Saturday, March 29, 2008

How Old Is Hamlet?

I don' t have much time to get into this at the moment but I didn't want to forget about the link.  Forget Romeo - how old is Hamlet?  The gravedigger's scene seems to tell us pretty clearly that he's about 30.  Does that feel right?  Wasn't he off at school?  Isn't he still working out some issues with his relationship to mom?  Doesn't everything else about the play make him feel younger?

The link above comes from the book, Hamlet : The Undiscovered Country, by Steve Roth.  I can't seem to find any links to the book itself so I'm not sure if it's already published (perhaps a long time ago), or coming soon.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Ok, Who Needs an Italian Name Generator? Anybody?

Since I'm in the middle of David Blixt's Master of Verona right now, I couldn't resist posting this story about a programmer who whipped up an algorithm for generating fake, but authentic, Italian last names. 

Flaming Carrots, Time Lollipops, and Buddy Hackett

I'm not sure I can explain this comic, you really have to see it for yourself.  It's got lots of Shakespeare, though, and surely qualifies as "geeky".

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"I have never read a single book from Shakespeare, completely."

So I had an interesting conversation with a coworker yesterday when he discovered this blog.  The above quote is his.  I wasn't quite sure how to follow that.  He is in fact from a different country (India), but still, I think I was under the impression that just about every modern school system in the world had some exposure to Shakespeare.

So, what would you say?  I don't think it's appropriate to just jump in and say "Oh, well then, it's Romeo and Juliet for you!  Right now, get started!  Come back when you can discuss Queen Mab."  Especially not without the benefit of a teacher who is going to stop you after every scene, answer your questions, and make sure you're getting the general idea.  I suggested he make it a point to go see some Shakespeare, and showed him Bard in Boston as a great place to start.  And I lent him my copy of Bryson's Shakespeare biography.  If he likes that, I've got plenty of others to show him....

Who needs 14yr old British girls, anyway?,,2268229,00.html

New report called Read Up, Fed Up : Exploring Teenage Reading Habits in the UK Today about the reading habits of 11-14yr old girls says many things to make you sad:

* Top winners include celebrity gossip magazines, "reading song lyrics online", and "reading your own blog."

* Harry Potter is both in the most liked and most loathed categories.

* The most loathed is homework, followed by Shakespeare, followed by...ready for this?  "Books of over 100 pages."

I place the blame firmly with Alan K. Farrar, my distinguished visitor from that area of the world.  Looks like he's not doing enough to pimp the Bard's good works among the young folk!


Most Popular Queries

It's always fun to look at the search logs.  Since I've been tracking it, here are the most popular queries that will land you on ShakespeareGeek:

1)  Romeo's last words  - Somebody explained this one to me. It's a popular crossword puzzle clue.  The answer is "I die."

2) Elizabethan recipes - I've never understood the popularity of this one.  I think it's because I'm one of the few links for it in Google, so there's little competition.  My stats also show that nobody really goes on to buy anything from the shop mentioned in that post, so maybe it's just a curiosity?  Who knows.

3) Megan Fox tattoo - It makes me happy that a very hot girl has a tattoo that happens to be a quote from King Lear.

4) How old is Romeo - I'm glad we had a pretty in depth discussion on this one, because it's one of those indirect questions where you've always assumed you had the right answer (Juliet is 13, therefore Romeo must be 13, right?) until you give it some thought and say "You know, it never actually says he's 13..."

5) Simpsons Hamlet - Who is typing this, ya think?  Simpsons fans who recognize their Shakespeare, or Shakespeare fans who watch The Simpsons?


I'm also intriged by #6, which is in fact "Shakespeare geek".  Not sure if that was the sort of thing people type anyway, or if they are actually looking for little old me, but I'm happy to see so many links pop up :).

Speaking of Animated Romeo and Juliet

Last week or so I was all about "Sealed With A Kiss", a children's animated version of Romeo and Juliet with sealife.  Well here comes another one.  This time it's in 3D!  That's different.  Instead of sea lions, we'll have sparrows and pigeons.  Russian ones, to be precise.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Stand Up For Your Inner Geek

Quarterly magazine Fray is doing their next issue on "geeks" and looking for contributions.  What's a geek?

We are everywhere:  superfans, wonks, philes, heads, enthusiasts of the sublimely obscue.  We are the people who care too much about something others do not really understand.  We make the world go 'round.  If you've ever been into something so much your friends wondered about your sanity, you're a geek, too.

Needless to say I already signed up, proudly declaring myself a Shakespeare geek.  Who's with me?

Shakespeare In Venice

There's not much by way of actual information in this article, which refers to a new book called Shakespeare in Venice that suggests he may have indeed gone there himself.   But, still, it's always an interesting idea.  If they had any proof it would certainly throw a monkeywrench into some of the authorship debate, wouldn't it?

Quartos Going Digital,22049,23438755-5001028,00.html

Two libraries in Britain and the US plan to reproduce online all 75 editions of William Shakespeare's plays printed in the quarto format before the year 1641.

This is one of those projects that makes me wish I was a grad student someplace, just spending all day combing through every last page looking at the handwritten notes in the margins.  It's not just that they're scanning the quartos - the British Library did that with theirs back in 2004 - it's that each quarto is different, and they are scanning them all.

It's funny that the article says Shakespeare wrote "at least 37 plays."  I thought the generally held number now was 38 - or aren't they counting Two Noble Kinsmen, you think?

Review : The Book Of Air And Shadows

When I read The DaVinci Code, I thought, "I think I would have enjoyed this more if it was about Shakespeare, instead of Catholicism."  When I read Interred With Their Bones, which had a bunch of Shakespearean actors killing each other to get at the prize, I thought, "Hmmm, maybe thrillers aren't really my thing.  Good Shakespeare content, though."  I'm happy to report that The Book Of Air And Shadows, by Michael Gruber, fits somewhere between the two.  I liked it quite a bit.  Which is odd, really, since there isn't really all that much Shakespeare in it.

You probably know the plot without me even having to tell you.  Somebody turns up clues to an undiscovered Shakespeare manuscript (and no, actually, it's not Cardenio).  You notice how it's never the manuscript they find, but always some wild goose chase of clues that may or may not have a manuscript at the end?  Same deal here.  Blah blah blah, typically backstory stuff about exactly what a new Shakespeare manuscript would mean to the world, guesses at its value, and so on, and then the race is on for who gets it first, the good guys or the bad guys.  Seems innocent, then somebody dies suspiciously and we learn just how far the bad guys are willing to know, the standard stuff.

