Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Valentine's Day Is Coming

Once, a coworker asked me if I knew any good love quotes from Shakespeare.  Apparently it was his anniversary and he was working on something for his wife.  I asked him to be more specific.  While there's plenty of love to be found in the works, there aren't too many happy marriages :).  (I think we ended up with something from Romeo and Juliet).

Anyway, as Valentine's Day approaches I thought I'd go coming for some of the more obvious Cupid references.  At first Sonnet 153 leapt right out at me, but then I saw Sonnet 154.  I'm not a big student of the sonnets, so maybe somebody can explain this to me?


Cupid laid by his brand, and fell asleep:

A maid of Dian's this advantage found,

And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep

In a cold valley-fountain of that ground;

Which borrow'd from this holy fire of Love

A dateless lively heat, still to endure,

And grew a seething bath, which yet men prove

Against strange maladies a sovereign cure.

But at my mistress' eye Love's brand new-fired,

The boy for trial needs would touch my breast;

I, sick withal, the help of bath desired,

And thither hied, a sad distemper'd guest,

But found no cure: the bath for my help lies

Where Cupid got new fire--my mistress' eyes.


The little Love-god lying once asleep

Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand,

Whilst many nymphs that vow'd chaste life to keep

Came tripping by; but in her maiden hand

The fairest votary took up that fire

Which many legions of true hearts had warm'd;

And so the general of hot desire

Was sleeping by a virgin hand disarm'd.

This brand she quenched in a cool well by,

Which from Love's fire took heat perpetual,

Growing a bath and healthful remedy

For men diseased; but I, my mistress' thrall,

Came there for cure, and this by that I prove,

Love's fire heats water, water cools not love.

Are those not almost the exact same sonnet?  I don't really have the attention span here at work to dissect the whole thing, so I'm going to assume that the ending is fundamentally different for each, but the setup's certainly the same, isn't it?  Cupid falls asleep, the nymphs come and steal his little bow and arrow and shove it in the water to cool it off.  Only instead of cooling it off, it produces a hot spring that men come to soak in.  153's ending makes clear sense - Cupid see's my mistress' eyes and that is enough to light his torch again, and the cure for the poet's ills is not the hot bath, but his mistress' eyes as well.  But what's 154 mean?  He went to the bath to try to stop thinking about his mistress, and it didn't work for him?


Monday, January 29, 2007

Romeo killed...Benvolio?

I've mentioned before that a friend of mine teaches Romeo and Juliet.  We had dinner this weekend, and I asked her how the class was going.  "Well," she said, "I never knew that Romeo killed Benvolio.  I saw that on a test I was grading today."

I didn't pester her all through dinner since I know she doesn't love to talk about Shakespeare all night.  But it's got me wondering.  I wasn't there.  I don't know what leads up to such an answer.  But why would a student give that answer?  I figure it's pretty unlikely that they've misunderstood the story so much that they think that Benvolio was killed by Romeo.  More than likely they know that Romeo killed somebody (that's probably how the question was asked, who does Romeo kill in Act III), and they blanked on the name.  They then think of all the names they can remember and pick one that sounds right.  That's not necessarily a problem of understanding, that's a problem of recall.  The name Tybalt doesn't stick in the head the same way that Romeo/Benvolio/Mercutio do.  Those three also seem to come as a set, their names all sound similar.  But Tybalt's out in the cold, you have nothing to anchor him to.  I suppose his name sounds a little like Juliet, or Capulet (that trailing T), but obviously not enough.

But how do you fix that?  Say that you're about to teach the class, and you know that at the end of class you're in danger of getting answers like Romeo killed Benvolio.  What do you emphasize while teaching the story to prevent such mistakes from occuring?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


This week I was tasked with writing a little chatterbot for my company's product as a quick demo.  So naturally my thoughts turned to Shakespeare, and what one would do with a Shakespeare Bot.  Well, sure enough, the universe is small this week and ShakespeareBot showed up in my RSS feeds.  Of course I had to play with it a little:


You Say: why did romeo kill mercutio
Shakespearebot: Romeo is ashamed of himself for letting Mercutio do the fighting and when Tybalt returns Romeo kills him

Not bad!  I was trying to trick it (since we all know Romeo didn't kill Mercutio, right?) and it doesn't seem to have gotten confused.

You Say: why does hamlet say country matters to ophelia
Shakespearebot: Perhaps it is just fate.

What's the first thing people do with chatbots?  See what happens when you type nasty words, of course :).

