Monday, December 31, 2007

Santa Brings Stories from Shakespeare

This year, Santa brought my kids a book called Stories from Shakespeare, by the Usborne company.  By strange coincidence, my wife had been to an Usborne bookselling party a few months prior :).  Anyway, we just started reading it the other night.  I like that my 5yr old asked if King Lear was in it.  Alas, it's not.  She's intrigued by the witches on the cover, which (ha!) I tell her are from Macbeth. 

At first I was worried that this was just a copy of Lamb's Tales (which is public domain) with a new copyright slapped on it.  Luckily that's not the case, these appear to be new translations.

The plays included are:  "Twelfth Night", "Macbeth", "Romeo and Juliet", "The Taming of the Shrew", "The Tempest", "A Midsummer Night's Dream", "Hamlet", "The Merchant of Venice", "As You Like It", and "The Winter's Tale".  An interesting mix.  No King Lear, but also no Much Ado About Nothing.  But yet they include Taming of the Shrew.

We started with Twelfth Night.  Since this book has pictures (and when I tell them the stories, I do not), both 3 and 5yr old were immediately intrigued.  Unfortunately that also means that I lost my 3yr old early, as she was so busy wanting to know the identify of every person on every page that she was not getting the story.  My 5yr old hung in as best she could, but I could tell she was confused.  Interestingly she perked up at the mentions of Sebastian and Antonio, two names she recognized from The Tempest :). 

I think the level of mistaken identify was a little much for her.  These stories, unlike my own translations, seem like they're trying to cover every aspect of the original script in as linear a translation as possible.  So, for instance, they did the whole subplot with Sir Toby, Andrew, Maria and Malvolio.  I think that, were I telling this one to my kids off the top of my head, I would have just left it completely out.  I know, I know, sacrilege - but I'd rather have her understand a portion of the story at this age than be confused and not get any of it.

I think she wants Macbeth next, because of the witches, but I don't plan on introducing that one until I've at least read their translation first.  I teased Midsummer's to her, saying that it was about fairies.  5yr olds dig fairies. :)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Here's the Story....

Ok, maybe The Brady Bunch isn't popular around the world, but here in the United States it's firmly ingrained into our pop culture subconscious.  Mom always said, don't play ball in the house.

Anyway, anybody with a little trivial knowledge of the show has probably heard that Robert Reed, who played the dad, hated the show.  He fancied himself a serious actor and would often refuse to play certain scenes if he didn't like the way they were written.

What I didn't know was that he was in the habit of writing lengthy memos to the producer detailing what he didn't like about them.  And the best part?  He actually uses Shakespeare as the foundation of his argument.  In the linked memo he ultimately is complaining about an episode in which  Bobby, the younger boy, has sold some weird "hair tonic" to Greg, the older boy - and it turned Greg's hair green.  So naturally, Reed makes the connection to Hamlet:

Their dramatis personae are noninterchangable. For example, Hamlet, archtypical of the dramatic character, could not be written into Midsummer Night's Dream and still retain his identity. Ophelia could not play a scene with Titania; Richard II could not be found in Twelfth Night. In other words, a character indigenous to one style of the theatre cannot function in any of the other styles.

In the quoted site (TVSquad) I've already brought up Falstaff, though perhaps that is not the best venue to discuss it. :)

Master of Puppets

[Once I catch up from the holidays I'll have several book reviews, as well as details on what was under the Shakespeare tree.  This is just a quickie.]

My daughters got a puppet theatre for Christmas, with puppets from Wizard of Oz.  So my daughter is putting on a show for us, which at 5yrs old consists of her holding up one puppet at a time, getting to the part where she says "What?  A bad witch?  Ahhhhh!" and then running away, and bringing out the next puppet.

I couldn't resist.

"Well run, Dorothy!"  I yelled.  "Well roared, Lion!"

"Thank you, Daddy," replies my daughter from behind the curtain.

"Well shone, Moon!"

The whole family looks at me, confused.  There's no Moon in the play!

Oh, well. :)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bill Bryson : Shakespeare, The World As Stage

Ok, so, maybe I'm a little neurotic about some things.  A friend got me the above-mentioned book, and I'm skimming the liner notes.  There's a reference to Delia Bacon that says "who thought her namesake, Francis Bacon, authored the plays."

Excuse me?

Delia Bacon did indeed think that Francis Bacon wrote the plays, but to the best of my knowledge they were no relation.

So naturally, rather than read the book, I began the hunt for her section.  There's neither index nor table of contents in the book, so I had to jump and skim to the logical place where she'd be mentioned.  Sure enough, it again called Francis Bacon her "namesake", although in context it does mention that there is "no genealogical connection" between the two.

Ok.  Phew.  I can actually read and enjoy the book now.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Shakespeare Geek At The Improv

So this weekend we went to one of those Improv Asylum shows, where the audience feeds information to the actors on stage as they build a scene.  Think "Whose Line Is It Anyway", with Chinese food.

Anyway, we end up at the front and center table, so you just know we're gonna get called on.  Last game of the night, they're doing tv styles, and asking for suggestions.  Then he says movies, then he says playwrights.

"Well, Shakespeare," I call out.

"Shakespeare's a good one," the leader says.

"Kinda obvious," I reply.

"Any others?" he asks the crowd.  "Any readers in the audience?"


"Miller?  O'Neill? Ianesco?" I offer.

"One guy who reads.  Ok, we'll just stay on him then."

They then go off and do the scene, which is entirely tv and movies until they throw in a little Shakespeare at the end.

Afterward the leader comes by the table and says, "Thanks for being the only person here that reads."

"It's kinda my thing," I tell him.  "I sit here all night waiting for you to say playwright so I can yell Shakespeare!  Woohoo!"


Friday, December 07, 2007

How Not To Link An Image§ion=all&title=undefined&whichpage=1&sortBy=popular

I grabbed this right away, as I'm a sucker for Shakespeare cartoons.  Romeo and Juliet as told by instant messages has been done a million times, but hey.

Does anybody see the glaring problem with the above link?  It's a shopping cart link for a poster sized print of a New Yorker cartoon that originally appeared in 2002.  Fine. can't read the image.  So, if you never saw the original, you have no idea what you're supposed to be buying.

Or am I missing something?

Shakespeare Crossword

Not really too much to say.  A crossword puzzle where almost all of the clues are Shakespeare references.  Sponsored by One Night Castle for their new performance "Good Night Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet", there are several clues about the director of the play (and the playhouse) as well.


Sonnet 18, "Consultant" Style

I like it.  I agree with the commenter that a true consultant's presentation would be crammed with bullet points.  The emphasis on visuals is actually fairly easy to understand (at least the first few, it starts reaching at the end).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Arden Is Released!

Wow, cool!  After hearing that Arden, the Shakespeare virtual world, was "taking a break", I didn't expect to hear from them.  I certainly didn't expect this release, where they've opened it to the public.  I would have blogged this sooner, but I had to get my order for Neverwinter Nights (the game engine required) first :).

Castronova's comments on the failure of the project are interesting.  Basically, the game wasn't fun.  No monsters.  Too much text, too linear.  He seems pretty down on the project, the blog entry has several comments that sound like a sarcastic "Ha!  Good luck!' to the next guy to try it.

Rest assured I *will* be playing this. :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Shakespeare in Esperanto

"Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet" has an article up about the Folger getting Esperanto editions of the works that caught my eye.  Why?  Because I know Esperanto (well, I did, long ago) and it so happens that I own a copy of Hamlet, translated into Esperanto by L.L Zamenhoff himself.

Unfamiliar with Esperanto?  It was (is?) a very interesting experiment in breaking down cultural barriers by attempting to create a universal second language.  Simple enough idea - keep your own language and culture, but also have this second language so that no matter where you go in the world, you can communicate with the people there.  When I was studying the language I used to read fairy tales from China, for example.  I had a penpal in the Netherlands, with whom I played chess by email. 

Once, in a playwrighting course, I had written a scene that involved a troubled genius, one of these "Good Will Hunting" kids, who had been committed involuntarily to a mental ward.  He was refusing to cooperate with doctors by speaking in his own language.  Which, of course, was actually a recitation of Hamlet in Esperanto (the character unveils this in the play, to his favorite doctor).   After the class one of the readers caught up to me and said, "What was that, that the kid was saying?"

