by Kim Peter Kovac
In the 1960’s, Ford’s Theatre was a tired museum with footprints painted on the stage. Footprints? Yep, footprints, like at those Arthur Murray dance studios, marking the route John Wilkes Booth took leaping from the Presidential box to the stage, shouting Sic Semper Tyrannis and running out the exit backstage, a path he would have known since he was a working actor. And all the while brandishing a Bowie knife, named for 19th century soldier, smuggler, and slave trader Jim Bowie, who died at the Alamo.
It is unclear whether Booth knew that John Brown also carried a Bowie knife.
Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln saw John Wilkes’ brother Edwin play Shylock in an 1864 production of The Merchant of Venice, where they saw Shylock sharpen his knife on the bottom of his shoe as Bassanio wondered, “Why does thou whet thy knife so earnestly?”
In the 1980’s, the costume of a properly outfitted theatre technician included plaid flannel shirt, leather vest, do-rag, and lockback Buck Knife in a leather holster.
Unionist Edwin Booth was arguably the greatest American actor of his time.
It is a long-standing tradition to not speak out loud, in a theatre, the name of a certain Shakespeare tragedy or its title character. It is mostly called ‘The Scottish Play’, and the main characters called Lady Scottish and Mr. Scottish, the latter of whom says, in iambic pentameter:
Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand?
. . . or art thou but A dagger of the mind, a false creation, Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
Filmmaker Roman Polanski’s first feature was Knife in the Water. Of French-Polish descent, he met his second wife, Sharon Tate, while making The Fearless Vampire Killers, a film not watchable today unless you channel your chemically altered hippie past. Tragically, Sharon is best known for being murdered in 1969 (with a knife, mostly) by the Manson Family. Roman was overseas working at the time.
knknighgh pronounced knife is a one word poem by ultra-minimalist Aram Saroyan.
The first film Polanski made after Tate’s murder was Macbeth, released in 1971, which received an x-rating because of nudity and graphic violence. The superstition about speaking the word Macbeth is not operative in movie theaters.
At an international theatre festival, colleagues from Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Croatia all claimed me as being one of their tribe. The name Kovac (and/or variations thereof) is part of all of these Slavic cultures, meaning smith, or blacksmith.
Among other things, blacksmiths make knives.
Those whose teeth are a-gnashing and knickers a-twisting about the recent Public Theatre production of Julius Caesar which included the title character (clad in long tie and yellow-orange hair) killed by knife-wielding Senators have not actually read or seen the play, since it is in no way about the virtues of assassination. Additionally, there is a long theatrical tradition of making parallels between Caesar and any random current president, including, as only two examples, Obama and Lincoln.
The actor Rick Miller has long had success with a one-person performance mashing the Scottish play with the Simpsons, a piece called MacHomer.
My paternal grandfather, of Polish descent, was named Ignatz Kolacz (pronounced, more or less, Coal-aash). I never met him, since he died exactly one year before I was born. Lucky thing my mother was reading Kipling’s novel Kim during her pregnancy or the calendar synchronicity of my day of birth might have meant I’d be known today as Iggy.
Selected fun knife names:
- Butterfly knife
- Flick knife
- French Nail
- Trench knife
After Ignatz divorced my alcoholic grandmother, my father, Stan, lived with her. For a time. Then she threw him out, in the midst of the Great Depression, and his home was a cardboard shack in Cleveland’s Hooverville. For a time. Then Ignatz found out and brought his son to live with him and random cousins, a tribe of warm and happy drunks, one of whom owned a low-rent bar we called a ‘beer joint’. The story goes, though, that Stan’s mother changed their last name to Kovac – she hated her Polish ex so much that she rebranded herself, and her son, with a name from her homeland, Czechoslovakia. There are those in the family who say this name thing is not true.
The iconic USMC KA-BAR combat knife traces its lineage to the Bowie knife.
A DIY prison knife is commonly called a shank or a shiv. Not to be confused with The Shawshank Redemption or the Hindu god Shiva.
knife+strife=no longer rife w/ life
bang the drum slowly and play the fife lowly
play the dead march as you carry me along
On the iPod playlist: the Swedish electronica band The Knife, and avant-jazzer Nate Wooley’s album of minimalist variations inspired by the above poem “knknighgh.”
Five years before I met my bride, her mother passed away. Officiating at the service was Reverend Francis Kovacic.
Major Henry Shakespear (sic), an Indian Army officer and well-known hunter, designed a particular dirk known as the ‘Shakespear’ knife. Not to be confused with ‘Shakespeare’ brand fillet knives, used by contemporary fisherman.
It is said that the Scottish Play was President Lincoln’s favorite play.
A dagger of the mind.
Kim Peter Kovac works nationally and internationally in theater for young audiences with an emphasis on new play development and networking. He tells stories on stages as producer and tells stories in writing with lineated poems, prose poems, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, haiku, haibun, and microfiction, with work appearing or forthcoming in print and on-line in journals from Australia, India, Dubai (UAE), England, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, and the USA, including The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Red Paint Hill, Elsewhere, Frogpond, Mudlark, and Counterexample Poetics. He is fond of avant-garde jazz, murder mysteries, contemporary poetry, and travel, and lives in Alexandria, VA, with his bride, two Maine Coon cats, and two Tibetan Terriers named Finn and Mick.