Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Something Important To Shakespeare And Mr. Bean

I was thinking the other day, and I realized how important this thing we call timing is. Veteran comedians say that the secret to a successful joke is the timely delivery of the punchline. The wrong pacing of such a delivery could ruin a perfectly good joke and leave it a flop. In a sense, a good comedian is someone who knows how to use timing by making sure that his audience is ripe and ready to receive the punchline, before he lets go of it. If he does it properly, he will be rewarded with laughter and applause. If you've seen Rowan Atkinson, more popularly known as Mr. Bean, doing one of his stand-up comedy routines, or even one of his Mr. Bean slapstick episodes, you will see how much he understands this concept. The way he places his pauses before the impact of his joke comes, allows the audience to take in and recognize the joke, and helps to build up a heightened sense of anticipation. This tension created by his impeccable pacing is released into uncontrollable laughter upon his delivery of the punchline. This kind of skill results in him having a very successful career as a comedian. All of it, timing.

Timing isn't only important in comedy. The Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines timing as, "the ability to select the precise moment for doing something for optimum effect." If you think about it, that covers almost everything people do in this world. To the champion boxer, fighting in the ring and looking for a knockout to secure his victory, a well-timed punch is all that he needs. To the acrobat waiting for his swinging partner's hands to get within reach of his, timing is the thin line dividing his rise to fame and a fall to his demise. To a percussionist of a world-famous orchestra, knowing how to time his movements decides whether or not he properly performs his important role of banging together his cymbals four times in a half-hour span.

The timing of the heart's beating too, as I am sure my soon-to-be-cardiologist friend would agree, is very important. A hard hit to the chest (yes, this is in reference to the news article a couple of years ago about a 12-year old kid being hit by a line drive to the chest off a metal bat), can short-circuit the heart if the sharp impact occurs at a precise moment between heartbeats. This disrupts the rhythm of the heartbeat and can cause coma or even death.

And how about love? Imagine a person breaks up with his girlfriend, and a week later meets another girl who is perfect in all ways. He simply cannot just go and start courting this other girl. He would still need time to get over his past love, because until then, his heart is still not his to give away. And even if he foolishly tries to court this other girl, chances are, once the new girl finds out he just had a break-up, she might start thinking that she is a "rebound girl," and that would probably ruin what could have been something beautiful. The new girl came at the wrong time and it's just bad timing. And saying for example that he does wait it out a bit, maybe a couple of months, just enough to pick up the pieces of his broken heart, bad timing would find the new girl already being courted by another guy, or maybe even already in another relationship. If only the girl came at a time when the guy's heart was ready, things might have been different. I know this is simply one "out there" example of how bad timing can affect the finding of love, but it is one example among many.

Timing is indeed very important, not just in comedy, or sports, or music or the literal or figurative beating of the heart, I even dare say that timing is crucial for a person to succeed in life.

The great bard, William Shakespeare, in his play Julius Caesar, writes about such timing. In Act 4, scene 3, Brutus tries to convince his co-conspirator Cassius to march their army forward and fight Marc Anthony and Octavian's forces at a place called Philippi. In his mind, the more they wait, the more Octavian will be able to increase the number of troops, and they will miss what could be their best chance at victory.

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,

And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

-Julius Caesar, Act 4, scene 3, 218-224

To ride to success on the peak of life's wave - that is timing. Once it comes, it is folly to wait.