You Say: well that was certainly a canned response
Shakespearebot: Interesting. I thought it was too.
You Say: did gertrude know that claudius killed her husband
Shakespearebot: I'm not certain whether I can give an accurate reply or not.
You Say: oh booo. that's a very commonly asked question.

I was curious to see what level of abstraction it understood.  "Does Gertrude know" is perhaps the most commonly asked Shakespeare question that I've ever seen - not counting "what does wherefore mean".

Shakespearebot: Ugh. I only hear that type of response less than five percent of the time. Perhaps you have a commonly asked answer.
You Say: what is the plot of timon of athens
Shakespearebot: Generic story: Situation...characters...crisis...resolution.
You Say: what is the plot of king lear
Shakespearebot: Generic story: Situation...characters...crisis...resolution.

I thought maybe it could do some plot summary.

You Say: how do rosencrantz and guildenstern die
Shakespearebot: I did not know rosencrantz and guildenstern die does.

Oh well. 

You Say: i hope somebody is monitoring your chat logs so they can fix these problems

I used to run a natural language search engine in a previous life and we monitored the logs so that we could keep modifying the responses.

Shakespearebot: Why do you hope for somebody is monitoring your chat logs so they can fix these problems
You Say: in what act does hamlet say to be or not to be
Shakespearebot: Have you tried another program?
You Say: is that a hard question?

I wasn't trying to trick it, I thought that was a fair question.  The response I get back makes me think that it's programmed to watch for wise guys :).

Shakespearebot: That depends.
You Say: hamlet act 3 scene 2
Shakespearebot: To be, or not to be: that is the question". - (Act III, Scene I).
You Say: ah, there you go. i was close.

Now, see, that's a good answer.  I wonder what it was in what I said that made it respond like that?  If it was coincidence it was a very good one.


Shakespearebot: So you understand. Good. "There you go again."--ReaganWhere were you close?
You Say: who are lear's daughters
Shakespearebot: Is lear's daughters some specific person you are asking me about?
That's a good question.
You Say: who is cordelia
Shakespearebot: A character from King Lear
You Say: we'll end on that note
Shakespearebot: Anytime soon?
You Say: adieu, adieu. remember me.
Shakespearebot: What were we talking about again? Don't worry undefined I won't forget you.


So, it's cute.  It does actually spit out some valid answers to carefully phrased questions.  Unfortunately when it goes into "Eliza" mode (where it just tries to modify and spit back what you just said) it easily turns into gibberish.  But that's nothing new, all the chatbots do that.


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I'm not sure I know what a "Bard-a-thon" is, but it sounds like fun.  A free, round-the-clock public reading of all Shakespeare's works. 

The thing is, it's in Alaska. 

There is a call-in number, though.  I'm tempted to call in just to see how it works - do they give you a part to read?  Do you get to hear a recording back of how your part fit in with everybody else's?  Or is it a live thing where whoever is on the phone at the time is told, "You're Anthony, we're in Act II Scene 3, go!"

Anybody ever been to this thing?  Anybody involved with it watching for links and want to chime in with more info?  Sounds pretty neat.


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Monday, January 22, 2007

Shakespeare Tarot Cards

Anybody ever wondered what Shakespeare Tarot cards would look like?  Wonder no more.  Pretty cool.  I used to be able to read Tarot cards way back in college, but I typically couldn't keep a straight face long enough and usually ended up telling people as I read the cards, "You realize I'm just doing a cold reading, right?  I mean, you just told me not 5 minutes ago that you're having trouble with your boss at work, so of course I turned up a card that says you have problems with a person of power over you."  The fact that no one cared, and still listened to every word I said, was troublesome to me.


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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Cracking the Sonnet Code

Anybody want to read 200 pages of PDF that claim to "crack the code" of Shakespeare's sonnets?  Maybe summarize for the rest of the class?  I don't have time for this.  Here's a sample:

In other sonnets, the doubled (and multiplied) code words may reveal new, autobiographical details, other identities, and evidence of Shakespeare's sense of humor and the depth of his language play. In addition, Sonnet 52 is found by the same doubled word and letter code to be a Summer Solstice sonnet. If we count back to Sonnet 1, we arrive at May first (our calendar). If we count ahead to Sonnet 126, we arrive at September third. If we assume that Sonnets 40 and 133 are contemporaries, both revealing when Will first admits that the youth and the dark lady are having an affair, we can give them both the date of June ninth. Then, Sonnet 127, the first dark lady sonnet, becomes June third (along with Sonnet 34), thus starting one possible twenty-eight day (14 times 2) lunar cycle within the 126 day (28 times 4.5) summer solar cycle of the youth's sequence. If any year is referred to, it might be 1592, but Shakespeare probably wrote and revised the Sonnets over the twenty-year period (1589—1609) that spans the main years of his wonderful career as a dramatist. A more complex view of this great sonnet sequence than any of us has to date is called for.