"Hamlet in Esperanto, just like he said."  I said.  "Really."


Esti aux ne esti!

Shakespeare Story Night

Ok, now the longer story, as promised.  At the dinner table my 3yr old mixed Regan in with a story about her imaginary friends, and then Goneril.  "And who is the good daughter?" I ask.  "The one who came back to save the Daddy?"

"Cordelia," she says.

My 5yr old, however, has not heard the story of King Lear as my 3yr old has.  So naturally she wants to hear it, and I deliver the same fairy tale version that I did a few weeks ago.  What's the difference between a 3yr old and a 5yr old?  When I'm done with the story this time my 5yr old asks, "What happened to Regan and Goneril after the story ends?"

"Oh, they were very sad," I told her, "Because they'd been so mean to their sister and their Daddy that they left and didn't want to be around them anymore."

"Oh," she said, "Well, do you think that maybe they went to the King's house, and said that they were sorry?"

I told her that the story does not go into this part, but in our version, sure, it's quite possible that this did indeed happen.

"Do the other Shakespeare story," says my 3yr old, "The one that you hear me playing."  So I retell them The Tempest as well.

"Are there any more stories?" 5yr old asks.

"Oh, absolutely," I say.  "Shakespeare wrote lots and lots of stories.  I suppose I could tell you the most famous one of all, the one about Romeo and Juliet."

Well, this just fascinates her.  The most famous one of all?

And now I've gone and committed myself, because while I wanted to get Romeo and Juliet into the mix (since it is the one they are most likely to experience outside my house), I did not have a proper plan for how to spin it with a happy ending.  The Tempest has no death.  And King Lear, with a simple "Cordelia comes back and saves her Daddy" gets a happy ending and we leave out the rest.  But Romeo and Juliet, without anybody dying, was not something I had all ready to go.

It was easy to explain that Romeo was Juliet's "one true love" - this is a concept well understood via the Shrek movies.  Romeo getting in trouble became "Romeo got into a fight because of a big misunderstanding," which made for some interesting discussion about human nature as my 5yr old kept asking, "Well, when the police came, did Tybalt explain to them that the fight was not Romeo's fault and that it was all a misunderstanding?" and I told her, "No, Tybalt wasn't really a good guy like that.  He knew that Romeo had run away, and it looked bad, so when the police came he just said 'Well, Romeo ran away so he must have been the one that started it, and so Romeo was the one that got into trouble.'"

Come sleeping potion time, I opted to explain that Juliet would go to sleep like Snow White.

"But a kiss would wake her up!" guesses my 5yr old, who is one step ahead of me.  I had not made that connection.  I decide to go with it.

"Yes," I say, "But only from Romeo, her one true love."

So in our version, Paris tries to kiss Juliet to wake her up, but it doesn't work.  Her family then realizes that Paris is not her one true love, and kicks him to the curb.  Romeo comes back on the scene, kisses Juliet, she wakes up, and they run away together.

I am not as happy with that version as I am with my Lear and Tempest.  Although the concept of R & J has been introduced, and I'm pleased with that.  I told them that we have a picture on the wall that shows Juliet's actual balcony (a gift from relatives who went to Italy).  They found this very impressive.  They already knew what a balcony was (there dollhouse has one), so I see opportunities to teach them the actual balcony scene.  I told them that when they get to high school they'll have to memorize it.  "Oh, then, I would have to hear it many many times," said my daughter.

"Oh, you will," I said. :)

Maybe next time I'll go with Midsummer.


How To Melt A Shakespeare Geek

Just a quickie for now.  Longer post after the kids go to sleep.

Tonight, at the dinner table, my 3yr old daughter comes out of the clear blue with, "Daddy?  I wish there was a Cordelia doll, so I could snuggle her and love her."

Daddy offers a wordless "My universe just clicked into place" smile to Mommy.

"And I want a Regan doll!" chimes in my 5yr old.

"Regan?" I ask.  "She's a bad guy."

"No, not Regan," she corrects, "What's the name of the girl on the island?"


"Yeah, Miranda.  I wish there was a Miranda doll!"


Take that, Disney!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Shakespeare Gifts : What Shakespeare Stuff Do You Want For Christmas?

Ok, ok, fine, not everybody celebrates Christmas, yadda yadda yadda. I do, and it's my blog.

As the holidays approach, everybody's got their gift guide. Gifts for Mom, Gifts for Dad, Gifts for Geeks, Gifts for CoWorkers. How about gifts for the Shakespeare lover?

It's easy to point at Shakespeare's Den, and say "Go nuts."

But let's talk details. You hoping for books, or movies? Or toys?

I don't really have time to collect Shakespeare movies. A friend gave me Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead last year, and I've actually never even watched it. I know, bad me. I've read the actual script, just never seen the performance.

What about you?

Othello on Film

If you're a fan of Othello, Stage Matters has a series of film reviews looking at all the classic interpretations of the Moor, including Olivier, Wells, Laurence Fishburne (possibly included because of Branagh's Iago), and even a BBC version with Anthony Hopkins that includes an Olivier anecdote.  The review, that is, not the film itself.

Shakespeare and Music : The Book

Everybody on this blog by now knows that I'm teaching my kids to memorize Shakespeare by singing it.  Now I've got a book to point to that says why that may indeed work better :).  "Music, Language and the Brain" specifically cites Shakespeare for his "wonderfully talented use of rhythm, imagery and auditory patterns."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Studio360 on Hamlet

I just received an email that Studio 360, a public radio show hosted by Kurt Andersen, will be doing a bit on Hamlet this weekend (Nov 23).    The subject of the piece is actor Scott Shepherd and his experimental "duet" with Richard Burton's Hamlet in the 1964 film.

The show is also available as podcast, which is why it hit my radar to begin with.  In general I'm unfamiliar with the show.  Any fans out there?  Should I be subscribed?  Do they normally do Shakespeare sorts of things?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Review : Interred With Their Bones

When I heard about "The DaVinci Code, only with Shakespeare" I was intrigued and told myself I'd hunt down this Interred With Their Bones novel and see for myself if it was any good.  So I was pleased when the folks at Dutton sent me a copy for review. 

There's a couple of things that worry me about a description like "The DaVinci Code, only with Shakespeare."  The DaVinci Code, in my opinion, was only popular because of its attack on the Catholic Church.  It wasn't necessarily a good thriller on its own.  If you're a publisher, you're cool with that kind of buzz.  Whatever gets your audience reading, right?  But if you're a writer, you might be aiming a little higher than that.

I didn't love DaVinci Code, honestly.  Maybe I'm not that big a fan of the thriller genre.  They all seem to have a certain pattern to them, namely the race between the narrator and the killer to uncover the secret first.  Along the way the narrator runs into puzzles, solves them through some seeming act of brilliance, and then walks straight into some new character who says "It's about time, I've been waiting for you for days."

Secondly is the problem of Shakespeare, which really applies to any book that tries to have a central theme like that.  Namely, are you writing for existing fans of that subject, or trying to entice new ones?  The answer dictates how your book goes.  I fancy myself a Shakespeare geek, although who are we kidding, I am no academic.  Anybody who is in the business of studying Shakespeare (such as the author, or the main character) should know more about the subject than me, I'm thinking.  But a casual reader who is looking for the next DaVinci Code and knows nothing about Shakespeare?  Would naturally need some clues.

On this point, I'm torn, because I don't really know what the answer is.  I'll offer some examples, and let you decide.  It's a thriller, so we know there's a killer on the loose.  There's always a killer on the loose.  And you know what?  If your killer has a thing for Shakespeare, and you're female, and he calls you Lavinia?  If you've read Titus, then you'll be quaking in your boots because you know exactly what that implies.  But if you haven't read Titus, you have no idea.  So the author (via the killer) lays it out for you, leaving a piece of the Titus script at the scene, with the important stage direction underlined (I won't spoil it).  I'm cool with that.  Titus isn't the most well known play, and it's not like she spends pages explaining who Hamlet is.

