Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Will And A Way : Amazon Interviews Stephen Greenblatt

I have no idea how to determine how old this interview with Stephen Greenblatt is, but I just found it so I'm linking it. Greenblatt is the author of "Will in the World", if you don't recognize the name. Normally I'd put up an Amazon link for that but I'm sitting in the waiting room at my garage and just don't really have the patience to do the necessary cutting and pasting :). Anyway, many of
the reviews of that book accused it of being something close to a love letter to Shakespeare from Greenblatt (fill in your own insinuations, there), and after reading it, I can see what they meant. It'll be interesting to see what the man has to say.

It's interesting right from the first paragraph.Did Shakespeare know that he was writing masterpieces? Probably not. According to Greenblatt he was just trying to keep the butts in the seats,so he had to appeal to everybody. Not the sort of answer you'd expect about your Hamlets and King Lears. Titus, maybe :). (I say that for the benefit of the oft-ignored Titus fans in my audience :)).

Another good quote, regarding "the reader who has enjoyed some Shakespeare but is not at all familiar with the mountains of scholarship and endless debates and has no theoretical background", which is the space I've always tried to play in: "First of all Shakespeare is about pleasure and interest...The idea that you actually need an advanced degree to understand Shakespeare is a joke." Exactly.

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Google Book Search is My Friend : Public Domain PDFs!

Today Google announces that their "full view" book search will support PDFs for public domain works. Nice! Remember to search "full view" texts only to get this feature. Try searching "Shakespeare". Go on, I dare you. Many many many many hits. Great stuff. I am going to be very busy.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Shakespeare Audio : Gielgud reads the Sonnets?

The Internet Multicasting Service has some readings of Shakespeare available for listening, including Sir John Gielgud reading a 4 part series on the sonnets, and also excerpts from Mucho Ado and Julius Caesar. Normally I would love this, but the formats are primarily streaming, which I hate. If I can't get it on MP3 and add it to my portable collection, it's as if it doesn't exist to me. But I figure others might not be quite so harsh.

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How To Read Shakespeare

Now this is the type of article I've always wanted to write. "How to Read Shakespeare" breaks it down into approachable bites - sentence structure, grammar, pronoun usage, etc... and shows little tricks for trying to decipher the words into something you can better understand. I agree with the pretty much everything the author says, although he keeps pushing the SparkNotes and I'm not a big fan, there. I'm afraid that students will read the supplementary material and not read the original.

Lately I've been thinking about Claudius' opening words (since I have them to music as part of "Hamlet in Space :)), and they make a good case for the examples the article discusses: "Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death the memory be green...." What? Well, the article says that Shakespeare would freely rearrange the words in his sentences to suit the rhythm he needed, so you have to mentally put them back into the order you'll better understand. Well, I spot "our dear brother Hamlet", so we have "Though yet of our dear brother Hamlet's death the memory be green." Still feels backward, maybe the end needs to go at the beginning: "Though yet the memory of our dear brother Hamlet's death be green." It's at this point that perhaps you pull out the annotated guide if you don't immediately realize that to "be green" is "to be fresh and new". So, finally, "Though yet the memory of our dear brother Hamlet's death is still fresh in our minds..."

Another good one is "I have of late but wherefore I know not lost all my mirth" (another good musical one, this time from HAIR). "I have of late" == "Lately, I have." I have what? Lost all my mirth. "Lately I have lost all my mirth, but wherefore I know not." Knowing that "wherefore" means "why" from the footnotes we do that trick one more time and are left with "Lately, I've lost all my mirth, but I don't know why."

I could do that all day. :)

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Is Tybalt one of the better villains?

I always treated Tybalt as one of Shakespeare's better villains.  He's got nothing but hate in him, and he's not afraid to draw his sword and go one-on-one with any challenger.  Certainly he's a coward at heart, as they all are - he runs after he kills Mercutio, for instance.

Then again...  On the train lately I've been reading the script, because I'm that kind of geek.  And I notice passages like the end of Act I scene i, where Benvolio is explaining what happened to Lord Montague, and I get this:  "The fiery Tybalt, with his sword prepared, which, as he breathed defiance to my ears, he swung about his head and cut the winds, who nothing hurt withal hiss'd him in scorn..."  Does that mean that Tybalt stood there slashing at the air with his sword and not hitting anything?

Then later there is the lengthy passage where Mercutio describes Tybalt's swordsmanship.  Is he being fair, or sarcastic?  Or both?  Is Tybalt a swordsman to be feared, or is he all talk?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Shakespeare High is Podcasting

Very cool, Amy over at ShakespeareHigh has started a podcast. I must have missed the memo, because she's up to her fourth episode and I just found out about it ;). She's going with the "Students Guide to Shakespeare 101" approach. Very tutorial, working through quiz time questions like "Did Shakespeare write in Olde English or Modern English?" Right now she's running it as if the user is sitting down behind an online guide, so I hope for those of us who listen to podcasts away from the computer she breaks from that pattern eventually. One of the major benefits of podcasting is taking it with you so you can learn this stuff on the train, in the car, at the gym, etc... all places where you can't click on the link when the narrator tells you to.

Good luck, Amy! You've got a new subscriber, and hopefully a bunch more :).

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Mercutio fed Romeo his lines?

