Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Why Shakespeare Got Shafted


The "Mirror Up To Life" blog, a blog on Boston Theatre, has a reference up to the whole question of CitiGroup's funding of Commonwealth Shakespeare.  As we locals know, the production run was cut crazy short this year, a mere 1 week instead of the usual 3.  When it rained on Saturday, we all thought we were done for.  I don't know about anybody else, but I certainly was clapping when it came time to "thank our sponsor" for screwing us out of 2 weeks of theatre.

Say what you will about budgets and finances and where the money went.  According to the article linked, the CEO took a salary cut of 100k this year, but still got a $1.265 million bonus.  Shakespeare's budget, meanwhile, was sliced in half, to $480k. 

Hey,  I rented my chairs and put my cash in the hat when it came around.  I wonder if the CEO wants a piece of that action, too? 


Shakespeare Audio

Once upon a time I found some audio of John Gielgud reading the sonnets, but complained that it was streaming only, not downloadable, and thus I never got to listen to it.

Chris Hughes just sent me this pointer to his LibriVox recordings of the sonnets, which are indeed in MP3.  I've downloaded a bunch (they are grouped 10 to a file) but not yet had the chance to listen.

Thanks, Chris!

Also in Shakespeare Audio news I found an intriguing link to Shake5, and I'm still trying to figure out exactly what it is.  Among other things it's 84 hours of recorded Shakespeare, which is cool.  But it also appears to be some sort of CD-ROM hosted database complete with the text of the plays all synced up to the audio?  It looks like it may have been for sale at one point but is now transitioning over to be a free download.  Anybody know more about the project?


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Friday, July 27, 2007

Shakespeare's Ring

The last line of Shakespeare's will reads "I have hereunto put my seale", and then seale is scratched out and replaced with "hand", "the date and year above written."  What does this mean?  Typically he would have used a "seal ring" to identify the official document, but presumably he could not find it when he was writing the will, and thus his signature would have to suffice.

The blog "Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet" has the fascinating history of that ring, which was found in 1810, including some very frenzied reactions to the discovery ("in sooth I hope it is not Brummagem, in double sooth I hope it is his, and in triple sooth I hope I shall have an impression" :)) and even speculation about how he lost it in the first place.  Weight loss due to illness, perhaps?

Pictures included, as well as plenty of links and excerpts of original dated documents.  Nice informative post.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Boston Shakespeare In The Park

My regular readers know that I've been waiting for this show for a year.  You see, I quite literally work across the street from Boston Common now.  So last year, after less than stellar seats at Taming of the Shrew, I told my wife, "Next year, for one night, I want to just walk over here after work and camp out.  Get myself a nice spot."

Then I found out that the show would only be a week this year, limiting my flexibility somewhat drastically.  Worse, the location they chose on the Common meant that they would be jamming 3x as many people into half the space.  A space, mind you, strewn about with park benches (facing the wrong way), trees,  and a big ol' gazebo.

On top of that, the play is A Midsummer Night's Dream, which most of us have seen more than any other play because it's basically the safest, "all ages" play there is.

Just got back.


Loved the costumes, loved the acting, loved the music, loved everything about it!  I am thrilled to have seen that.  Ok, fine, it was a little "Circ Du Soleil", like another reviewer said.  Everybody was dressed in colors that looked like the play was performed under a black light.   But how is that a slight against it?  The whole idea is that once the main characters have entered the forest, you need something that signifies they've entered a whole new world.  Dressing the Athenians in pure white, and then dressing all the fairies in day glo yellows and oranges, certainly does that.

The bare stage concept worked stunningly well.  Back to basics, as it were.  The fairies carried balloons with them wherever they went, which I am assuming were supposed to represent the trees.   And there was a massive trapdoor right in the middle of the stage from which people could appear as needed.  Puck even managed a trick or two of his own, "disappearing" off the edge of the stage by what appeared to be quite literally just diving off the edge.  Tomorrow morning I'll have to see if I can sneak over and see how he did that, I'm guessing some sort of mat or cushion he was diving onto.

The mechanicals were excellent, but how can they not be?  They're so over the top in their badness that it's almost impossible to do them badly.  Helena stole the show for me, but doesn't she always?  I have to admit I was more distracted than anything else by Oberon, who looked and sounded like a character out of the Lion King (complete with African headdress). 