The first interesting bit is that none of the characters are really all that into Shakespeare.  Sure, there are a few token Shakespeare experts thrown in, but they are minor characters.  The heroes are actually an amateur filmmaker and his  bookbinder girlfriend that work in a rare bookstore, and an intellectual property lawyer.  Throw in a liberal amount of gansters, mostly Russian, and the rest of the story sort of writes itself.  Is it legit?  Is it all a big scam?  Who is scamming whom?  How many different groups of gangsters are in on it, and who is the spy in the ranks?  I find it amusing to comment on the book this way, since many times that is exactly what the amateur filmmaker hero does, commenting on how "If this was a movie, the gangsters would bust down that door..." and then they do.

The narrative structure of the story is compelling.  It starts with the lawyer hiding out from the bad guys, and takes the form of him journalling his story up to that point.  This is intermixed with the story of the filmmaker who found the clues to the manuscript, which is told in third person.  Eventually the stories cross and you get opportunities to hear two sides of the same scene whenever both men are in the room.

Some parts, I did not love.  For instance we get to see the actual letters that are the clues to the hidden treasure.  They are mixed between chapters.  They are also written in "original spelling", so you have to slog through pages of stuff like this (opening randomly):  "...asking always the favour of almighty God to keep me stricktlie on the path of truthfullnesse as I have muche of the olde Adam in me as thou knowest & mayhap I have told you som of it before nowe, yet you may forget and, which God foirbid, die before oure lad hath reached the age of understand, soe it is better wrote down."   It's one thing to get maybe a paragraph of that, but when you've got 3-5 pages of it in between each chapter, it takes some getting used to.  I just keep seeing it as a long stream of typos.

Secondly, it ends as all thrillers seem to do with so many twists and doublecrosses that you may lose track of what just happened.  I'm not really sure if writing a character who kept pointing out the cliche'd nature of the story helped or hurt the overall quality.  Wouldn't the idea be to do something different than the typical script calls for, instead of taking the story out to its standard conclusion, all the while going "Yup, this is what happens next, yup, then this...."  There's actually an answer to that question near the end, by the way, when some of the characters engage in conversation about whether movies echo humanity, or whether people define themselves around what the movies tell them is the ideal.  Which of course leads back to asking the same question of Shakespeare's works, a common theme here on the blog.

Lastly, I didn't love the characters all that much.  There is a weird obsession with sex in the story that seemed over the top at times.  I get that it is a defining characteristic of our narrator - he ruins his life over his obsession with sex, as a matter of fact - it just seemed a little alien to me in a novel that I thought was going to be primarily about Shakespeare.  Which reminds me, the narrator is a pretty lousy person.  There's a whole backstory about why, and you get to decide for yourself whether you forgive him his sins, but in general, he's a big obnoxious bully.  Which makes his parts of the story, told in first person, very interesting.

Summing up?  This is, in no way, a cut and paste thriller where the prize is a lost Shakespeare manuscript.  It could just as easily have been the Ark of the Covenant for all it mattered to the story (other than some token bits about intellectual property and copyright ownership, that is).  It's also not that much of a thriller.  I'd almost put it more in the mystery category.  There are very few action sequences, and almost all of them are dispatched in short order.  I believe there was only one chase scene in the whole book, which yes, did have the filmmaker character commenting "Oh, and this would be the obligatory chase scene."  I mentioned elsewhere that there are no "dun dun DUNNNN!!!" moments at the end of chapters.

Given those things I am actually quite surprised to find that I enjoyed the story very much.  The narrative in particular worked very well.  It felt more...literary? To me.  It did not feel like the kind of random paperback you grab out of a rack at the airport.  You know what I'm talking about, the throwaway kind that you wouldn't otherwise think about if you didn't need something to do for the next 6 hours.  It was not a chore to read.  On the contrary I was a little sad when it was over. Not in the sense that I missed the characters, but in that I was enjoying the writing itself.  Does that make sense?  I think I like this Gruber fellow's style.  Might have to look into what else he's written, Shakespeare or no.  I suppose that ends up as something of a compliment, since I never would have known who he was if he hadn't written a Shakespeare book.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Send More High School Brains [OffTopic]

A little while back I posted a reference to my day job, stating that I was looking to talk to high school students and teachers about a few things related to college admissions.  Since the first response I got was a little strong, I wanted to explain a little bit.

My first respondent said, basically, "If you expect me to advertise for you or you're going to stick my name on a bunch of mailing lists, I'll be pissed."  I assume, then, that there are people out there who think exactly that and choose not to respond. 

So let me answer that, assuming you trust me.  I'm not going to do that.  That's not the purpose.  In my day job I write software for a web company that does stuff related to college admissions.  I happen to like being good at my job and producing a good product.  So, independent of everybody else in my company, sales team included, I'm doing my own independent research.  As the developer of the product, I want to talk to potential users of the product.  In my own way, not in a marketing focus group way.  I'm not sending sales people your way (unless you decide you want me to).  I'm just trying learn what my audience wants so I can deliver it.

If that sounds cool, feel free to contact me.  More details in the original post, linked above.  Sorry for interrupting the flow of Shakespeare again, but I have to pay the bills somehow.

Moons Of Uranus

So a friend asks me today if I know the story of Uranus' moons.  Of course I know that they are named for Shakespearean characters, but he asks me why that is - why aren't they named in the more traditional Greek style of the time.

Interesting question!

The most I can find from wikiing around goes a little something like this:  In 1851, there were 3 known satellites of Uranus.  Then a fourth was discovered.  Astronomer John Herchel, son of William Herschel (who had discovered the first two), proposed the naming scheme:  Umbriel, Ariel, Oberon, Titania.  Umbriel being the newest one.  It's unclear whether the other three had names which were then changed, or if they simply hadn't been named yet (they were discovered as far back as 1787, so it is unlikely that they had no names at all).

Here's how I think the story goes.

But first, a story of my own.  Once upon a time I started a new job, and they gave me two server computers to set up.  As the computer geeks out there may know, particularly in Unix land, you have to name your servers.  Naturally I named them Macbeth and Macduff.  Seemed logical since I had the set.  Well, later on we hired someone to do that job for us who decided that my naming scheme had been "mac- words" and proceeded to go to town, so to speak, creating things like "macaroniandcheese", "macgruffthecrimedog", and a few others I can't remember.   This later became "mc" words, including "mcfly" (Back to the Future), which somebody took and turned into "80's catch phrases" and named a machine "bueller" for Ferris Bueller, and so on.  Sometimes naming schemes take a funny turn.