The author is Peter Jensen, Instructor of English at Linn-Benton Community College.  The link is directly to the PDF, I do not have a link to a hosting HTML page.


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Neil Gaiman and Shakespeare

Like all good geeks I'm familiar with Neil Gaiman, mostly through Good Omens but I do have Anansi Boys on the shelf waiting for my time.  What I did not realize is that he's got enough of a Shakespeare background to a whole section of his Wikipedia page.  I've only ever heard about "Sandman", never read it, but knowing that Shakespeare himself shows up in 3 episodes, one dealing with the inspiration for The Tempest, I may have to go seek those out!


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Dream Theater : Pull Me Under

Via LiveJournal I caught this reference to a song by Dream Theater called Pull Me Under that is apparently about Hamlet.  Consider me intrigued!


Hmmm...I'd like to know where the original poster got the reference, because the only lines I can find that are not totally generic are these:

I'll take seven lives for one
And then my only father's son
As sure as I did ever love him
I am not afraid


Anybody else got good songs based in Shakespeare that we might not already know about?


The Crime of the Crimea

Just found this.  Not sure if it's going to be entirely posted online, or if it's an ebook in the making or what.  But I spotted the Shakespeare references and grabbed it :)  Maybe the author will spot the link and chime in.  I notice that happens sometimes ;).


The Crime of the Crimea — A Swann and Parker Novel

In 1882, on the stage of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon the much loved actor, Henry Donaldson, is brutally murdered.

But is there more than murder afoot?

Enter Detective Inspector Herbert Merriman Swann, an ex-cavalry officer and New York cop, and his trusty number two, Detective Sergeant John Parker, a young policeman with a bent for science, who, like Swann is also a fine marksman.

Just a handful of years earlier, in 1879, Swann and Parker had been responsible for creating the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at Scotland Yard; so what were they doing in the relatively quiet backwater of Stratford-upon-Avon?

Quiet that is until the murder of Donaldson opens up a stinking, squirming, can of worms.


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Arthur and the Invisibles

For the curious, the easily missed new movie "Arthur and the Invisibles" is apparently loaded with Shakespeare references.  I was surprised to discover that.  The opening code that the kid has to solve on his way to the treasure is supposedly a Shakespeare quote: "Some words hide other words", or something like that.  The problem is that I can't find anything close to this quote in any of my Shakespeare sources.  Anybody recognize it?  I find it hard to believe that they'd make up a quote and call it Shakespeare, that'd be pretty amateur.  (Although it is signed 'Will S' and one character says, "Who's that, Socrates?")

Later, a battle weapon is launched in the form of two small animals named Romeo and Juliet.  Something about their love for each other and their need to be together being a powerful force.  I thought it was interesting, but unfortunately at this point my kids were getting too squirrely (it's a fairly scary battle scene for a 4yr old), so we ended up leaving.

Has anybody seen this movie?  Is there more Shakespeare?  Do they come back later and say the "Some words hide..." thing isn't really Shakespeare after all, and that's why it says Will S and not Shakespeare? :)


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Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Shakespeare Chronicles : I like it.

I blogged about The Shakespeare Chronicles when it first came out.  It's the story of a Professor Quandary, a meek little man who happens to trip upon the discovery of all time, the true author of Shakespeare's works.  "Eh," I thought, "I'll pick it up, just to see if there's any new theories that might be interesting."

Well, within the first few dozen pages I was ready to put it down and call it a day.  No real surprise - it's Edward de Vere.  He doesn't pick somebody that we've never heard of.  It's something of a disappointment, and I definitely moved through some pages at the beginning saying, "That's it?  Surely there has to be more than that.  It's hardly like the de Vere theory is revolutionary."

Ah, but see, here's the twist.  Dear Professor Quandary is nuts.  As in, a bonafide paranoid schizophrenic.  He speaks of himself in the third person, often referring to the Changes as an always capitalized event in his life that caused his true self to shine through.  There's one point in the middle that I won't spoil where I literally had to pause and say "Wait a second, he just did what?? That's ... well, crazy."