But later the narrator needs some knowledge of Cardenio, the holy grail of Shakespeare's lost plays.  And it's disappointing how little she has.  She does not make the connection when she spots Cervantes among her clues.  She knows of the existence of The Double Falsehood, but then makes herself a note to look it up on the net because she's unfamiliar with it.  I mean, come on, I've read the silly thing.  And she's completely surprised at a reference to Theobald's three copies of the original, even though it's the sort of thing that makes it to the first paragraph of any story on the subject.  So here's an instance where the casual reader certainly needs a bit of a boost in the facts department, but I found it a little unbelievable that the narrator did not have that sort of knowledge about such an important subject.


Having said that, I'm still enough of a Shakespeare geek that I'll take all the references I can get.  When one character turns to the narrator and says "Sleep now," or something like that, my brain immediately jumped to both "Sleep no more, Macbeth hath murdered sleep!" and "To sleep, perchance to dream, aye there's the rub" and I was wondering which quote the narrator would come back with.  And I get these cool shivers down my spine early in the book when they are actually acting out a bit of the play.  I just love it when somebody delivers that first quote, it's like the start of something beautiful every time.

So, to sum up, I'm tolerating the thriller bits to get to the Shakespeare bits, and hoping that she doesn't dumb down those parts so much that I can't take it anymore.   This is where DaVinci Code had the advantage, because I did not have the same knowledge of the background material that I do here, and I could spend more time saying "Oh, that's interesting, didn't know that."  With this book I'm sure to spend much more time saying things like "Yes yes, we knew that, get on with it!"

Sorry if that was a lame review, but I'm not one to shove my opinions on other people.  I say what I like and why I like it.  Right now I"m not reading it to figure out the mystery, I'm reading it for the Shakespeare bits.  And enjoying it very much.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hamlet, and Revenge

Many a high school essay has been written on the subject of revenge in Hamlet.   The boy spends the entire play waffling on the subject, and even at the end of the play it's questionable whether he avenged his dad at all.

Has much been written on Hamlet's revenge of his mother's death?  She's poisoned, and he springs into action instantly, going so far as to kill the king right in front of everybody.

What's that say about his relationship to his parents?  He is the good son.  He does the right thing, as far as the revenge thing goes.  He's just motivated to do it for his mom, but not his dad. 

I"m just saying.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ophelia Learns To Swim [Film Trailer]

Naturally the title caught my eye.  The film in question is a comedy from director Jurgen Vsych (The Woman Director) and starring Julia Lee (Buffy The Vampire Slayer), now available on DVD.  From IMDB: 

A wimpy girl turns Superheroine when she joins bankrupt Mother Nature, The Librarian & the Chocolatier to battle wealthy villains Virginia Svelte, Cosmetic Chick & The Doucher.

It apparently has little to do with Shakespeare other than the title.  I do see a character named Hamlet, and "Ophelia's Dad" is not listed as Polonius.  There's no Shakespeare in the trailer.  But who knows, maybe it sounds interesting to somebody out there.  Or maybe it's going to catch your eye like it did mine and you're wondering if there's a Shakespeare connection. 

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Shakespeare Kid Nation

Ok, I'm a little behind on this one, I was on vacation.  We've mentioned the television show Kid Nation in the past, most notably because of Jared, the Shakespeare nut who spent his hard earned money on a copy of Henry V.

So this week was the talent show and we're treated to two Shakespeare performances.  Jared comes through with something from Henry V, which is surprisingly NOT St. Crispin's Day.  Instead we get a little something from Act IV, Scene 2, the Constable speaking:

To horse, you gallant princes! straight to horse!
Do but behold yon poor and starved band,
And your fair show shall suck away their souls,
Leaving them but the shales and husks of men.
There is not work enough for all our hands;
Scarce blood enough in all their sickly veins
To give each naked curtle-axe a stain,
That our French gallants shall to-day draw out,
And sheathe for lack of sport: let us but blow on them,
The vapour of our valour will o'erturn them.
'Tis positive 'gainst all exceptions, lords,
That our superfluous lackeys and our peasants,
Who in unnecessary action swarm
About our squares of battle, were enow
To purge this field of such a hilding foe,
Though we upon this mountain's basis by
Took stand for idle speculation:
But that our honours must not. What's to say?
A very little little let us do.
And all is done. Then let the trumpets sound
The tucket sonance and the note to mount;
For our approach shall so much dare the field
That England shall couch down in fear and yield.

It was hard to tell how much of the speech he got out, as the editing was obvious and all the lines were out of order.  I wonder if they figured that nobody would recognize that?  Except us Shakespeare geeks :).  No idea why he would have picked that speech, I'm going to assume a producer showed it to him specifically because it would sound like gibberish.  The kid himself even complained about it the whole show ("Why did I pick this?  Argh I already committed myself, I can't back out now!") so it's not like he went straight to his favorite passage he already had memorized, or anything.

The two older boys in the town decided to do a comedy version of Romeo and Juliet, which was unmemorable except for the boy who kept saying his line as "Romeo Romeo, where are thou Romeo." 

I could kill him.

My Evil Plan Is Working

This evening while playing with her dolls I distinctly heard my 3yr old say that Princess Jasmine was playing with Regan and Goneril.  I beamed at my wife, "Those are King Lear's daughters, you know."  Turning to my daughter I said, "Where's their sister?  The one with the red hair?"

"Cordelia?" she replied.  "She's lost in the forest."

I love it.  Love it love it love it.

Sorry, this blog is becoming too much about me teaching Shakespeare to my kids :).  But if I can't brag here, where can I?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sonnets to Music, Part II

Well, I found this one called  Shakespeare in Songon Amazon and it looks to be exactly what I was looking for!  One person, "folk style", singing 14 tunes, 8 of which are sonnets.  The reviews at Amazon are almost all excellent.    Almost everything else I found even close was orchestral music, which is not what I want.

I've got it on my Christmas list :).  It's going to be very hard not to just buy the silly thing, but I just bought When Love Speaks, and it's a rule in my house not to go crazy buying yourself presents when Christmas is right around the corner.

Anybody have this, or heard of it?  Is it as good as I'm getting myself worked up for?

Know what I'm questing after?  I realized something this morning that sums it up for me nicely.  When I see Shakespeare's words in print, I want to hear music in my head.  That's really it.  Sonnet 18 for me will now forever come with a tune.  I realized this when I came into the office and saw the text of Sonnet 29 pinned to my wall, and as I read, I could hear Rufus Wainright singing it in my head.  I pinned it there myself, in my eye line, because that song is in my playlist at work and when it comes around I want to map the sound to the words and fully understand what I'm hearing.  I never fully appreciate the "misheard lyric syndrome" until trying to decipher a Shakespearean sonnet without first seeing it in print :).

And for the curious, I won't rule out the possibility that I can sing this one to my kids as well.  Although it's a much harder tune to pull off.

Twelfth Night Of The Living Dead

I'm a bit late on this one but it is still playing if anybody's in the neighborhood.  How would you like your Shakespeare with some zombie action on the side?  A play where, to quote the article, "Orsino offers his hand in marriage...literally." 

The review does not make it sound like a particularly good play, but it's certainly different.  Linked for the references to "zombie culture" as portrayed in Shaun of the Dead and SNL's "Andy Punches" sketch.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

100+ Best Books On Shakespeare

I had not seen this list, but if you don't see me in the near future you can I assume that I am tearing through the list :).  Is it cool for me to tell the family that there's 100 books on my Christmas list, all about Shakespeare? :)

Facebook, Now With More Shakespeare Geek

As part of my day job I have to write applications for Facebook.  They just released this whole new "products" section, where businesses and other offerings can have a page of their own.  So, of course, I created a Shakespeare Geek facebook page

If you've got a Facebook account, come stop by and sign up!  I have no idea what we can make it do, but hey, it's always nice to have friends and fans.


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Sonnets to Music (Or, Who Is Rufus Wainright And Why Is He Awesome?)

So I got my hands on When Love Speaks this week.  For those that haven't heard, this CD is a collection of 5o+ readings and interpretations of Shakespeare, mostly the sonnets with some other passages thrown in, primarily from The Tempest.  You've probably heard a recording of Alan Rickman (now most famous as Professor Snape) doing "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun."

