A major theme of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers is the great extent to which even highly successful people are the consequence of randomness and forces outside their control. This is not to say that people who are successful aren’t incredibly skilled or hardworking — we all know about the 10,000-hour rule — but this is to say that, in the words of John Donne, “No man is an island.” We are all dependent upon and restricted by others. Take William Shakespeare, for instance . . . you know what? What I’m about to say can’t be said in two sentences. Let’s get to it after the jump.
This is the 34th installment of The Labyrinthian, a series dedicated to exploring random fields of knowledge in order to give you unordinary theoretical, philosophical, strategic, and/or often rambling guidance on daily fantasy sports. Consult the introductory piece to the series for further explanation.
Shakespeare: The Outlier
If ever there were an outlier, it was Shakespeare. By the time he made his way to London and became an actor (or “player,” as a man who professionally pretended to be someone else was called at the time), Shakespeare was relatively old. And he was even older by the time he went from being a guy who occasionally wrote plays for the company that employed him (The Lord Chamberlain’s Men) to being considered an actual playwright. By the time his contemporaries really started to take notice of him in 1592 or so, Shakespeare was 28, which at the time was middle-aged. Consider that when Shakespeare died at the age of 52 people believed that he had lived a nice, long life.
So the guy was an outlier in that he got a late start to his career and then became the most celebrated author of all time.
Shakespeare was also an outlier in the sense that he was born and raised in an outlying county. He was not from a city of consequence. When he first started to make a name for himself in London, other (more established and ostensibly threatened) playwrights considered him to be the Renaissance equivalent of a Jeff Foxworthy joke. Shakespeare was just some redneck from the country.
And unlike most of the playwrights who dominated the London playhouses when he began writing professionally, Shakespeare had not attended either Oxford or Cambridge University. This is not to say that he was uneducated, because archival research suggests that Shakespeare was inordinately blessed to have had some very smart and randomly overqualified teachers at his local school when he was young — if he were writing about Shakespeare, then Gladwell would certainly highlight the significance and fortuitousness of the playwright’s childhood education — but Shakespeare did not have the classical training or university pedigree that others had. Even after his death, the playwright Ben Jonson couldn’t help but point out (while calling Shakespeare the best English poet ever) that the guy from Stratford-upon-Avon had little mastery of Greek or Latin.
In short, Shakespeare differed from his peers in a number of substantial ways and consequently had a number of obstacles to overcome on his way to becoming an established writer early in his career. But, as Gladwell would likely say, it was these very obstacles and the way that Shakespeare responded to them that made him great.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet was not Mel Gibson
The most underappreciated obstacle that Shakespeare faced for the entirety of his career was the extent to which he was bound by the players in his company. Later in his career and after his death, Shakespeare was considered by other writers to have been an almost supernatural force — an unfettered imagination that created effortlessly and pulled inspiration from the air. And, although Shakespeare was certainly brilliant and later in his career was likely a very fast and efficient writer (having by that time surpassed his 10,000-hour threshold), the truth is that Shakespeare’s creative process was very much not unfettered.
Nowadays, students read Shakespeare’s plays or, if they are unlucky, they see them performed on stage or (even worse) on film. When reading Hamlet, for instance, one can imagine the prince however they want. In effect, anyone can be Hamlet (or Hamlet can be anyone) when you read the play. Similarly, as long as an actor can memorize the lines and manage not to burst out laughing while delivering them, basically anyone can be Hamlet in a performance. That’s the best explanation for why this was allowed to happen:
And even though Burbage was widely considered the greatest actor of his era, blessed with an immense memory and an uncanny ability to represent almost any emotion convincingly, the fact is that, because Hamlet was written for him — because the words that Shakespeare committed to paper and that people still read today were crafted with solely Burbage in mind — Hamlet is not some miracle that simply wrote itself with Shakespeare’s quill. Rather, it’s a text that was carefully crafted with the purpose of making the particular players who would enact the parts look as good as possible so that the play could be successful and make the company (of which Shakespeare was a co-owner) lots of money.
To some people, Hamlet is about the Oedipal Complex. To others, it’s about Purgatory. To Shakespeare — if I may be so bold to say — Hamlet (just like every other play he wrote) was primarily about one thing: Writing particular parts for particular people so that he could make money.
Shakespeare’s Two Clowns
And to some people, from a historical perspective, Hamlet is about Shakespeare himself. To them it represents a turning point in his career: The shift from comedy to tragedy. To them, Hamlet is the text through which Shakespeare transformed himself from merely a delightful playwright who specialized in clever puns and vulgar humor to the greatest playwright of all time who explored the psyches of complex characters and revealed to us the deepest truths of existence.
On the one hand, this is true. Hamlet, written almost in the middle of Shakespeare’s career, is undoubtedly a turning point. On the other hand, the narrative of Hamlet, Shakespeare’s maturation, etc., is total bullshit.
In The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb discusses the narrative fallacy, asserting that “we fool ourselves with stories that cater to our Platonic thirst for distinct patterns.” It’s really pleasing to think of Hamlet as this transformational moment for Shakespeare as a writer, but doing so relies on a narrative — a mythology of the author’s genius — that is probably fallacious. In truth, Hamlet for Shakespeare was probably just another play.
Remember, Shakespeare’s work is the direct result of his need to write for the players in his company.