If I have to pick a fault, I'd have to say that the performance itself was nothing stellar.  Theseus goofed his opening line.  The dancers were not in sync, and the singers were out of tune.  The music was excellent, and the dancing fit well where they put it, I'm just saying that as far as performing goes they didn't come off like professional singers and dancers, you know?

I'm going back on Saturday.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Quick Primer on "Dream"


Well, I just found out that the guy doing QA on my team here at work used to teach Hamlet.  Nice.  After a lengthy discussion of Shakespeare, and specifically A Midsummer Night's Dream that begins tonight, he sent me the above link to an interview with William Carroll about the play's appeal, popularity, and underlying themes. 


Romeo and Juliet....as Scientologists?


Ok, the Scientologist comment is my own.  But in this "sequel" to Shakespeare's most popular play, Romeo dies for Juliet...and then awakens "on a volcano in Hawaii."  Volcanos in Hawaii play a role in the Scientology creation story, you see.

Anyway, the story we're talking about is a "time-travel romance" where Romeo crosses paths with a reincarnated Juliet on the chatboards.  The search is then on as Romeo tries to reunite with his lost love.

Sounds...different.  If I found it as an ebook I may grab it, that's the only real way I read anything these days (not counting audiobooks).  Apparently there's some "kinky cybersex" in there as well which might turn some folks off, but I've been around the net long enough to shrug that off. 

The press release, by the way, makes one comment I don't agree with.  The author says that he "wanted to place significant social barriers between them, as it was in Verona."  The only thing keeping them apart was the feud between their families, which is not what I would call a "social barrier".  Wasn't that the whole point of "Two houses, both alike in dignity"?  Society in general, the townspeople who kept having their nights disturbed, thought the whole thing a big annoyance.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

When Did The Shakespeare Family Name Die?

Here's a question that occurred to me the other day, and I don't know the answer.  Shakespeare had a son, Hamnet, who died as a child.  He also had two daughters, Susana and Judith, who got married and had families of their own.  Interestingly, Judith named one of her children "Shakespeare" as a first name(*), which leads to my question...

What happened to the Shakespeare family name?  How long did it last after William, since he had no heir to pass it down?

A little bit of searching turns up Shakespeare's Family Tree which shows that although Shakespeare did have several brothers (Gilbert, Richard and Edmond), it appears that none of them married.  His sister Joan married, but again, same problem, what happens to the Shakespeare family name? 

Was William it? 


(*) I know at least one couple who had a similar issue - she was an only child, and while she did want to take her husband's name, she wanted to do something to recognize her father's family name.  So she posed the idea of having her current last name be the baby's first, or at least middle, name.  They didn't go through with it. 

Judith's Shakespeare, by the way, was her first born, who apparently only lived one year.  Sad, but common in the day.  Don't worry, Judith.  We remember your dad's name.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Players Have Come To Boston

Hurray!  Free Shakespeare returns to Boston next week!  They've begun setting up the stage, and my path to work each morning walks me right past it.  I don't know when I became such a geek for this stuff (never stood on a stage in my life), but part of me each morning wants to walk over and just kind of touch it a little bit.  In just a few days there's going to be something beautiful there.  I may be pissed off that it's such a short run this year, and I may be bummed that it is Midsummer's again, a play that's done in every high school in the land.  But you know what?  It's Shakespeare, and it's free, and it's so close I can touch it.  I do so love this stuff.

My wife and I have already worked out the plan, I'm basically going to just camp out one night next week on my way home from work.  I mean, come on, I'm going to walk right past it, how can I not take the opportunity to just plunk myself down on the grass and get a choice spot?   Ooo, maybe I'll bring a camera?  We'll see if we can arrange a sitter during the weekend so that she can come in and catch a performance as well.  The only thing I haven't figured out is getting home, I'm not thrilled about walking back to the train station at 11pm or so.  But I'll worry about that later. 


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My Father-in-Law is a Shakespeare Denier

My father in law is a lawyer.  As such he tends to be a very good debater, and is rather forceful in his arguments.  In other words, when he talks I basically listen.  As I've pointed out to my wife, "Your dad is a defense attorney, and defense attorneys don't win cases by saying Hmm, you know, you've got a point there, I never really thought of it that way."