I was finally motivated to buy this when I found an MP3 of Sonnet 29 ("When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes...") by somebody named Rufus Wainright.  As I'm sure I've mentioned a few million times I have Sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee") by David Gilmour, guitar god legend of Pink Floyd.  It is my ring tone, it is the song I sing my children to sleep with,

I don't know anything about Sonnet 29, or who this Rufus Wainright guy is, but dang, I like it.  It made me run out and get the CD in the hopes that there's more like this on there.  Unfortunately, there's not. In 53 tracks, only 8 are put to music (the rest being dramatic readings, ala Rickman). Of those, only 4 are sonnets.   One is Rufus, one interestingly is Bryan Ferry doing Sonnet 18 to the exact same piano music as David Gilmour. I wonder what the story is with that?

The other two sonnets are Sonnet 8 by Ladysmith Black Mambaso, and a funky Sonnet 35 by Keb' Mo'.  I care for neither.  I'm sure that is at least in part because they are too over produced.  I can't imagine singing them to myself or my children.

Anybody else got some good sources for me to check out?  I'm specifically looking for sonnets, to music.  Ideally stuff that is not highly stylized (i.e. don't screw with the words), just put it to music and sing it straight.  I've had good results so far with Gilmour and 18, and I would love to live in a world where I can come home to the sounds of Shakespeare like others listen to classical music. 


King Lear, Fairy Tale Style

(It's time once again for a story of Shakespeare and my kids.  If that bores you, now's the time to bail out.)

This morning it was my son's turn to get into my Shakespeare stuff.  He's 18months old, running around with my King Lear comic.  My 3yr old promptly wrestles it from him and says, "Daddy, I think we should see this movie."

Now, the vision of a 3yr old sitting to watch King Lear is enough to make me laugh out loud, but the two of them are the only ones in the room with me so no one will appreciate the joke.  "Oh that's not really a movie story, sweetie," I tell her, "That's more a story for telling."

"Ok," she tells me.

So, while making the bed, I began to tell my daughter the story of King Lear in a way that would make sense to her:

Once upon a time there was a king who had three daughters, whose names were Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril.  Cordelia was the nicest of them all, and she loved her father very very much.  Regan and Goneril said that they loved him, too, but they didn't really love him as much as Cordelia did.  But the king became very angry with Cordelia, and he sent her to live far away. 

The king wanted to go live with his daughter Goneril, who would take care of him as he grew old and tired.  But Goneril was very mean to her father.  She told him that he could not bring any of his toys with him, and that he had to be very quiet and to do everything that she said.  Well, the king her father did not think that this was how he should be treated at all, so he said "Fine, I will go and live with my other daughter, Regan."

Before he could get to Regan's house, however, Goneril had sent a message to her sister telling her side of the story.  So when their father arrived at Regan's house, she too said, "I think that Goneril had a good idea, and if you want to live at my house then you will have to be very quiet and not have so many toys and you will have to do everything that I say."

The king was very sad.  He realized that his daughters did not love him as much as they'd told him.  With no place to live he told them both that he would go and live in the dark and scary forest.  His friends, who were named Kent and Edgar, went with him and took care of him.

And that's when Cordelia came back, because she loved her father so much that she could not bear to be away from him.  She brought an army with her to defeat her evil sisters, and rescue her father from the forest.   

And they all lived happily ever after.

Pretty condensed, huh? :)  I don't mind paraphrasing, I'd rather have them familiar with the guts of the story than not at all.  I've tried very hard, though, not to just flat out change the story.  That's why I like The Tempest so much, it's safe for kids.  But with Lear I had a choice, either tweak the ending or else not show it to them until they're much much older.  I went with the fairy tale.  I hope I didn't screw up any of the names, it was from memory and I've not studied Lear as much as I could.

I'll be very curious in the coming days if I hear her working elements of that story into her playing.  Sometimes she does that. 

Monday, November 05, 2007

Megan Fox Tattoo

I'm not sure I've seen any of Megan Fox's movies, but I can appreciate a hot girl with a King Lear tattoo!    Apparently she's most recently seen in The Transformers, which I haven't seen yet.

Her tattoo (the link above is totally SFW, by the way) says "We will all laugh at gilded butterflies," and comes from King Lear, Act V, scene 3.



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Sunday, November 04, 2007

What Can Shakespeare Teach Me About IT?

If there's a pet peeve I have about Shakespeare, it's that connection between "Shakespeare is hard and useless, therefore why learn it?"  This morning out on a coffee run for the wife I heard a radio commercial for some sort of vocational school that used that exact line, presumably in reference to not wanting to get a real education at a real school:  "What can Shakespeare teach me about IT?"  (IT, for those not familiar, is information technology.  In other words, computer stuff.)

Well.  As a lifelong computer geek (been coding for 28 out of 38 years, thankyouverymuch) with a love a Shakespeare, I think I'd like to comment on that.  Let's talk about what Shakespeare can teach you about IT.

  1. Shakespeare appreciation is self-directed.  If all you know about Shakespeare is what the teacher makes you memorize for the test, you will fall very very short of what you can accomplish.  At best, school provides that glimmer of something that makes you say "Wow, I love this" and then do whatever you can to seek out more information. 
    Computer science is the same way.  If you love it, then you will go over and above what school teaches you.  If all you're doing is walking through classes in order to get the grade and the diploma, then you're not getting much out of life.
  2. Shakespeare wrote in a different language, with its own tokens and syntax.  Computer software is very much a game of speaking new languages (Java, Ruby, Erlang, take your pick).  You have to understand the context.  You have to know when you've seen an old word in a new context, and be able to make the leap of understanding about what that means.  Reading Shakespeare offers similar challenges. Most of the words he used as still in use today (as a matter of fact he invented many of them).  But he often used them in different ways than we do.  There's a certain amount of deciphering that has to go on.
  3. "Reverse engineering", for the non-IT crowd, refers to taking an existing piece of technology and taking it apart in an effort to figure out what the creator meant when he did certain things.  There's almost so much parallel to Shakespeare there that it's not worth mentioning.  Was he Catholic or Protestant?  Did he even write the plays?  Reverse engineering Shakespeare's works has kept scholars busy for hundreds of years.
  4. Shakespeare is a memorization game.  I'm convinced that Google kills memory cells.  Most programmers I interview these days will say that they don't need books anymore, they just google for the answer.  I think the better response is that they have the memory capacity to remember the answer in the first place!  No, of course not everything, but surely there are things you run into so frequently that you shouldn't be running for your search engine every day.  Same goes for Shakespeare.  When I'm speaking to someone on the subject and trying to make a point, if I have to stop and go "Oh, hell, what's that thing that Antony said in Julius Caesar about when people die?  Damnit, oh hang on a second let me google it...."  I'd look pretty weak and foolish.
  5. Shakespeare is Open Source.  Like the source material?  Take it.  Use it.  Put your own twist on it.  He did the same thing, after all.  What is "Romeo and Juliet" but a specific implementation of the "unrequited love" idea that already existed before Shakespeare got hold of it?

I'm tempted to do more, but I've got some code to write.

Friday, November 02, 2007

HR Shakespeare

Had an interesting conversation with the HR lady at work today, who was surprised to discover that I am a self-professed Shakespeare Geek.  That's a fun conversation:  "Me?  A Shakespeare geek?  I'm a huge Shakespeare Geek.  I run a site called"

She then, and this is where it gets interesting, starts firing Shakespeare questions at me, one after another, in such a methodical way it made me wonder if it was some sort of exercise HR people do.

"What's your favorite play?" she asked.

"Don't have one," I said, "They're all good and offer something different."

"You've been asked all these questions before, haven't you?"

"I don't know yet.  That one, yes."

"You're on a desert island with only one Shakespeare play to read for the rest of your life, which do you take?"

"King Lear, because it's so much more complex than any of the others that I could read it for the longest time and continually discover new things."

"If you could act one Shakespeare role, which would it be?"

"Iago.  Who wouldn't want to play Iago?"

"Which villain causes you the most despise?"

This one got me to pause, and I'm not sure I'm stating the question the way she did.  I think she was asking me which villain gives me the most visceral reaction, someone who I really personally hate.  "Tough call," I answer, "Most of the best villains are so well crafted that I'm too busy being fascinated with them on that level to actually hate them."  We then have some conversation about "which villain would kick which other villain's butt", and how for instance Iago versus Tybalt would be no contest.  Tybalt talks a good game but is a coward at heart.

"What about Grendel?"