Now, back to the story.  Folks may recognize "Umbriel" as a character from Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock.  It is also reminiscent of the latin umbra-, for shadow.  Umbriel is the darkest of Uranus' moons.  So I like to think that maybe Herschel was poetically inspired by the darkness and selected Umbriel as a fitting name.

It so happens, and this is where it gets interesting, that there is also a character in Pope named Ariel.  "Aha!" thinks Herschel, "Ariel is also a Shakespearean character!  And you know, there's lots more Shakespeare characters than Pope characters to choose from.  Maybe I should use Shakespeare instead."  Thus we got Ariel, Oberon and Titania (the two biggest, by the way, and thus the king and queen).  Almost a century later we got Miranda, and these days there's something like 27 of them, as noted in the originally linked post.  The only hole in my theory is that he named them all at the same time. If he really wanted to be consistent he could have chucked Umbriel and gone all Shakespeare.

I have no idea how the names really came about, I just like the idea of a guy 150 years ago using the same sort of creativity to name planets that I use to name my computers.

Perhaps the geekiest bit of the story is that as late as 1986 somebody named one of the moons Belinda....which is back to the Pope scheme again!  So surely there's an astronomer out there with a geeky sense of humor just like mine who decided that not only was he not messing with the naming scheme, but he was actually being more true to the original.  I like him.

Peter Brook

I don't know much about Peter Brook, other than the absolutely fall-over-yourself raving that Rosenbaum has for Brooks' production of Dream back in the 60's (in a good way, that is).  I happened upon this PDF, which is apparently a book excerpt dated 2005, that provides much more about the man - Brook, not Rosenbaum.

Drive-by Reference : Old Man's War, by John Scalzi

Technically it has nothing else to do with Shakespeare, but I'm just about finished reading Old Man's War by John Scalzi, and enjoying it very much.  It's somewhat of a classic scifi story, "the universe needs troops for its interstellar army" and all that sort of thing.  Been done in many ways over the years. 

Why I'm posting, though, is the scene in the middle where a bunch of the old Earth folk, freaking out about having been in space so long, compare notes on what they miss the most.  One of them misses Shakespeare in the Park the most.  Later, we learn that the narrator has an even deeper back story with Shakespeare.

I wouldn't recommend the book based on that, it's not like Shakespeare is essential in any way to the plot or the characters.  But if you like that military scifi stuff, I'm just saying, this one's got some Shakespeare in it.

Contest Reminder : FREE Book Giveaway

Just a reminder that the deadline to win one of three free copies of The Book of Air and Shadows, by Michael Gruber, is April 1. Visit the original post for contest rules.

I haven't posted my review yet because I'm not finished with the book, but I'm just about there, so it should be up this week. I like it! It definitely does not suffer from that dreaded "thriller" disease where every other chapter ends with that DUN DUN DUNNNN! sound, as David so nicely put it last time ;).

UPDATE: April 1, 2008 - Contest Over. Thanks for playing!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Shakespeare Was Wrong

This one is only borderline Shakespeare, but I liked it.  Specifically it's a branding article talking about the power of your words, and in particular how the name of a product is the most important thing.  The author says, simply, "Shakespeare was wrong - a rose by any other name would not smell as sweet."

What I'm interested in is how you react to that sentence, particularly the first bit.  I'll admit that my first reaction was to see if I could argue that Shakespeare was not wrong.  I'm pleased to be able to point out that their article is actually about the difference between visual and audio, and the rose comment is the only reference to smell, so maybe Shakespeare wasn't so wrong after all.  Yes, if all you ever did was a radio spot where you told people "Wouldn't it be nice to come home after a long day at the office and discover that your husband has brought you a dozen long-stemmed BabyDiapers?"  then yes, they have a point.  And if you'd seen, but never smelled, a rose, now called a "baby's diaper", then perhaps you wouldn't be so keen on hunting them down and paying $5/stem.   But what if you smelled it first, without knowing the name of it?  And you said, "Hey, I like it."  And somebody said, "It's called a Baby's Diaper."  You'd say, "Funny name.  Doesn't smell like that.  Smells good."

Slow news day in the world of Shakespeare, I guess.  You folks come here for the offbeat references, right? :)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Actor Paul Scofield Dead at 86

I can't say I know much about Paul Scofield, who appears to have been a noted Shakespearean actor.  Somebody tell us about him?  Anybody ever get to see him perform?

Second Life Shakespeare : Open Auditions!

Missed it the first time?  Second Life Shakespeare Company is holding auditions on Sunday, March 30.  Looks like fun, if you're into that sort of thing.

Have You Read All Of Shakespeare?

Gedaly over at The Bard Blog's got the question up.  What's your answer, and why?  Answer over there, not here, I'm trying to share some traffic, not steal it :).  I already put my answer up.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dinner With The Capulets

Last night my parents are over for dinner.  My 3yr old, Elizabeth, holds her hand up and says, "Everybody listen!  I'm a Capulet, and you have to be quiet, because we've having a party."  She then turns to everybody at the table and says, "You're a Capulet, and you're a Capulet, and you're a Capulet too."

Cue my mother to ask, "What's a capulet?"

I love moments like this.  "That's from Romeo and Juliet," I tell her.  "Capulet is Juliet's last name.  Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love and I'll no longer be a Capulet."

Elizabeth catches our attention again because of the face she is making.  "You have to do this," she tells us, and I realize that she has covered her upper lip in grated cheese.  And then I get it.  In the movie we just watched, Sealed With A Kiss, the Capulets are having a party on board a ship.  The Capulets are the white seals, the Montagues are the brown seals.  So the way that Mercutio, Benvolio and Romeo get into the party is to roll themselves around in the white sand until they look like the Capulet seals.  My daughter has figured out how to use the grated cheese to camouflage herself.

"Are any of us Montagues?" I ask.  "If there are Capulets, there should be Montagues."

She thinks about this, then turns to her little brother.  "Brendan can be a Montague."

"So is he Romeo?  Do you marry him?"

"No, Daddy, I marry you.  You can be Romeo.  The Prince wants to marry me but you come to the party and take me away."


And so on.  That's what dinner at my house is like :).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Best Opening Line

I've said it before, but hearing certain bits of Shakespeare spoken aloud makes lightning bolts shoot straight up my spine.  It's like my brain suddenly tells the rest of my body, "Listen up!  Something good's happening!  Get on the edge of that seat!"

