Thursday, July 31, 2008

Shakespeare At The BPL (Part III) : Quick Book List

For the really curious, here's a list of books they're showing at the exhibit:

  • A First Folio

First Folio, 1623

  • Q1 A Midsummer Night's Dream

Q1 A Midsummer Night's Dream

  • Q1 Merchant of Venice
  • Q1 Richard II
  • "False Folio" Henry V  (I was unclear from the description exactly what this one's story was)
  • Q2 Hamlet
  • Q2 Hamlet
  • ??  Lear (no specific mention, the writeup speaks only of the conflated quarto/folio editions)
  • Q1 Much Ado About Nothing, showcasing where the actor Kemp's name appears in the script instead of Dogberry.
  • "Bad Quarto" Pericles, not quite sure what that means
  • Benson's collection of Shakespeare's Poems (1640), which included some of the sonnets where he apparently changed the pronouns to something more appropriate so that the man would be addressing a woman
  • A Third Folio (1664), which includes a number of apocryphal plays including Sir John Oldcastle, and Thomas Lord Cromwell.

1664 Third Folio

  • Pope's 1725 Complete Works (in Six Volumes)

Pope, 1725

  • A handwritten David Garrick (1756) where he has created his own prologue to Winter's Tale, in which he claims that to remove the first three acts of the play is "to lose no drop of that immortal man."
  • Zachariah Jackson's 1818 publication on correcting some "700 errors in Shakespeare's plays."
  • An illustrated Oxford edition from 1770, opened to showcase Lear, III.6
  • Illustrated Songs of Shakespeare from 1843, showing As You Like It IV.2
  • Ovid's Metamorphoses, 1513
  • Geneva Bible, 1560
  • Holinshed's Chronicles, 1587
  • Don Quixote, 1620 (English translation)
    Don Quixote
  • As in my previous post, two Samuel Johnsons, and an illustrated edition from America in the 1800sMiranda, Prospero and Caliban

I think I was most in awe of the Quartos, which contained tiny little details I'd never thought, like how each had a specific printing such as "1598,Valentine Simmes for Andrew Wise, and to be sold at his shop in Paules Churchyard at the sign of the angel."  Or the "foul" version of Ado that shows Kemp's name. 

I don't understand why it's not taken more seriously, I kept hoping somebody would come over and want to talk to me about the different pieces.  Maybe that's more for museums than libraries, I suppose.

Boston Public Library Visit Part II : Oh Look, A Mistake

UPDATE 8/17/2008: I've just been in touch with Scott Maisano, the professor from UMass Boston who setup the exhibit.  I asked him about the "mistake" I found, and he clarified how it happened.  After the cards were printed and as the exhibit was being set up, a grad student found another copy of the Samuel Johnson (the 1795 Philadelphia).  They did not have time to print a new card, but did not want to leave the book out, so they put it in the case alongside its 1802 Boston cousin.  Scott tells me that they'll be reprinting the card :).

Just got back from the BPL where I took a bunch of notes and pictures (albeit it with my cellphone), I'll try to put those up when I have more time.  I want to tell a better story.

Miranda, Prospero and Caliban I'm about ready to leave, and I ask the librarian if this is all the Shakespeare material, motioning around me to the wall cases.  She says yes.  As I'm leaving I walk past a very large standalone case and spot a picture of Caliban.  Sure enough, I'd missed a case.  "You forgot to mention this one," I tell her with no small glare.  She doesn't seem to care.

There are three books in the case, which is titled "Coming To the USA".  One is a very large illustrated volume (where Caliban came from), but I don't care all that much about it because we've had a few hundred years for people do their own versions, there's nothing really special about that one to me.

Sharing the case, though, are two smaller volumes with the name Samuel Johnson on them.  Now I'm interested.  Particularly because only one of them is documented.  "Odd," I think, "But I suppose they are just two different versions of the same book." 

Except, in rare books, are any two really the same?

The documented one is presented thusly:  "published by Munroe and Francis in 1802, the first edition published in America."  The book itself does say Boston 1802 but makes no reference to first edition at all.

The undocumented one clearly states on its title page "Philadelphia, first American edition, MDCCXCV."

That's 1795, folks.

Looks to me like a graduate student screwed up a little bit!


The Munroe and Francis is titled this way: 

The Dramatick works of William Shakespeare Printed complete with Dr. Samuel Johnson's preface and notes, to which is prefixed the life of the author."