*pause*  "Ummm....what?  Which play is he in?"

"Isn't he the monster on the island?"

"Oh, you mean Caliban?"

"Yeah, that was his name, Caliban."

"In my house, Caliban is comic relief. "  (I then recount the story of my 5yr old being worried that Caliban had no friends to play with.)

That was at the end of the day and I had to catch a train, but I've been thinking about the question.  As I've said a million times before, once somebody opens up the door to talk about Shakespeare they're gonna have to shut me up because I won't ever stop myself :).  I'm thinking my answer will be Claudius, because he's such a damned weasel.  Kills his brother, marries his brother's wife.  He's a drunk.  Enlists Hamlet's friends to spy on him, supports Polonius's manipulation of his daughter as bait.  Tries to get England to do the dirty job of killing Hamlet, and when that doesn't work, manipulates Laertes into trying to same thing.  Lets his wife drink poison.  And then, when mortally wounded, still cries out "Defend me, friends" as if there's anybody left that cares if he lives or dies.

Monday, October 22, 2007

I Am A Geek, And True

Over the last few days I've gotten quite a little traffic from a site that turns out to be completely in French.  I see my name quite clearly, so I run it through Google Translate and here's what I got:

Duane Morin is a geek, a true: not only is that American computer programmer, but he spends much of his spare time to update its various blogs. Including the one he takes on William Shakespeare. Nothing that relates to the author of Richard III escapes Duane: As this video of a young girl who recited a passage from Romeo and Juliet in helium; This site reflects La Nuit des rois in sign language ; this anecdote or an actor who would accidentally stabbed while playing Julius Caesar. So you can be a fan of Shakespeare as it is a great fan of Star Wars.

I guess that describes me and my little site here pretty well :).

But I'm curious about the overall context.  Can someone who speaks French tell me what the point of the page was?  There are several other sites listed.  Is it just a sort of "Sites of the week" sort of thing, or is there a theme?  Are there other Shakespeare references on the page?

Thanks :).  I tried to write a comment on the original post, but you have to register to do that and I couldn't get through the French to do it.

New England Shakespeare 2008 Auditions

Here's something I don't post much about, but I'd like to : casting calls.  I stumbled across the New England Shakespeare Festival auditions page for their 2008 touring production of Much Adoe About Nothing (that's how they're spelling it). 

...seeking actors and actresses of all ages and types, non-traditional casting, all roles open, for its upcoming summer tour of Much adoe about Nothing. Auditions by appointment will be held in the spring....

They are also hiring tech interns, a stage manager and a wardrobe supervisor.

So if you've always wondered how you can get in on the Shakespeare action, and you want to tour New England, here's your chance.  All performers are paid, and company members receive housing and transportation while on tour.

(I shouldn't have to say this, but I have no affiliation with this organization, and nobody came to me asking me to post this announcement.  I really did just find it and think it worthy of posting.  Yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah.)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Iambic Pentameter and the Three Second Rule

No, this does not mean that if you accidentally drop a line you're allowed to pick it up and eat it within three seconds. :)  Remember that post I made about audio examples of the "correct" way to do iambic pronunciation? Ron Rosenbaum, he of Shakespeare Wars (which I'm not finished with), has a lengthy article up on the habit of making the slightest pause between each line, and why that might be.  Someone writes in to him with an interesting suggestion about how human memory is organized and experienced, and how it fits in quite nicely.  A neat read.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

48 Classic Books to Boost Your Learning Experience

So, I found this link on Life Optimizer about classic books to "boost your learning experience."  What's that mean?  I've always liked the idea (referenced in the post) that they "give you different lenses to look through."  The author actually explains how he created his list, looking at two references on the subject "How To Read A Book" and "The Well-Educated Mind".  His list is composed of those classics that are recommended in both books.

Anyway, you just know that when somebody lists important classic books I'm gonna be there to see how our man Shakespeare does.  This particular list has a category for "Drama", which has 13 entries.  Care to take a guess how many old Shakey is responsible for?

3(*) of them.  For the next question, no, no other playwright is listed more than once. 

Which ones?  Richard III, Midsummer Night's Dream, and Hamlet.  Interesting combination. 

(*) Technically 4, if you count "Sonnets" listed in the Poetry section.

Monday, October 15, 2007

BiblioShakespeare: Shakespeare Challenge

BiblioShakespeare: Shakespeare Challenge

Up for a challenge? Biblioshake's got people worked up about 6 months to read four books *about* Shakespeare. That's a little different. Can I count Shakespeare Wars, since I'm halfway through it already? I may have to invest this Christmas in a few of the more "novel" biographies that try to breathe a little bit more life into old Will and not just present everything as dry academic stuff.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Empathy, Defined

I am often fascinated by my children's interest in the stories of Shakespeare.  I can typically answer all of their questions off the top of my head, since they are really just variations on the classic "Why" game (i.e. "Why did the bad men put Miranda and her Daddy on the ship" and so on).  But sometimes one comes out of left field that is truly a surprise.

"Daddy," my 5yr old recently asked, "If Miranda and her Daddy and Caliban and Ariel were the only people on the island, and Miranda and Ariel did not like to play with Caliban because he was mean to them, then does that mean Caliban did not have anybody to play with when he was growing up?"

Ok, so, wait.  Even though he is the acknowledged bad guy sea monster who is mean to everybody and wants to take over the island, my daughter is concerned that he not be lonely.  I think that makes me kind of proud.

"I don't really know," I tell her.  I try very hard not to lie to my kids.  If you stall, sometimes they answer their own question.

"Maybe he played with the animals?" she asked.  That's certainly a common theme in the kinds of movies she's seen.

Seeing my opportunity, I embellish.  "You know, I think that's exactly what he did.  I bet he played with all of the animals that Miranda and Ariel didn't like to play with, like the snakes and the spiders and scorpions and the other scary creatures.  Because he wouldn't be scared of them, they would be each other's friends."

"Yes," she concurred, "I think that's how it happened."

Daddy, Can I Read Your Book?

That's what my 3yr old asked me this morning while I was getting ready to go to work.  "Sure," I told her.

The thing is, the book was King Lear.

More specifically, it was one of the comic versions of Shakespeare that I have.  I also have The Tempest as I've mentioned, Taming of the Shrew, and Romeo and Juliet.

In general I have refused to actually read them the story of King Lear, as we don't do that degree of violence in my house (hence my emphasis on the non-violent Tempest).  But she does like to look at the pictures.  So there she sat, doing her morning business, flipping through the pages.  Like any 3yr old she was also carrying around what if she were a boy I would call "action figures" - small statues of her favorite Disney princesses, including Belle and Ariel.

"Her name is Cordelia," my daughter tells me, pointing at the Belle figure.    Then she points to the cover of the book and asks, "Is that Cordelia with the red hair?"

I look at the cover and sure enough, Cordelia is in fact the one with the red hair.  "That is Cordelia," I tell her.  "And those are her sisters, Regan and Goneril."

I think I reached her limit, though, as I never heard the names of the evil sisters mentioned.  She did go off playing, speaking of Cordelia's friends Jossa, Brak and Ryda, which I thought was rather unusual.  At first I thought she was getting in to the imaginary friends stage (her older sister's imaginary friends were named Cartlyn, Neejin and Lonoze).  But then I wondered if maybe hearing all the weird names in Shakespeare that she hears nowhere else, she's tuned to thinking that names can in fact be any stream of sound, and not just repetition of the same names she's heard over and over again.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Shakespeare Scrabble

The Effing Librarian muses on how Shakespeare could liven up a game of Scrabble.  Because he made up words when he needed them, you see. 

I like it.  It's short, it's funny, go read it.  "There, now it's a word.  Triple word score.  I win.  I'm Shakespeare, motherf**ker!"

Thursday, October 04, 2007

And Now, Shakespeare On Helium

It's short, but cute.  And I think she gets the quote wrong in the middle, it sounds like she says "and no longer be a Capulet."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Arden Project "Taking A Break"

About a year ago I blogged excitedly about a virtual Shakespeare world by Edward Castronova.  Who am I kidding, I immediately wrote to them and begged to be a beta tester.  I couldn't get in :(.