Anyway, we're hanging out in the pool over the weekend and discussing family trips to Disneyworld.  I point out that there's lots of other places in the world I still want to see, such as, "Going to England to do the whole Shakespeare thing."

"There's a Shakespeare theatre in Connecticut," he counters.  "You can go down there, see the recreation of the Globe, all that stuff."

"Not good enough," I said.  "I'd want to visit the church where he's buried."

"Where somebody is buried," he said.  "They don't even know who he was." 



I'm sorry, did my father in law just say what I think he did?

"I'm confused," said my mother-in-law. "I thought Shakespeare was Shakespeare."

"They think that some nobleman of the time wrote everything," he continued, "And just signed the name Shakespeare."

"You're probably thinking of the Earl of Oxford," I said, "And there are just as many theories that it was Francis Bacon or even Queen Elizabeth. "

Mother-in-law : "So there's no such person as Shakespeare?"

Father-in-law : "Not really."

"Not true," I said, "There most definitely was an actor named Will Shakespeare, he was born in Stratford and is buried there.  We know that.  The question is whether there's evidence that he wrote the plays.  People believe that because there's no evidence of his education that he couldn't possibly have written was most people consider the greatest literature of the last 400 years.  You don't really want to get into this with me."

I then gave my mother in law a crash course in Shakespearean history while my father in law got bored and hung out in the pool.  Man, I enjoyed that.  Beats the holy heck out of arguing about George Bush any day.

Shakespeare Association of America

Hey, is anybody out there a member of the Shakespeare Association of America?  I just came across their site in my travels and it looked somewhat intriguing.  The dues are modest - around $100/year dependent on income level.  I'm wondering if anybody's a member who can fill me in on whether it's worth it to  a guy like me to join up?  As I'm sure you all know I'm far from a stuffy old academic when it comes to dear Will.  I'm not at all interested in reading ancient tomes and comparing notes on how the meaning of "sullied" was different in 1599 than it was in 1587. 

Is it, to put it simply, any fun?

It's probably not for somebody like me.  Part of the registration for the yearly program says, "Registrants in Shakespeare Association programs are expected to complete significant work in advance of the meeting: research papers, common readings, and bibliographic compilation, in the case of seminars; and pedagogic, scholarly, or theatrical exercises or exchanges, in the case of workshops. Seminars and workshops are appropriate for college and university faculty, independent scholars, and graduate students in the later stages of their doctoral work."  Yeah, not really me.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Help! What Edition of The Double Falsehood To Use

Yesterday I got a question from Sara, a university student from Italy, who asked for my help.  She's going to be translating Theobald's The Double Falsehood (sometimes known as Shakespeare's Cardenio) and wanted to know what print editions were in existence -- available for purchase online --  that had a particularly good "critic preface."  I'm not sure exactly what she means by that, but I think she means that she doesn't mind an edition that is more on the academic side with lots of editorial comments.  Not a mass market thing.

Does anybody have experience in this area?  Fiona, I know you're out there someplace and you mentioned that you'd be teaching the text.  Do you have a favorite version you'll be using?

Thanks everybody!


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Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Magical Macbeth : Penn and Teller Do Shakespeare

Ok, this has the potential to be insanely cool, and I hope they film it.  Are you familiar with Penn and Teller?  They're the magic act that's famous, really, for three things:

  • It's "the little guy who never talks, and the big guy who never shuts up."  You know, those guys.
  • Part of their gimmick is "there's no such thing as magic.  We're con artists."  Some of their popular tricks start with the premise "Look, we're going to show you how it's done", and they do, and yet you still walk away not really sure how they did it.
  • They do a very violent show.  Lots of blood, bullets, knives.  Good stuff.

What could be more perfect than taking their talents for magic and illusion and bringing them to Shakespeare's supernatural horror story?  To be fair, I should say that this appears to be Teller's project - he's the quiet one.  I don't see much reference to it being a team effort, it's just force of habit to refer to them as a set. 

 According to the essays they're taking it very seriously - read all about the specifics of how they're going to create the witches, what special effects they're using to create vanishing blood, and even what Greenblatt thinks of their efforts.

They're setting up for a 2008 show in New Jersey (and Folger, I see - that could make for a road trip :)), which is why I said earlier I hope they film it.  Highly unlikely that I'm going to get to see it live.