This makes the opening lines particularly special, as those mean "You're about to get that feeling for the next 2-3 hours."  I've heard it said that the opening sets the tone for the whole play.  The simple "Who goes there?" in Hamlet turns it into a great ghost story once you realize that the wrong guard says it.  Macbeth's wyrd sisters start the play by confusing audience expectations, asking "When shall we three meet again", as if we've just been dropped into the end of their discussion rather than the beginning. 

I think my favorite, though, might be Romeo and Juliet, because I can really bring it all the way back to the first two words:  Two households.  Maybe it's the geek in me, but I like things binary.  Shakespeare starts out the play by taking the universe of what's about to unfold and dividing it right down the middle. You're gonna have the X's over here, and the not X's over there.  Everything else is irrelevant, they are effectively the same thing in all variables except for one.  In this case their name, although it dawns on me that decades of directors portraying the conflict as a racial thing seems to diminish the value of the "What's in a name?" series of speeches.  (For some reason that makes me think of the Star-Belly Sneetches.)

What's your favorite opening scene, and how fast does it hook you?  Do you have to wait for the "good stuff" or is it lightning bolts and edge of the chair action from the first time somebody opens his mouth?

Shakespeare Dreams

Last thing I watched before dozing off last night was Slings & Arrows season 3, the one where they do King Lear.  I'm still early on, where they are rehearsing.  But sure enough didn't I dream about being in the audience and watching those rehearsals?

One crucial difference, though -  my brain had Patrick Stewart playing King Lear. 

I like my brain.

Macbeth To Boston?

No, not a hint of a new production coming...or maybe it is?  This morning while waiting for my commuter rail train (at the Anderson/Woburn station, for the locals), I noticed that somebody had slapped a Macbeth sticker over the word INBOUND, so that one of the billboards read MACBETH TO BOSTON.  I was intrigued, but the sticker had nothing on it other than the one word, and a little double triangle symbol like you might see on a train or airplane logo of some sort.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Beware The Ides Of March Indeed!

You know, all yesterday I tried to think of some reason to post about 3/15, the Ides of March, without being cliche and doing it just because.

Well, I have no heat in my house now.  Something broke on the burner yesterday night.  It's snowing, and the repairman tells me that we might not be able to get a part until Monday.  We're in the process of packing up to spend the weekend at the in-laws as I speak.

Beware The Ides of March!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Who Was Amelia Bassano?

Well well, isn't this interesting, what with all the talk lately about Shakespeare's depiction of Jews, and his own personal experience with them.  Today I spot this story about Amelia Bassano, a new candidate for the Authorship question.  Not only is she a she, she's Jewish.

Point #2 in the article is particularly relevant to our recent discussions.  Did Shakespeare really include spoken Hebrew in All's Well That Ends Well?  I wasn't familiar with that.    And #8 is all about the various "Jewish allegories" in the plays.  Oberon represents Yahweh?  What??

For the most part the article is just blatantly biased, as Authorship articles normally are.  For instance #4, "There would have been no way for Shakespeare to learn Italian in Stratford-on-Avon."  And #6 is just plain funny, citing "over 99.999999% chance this is no coincidence!"

Perhaps the funniest of all is that nowhere in the article does he mention Merchant of Venice.  At all.  Somebody explain to me why this Jewish woman would have written Shylock?


You know, the more I look at it, I wonder if the whole thing is a joke.  I almost think it has to be.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Much Ado....for Kids?

So I notice via  Bard In Boston that a local production of Much Ado begins soon.  It got me thinking, maybe this would be a good time to introduce my kids to a real Shakespeare show?  I'm not sure if the 3yr old could sit still that long, but the 5yr old might.  I saw Much Ado a couple years back when they did it on the Common, and I remember them playing it up very slapstick, almost like a Scooby-Doo cartoon (where Benedick is listening to his friends talk, stalking silently behind them and then freezing like a statue every time they turn around).  There's no violence to speak of, other than the whole "We think Hero's dead but not really" thing.

Or, she might not be ready for it at all.  So I thought I'd throw it out there.  Got any experience with 5yr olds at Shakespeare shows, particularly this one?  I also don't want to be disruptive by having her be the only one in attendance (which I'm sure would contribute to making her more uncomfortable than she'd normally be).

(Context, for my new readers - my kids know about Shakespeare.  They know who he was, and they know the general plot to many of the stories, including Tempest, Twelfth Night, R&J, and King Lear.  I've never tried to work through the text with them at this age, but I have told them the stories to the best of my ability and answered all of their questions, of which there are many.)

Audiobook : City of Masks

I'm a big fan of "podcast novels", serialized audiobooks that come straight to my MP3 player.  Beats carrying around big honkin hardcovers.  Plus I can't read while driving or walking across town, but I can listen.

The description for this one calls it "a swashbuckling adventure in a setting reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Italy (complete with twins)."  No idea if it'll really have any connection to Shakespeare, but I tend to sign up for the new podiobooks as they come out regardless.  I can always cancel after a chapter or two if I don't like it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

[Offtopic] Anybody out there a high school teacher, or student?

Pardon my breaking from the Shakespeare thing for a bit, but I'm looking to talk to some high school students / teachers about my day job.  As I've mentioned my company offers a service for helping kids get into college (research, transcript management, resumes and profiles, all that sort of stuff).  US only right now.  Anyway, we developers have been tasked with doing some guerilla marketing to get more kids signed up and I thought "Hey, I have an audience that's likely to have high school people in it."

So if you're a high school student, or regularly surrounded by high school students, and you'd like to do me a favor, please drop me a line at (my work address, you'll note).  I'd love to ask you some questions.  Thanks!

Taming of the Shrew : The Christopher Sly Story

I always thought it odd in this play that they do the whole Christopher Sly thing at the beginning (convincing a drunk that he's actually a wealthy nobleman watching a play), but it never goes anywhere.   I refuse to call it "a play within a play" on those grounds.

The above post suggests, and maybe somebody here has details, that there's apparently more to that story?  It would make a great deal more sense if there was some sort of closure to that meta-story.

Sonnet With A Low Battery

I don't think that this blog is particularly Shakespeare related, but I like the way the author is experimenting with the sonnet form.  A sonnet that starts out in iambic pentameter and drops off to mono-meter is cool.

