Shakespeare to Win, Hamlet to Place, and Cleopatra to Show
By ASC Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen
"What's in a name?" asks Juliet and then goes on to suggest not much: "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Maybe so, but Shakespeare must have understood that every name has its own essence. Indeed, he sometimes infuses life into a character by the very sound of a name - Titania, Oberon, Puck, Prospero, Caliban, Ariel, Bottom, Dogberry, and Shylock.
When they name their thoroughbreds, horse-lovers at the Triple Crown level can be word-lovers at an almost Shakespearean level -- heroic, ironic, romantic, and comic. Looking back on them, horses seem to carry their characters in their names - Big Brown, Man-o-War, Sea Biscuit. This year's Kentucky Derby is no exception. There's poetry and not a little whimsy in "Theregoesjojo"; prosaic plainness in "This One's For Phil"; dark fatalism in "Dunkirk."
The field at Churchill Downs even looks like a nano-summary of the plays. "I Want Revenge" could be either Hamlet in his play or Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing. "Pioneer Of The Nile" and "Desert Party" are resonant with Antony and Cleopatra. "Regal Ransom" is a pretty good reading of Isabella in Measure for Measure, and "Hold Me Back" is Kate in Shrew or Hotspur in 1 Henry IV. "Charitable Man" is clearly a reference to the first couple of acts of Timon of Athens, and "General Quarters" is a glance at the Greek camp in Troilus and Cressida. "West Side Bernie" is a kind of combination of Romeo and Juliet and Merchant of Venice. "Musket Man" is what Pistol wishes he could be in Henry V. "Mr. Hot Stuff" is Bertram in All's Well that Ends Well. "Chocolate Candy" is Tamora's view of Aaron in Titus Andronicus, and "Advice" is what the King won't listen to in King Lear. "Join In The Dance" is pretty much Act Four of Winter's Tale, and "Take The Points" is a bad Feste Joke in Twelfth Night.
As to who to pull for, at about 1 minute and 45 seconds into the race, the Shakespeare Nation, knowing Shakespeare's delight in his own name (sonnets 135 and 136) and in dirty jokes and in both simultaneously, should all be yelling "Win Willy."
Bad News for Shakespeare Nation at Churchill Downs
With just three days to go until the Kentucky Derby, Shakespeare Nation's best bet, Win Willy, has withdrawn from the race. Taking his place are a couple of suspicious entries, who may be part of an Anti-Stratfordian conspiracy: "Atomic Rain" - "an atomy, a mountebank," protests the text (Comedy of Errors, 5.1) - and "Nowhere To Hide," whose chances of winning are "nowhere else but in your brain" (Merry Wives of Windsor). The race now comes down to the Hamlet entry "I Want Revenge," the horse associated with Cleopatra, "Pioneer Of The Nile," and the Lady Macbeth contender, "Fresian Fire" (a variant mispelling of "freezin' fire").Antony bet on Cleopatra in the long run.
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