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. 


Technorati tags:

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?


Technorati tags: , , ,


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? 


Technorati tags: ,

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...


Technorati tags: , ,

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?")


Technorati tags: , , , ,

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!