Second Life Hamlet

I knew this was happening, and I wish I'd taken the time to watch it first hand.  Looks pretty neat.

FREE Book Giveaway : The Book Of Air And Shadows

The good folks at Harper Collins were kind enough to send me a few copies of The Book of Air And Shadows, by Michael Gruber (now available in paperback). This literary thriller revolves around "a new play by Shakespeare, in his own handwriting." Sounds a bit like Interred With Their Bones, but I'm thinking that Gruber's book actually came first. From what Amazon tells me, Mr. Gruber's got quite a few books under his belt, this is far from his first work.

Anyway, I've got 3 copies to giveaway, so here's what you'll need to do if you want a shot at one of them:

  1. Link to this post someplace.
  2. Comment on this post telling me where you put the link.
  3. I'll pick 3 winners on April 1. I'm not joking, that's just the way it works out.

Once upon a time "link to this post" would have meant to post it in your own blog, but there's new opportunities out there for links as well - delicious, stumble, digg, creative! Ideally I'd like the link someplace where I can see it to verify that it's really there, but I'll have to take your word for it if that can't happen.

(I don't want to say "will ship inside U.S. only" if I can help it, I know I have regular readers outside my country. Maybe if someone international wins a copy we can work something out on the shipping?)

UPDATE: April 1, 2008 - Contest Over. Thanks for playing!

5 Best Things To Say Before Killing Someone

I saw a post recently on the most badass things to say before you take someone's life.  I thought, "Aw come on, Shakespeare cornered that market 400 years ago!"  So I present the 5 best lines in Shakespeare spoken by someone just before killing someone else.

Honorable Mention : The list would not be complete without Henry V's "St. Crispin's Day" speech (Act IV, Scene 3).  It is quite possibly the greatest motivational speech in all of Shakespeare.  Since they're going into battle, it is technically something cool to say before you go kill somebody.  But since he's not actually in the process of killing somebody, and saying it to that person, I couldn't count it in my list. 

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

#5) Othello, Act V Scene 2

"O perjured woman!  thou dost stone my heart, And makest me call what I intend to do A murder, which I thought a sacrifice."

Translation?  "I'm planning on killing you, but please stop making me feel bad about it. "

The context for this one is just great.  Othello has convinced himself that Desdemona, his supposedly unfaithful wife, has to die.  He's worked up the courage, and even then he can't bring himself to mar her beautiful skin (so he decides to smother her with a pillow).  He then interrogates her to get her to confess her sin.  "Have you prayed tonight?" is an earlier line, which if you think about it is a great way to start a murder as well.  How do you ask someone that without having them ask, "Why...what exactly are you planning to do with that pillow?"

 To her credit, Desdemona doesn't even turn her husband in.  When asked who did it, she replies before dying, "Nobody, I myself.  Farewell.  Commend me to my kind lord."  If Othello was already feeling guilty about it, that must have really kicked it up a notch.

#4)  Hamlet, Act V Scene 2

"Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane, Drink off this potion. Is thy union here? Follow my mother."

The entire play up to this point has supposedly been about Hamlet's revenge for his father's death at the hands of Claudius.  For three hours we've been waited for him to "revenge the foul and most unnatural murder", which Hamlet has promised to do "with wings as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love."  Along the way he kills his girlfriend's father (which at least in part causes her to lose her mind and kill herself), and is sent away to London where he escapes on a pirate ship, arranging to have two of his former friends from college killed in his place.   So what causes him to finally snap?  His mom drops dead, poisoned by Claudius.  Now it's on, bitches.  In front of the entire court he not only stabs Claudius (who is the king, don't forget), but when Claudius yells that he is only wounded, Hamlet pours the rest of the poison down his throat.  At this moment is he thinking "Here's revenge for my dad"?  Nope, our dear Hamlet is thinking about mom.  You can even tell by the way he says it -- "incestuous" is a worse sin than "murderous."  It's hard to tell what is the worse crime in Hamlet's eyes, the fact that Claudius killed him mom, or that he slept with her.

#3)  Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 1

"Now, Tybalt, take the villain back again, That late thou gavest me; for Mercutio's soul Is but a little way above our heads, Staying for thine to keep him company: Either thou, or I, or both, must go with him."

Ok, your best friend Mercutio is dead.  Technically it's your fault, you held him back and allowed Tybalt to sneak in a cheap shot.  And now the bad guy's come back to gloat.  You're pissed off.  Here's the thing, though - you don't know if you're as good a swordsman as he is.  Quite frankly you're a bit worried about that.  Mercutio was the only one in the play with the guts to take him on, and he's dead now.  So what do you do?  You challenge the bad guy on the spot (that's what that "take the villain back again that late you gavest me" thing is all about, by the way).  And then you tell him, "Mercutio's not dying alone, not today.  Either you, or I, or both of us are going with him."  The image of Mercutio's soul watching the battle is a particularly powerful one, giving Romeo that extra motivation he needs to do what must be done.

It might not be the most badass way to launch yourself at your enemy, what with the whole "I might be the one who dies now" thing, but it is a pretty awesome way to get some revenge for your fallen friend.

#2) Titus Andronicus, Act V Scene 3

"Why, there they are both, baked in that pie; Whereof their mother daintily hath fed, Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred. 'Tis true, 'tis true; witness my knife's sharp point."

Titus Andronicus is not well known among folks who don't study Shakespeare's entire works.  It is, to put it bluntly, a horror show.  There's rape, mutilation, and plenty of murder.  But perhaps what Titus is most infamous for is this moment, when Titus has actually cooked Tamora's sons and fed them to her!  They were the ones who raped and mutilated Titus' daughter, you see.  So that's how he gets his revenge.  "Looking for the boys?  Yeah, they're in the pie that their mother is eating."  Then, without even giving them time to say "Ok, gonna be sick!" he follows up with "Witness my knife's sharp point!" stab stab stab.    A fairly modern movie adapation of Titus had Anthony Hopkins in the lead role. That's right, the man who made Hannibal The Cannibal Lecter famous, took on the role of Shakespeare's cannibal as well.  (Ok, technically Titus didn't actually do any of the flesh eating, cut me some slack.)

#1)  Macbeth, Act V, Scene x

"I will not yield, To kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet,  And to be baited with the rabble's curse. Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane, And thou opposed, being of no woman born, Yet I will try the last. Before my body I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff, And damn'd be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'"

When it comes to being a badass, Macbeth gets the trophy for the best final words in all of Shakespeare.  Throughout the entire play, everything the witches have told him has come true.  They told him he'd be king, and he is.  They told him that Birnam wood would come to Dunsinane, and it did.  They told him that "no man of woman born" could harm him, and until now, he's believed it.  That is, until he learned that MacDuff, who stands before him, was "from his mother's womb untimely ripped."    He's got no reason to doubt that the man standing in front of him is the one who is going to kill him. 