So I'm going back over Romeo and Juliet for a project I'm playing with, and I just noticed something that I'd never really thought of before. Act I, Scene iv, we see Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio getting ready for the party . This is where the famous Queen Mab speech comes in. I also think it's interesting that Mercutio, for such a strong character, gets no real introduction, he's just that fun guy that you party with. Mercutio's first line in the entire play is "Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance." Makes me think of characters from Seinfeld or something.

Anyway. The thing I just noticed is this exchange:

Romeo: "I have a soul of led so stakes me to the ground I cannot move."
Mercutio: "You are a lover, borrow Cupid's wings, and soar with them above a common bound."

That sound familiar to anybody? Act II, Scene ii.

Romeo: "With love's light wings did I o'er-perch these walls, for stony limits cannot hold love out."

While Romeo is busy wooing Juliet, he's blatantly stealing lines that Mercutio gave him! That's actually funny. Maybe that's something that everybody else has seen before, but I don't recall my 9th grade English teacher pointing it out. (I do remember her showing us the Zeffirelli(?) film and forgetting to mention there was nudity in it. Never saw anyone run for the Stop button so fast!)

If, just for a moment, you spin the play completely different, where Romeo and his friends really are just college boys looking to get some action after the party (basically what Benvolio and Mercutio wanted), you could have a blast with it. Imagine drunken Mercutio and Benvolio hiding in the bushes underneath the balcony loudly whispering things like, "Tell her Queen Mab hath been with you!" or "Show her your naked weapon!"

Maybe I'm just sleepy, I'm writing this on the morning train to keep myself occupied :).

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Strangling Shakespeare

Matthew Mehan of brings us this article entitled, Strangling Shakespeare. "Britain's leading theatre company seems set on barbequeing the Bard of Avon," the article starts, before going on to review the Royal Shakespeare Company's recent production of Henry VI part II.

"I was in Stratford on Avon for only a day...although it was just long enough to start counting the number of times I heard Shakespeare roll in his grave."

Sounds like he didn't love it.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Who wants to help with a book project?

I'm in a publishing mood lately. A couple of e-book projects of mine (both completely unrelated to Shakespeare) are now online and selling, which I'm pleased with. I've always wanted to get something to paper about Shakespeare, and the question has always been what would that be.

I have an idea for something I'd like to try, but I need people. The project I'm thinking of is more of a compilation / anthology then a traditional "dummy's guide." If any of my regular readers out there are interested in hearing more, or possibly participating, please drop me a line at



"Taming of the Shrew is better than Hamlet."

So while it was still in town I did indeed get to see the Boston production of Taming of the Shrew, and when I get a moment I'll have to write a review. I don't have time for much these days, though, so I'll have to relate a quick story about the couple we went with. I'd actually brought with me, as something of a joke, the Taming of the Shrew comic book. My wife was enjoying reading it, and passing it to our friends. One friend who shall remain nameless said that she's very familiar with the show. Cool. I like finding new Shakespeare friends.

At intermission we're talking about "What do you think of the show so far?" as people often do. Then everybody gives me the generic "I like it," which I can't stand, like saying anything other than that must make you a bad person. Actually it just makes you a person with no opinions. But, anyway. This one person says, "See, to me, this is a better play than Hamlet."


I swear to God, you should have seen me. I've never quite known what it is like to be speechless like I was. So many, many replies going through my brain, trying to filter them and decide which would be the least offensive. Meanwhile, she's still talking. "The comedies like this are the ones that are really entertaining for the people. I can't stand all those dark, depressing ones. Hamlet, Macbeth... "

"Hamlet," I say through gritted teeth, "Might be the greatest piece of literature in the English language. The world is a better place because of plays like Hamlet, not because of shallow nonsense like this. I watch Taming of the Shrew like I watch a generic Kate Hudson romantic comedy." My wife quickly jumps in to change the subject before I begin raising my voice.

"Know what else I hate?" this woman continues, perhaps not realizing or caring how much she has fallen in my eyes. "The Tempest."

"I've read The Tempest to my 3yr old as a bedtime fairy tale," I tell her.

"And did she understand it?"

"She *asked* me for it. Repeatedly."

Luckily the show started back up. Later in the car, we were talking about the fact that my daughter is named Katherine, and how yes of course I knew about the Shrew character, and no it is not a silly coincidence. My second daughter is named Elizabeth well aware of that Shakespearean connection, as well. But when my son was born we couldn't find a good Shakespearean male name we liked. This then got into a conversation about how Shakespeare didn't often use male names that are still in use today.

"Horatio?" this poor woman says.

Gritted teeth time again. " a character in HAMLET!" I force myself to say.

Next year, I don't think we're going with anybody. :)

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Monday, August 07, 2006

ShakespeaRe-Told : Shakespeare on Television

Although I've just missed the first episode (curse me for being so far behind in my posting!), I see that BBC America is doing a 4part, very modern retelling of Much Ado (last night's), Macbeth, Midsummer, and Taming of the Shrew. By very modern, I mean very -- Much Ado casts Beatrice and Benedick as co-anchors on a news program, Macbeth is about an ambitious chef taking over his boss' restaurant (haven't we discussed that one before?), Midsummer takes place at a woodsy family resort of Shrew apparently casts Kate as a ruthless female politician. Note that these productions are "inspired by", and not actual modern dress versions of the original text. But, still, could be fun.

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