Of all of the modern world’s sportspeople, the one who William Shakespeare would most appreciate is Jennifer Capriati. For The Bard always loved his characters to be mired not in purity, but in ever-changing shades of grey and with the spectre of tragedy constantly looming over them.
Shakespeare would love Capriati’s presence and demeanour. He wouldn’t go for the universally adored picturesque beauty of Kournikova, but would instead be transfixed by the contrast between Capriati’s initial appearance as the cute kid who won Gold in Barcelona, and the felon whose infamous, nose-ringed mugshot appeared only years later. The intriguing girl who often wore a scowl, but who just occasionally would flash a smile that would glow out of the pages of the press.
And her Grand Slam wins – the highest moments in her career – were all the more dramatic thanks to their circumstances. The victory at Roland Garros over Clijsters 12-10 in the final set, and the victory over Hingis in the Aus Open after saving 4 match-points in the second set.
You can see Shakespeare, can’t you, finding such great narrative and pathos in those moments. For it’s them – the victory dances and the smiles, the traditional poses with the Grand Slam trophies that all young female tennis players dream about – that make Capriati’s descent into darkness simultaneously comprehensible and incomprehensible. We understand that, at times, sportspeople are like Tom Buchanan and find themselves reaching “such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savours of anti-climax.” And yet, we still can’t truly understand how someone who has achieved successes of which most of us mortals never dared to dream, can possibly find themselves so lost later in life.
Of course, Shakespeare also dearly loved to question our senses of destiny and fate. In the prologue to Romeo & Juliet, the chorus informs the audience that the “star cross’d lovers” will “take their life.” With we the audience so clearly positioned to understand what is fated in the characters’ future, we are thus forced to question every character’s decisions and actions as any of them might be one that leads to the tragedy we know is to follow. And then, we realise that even the characters themselves have a foreboding sense of their own destiny during the play, with Romeo’s mind appropriately misgiving “some consequence yet hanging in the stars.” Our experience only becomes more harrowing then, when Shakespeare makes us question whether or not the characters also know of, or at least sense, the fate that they are about to bring upon themselves.
Throughout the years, whenever we have heard about one of the more controversial (scandalous?) moments in the life of Capriati, the first question the press seem to ask is whether or not we should have seen it coming. Shouldn’t we have known that the ever-smiling teen prodigy – the one who was the subject of the famous headline “And she’s only 13!” on the cover of Sports Illustrated – was bound to be the tennis player arrested for shoplifting and marijuana possession when she was 17? Shouldn’t we have seen the tell-tale signs of the over-bearing, one-tracked father who some in the audience are bound to blame? And shouldn’t he, or even she have seen the inevitable consequences of her upbringing?
Or should we, in fact, be praising the drive from such a player, such a parent and such publicity for spurring her towards her on-court successes, which we assume to be the greatest moments of her life? Did Macbeth become king purely through his own desperate ambition, or was it the ambition of Lady Macbeth? And would Duncan still be King had the witches not planted the seed in Macbeth’s mind that it was his destiny to be so crowned?
Amongst so many other things, Shakespeare’s works survive today because he beautifully encapsulated the universal truth in the fact that there is so rarely any clear, discernable truth within life.
As such, were he telling the story (tragedy?) of Capriati in 2010, he would leave the audience forever wondering about whether anyone inside or outside of the extended Capriati entourage was at all to blame for her situation.
In the most recent Act, he’d include the journalist from the Associated Press who took it upon themselves to submit “repeated public records requests” in order to obtain as much of the 911 call that reported Capriati’s potential overdose as they would be allowed. An action equal parts heart-wrenching and disgusting, Shakespeare would surely leave the audience wondering about the moral fibre of both the individual journalist and the celebrity-gossip-hungry-society which he would permit to be seen as potentially responsible for such a request being made and approved. The audience themselves would thus be forced to wonder whether or not they too are somewhat culpable in the demise of the girl Pam Shriver referred to as “the most hyped player of all time,” as they sit, fascinated by the action on the stage, desperate to know how the story will progress.
There seems little method in any of this madness, and so one’s foreboding inner-monologue wonders more and more if a figure such as Capriati who is haunted by the diagnosis of depression will one day simply exit the stage. And just when we haven’t thought about her for a while, someone will appear and announce that she has fallen “in the weeping brook…as one incapable of her own distress.”