Does he back down?  Does he "yield"?  Macduff has even given him the opportunity to do so, to "yield, coward, and live to be the show and gaze o' the time."  Oh hell no.  Macbeth raises himself up, throws down his shield and tells him, in no uncertain terms, to f*ck off.  If Macbeth is going down, he's going down fighting.  "I will try the last," he says, and then offers a challenge of his own:  "Damned be him that first cries Hold, enough!"  If you're Macduff right now, even with the prophecy on your side, you're quaking in your boots just a little bit. 

Of course, Macbeth ends up dead, which does seem a bit anti-climactic.  But it's still a great thing to say before launching yourself at the guy.  "You know, there's a 99.99999% chance that you're gonna win this one, but you know what?  You're still getting my best game, bitch.  Bring it."

Sealed With A Kiss, Part Two

Ok, we finished the movie last night and I have to say it did get better.  They stayed surprisingly close to story, including the downfall of Mercutio (this being a children's movie, nobody dies).  I particularly liked during this section that they even stayed true to script, with Mercutio asking "Why the devil came you between us" (or however he says it) and Romeo saying, "I thought it for the best."   They then followed through on the whole sleeping potion / mistaken for death plot as well.  There's no happy daggers. 

Mercutio does still bother me, as he goes from being mindless to downright offensive.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but I got the feeling from the original text than while he may side with the Montagues, he didn't particularly care about the feud one way or the other.  It's not like he was seeking out Capulets to taunt.  Here he goes out of his way to taunt them using every ethnic joke you've ever heard.  I'm serious.  "Hey Benvolio!  What have you got when you've got a Capulet buried up to his neck in sand?  Not enough sand!!!  Hey Benvolio!  What do you call a Capulet with one brain cell?  Gifted!"  And so on.  You actually end up sympathizing with the Capulets, who do nothing to deserve that.

Although he is written to marry Juliet, "The Prince" plays more Tybalt than Paris.  Even after the Mercutio scene, he ends up playing more of a "Tybalt who didn't die, just got pissed off" character.  After all, he also has to be the one who banishes Romeo.  Hard to explain without seeing it.


So, not bad.  The kids liked it.  Heck, whenever they were on script, I liked it.  I was supposed to be putting my son to bed right during the Mercutio scene and I couldn't leave the room, I wanted to see how they'd do it. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Merchant Of Venice Controversy Du Jour

I'm not even going to bother linking to this, since we probably all know the story.  Some students over in the UK refuses to take their Shakespeare exams because of the anti-Semitism in Merchant of Venice.  The thing is, the exam itself was on The Tempest, MoV wasn't even part of the curriculum.  They were making a statement about the entirety of Shakespeare's canon, not just the one play.  And, that these were some sort of national standings exams, so their failure to take them resulted in their school tumbling in the standings.

Here's my opinion.

I think they're stupid and they deserve to fail.

Too strong?

I'm not a fan, at all, of close-mindedness.  Let's assume for the minute that you have actually read MoV and come to your own conclusions that Shakespeare is anti-Semitic, and this bothers you greatly.  You owe it to yourself, then, to learn more about the man's work, to see if this is a theme that permeates his entire literary output, or if it is instead just a single character in a single play.  To simply say "I didn't like this play therefore I refuse to read anything by him, regardless of the cost to myself or my school" is ... misguided? At best.

That doesn't even bring up the question of whether MoV is actually anti-Semitic at all, and if so, whether that also means that Shakespeare was.  Some people dismiss it with a simple "those were the times, everybody was anti-Semitic back then."  Personally I don't think it's that simple.  I think that Shakespeare was showing us anti-Semitism as a mirror up to ourselves and saying "Don't you get how ugly you come off looking?  Are you missing the basic hypocrisy, here?"  He didn't just draw a character and stick a big Jew sign on him, he gave us a very complex individual.  A father who lost a daughter, for one.  Shylock may come off as a bad guy, sure, but is that because of his own nature, or because that is the role that the rest of society forces him into?

The play is supposed to be a comedy, so it's a reasonable assumption that Shakespeare was not trying to hammer us over the head with his life lessons.  But I have to wonder, did people walk out of there thinking, "Well, you have to have a little sympathy for the Jew, don't you?"  It goes back to a regular topic here on this blog about the timeliness of Shakespeare's message, and whether his audiences just wanted a simple play where they could spot the good guy from the bad guy, or whether it was more complex than that.  It seems a very great irony in stories like this that we've become just as simple, haven't we?  Only we've become the worse for it.  Dear god in heaven he portrayed a Jew in a negative light, therefore he must be anti-Semitic!  It can't possibly be more complex than that!  Quick, compare him to Hitler!  (I'm not kidding, earlier today I read a blog post that compared this issue to what it would be like if Hitler wrote a nice romantic comedy in his youth.  NOT THE SAME THING!)

The Original Spelling Argument

As I force my way through The Shakespeare Wars I come to the chapter on the original spelling argument.  It goes a little something like this -- there were no rules of spelling in Shakespeare's time, so modern editors have actually been losing a good portion of what Shakespeare meant when they 'clean it up'.  When he spelled a word one way, he did it for a reason.  Want a simple example?  You know in Hamlet we were all taught that the line either goes "O that this too, too solid flesh" or "sullied flesh"?  And depending on which you picked, it means a different thing?  The original spelling argument suggests that Shakespeare would have spelled the word in such a way that it meant both, simultaneously.  Not only was he a genius with words, but he actually packed multiple meaning into each word.

That might be oversimplified, and I'm sure the experts in the audience can correct me, but I wanted to introduce the topic for those not familiar.

My first thought on the subject is that I want to go back in time and punch my ninth grade English teacher in the nose.  The same person who taught us that there were no spelling rules, and that Shakespeare's name alone is recorded 36 different ways, went on to give us the solid/sullied lecture as if, in that case, it had to be one or the other and darnit we need to know which one in order to properly understand Shakespeare.

