What Are the Odds?

February 7, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

I’d just picked this book from off the shelf – the “New Books” shelf, though I could see it was a paperback so not entirely new.

The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles,
and Rare Events Happen Every Day
by David J. Hand

I read the intro chapter, put it down, intending to get back to it some time. A few days later, at the library for the performing arts at Lincoln Center I saw the posters from their latest show – an exhibit about the plays of Shakespeare. They’d asked a lot of people in the theater – musicians, writers, actors, set designers – to talk about their loves and their dislikes: which characters, which plays, which lines, which scenes.

Jane Alexander, often overlooked but one of our truly great actresses, had this to say about her line in “As You Like It” as Rosalind in drag.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

Every night when Orlando had left the stage and I turned to Celia and swooned, “O coz, coz, my pretty little coz, that thou didst know how many fathom deep I am in love,” the four hundred years that separated Elizabethan England and me simply vanished.

It is indeed a time-transcendant line. But Shakespeare has many, many more, and alas, I know so few, so I moved on to see what other people had to say. There were perhaps a dozen on display. Several didn’t quote lines. Instead they’d note a scene, a character, or cherished production. Alan Cumming hated “Timon” but loved Miranda played by Felicity Jones to Helen Mirren’s Prospera (renamed).

Cumming’s not Alexander, and I’m sure  he’s never been a Rosalind, and yet of all the lines in all the plays in all of Shakespeare, what line did he choose? From “As You Like It,” “pretty little coz.”

I still can’t help but ask, what are the odds?

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