I see an update on the blog, but alas it's not great news:  they're out of funding.  So he has no idea when there will be any new milestones to report.  Which means I shouldn't hold my breath for a public beta?    Oh well.  I would love to see this project reach completion.  Even though he manages expectations by saying to "expect small Dungeons and Dragons world with a Shakespeare layer" rather than "World of Warcraft with Hamlet", I say, "Who cares, I'll take it!" 

If it's an academic project and he's out of funding, I wonder if he has any open source options?  He could put key portions up in Creative Commons license, I'm sure that there's more than one Shakespeare geek out there that would love to dig in and help generate some content.


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Monday, October 01, 2007

Shakespeare Graffiti

I was going to roll right past this picture of a plain old "Everytime you see a 2B you're obligated to mention Or Not 2B" joke, until I thought about the paradox.  It's graffiti.  Deliberately vandalizing the property of someone else.  With a quote from Shakespeare.  I'm curious about the sort of brain that is both capable of holding knowledge about Shakespeare and somehow lacking the bit that says "Don't do that."  I suppose the answer is that the whole to be or not to be thing is just so darned generic at this point that you don't need a brain in your head to recognize it as Shakespeare.  Whoever wrote it probably didn't even know what he was quoting, just heard it someplace.

Iambic Pentameter : On Tape?

At my other site, Diego found an old post of mine entitled, Iambic Pentameter - What Is It?  He asked a good question.  He's wondering if anybody has a good source on tape that teaches you what iambic pentameter sounds like.  I figure somebody here might know.  Anybody?  I don't know of specific lessons, per se, but I have to assume that somebody out there has an audio sample of how iambic pentameter is supposed to be spoken.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Shakespeare Ink

While doing the grocery shopping today I saw a man with an interesting tattoo.  It was text that scrolled its way around his forearm.  As I passed him I caught "To dream" out of the corner of my eye and thought, "No, wait...." and looked again.  Sure enough, what it said was "To die, to sleep, perchance to dream" and I'm not sure how much more -- there was more text but I couldn't read it all.  "Is that Hamlet tattooed on your arm?" I asked him.

"Yeah," he said.

"Nice," I told him.  "I spotted that right away."

"Good deal," said he.  Walking away, he seemed pleased that somebody had noticed it.

Not too talkative, we guys. 

Antique Shakespeare Photographs

No, not of Shakespeare himself, but Cleveland University Library has made available some 400+ photographs of Shakespearean performances dating back to 1870.   Make sure to click on the good ones to get the full caption, as well as details on the performance, and information about the collection from which it came.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Oh Great, The "Filthy Shakespeare" Movement Is Back

There's been a book around for something like 50 years called "Shakespeare's Bawdy" that serves as a dictionary for all the dirty words and puns that Shakespeare used.  I have it, it's a very dry read.  But people seem fascinated with this idea of finding the dirty words, and it seems like every now and then somebody does a new project that somehow finds even more bad words.  Or perhaps they're just phrasing it differently, to keep up with the times.

In the new book "Filthy Shakespeare: Shakespeare's Most Outrageous Sexual Puns" we're going to learn that "something is rotten in the state of Denmark" really meant "Claudius has syphilis."  And that the real meaning of "Hey nonny, nonny hey nonny" would make our old English teacher Mrs Grundy roll over in her grave.

How To Write Your Own E-Book in Seven Days!

The very great irony of books and articles like this is how they titter and say "Yes, but what about the F word?  Do you discuss the F word?"  It's an article about a book about what amounts to 400yr old literary obscenity. The joke is "The world's greatest dramatist is being downright filthy right in front of you and you proclaim it a masterpiece", and in trying to make that reference, we're afraid to use our own dirty words.  We're fascinated by the ones he used because we're so busy taking words out of our own language.  It's still impossible for somebody to look you in the eye today and explain what Hamlet meant by "country matters." 

By the way, can somebody please explain the Love's Labor's Lost reference in the article?  It says "the modern version [of the provided quote] is impolite and you wouldn't read it to a bench of bishops."  But it doesn't explain why, and I don't see any obvious puns, unless of course it's as easy as "dance" being a euphemism for, you know, that dreaded f-word.  Although now that I look at it I am assuming that "needless" has to be some sort of phallic joke?   Does that make Barbing (barb, thorn, something to stab with) a sex reference as well?  It's funny how paranoid you get, you can find a sex reference in everything.

More Filthy Shakespeare ...

Greater Shakespeare Railway Map

Cute idea, breaking down all the major Shakespearean characters on various rail lines like "lovers", "warriors", "mothers" and so on.  Bonus credit for the little icons, like having the sign for "Restaurant" over Titus. :)

Update: Some more links on the background history of the map:,,2177000,00.html

The map is part of a branding campaign for the RSC and we'll soon see it on t-shirts, mugs, bags and so on.

Monday, September 24, 2007

You Know, I Never Appreciated The Irony

It's funny how meanings open up when you paraphrase things for children.  This is another post about my kids and Sonnet 18, so if you're bored with that, you can move on :).

Since they have now memorized the first part and are driving us nuts with it, I'm trying to teach them the rest.  At one point I got to the line that, in my own interpretation, "Is the most beautiful line in the most beautiful poem in the world:  Nor shall Death brag thy wander'st in his shade, when in eternal lines to time thou growest. So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, so long lives this, and this gives life to thee."  To me it means, quite simply, that as long as people continue to read this tribute  to your perfect beauty, you shall never grow old, and you shall never die.    Is there really anything greater to wish for your true love, than immortality?  Shakespeare takes it one step further by not just wishing immortality, but claiming that he has the power to grant it.

And then I thought, "And you know what? Shakespeare was right.  It's 400 years later, and we're still talking about it.  Dang, that's some good stuff."

That's when the irony set in.

Somebody please tell me, who exactly he wrote Sonnet 18 for?

Speaking of King John

The other day I posed the "Which play would you skip" question, and said I would not bother reading/recommending King John.  Several people jumped to the defense of the play.  So I was particularly interested in the above blog, who also asks "Why read this play?"  After, I'll add, saying "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see why this is not one of Shakespeare's more popular plays."

No mention of The Bastard, by the way.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Picture of Shakespeare As A Child

Ok, once again there's something I haven't seen before.  Surprised nobody ever thought of it.  Take a police sketch artist who is trained in age progression, set her up with the necessary technology and some sort portraits of Shakespeare, and then have her work backwards to come up with an image of Shakespeare in his teens.  Of course the validity is up in the air given the variety of portraits available, but still, it's a cool idea. 


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Hamlet, The Sequel. And No I'm Not Joking

You can imagine that I did quite the double take when I saw "Working on Hamlet 2" in a headline.  Turns out that the plot of this new movie revolves around a drama teacher who decides to write a sequel to Hamlet. Reminds me of all those tv sitcoms that ran with the whole "Re-imagining Hamlet" idea -- Gilligan's Island, Dick Van Dyke, Head of the class, etc..

Here's an opening for you all.  What's the plot of a Hamlet sequel?  Is it all about Fortinbras, or Horatio?  Does young Hamlet make an appearance as a ghost?

Or, option B:  Every American television show that involves high school students has inevitably done an episode arc where the school play is Romeo and Juliet, or Midsummer.  But how many can you name that have done Hamlet?


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Well here's an interesting idea.  How about a novel based around Shakespeare's deathbed as he updates his last will and testament?  The new movie, based on the novel by Christopher Rush, will star Ben Kingsley in the title role (which, if you missed it, is a play on both Will as in Shakespeare and Will as in the legal document).

I assume that it'll be the standard movie fare where his "last moments" are actually little more than a flashback through his entire life.  What will be interesting (I have not read the book) is to see how they deal with one of the most damning pieces of anti-Stratfordian evidence, that the will contains no mentions at all of any books, ownerships, or other ties to what has become the Shakespeare canon.

How do you like Ben Kingsley for the title role? 


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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Shakespeare Nation

So, did anybody watch Kid Nation?  That's the one where they put a bunch of kids into a ghost town with (supposedly) no adults around in an attempt to recreate Lord of the Flies, only without the violence and the sticks sharpened at both ends.  It made quite a bit of press when the parents started poking around to see if they could file charges that the show broke child labor laws and endangered the children.