But my second thought is - are we hoping for a bit too much, here? Remember that we have almost nothing in Shakespeare's original hand.  There's just no way to know for sure that a word is spelled a certain way because Shakespeare wanted to spell it that way, or because an editor did it, or because it is just coincidence.  It's intriguing, sure - but I think it borders on religious argument, the kind with no meaningful way to advance beyond "I hope this is true, because it would be cool."

I'll close up this post with a story.  Years ago, when I was in high school, a friend and I kept a sort of personal "quote of the day" file on the school computers (this being well before even local networks, and we kept it as a single file on a single computer).  During breaks we would take turns coming up with jokes and random silly phrases and then compare notes.  At one point he tapped me on the shoulder and showed me his latest - he'd typed in the alphabet.  "Odd," I thought, thinking that I did not get the joke.  Then I read it again, and realized he'd left out the letter Q.  "I like it," I told him.

Years later, well after we'd graduated, we are hanging out in his basement with some other friends from school.  "Remember that list of sayings you guys used to have?" someone asked.  We'd printed it, you see, and it had circulated around the school.  Conversation then turned to remembering the various phrases.  So I told the story of how at first I though that Joe had typed in the alphabet, but how it was actually a commentary on the uselessness of the letter Q.  You don't even realize it's not there.

Joe was in the room.  "I FORGOT THE Q?????" he asked.  Turns out it was just a typo, he really had meant to type the whole alphabet.

"Oh, then, I guess my interpretation was wrong," I said.

"Actually, it shows that it was completely accurate," Joe said.

Review : Sealed With A Kiss

A long time ago I stumbled across this animated movie, "Sealed With a Kiss", which is supposed to be a kids' version of Romeo and Juliet, only with seals.  Well I tripped over it this week and, true to my word, got it for my kids.  We started watching it last night.

It starts out well enough, and even better than I might have imagined.  There's a voiceover that paraphrases the "Two households" opening, and basically comes down to "Look, the white seals [Capulet] don't like the brown seals [Montague], that's just the way it is."  There is a lengthy battle scene at the beginning where no one gets hurt, and the prince comes in to break it up, just like the story.  I was quite pleased to see that two of the main characters will be Benvolio and Mercutio.

And then....the first cardinal sin struck.  Mercutio is...mindless.  His character does nothing but spout random lines from Shakespeare.  Not even from R&J!  His quotes include "To be or not to be", "Double double toil and trouble"  and a couple of others.  He solidifies his place on my sh*tlist in a scene where he and Benvolio are searching for Romeo and actually saying "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" while he's looking.  DAMNIT!  Paraphrase all you want but do NOT TEACH MY KIDS INCORRECT SHAKESPEARE.  You wonder why kids get into school and think that Shakespeare is hard?  Stuff like this doesn't help.  I only have a couple of interpretations of how this could happen, and none are good:

* The person who wrote it is an idiot who didn't know any better.  If that's the case then you're not allowed to do a Shakespeare movie.

* The person who wrote it thinks my children are idiots who won't know any better.  They may not understand it, yet, but that's no reason to feed them an incorrect answer.

* The person who wrote it knew better but just didn't care.  Doesn't say much for production values.

Anyway.  The story continues true to form - they find lovesick Romeo, and convince him to go to the Capulets party in disguise, where he meets and falls in love with Juliet.

And then...the second sin strikes.  I'm not sure if this is a bigger one or not, I have to put it in perspective.  Remember The Prince?  Well in this story, The Prince is the bad guy.  He's sort of a prince, a Tybalt and a Paris all rolled up into one.  Juliet's dad has decided that she will marry The Prince. 

Normally I would say in language as strong as the above, DON'T MAKE STUFF UP!  But I'm torn, because it does manage to prune down the cast of characters in a way that makes it more approachable to young kids.  They get one bad guy to deal with.   Granted it's still confusing -- in their world of princesses, the prince is always the good guy.  They keep telling me that Romeo is the real prince.  I tried to explain to them that in the original story there are two "princes", Prince Tybalt and Prince Paris, and they said "Three, Daddy - you forgot Prince Romeo."


As for the rest of the movie - the sound, the graphics - it is all mediocre, at best.  It's the sort of thing you expect to find for $1.99 in a carboard display case in the supermarket.  Looks like a personal project that somebody did on their PC (which, if I remember the story, it is). 

We are only about half done with it, so I have to reserve the rest of my review until the end (which, I checked before ever getting it, is a happy one).  It is for my kids, after all, so my final judgement will be entirely based on whether or not they like it.  The "wherefore" line bothers me, not them.  If they decide at the end that they liked it, if they ask me questions, and most importantly if it stays with them - if they're talking about the characters weeks from now over dinner - then I'll call it a success.  That's all I want, at this age.  I want them to know the stories.  There's plenty of time later to fill in the details.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Fletcher Portrait Purchased For £218,000

If you're wondering where you've heard the name Fletcher, he's thought to have collaborated with Shakespeare on Cardenio, as well as Henry VIII and Two Noble Kinsmen.

The painting completes the National Portrait Gallery's collection of writers that includes Shakespeare, Ben Johnson and John Donne.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Shivers, Every Time

Watching Season 2 of Slings & Arrows, the episode where they're doing Macbeth and Romeo&Juliet basically simultaneously.

Can I just say?  Every time somebody speaks a line of the dialogue, shivers go right up my spine.  Every single time.  

And I wouldn't have it any other way.   I can only imagine what you people who act and direct this stuff feel.


P.S. I did NOT love the final Macbeth they ended up with.  The stage combat was good, but most of the rest didn't do it for me, what with all the build up.  Oh well.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Now Let's Do Iago

Yesterday's conversation about Macbeth was fun.  While talking it over with a coworker, I realize I contradicted myself.  I took the position that "I don't believe in characters as inherently evil.  Well....except Iago.  He's just a nasty bastard."

So, let's talk about Iago relative to what we were saying about Macbeth.  Is Iago just a regular guy who lets his demons get the better of him?  Is it really all about getting passed over for a promotion, or some underlying racism?  Or is Iago just a sociopath who really and truly chooses to destroy people's lives just because he can, and never through the entire thing feels a bit of doubt or remorse about it?  For the record, I believe the latter. 

Macbeth is the tragic hero.  He needs some degree of redemption at the end, we need to feel something for him.  But Iago is the villain.  We don't necessarily need to look at him with the same eyes.    So what is he?  Just a man who wants revenge?  Or a monster?

What's The Deal With The Cross-dressing?

