From the Strong and Prosperous Democratic People’s Republic Ministry (Department of Do As I Say, Not As I Do): North Korea has banned public smoking as part of an anti-tobacco campaign aimed at the country’s male population, 46 percent of whom are said to enjoy lighting up. (North Korean women aren’t an issue: officially, there’s not one smoker among them.) The problem is that the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un, is also a supremely enthusiastic smoker. “In 2013 he was filmed trying out exercise equipment in a gymnasium, with a lit cigarette in hand,” noted The Times of London. Part of the motivation for the anti-smoking initiative is to reduce citizens’ vulnerability to the coronavirus. (Although that’s not really an issue, either: officially, there hasn’t been a single case in North Korea.)
The critical and commercial possibilities of a Broadway show called—let’s say—Lear! The Musical might have been much better if not for the bubonic plague. According to the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, an anonymous historical play called King Leir, which Shakespeare may have used as a source for his tragedy, had a happy ending—one that the playwright altered to suit the context of his times: in 1603, 30,000 people in London died of the plague, this at a time when the city’s population was roughly 200,000. “When it came to writing Lear in the 1600s,” the artistic director, Gregory Doran, told The Guardian, “he could not give the audiences a happy reconciliation between the king and his daughter, Cordelia.” Still, King Lear’s beyond-wrenching dénouement, all that wonderful “Howl, howl, howl!”-ing and “A plague [sic!] upon you, murderers, traitors all!,” is literature we’ll have forever—and all it cost us, in a sense, was a kickline.