Well, it premiered tonight.  One of the aspects of the show is that the children earn money, and then they get to spend it in the store.  And in this very first episode, on the first day that the store was open, did anybody see what Jared (11yrs old) bought?  "Henry V, Julius Caesar, or King Henry VIII.....I picked King Henry V, by William Shakespeare."

I'm not kidding.  Some kids bought candy, one kid bought a bike.  This kid bought Henry V.

I am going to assume that he bought it because he's a geeky kid (in the good way) and not because the producer shoved it in his hand.  But I swear if anybody busts out the St. Crispin's Day speech in any later episodes, I quit!


The "Encore" Channel Is Dumb

The other day out of the corner of an ear I caught a commercial on the Encore movie channel.  Something about showing a romantic movie Monday nights at 9.  But the gimmick was famous nines, like "There are nine planets in the solar system.....cats have nine lives.....Beethoven wrote nine symphonies.....Shakespeare wrote nine sonnets....."


Fine, "Shakespeare In Love" is one of the movies currently in their rotation, so they were going for the tie-in.  But man, that's just painful to my ears.  Sure he wrote 9 sonnets...on the way to writing 154 of them. 

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ok, Who Thought I Was Joking?

I'm a man of my word, and I said here that when my kids learned how to sing at least the first part of Sonnet 18, I'd record and post it.  So, here it is, my five and three year old singing "Shall I compare thee...".  I did what I could to clean it up, but it gets a little rushed at the end.  They get excited when the microphone is on.

Of course, I may not have thought this entirely through.  They sing it now, all the time.  Breakfast lunch and dinner.  I thought that if they're going to sing the same song over and over again, I'd rather it be Shakespeare than something from Dora or High School Musical.  I'm beginning to question that assumption...


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Monday, September 10, 2007

PROOF That Shakespeare Did Not Write Shakespeare!

No, not really.  I just thought it was funny, given the whole new "Authorship Coalition" thing.  This "proof" showed up in my feeds today.  I can't really tell, since the argument is all over the place, but I think his argument is that there can't even have been such a person as Shakespeare - most of the piece is about how surely there's nothing but a bag of rocks buried in Shakespeare's grave.   Ummm....isn't that one of the points not being questioned?  There certainly was a Shakespeare, we have loads of records to prove it, including his will and signature.  The question is whether that guy wrote the plays.

The author of this particular piece believes that "the true author of Shakespeare was a woman. In general, women make better writers than men. This is a proven generic fact." 

I think perhaps that a woman should have written his article for him :).

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition

Ok, the authorship question is no stranger here.  The link above is the home of "the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt About the Identity of William Shakespeare", and it's about to get very popular.  You see, Derek Jacobi (and others) have also signed it.  Surely it says something when one of the most well known Shakespearean actors of the day signs such a document?

It is important to read what's actually being said, though.  These are not a bunch of loonies saying "Bacon did it!" or "It was de Vere, you morons!"  Instead, these are people who are simply acknowledging that there is room for doubt.  It's up to each person individually to decide how much doubt they have.  The site itself, for instance, says clearly that "we doubt that he [the man from Stratford] was the author of the works."  So that's the position they're coming from.  I would take the opposite stance, namely that the lack of evidence does not change my opinion that he did, even if I'm willing to admit that there is room for doubt.

I like the way Jacobi put it.  "I subscribe to the group theory," he said.  "I don't think anybody could do it on their own." And later, "I think the leading light was probably deVere as I agree that an author writes about his own experience, his own life and personalities." 

An interesting development indeed!  It's a public document.  Would you sign it?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

American Sign Language (ASL) Shakespeare

Ok, that's pretty cool.  Shakespeare in sign language.  Why not?  The site is actually more than that, it's an educational site with character sheets, scene synopsis(es?) and so on.  The only play that seems covered is Twelfth Night.  But there is most definitely video showing people acting out Shakespeare and signing at the same time.  Impressive!

Sonnet Help Needed (for my kids)

Ok, my regular readers I think are following this story.  I've taken to singing Sonnet 18 to my girls, 5 and 3, as a lullaby.  They seem to dig it, and the other day my 5yr old even said, "Daddy I'm not remembering the words because we don't sing it enough."  Fair enough!

So tonight I'm putting them to bed, I sing them the song, and in she starts with the questions.  "Why did Shakespeare write this?"

"Well, he was writing it for someone who he thought was just the most perfect angel he had ever seen, you see, and he was trying to think of something that he could write about that was as beautiful as this person."

"Because he loved her."

"Absolutely, he loved her more than you can imagine."

(It is worth noting here, for the curious, that my 3yr old decided to lick my arm.  "Why are you doing that?" I ask her.  "You don't lick people, you give people kisses."

"I'm a llama!" she said.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were being a llama.  Do llama's lick people?"


"Got it.  Continue.")

"What was her name?" asked my 5yr old, more on topic.

"It's a mystery, nobody knows!  He never says her name in the poem, so we don't know what her name was."

"What's it about?"

"Well, you know how sunny summer days are just the most awesome, happy thing in the whole world?  He thinks, hmmm, maybe I should compare her to a summer day.  But then he thinks, well you know, sometimes it's cloudy outside, and that's no fun, and sometimes even when the sun is out sometimes it's too too hot, and that's no fun either, so maybe comparing her to a summer day isn't such a good idea after all, because she's better than that."

"Maybe he could compare her to a flower?"

Pause. "You know, that's a very good question.  He actually wrote a lot of these poems, you know.  This is just one.  He wrote over a hundred and fifty of them.  And I'll bet that in one of them he compared her to a flower.  I'll find out, ok?"


"I'm serious."

"I know you are, Daddy."

And, here we are.  My 5 yr old has put the question to me, did Shakespeare write any sonnets comparing his beloved to a flower?  I'm not versed enough in all 154 to know the answer off the top of my head.  Help?

(To truly appreciate these stories, oh new readers, you have to dig the scene.  We're in the bedroom of my 3yr old.  Who is named Elizabeth, who I tend to call Elizabethan because I think it's cool.  For her first birthday I actually wrote her her own sonnet, which is framed and hanging on her wall.  She has no idea what it is, which I'm cool with.  Right now she's pretending to be a llama.  But one day she'll understand this whole Shakespeare / sonnet thing, and I'll point it out to her and she'll be able to say, "I have my own?")


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Which Would You Skip?

Continuing on the theme of our friend who considers it a lifetime milestone to read the complete works of you know who, let me ask you this:  If not all, then which would you skip?  Which plays are you going to recommend that your friend not even bother with?  After all, we're not kidding ourselves to think that every play is another Hamlet or Lear, are we?

I'm gonna throw "King John" out.  If it's not a Henry or a Richard, I don't hear anybody quoting it and I don't see anybody performing it.  So other than getting the "big picture" of the histories as a whole, what else does this one bring to the reader?  The casual reader is interested in getting some value out of Shakespeare's particular contribution, not a history lesson that they could have gotten from any text book.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Rank The Plays

I was thinking recently about people who put "Read all of Shakespeare's Works" on their life's to-do list.  I've done it (for a piece of educational software that never saw the light of day).  Well, not counting Two Noble Kinsmen.  I didn't even know that one existed, at the time.Do I remember all of them?  Nah, not really.  Just the big ones.   

So here's my question.  Someone you know is about to embark on this personal challenge, and expects it take quite awhile. So she asks you, "What order should I read them in?"  Of course there's something to be said for reading them chronologically, but let's assume that your friend isn't interested in the academic exercise.  She wants to get right to the good stuff and see what this Shakespeare character is all about.  It's your opinion about what to read first that will determine your friend's introduction to the world of Shakespeare.

Go for it.  Which are your top three, and why?  You going with entertainment value, or depth?  Midsummer, or King Lear?  Popularity or esoterica, Romeo and Juliet or Cymbeline?