It is this "altered" Quandary who goes off on the path of discovery.  Think about that.  A paranoid schizophrenic who finds himself on the path of one of the great all time conspiracy theories.  And he thinks he's solved it.  It actually becomes quite fascinating to read the progression as the story becomes less about Shakespeare and more about how his insanity progresses, all in the name of Shakespeare.  He sees evidence of his theory quite literally everywhere.  Everything you've ever heard all fits nicely into place.  The sonnets in particular are quoted heavily as keys to the puzzle.  Yes, there are new theories, it's not just "deVere wrote them, that's that."  But as they're revealed, you realize they're being revealed by a nutcase.  So...does that mean that they're incorrect?  Even if they make sense?

So overall, I'm quite pleased.  Not quite finished yet, on about 160 out of 200 pages, and it's dragging a bit.  But unlike the beginning where I was ready to give up on it, he's now got my trust enough that something fascinating still has plenty of time to happen, and I'm anxious to see it through to the end.

Something Rotten : Hamlet the Atheist?

I've finally worked my way through Jasper Fforde's "Thursday Next" series to get to the one I've wanted. Something Rotten has Hamlet as a main character. For those not familiar with the plot of these novels they involve a rather odd sort of literary / scifi combo where detectives are charged with "bookjumping" themselves from reality right into the text of a book to prevent people from doing things like kidnapping characters, changing the ending, and so on. It's really quite imaginative stuff. Throughout the series he has always stayed near the edges of Shakespeare - in book one, for instance, he introduces the notion of the Baconians as crazies who come door to door trying to convince people who the real author of Shakespeare's works is :). And a later book (I think it was the second) is entirely centered around someone who claims to have found the text to the infamous lost work, Cardenio. I believe at one point someone is even arrested for the crime of overdramatically portraying Richard III.

But this time Hamlet is an actual character in the play. And he has hopped out of the play and into reality. I've just started the book, but already I like it. One of Hamlet's first actual pieces of dialogue is to explain how he wants to talk to people about what they think of him and his motivations, because he himself is confused. He gives the example that he's supposed to be oh so very religious, but then he comes out with a line like "for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so," which Hamlet points out is a pretty atheistic thing to say.

Man's got a point. I'm anxious to see how this one goes. I wish I'd found it on audiobook, I'd get through it much faster, but I'll take what I can get.


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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident

Just heard it pointed out on the Penn Jillette radio show that "We hold these truths to be self-evident" is iambic pentameter.  Neat.  He kept calling it "perfect" iambic pentameter, because his co-host kept trying to pitch a 10-syllable sentence as iambic pentameter as well.  He kept saying that he was doing the whole thing with the emphasis on the syllables.  That'd be the iambic part :).

Friday, January 12, 2007

Somebody loves him some Shakespeare

Ok, no fair putting the rest of us to shame.  Hot on the heels of my post yesterday about donations for Shakespeare's crumbling church we have the story of the anonymous person who donated $1 million to the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival.    They're going to use the interest alone, $40k/yr,  to handle their operating costs.  Nice.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Save Shakespeare's Church : Shakespeare's Church is Crumbling

I am just painfully late on the whole "Shakespeare's church is crumbling" story, and for that I apologize.  I've seen it, many times, but circumstances haven't allowed me to give it the attention it deserves.  Quite honestly if I stop to think about it, it makes me sad.  It's not like Shakespeare is buried in the Sistine Chapel or Westminster Abbey or something.  This is just a little church that happens to be a big part of history, and it's falling apart.

This USA Today story finally got my attention because it has a plan for doing something and not just saying "Oh woe are we, we need about a zillion dollars or the poor building is going to collapse around poor Shakespeare's bones."  Apparently the Friends of Shakespeare's Churchthey're trying out the slogan "adopt a gargoyle".  I'm disappointed that the story does not explain what exactly that means.  Do I get a picture of my gargoyle?  A plaque with my name on it?  Something?

Anybody have more information on the story?  Places to send money, and so on?  The Friends link above takes you to the central organization that's doing all the money raising.


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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Shakespeare Teacher

Link for because I like the domain and hope to hear good things from him.  It doesn't appear to be a blog devoted to Shakespeare, though, so it should be interesting to see how much relevant content we get.


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Shakespeare on Bankruptcy

[ADMIN : Highly insanely crazy busy these days, so sorry for the lag.  Trying to get back into the swing of things with a bunch of short, linky posts so people know I'm not dead.] has a creative article up about Shakespeare on Bankruptcy.  I like the quote, "Every law professor believes that every other subject is a subset of his own. I agree: there is a bankruptcy angle to everything."  Although I think it's true for more than just law professors!


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