the first place.


For centuries, people have been debating the marvel of Shakespeare.  Who was the person who wrote some of the most deathless prose known to mankind, who has inspired countless audiences with the wonders of his words, who coined more phrases than any other single writer in the history of the world?  How could such greatness have come from an unlettered man born of common parents?

Anonymous explores the theory that it wasn’t William Shakespeare who wrote Hamlet, King Lear, and Henry V, but instead was Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford.  In the film Shakespeare is an illiterate, buffoonish actor used as a foil by De Vere in a titanic game of royalist politics.  Anonymous is rich in production values, with fabulous costumes, sets, and recreations of the Globe Theater and Elizabethan England.  The film is marked by a number of striking performances — including Rhys Ifans as the world-weary Earl of Oxford, haunted by his past and unable to stop or truly celebrate the torrent of words pouring from his quill pen, Vanessa Redgrave as the aging Queen Elizabeth, David Thewlis as Elizabeth’s manipulative adviser, Sir William Cecil, and Sebastian Armesto as Ben Jonson, who keeps Oxford’s secret.  Along with the true authorship of the Shakespearean library, Anonymous also reveals the intrigues and scandals underlying the Essex Rebellion and the succession of King James.

This movie demonstrates, with quiet yet unmistakable power, the triumph of Shakepeare’s words and thoughts — which ultimately conquer time and the petty politics of the court.  I recommend Anonymous to anyone who loves Shakespeare and period dramas, as I do.

To Tree Or Not To Tree?

That is the question.  Whether ’tis . . .  Well, you get the idea.  We’re trying to decide whether to put up a Christmas tree this year.  It’s a tough decision that surely would give Hamlet pause.

On the pro side, I like the look of a tree.  It’s festive, it’s colorful, and it’s traditional.  We’ve had many of our ornaments for years, and they have some real sentimental value.  A pine tree in the house smells good.  (I would never get a fake tree.)  And, I don’t want to seem like a Grinch.  If you’re celebrating the holidays, why not go the whole nine yards?

On the con side, a Christmas tree is a pain to lug home, put up, and take down.  My initial job is always to bring the tree in and get the trunk of the tree into the tree stand.  I wrestle the tree through the door and leave a green trail of pine needles from the door to the corner where we put up the tree.  Then I get on my belly, scuttle under the tree while getting poked by pine needles and soaked by tree droppings, and try to figure out how to configure the stupid screws in the tree stand against the knots and burls of the tree trunk to hold the tree in true upright position.  Inevitably, despite my finest screw-related calibrations, the tree tilts and falls down, unleashing a torrent of unseemly language that is utterly antithetical to such fundamental Christmas concepts as joy and peace.

After the tree is finally up, we have to find the Christmas ornaments in the basement, get the tree lights out and see if they work, and schlep all the stuff upstairs.  While we are decorating the tree, Penny is clamping down on low-lying ornaments and pulling them off the tree or, worse, pulling the tree down for good measure.  Even Good King Wenceslas would be feeling uncharitable by this point.

This year I’m inclined to nix the tree and go with the stockings, perhaps a poinsettia or two, and maybe a candle arrangement.  Call me Scrooge.  And I just know I’ll feel guilty about it.