Here's my list:

  1. Hamlet, for obvious reasons, but also for personal ones.  Hamlet's the one that "broke the code" for me, and opened up the door to Shakespeare's works in the first place.  I don't claim to be an expert, nor do I think it's a piece of literature written by the hand of god.  I happen to think that much of the second half is pretty boring, saved only by performances from Claudius and Ophelia. 
  2. The Tempest.  I pick this one because many people will otherwise miss it, and it's really one of the best family-oriented stories that still has some depth to it (unlike a light comedy).  It's a fairy tale with a happy ending, it's a story of princesses and weddings, shipwrecks and wizards and fairies and monsters.  It's revenge, and redemption.  It's father and child.  Nobody dies, everybody wins.  My kids will know this story before they hit grade school.
  3. Macbeth.  I think of the "great tragedies" that Macbeth might be the best for entertainment value.  Murder.  Ghosts.  Crazy people.  There's not as much complexity in Macbeth as there is in, say, King Lear.  I think that audiences can understand Macbeth better.  Everybody understands ambition.  Everybody understands having that devilish voice whisper in your ear to go ahead and do it, nobody will ever know.  I love the entire last act of Macbeth, how he basically goes complete insane with his immortality complex, and then how he comes crashing back to reality in his final scene and yet still manages one of the great hero's endings.  Give me "Lay on, Macduff" over "The rest is silence" any day.



Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Quick Geeky Moment

This morning while doing the breakfast dishes, the morning news was on in the other room.  Out of the corner of my eye I caught a story about the "Friar Laurence Building."  Naturally I ran into the room, Tivo'd back a discover that there was, in fact, a "Fire in Four Lawrence Buildings."

What can I say, it's a slow holiday weekend.  Have a nice Labor Day everybody!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Oh, is that what "Roman fool" means?

A man playing Brutus paused and excused himself, saying "I seem to have stabbed myself" in Aspen during an outdoor performance of "Scenes from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar" on Wednesday.

"Actors normally don't use real knives...but I hadn't thought an actor might stab himself," the director said.

Brutus was taken to the hospital by Portia (nice wife) for stitches.  Who knows, maybe while she's there she can be treated for the whole "swallow'd fire" thing.

Shakespeare Comes To McDuffie. How Quaint!

I'm sorry, maybe I'm the only one that finds this article amusing.  It's about the director for a little community theatre somewhere in Southtown (it never says the state -- South Carolina, maybe?) putting on some Shakespeare.

It starts out with a quote from The Tempest, but they're actually doing Midsummer's.  Perhaps the author could have started out with "What fools these mortals be" instead? :)

Reasons why they chose this play (direct from the article):

  • Since it's Shakespearean, it's public domain and she doesn't have to pay royalties.
  • It's a comedy.
  • "It really hadn't been done before around here, so people wouldn't be too sick of it."
  • It was a favorite of Mr. Holubar, a college friend of hers, who died their freshman year.

(So glad that the #1 reason is the royalty thing, and the last one mentioned is the whole "honoring a dead friend" thing :))

I like how the article quotes the Washington Post, that Dream is "filled with love and laughter, mischief and matrimony and a whole lot of magic spells."  It really does give you the feeling that these people have never actually seen a Shakespeare play before.

Perhaps funniest of all, of course, is that the town is called "McDuffie" and nobody saw fit to pun on that.  Just imagine if they'd done Macbeth?  Everytime somebody mentions the name on stage, the audience could scream like a rock concert:

"Lay on, Macduff!"

"WOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh, wait, he's not talking to us.  NEVER MIND!"

(The entire plot of the 1980's movie Porky's II revolves around the conservative southerners trying to shut down a school Shakespeare production, which I believe is also Midsummer.  There's a classic battle between principal and priest comparing who had more dirty words, Shakespeare ("what, with my tongue in your tail?") or the Bible (something something book of Solomon).  But for the life of me I can't find anything online. )

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Summarizing Sonnets The *Right* Way

Found via Samizdat blog, this e-book entitled Threading Shakespeare's Sonnets makes me wishI could run around to all of those other sites on the web that claim to do a paraphrase / summary of each sonnet and say, "No, you fool, this is how you do it."  Instead of trying to paraphrase word for word, Professor Bennett instead starts a conversation about what Shakespeare is trying to accomplish in the whole - the "threads of thought", so to speak.  Most of the commentary is in the form of questions, backed up by references to the text.  What you end up with is a commentary that assumes you already know what you're talking about, while at the same time reminding you.  Doesn't treat you like you're stupid, in other words.

Example (from Sonnet 17, a favorite of mine):

Here he looks to the future and the possible survival of the youth despite all-powerful time. Initially he questions what “the world” will think. Will it believe the speaker’s account of the youth’s worthiness (“high deserts,” l. 2)? If there are doubts, heaven (which by rights is more just than time or the world) knows that the speaker’s verses are like a tomb or monument that conceals the youth’s real life by not showing half his good qualities. (Note the change from the treatment of the grave and tomb in Sonnets 1 and 4).
After this pat on his own back, the speaker reveals more concern with appearances. He praises the physical beauty of the youth, especially his face and eyes (which will later prove to be deceptive)....

Also nice is the regular reference back to common themes (threads) in the other sonnets. The work is presented as PDF / ebook, rather than HTML, but I'm not sure why he could not have chosen to dynamically link such references.

Still, an excellent resource and I'm glad I found it.  Go browsing for your favorite sonnet and see what it has to say.  (Rats, I'm a little disappointed in the short treatment that 130 gets!)

Monday, August 27, 2007

My Plan Is Working

Today I heard my 5 yr old singing at the lunch table.  Soon, her 3 yr old sister joined her.  This is a common occurence.

What they were singing, however, caught my attention.  They were singing "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day".

I said, "Katherine, what did you just say?" so fast that she thought she was in trouble.  "It wasn't bad, sweetie, it was a good thing.  I wanted to hear you say it again."

"I was singing Shall I compare thee," she said like she didn't fully understand the significance.  Because, well she doesn't.  :)

They know that line because it is the ringtone on my phone.  My 3yr old calls it "The song your phone sings".  My 5yr old knows it as Shakespeare.  I am anxiously awaiting the day that they can recite even more of it.  I realize the words mean nothing to them, but the memorization is a powerful tool.  After all, they can both do the Catholic Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary, even though most of the words are gibberish to them.

If one of them manages a full stanza, I'll make sure to record and post it for posterity :).

Anybody needs me, I'll be over here beside myself.

Take That, Rowling : The Most Expensive Books of 2006

This would be books sold at auction, in case you were curious, and the lowest price on the list is over $400k.  So dear Mr. Potter doesn't get to crack this top ten.

 But guess who got the #1 spot?  Gee, how hard can it be to guess, I mean, really, what blog am I posting to?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Business Analysis, ala Shakespeare

Forbes magazine offers, via Jerry Bowyer, the "Much Ado About Nothing Analytical Tool" for reading the business news.  It goes like this:

  1. Make two columns on your piece of paper.
  2. For everything you find that is factual, like "Hero is faithful", write it in the left column.
  3. For everything that is more about feelings and perceptions, like "Claudio thinks Hero is not faithful", write it in the right column.
  4. Then when you're done, read the columns separately.

Extended out to the business news, the left shows you a picture of how the world really is, while the right shows you how the people perceive it.  Bonus points to the article for recognizing that it's a matter of time for the right to catch up with the left.  In other words, eventually the facts do come out and people stop fooling themselves.  At least, about that set :).  By that time, a whole new set of facts has emerged for people to fool themselves.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Mr. Rogers As Macbeth

The above post has so much Shakespeare goodness that I don't have the time to summarize it all.  Go read.  Right on the money that Shakespeare may be a master, but that doesn't mean that he's above a little poking fun.  I have not yet checked out the media files, but as they say in the geek circles, "dugg for the Branagh reference at the end." :)  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Now That's a Review

Ages ago, I remember it well, I was a front end manager at the neighborhood supermarket during my freshman year of college.  The woman who worked the night shift me was a retired English professor.  We got to talking about Shakespeare (shows how long my geekery goes back, I guess) and King Lear came up.  She said, and it's always stuck with me:  "If the entirety of human civilization were to die out tomorrow, all evidence of its existence erased save one thing, that one thing should be King Lear."  I found it a powerful endorsement, to say the least.

Allison Croggon's review of Peter Brooks' King lear is damned near art all by itself:  " seems to me that when I say something is a masterpiece, I mean that its achievement is not that it rises into some lofty empyrean sphere where history no longer exists. It’s a masterpiece because it does the opposite: because it makes a gesture so potent that it seems to draw all human experience into its gravity, because it reaches deep into individual and collective memory and hauls experience, naked and bloody, into the present."


Go read the whole thing, you won't regret it.