For the first half of Shakespeare’s career, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men had the most famous comedic actor of his generation, William Kempe. To the London stage of the 1590s, this guy was basically Chris Farley. Kempe was a big guy who would do anything for a laugh. Despite his rotundness, he was amazingly athletic and was known as an incredibly agile dancer. He constantly made jokes about farting and pissing himself. And the obscene song was his forte. He was considered to be a master of improvisation.
That was the comedian to whom Shakespeare, for better and worse, was chained for his early years. Kempe was the type of actor who could do well in comedies about love and histories about English monarchs who waged war. Kempe was entirely not the type of actor who could do well in serious tragedies.
Shortly before Hamlet, Kempe had a falling out with the other shareholders of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, and he left the company. It took the players awhile to find his replacement — Julius Caesar lacks the regular role of the clown — but when they finally did find Kempe’s replacement they settled on Robert Armin, who was drastically unlike Kempe in almost every way.
Whereas Kempe was a show stealer and show stopper with his improvisation, Armin was very unassuming and understated. Whereas Kempe was a fantastic dancer, Armin is said to have had a soft and soothing singing voice. Whereas Kempe’s comedy was almost entirely physical, Armin’s was subtle. Shakespeare’s second clown was less of a clown and more of a dark, brooding, and deeply intellectual fool. He was philosophical. He was basically everything that David Spade wishes he were.
Armin was not particularly well-suited to light-hearted comedies. But his style of irony was perfect for tragedies. And it just so happens that one of his first plays with Shakespeare’s company was Hamlet.
With some of the smaller parts, we can’t know for sure which actors played them, but it’s highly likely that Armin played one of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Also, it’s very possible that he doubled as the First Gravedigger.
And a few years later in King Lear, he certainly played the iconic role of the Fool.
When Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, it’s very possible that he wasn’t making a deliberate transition to greatness. He was merely working with the players that he had.
Or, phrased differently, greatness isn’t the result of attempting to be great. Greatness is simply maximizing whatever you have to work with. Starting around 1600, Shakespeare no longer had Kempe to work with. He instead had Armin. And he got out of Armin all that he could. In transitioning to tragedies later in his career, Shakespeare may have been growing as a writer — but he was definitely doing what he had made a habit of doing his entire career: Making the best of the players he had.
Working With What You Got
“Working with what you got”: [Insert early-career Shakespearean sexual pun here.]
The key to life and DFS is working with what you got and maximizing it however you can. It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you’re from, or if you went to college. It’s possible for you to be a DFS Shakespeare simply by leveraging the skills and knowledge that you have and learning more tricks along the way.
It’s not even necessary for you to have a lot of money when you start out. When Shakespeare left Stratford-upon-Avon, he was the son of a man who had pretty much bankrupted the family. When Shakespeare died in his hometown a few years after retiring and leaving London, he was one of the wealthiest men and landowners within his sphere of influence.
If you are a FantasyLabs subscriber, then what you’ve got to work with is a lot. The key is to maximize it. Use our Trends and Models tools. Personalize them. Leverage our Pro Trends. Understand how our metrics work. If you don’t know how Plus/Minus and Bargain Rating are of benefit or what is meant by Upside and Consistency, then you are basically living in the DFS equivalent of Stratford-upon-Avon. You never left home to go to London.
More importantly, to be a DFS Shakespeare you need to know how to maximize your players. And here’s what I mean by that: You can’t treat every slate as if it’s the same. For instance, in MLB you can’t act as if the All-Day and Main slates are the same as the Early, Late, and Turbo slates. They’re not. Some of them might have more players who are better suited for cash games. Others might primarily house players who are better for guaranteed prize pools.
You can’t automatically say with each slate that you will play 80 percent of your action in cash and 20 percent in tournaments. For certain slates, that would be like saying that you want to put Will Kempe in Hamlet.
Identifying the Kempes and the Armins
Especially for slates with few games — and with post-season NBA coming up we are going to get a lot of those — some slates will be primarily GPP slates, and others will be OK for cash games. Again, so much of it simply depends on the players in those slates and the types of DFS contests to which their playing styles naturally lend themselves.
If you play a lot of cash games in a number of slates that have a lot players who are better used in GPPs, then you are very likely to retire to Stratford-upon-Avon just as poor as you were when you left. The same is true if you play too many GPPs in slates with enough players to fill out a strong cash-game lineup.
Before you play in a slate, you need to identify what kind of players are available: Are they volatile? Or steady? Are they high-upside? Or high-floor? Are they Kempes? Or Armins? Which of Shakespeare’s two clowns are they? Knowing what kind of players are in the small slates and then adjusting your action accordingly will ultimately determine whether your DFS plays are comedies or tragedies.
To be clear: I’m not saying that you should abandon the 80/20 cash-game/GPP split (or whatever split you typically use). I’m saying that you should apply that split over a longer time frame, not to each slate. Otherwise, in attempting to be perfectly balanced in all your slates, you’re going to be unbalanced in almost every slate you play.
Becoming DFS Shakespeare is possible no matter who you are. It all starts with using your players in the right way and making the most of their talents.
The Labyrinthian: 2016, 34
Previous installments of The Labyrinthian can be accessed via my author page. If you have suggestions on material I should know about or even write about in a future Labyrinthian, please contact me via email, [email protected], or Twitter @MattFtheOracle.