Ok, posting about As You Like It reminded me of this.  Why the excitement over the crossdressing?  I mean, sure, I get the whole thing with Shakespeare and boys playing girls pretending to be boys.  I'm not talking about that.  I'm talking about the response from the ladies who seem positively thrilled over it.  I hope they don't mind my quoting them, but in the AYLI thread, Ren Girl says you "can't go wrong" with cross-dressing, and Angela is "all for any play that involves a pants-role for a female."  But I've seen similar responses at other times which often come down to a near-giddy "Hooray, a girl gets to play a boy!" excitement.

What's up with that, exactly?  Maybe I'm stupid but I would have thought the exact opposite, that the ladies in the audience would not be so supportive of strong female characters who have to play men for half the story.  Lady Macbeth may say "unsex me here", but she stays a woman for the whole play. 

Somebody want to enlighten me?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Macbeth: Is He Not A Good Guy?

During the second season of Slings & Arrows, they perform Macbeth.  The conversation is almost entirely around words like "evil" and "psychopaths."  I get that they're going over the top with it.  I understand that in producing this particular play, people really like to go nuts with the curse and the blood and the smoke and mirrors and all that good stuff. 

But I'm left wondering if I've fundamentally misunderstood the ending to Macbeth all this time.  Is Macbeth a fundamentally good guy who has been corrupted by ambition this whole time, who realizes too late the error of his ways?  Or is he, right to the very end, just a demented psychopath who is too insane to realize that he's already dead and just doesn't know it yet?

I've always thought it the former.  After all, we've gotten a glimpse into his character (and his descent) through the whole play, it's not like we have another good guy to play off of where we get to say at the end "Hooray, the good guy won!"  I mean yeah, we do, but he just sort of shows up at the end, it's not like the play was one big chase where the good guy is always one step behind.  Most of the play is about Macbeth going nuts, and only at the end do the good guys appear and win the day.

I guess I'm pondering the essence of the tragedy in this one.  If Macbeth is indeed a psychotic monster (every time I say it like that I imagine an action movie ending where he keeps getting butchered and just keeps getting up and charging the hero, until finally his head is chopped off), then where is the tragedy exactly?  Doesn't there have to be that moment of "Oh good, everything's going to be ok....too late, too late!" for it to be tragic?  Doesn't Macbeth have to have some awareness of his situation?  I've always preferred to think of the ending as Macbeth's realization that he has not been his own man throughout this whole experience, and that even though Fate has been right so far, he's going to take control and go down fighting.  He doesn't expect to win but he doesn't plan to roll over and let Fate have it's way with him, either.  Or, that could also be the ravings of a lunatic who is beaten and refuses to realize it, too. 

Now I want to go see a Macbeth. :)

As You Like It : Do You Like It?

As mentioned previously, the show on Boston Common this year will be As You Like It.  Truthfully, I know little to nothing about the play.  I've never studied it, and only ever really read it during a project I did to read all the plays.  It did not stick in my memory much.

So, I'll open it up.  Somebody tell me what it's about, and if it's any good?  Where does it rank, relatively, among the comedies?  Better/worse than Two Gents, Comedy of Errors, All's Well?

The wikipedia page reminds me that this play is the source of one of the more famous Shakespearean quotes, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players..." and includes it with Much Ado and Twelfth Night among the "great comedies."

Who wants to enlighten us?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

What's Up With This Macbeth Movie?

Does anybody know anything about this movie version of Macbeth directed by Geoffrey Wright?  It seems unstuck in time to me.  The site is Australian, which at first made me think "Ok, we just can't get it in the US, I'll stop worrying about it."  But today over on Shakespeare Complete I saw reference to the DVD coming out, and a contest that ends April 30, 2008. 

But, on the main site (first link), it says right on the top, "On DVD September 10." 

Even IMDB says that it's been on DVD since May, 2007.

What the heck?

What Do You Like To Read?

Here's a question that I hope can draw some discussion.  I try to post a wide variety of topics here - interesting links, news items, book/movie reviews, discussion of the plays.  What do you like to read the most? Are you here to discuss the plays?  Or hear news about the latest Shakespeare book or movie?  Do you follow the links when I post them?  Which stories are you most likely to comment on?

Just curious.  I looked at my admin console today and saw that I've posted almost 600 entries here, but then I realized they spread across a wide spectrum of content, so I'm a bit curious about whether I should focus a little more on something over something else.

Which Tragedy Is The "Most" Tragic?

While listening to the In Our Time episode about King Lear, I started thinking about the emotional impact of the tragedies.  They are not created equal.  Which one "gets" you, the most?  Which one tears out your heart and stomps on it?  Has the answer changed for you in the past?

For me, right now, King Lear would be the clear winner.  The whole "Daughter tries and fails to save the father, father tries and fails to save the daughter" storyline just crushes me.  And it's easy to see why -- I have daughters.  When I tell them the story I simply tell it as "And then Cordelia comes back to rescue her Daddy from the forest."  And they are happy with that ending, it pleases them that the daughters can save the daddy.  So the fact that I know what comes next makes it that much more heart-wrenching.  I've been in the discussion with parents about when children should learn what happens to Bambi's mother, but never at what age they should learn Cordelia's fate ;).

Fifteen or twenty years ago, I would have said Hamlet.  Because I was the typical angsty/emo college kid doing the whole "What does life really mean?" thing.  I had a fascination with last words, dying moments, and that idea of drawing a line between "Ok, here you're alive, and then over here, you're dead, and right now you're standing on the line, what do you do?"  So if you'd asked me back then, I would have told you that it was the "Flights of angels sing thee sweetly to thy rest" line that did it for me.

But you know what?  Life is better now :).  When you step back from Hamlet you have to admit that he pretty much put himself in that situation in the first place.  It's sad that he died, of course, but it's not tragic for me in the same sense as a Cordelia, who really tried to do the right thing from beginning to end and still ended up dead.  Or Ophelia, who never really stood a chance.

The others just really don't do much for me, emotion-wise.  Sure it's sad that Romeo and Juliet couldn't live happily ever after, but happily ever after is a thing for fairy tales.  Then again, much like the Hamlet -> King Lear thing, maybe if you'd caught me back as a teenager in love, maybe I would have said R&J.  Who knows?

This topic makes me want to go read Anthony and Cleopatra again, I haven't read that one in a long time and I'm thinking I might find it better now (being married, and far from a teenager) than I did when I was in high school.

Who's next?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Save The New Globe!

Making the rounds on all the Shakespeare blogs.  I'd write more but I have to go actually do it instead of just talking about it.