The Philadelphia version as follows: 

The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare, Vol 1, Collected from the latest and best London editions, with notes by Samuel Johnson, LLD to which are added a glossary and the life of the author.  embellished with a striking likeness from the collection of his Grace the Duke of Chandos."


(I may have made a couple of transcription errors in there.)


I thought it was pretty neat.  Glad I didn't miss that case.

Facebook Hamlet

Pretty much speaks for itself, but it's only going to be funny if you're a Facebook user :).


The king poked the queen.

The queen poked the king back.

Hamlet and the queen are no longer friends.


(Why the author didn't use Claudius and Gertrude instead of king and queen, I have no idea.)

Today's Game : Shakespearean Self-References

Ok, here's the game.  Find a quote in one play that looks like it's a reference to another one.  Chances are it wasn't, but then again who really knows, right?

The most obvious one, perhaps, is when Macbeth says that he will not "play the Roman fool" and fall upon his sword....exactly like Brutus does at the end of Julius Caesar.  That one only half counts, since it's obviously more a historical reference than Shakespeare directly referencing himself.  (There's also the part in Hamlet where Polonius speaks of having played Caesar.)

I thought of this thread during AYLI it the other day, since the character playing Jaques also played Bottom last year, and there's a Jaques line where he says "If it do come to pass that any man turn ass...." which of course is exactly what happens to Bottom.

Lastly, I think it's funny to imagine that Amiens' song:

Blow, blow, thou winter wind.
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because though are not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.

Is actually a reference to Lear:

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!

But of course I realize that would be pushing my luck :).  Can't you just imagine Lear on the heath breaking out into song?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shakespeare At The Boston Public Library

The universe is treating me kindly this week.  Over the weekend, I broke my ipod.  Knowing that there is an Apple store on Boylston street, I walk the 5 or 6 blocks there Monday morning.  On the way I pass the Boston Public Library.  "Oh," I think, "that's where that is."  My only other BPL experience was a field trip in high school, and I was hardly looking at cross streets.    (For the curious, Apple gives me new ipod.  Nice.)

Today, coworker Beryl asks if I know anything about the travelling Shakespeare exhibit currently at the BPL, which apparently includes a First Folio.  "No..." I say, grabbing my sunglasses and ipod and heading for the door, "I did not."

Took me a little while to find it, as they've got it buried way in the back corner of the third floor in "Rare Books."  It is very under publicized, I saw maybe one sign saying "Oh yeah, Shakespeare that way."  I finally find the room, empty except for myself and someone I thought was doing research but who turns out to be a librarian.

Lining the walls are maybe 12-15 glass cases, each with a single book (or a small handful) prominently displayed, along with a placard stating what it is.  I don't know if it was planned this way or not, but I start reading with the closest case, which actually turns out to be Third Folio.  The First is at the farthest end of the room. 

While I'm reading, a woman and a man come in, scan the cases quickly, and then go speak to the librarian, a conversation that I can only half make out.  There's a gesture made to the floor above (something I hadn't even noticed), and I hear "...personal library....not on display....digitizing....."  There's mention of a brochure.  The librarian motions to a case nearest her, and I hear...."original handwriting." 

This confuses me, just a wee bit.  The description of the exhibit did say "and books from Shakespeare's time that he would have used as sources" or something to that effect (I did see a Hollished's Chronicles, which was cool).  But as we all know, he left no books of his own.  And forget about "original handwriting."

So I walk over to the librarian when the couple leaves and I ask, "Did I hear you mention a brochure about the collection?"

"Yes, right here," she says, gesturing me to a pile of brochures....about John Adams.

Apparently Will is sharing the space with Mr. Adams.

Before leaving I ask the librarian if, when I return, it is ok to take photographs and notes, and whether a laptop would be permitted (trying to be quiet and polite, you see).  "No flash," she says.  "You can use your laptop out here, but not in the reading room," (which adjoins the room I am in).

"Are there any other special volumes in there that are not on display out here?" I ask.

"Well, mostly reference.  I mean, some of the reference books are on display out here, but if you needed something special, then you call downstairs, and they bring it out to you."

"So then, I would need something special that I wanted in that room?  I couldn't just go in because I wanted to touch a First Folio?"  I am joking with the woman.

"Well you could," she says.  "They are public."

"Thanks," I tell her.  "I'll think about it."

I really am thinking about it.  It's not like I'm going to get much chance to flip through an original First Folio that often.  But I do actually have a day job, it's not like I have hours to go through the hassle of getting a reservation, providing ID, and all other sorts of nonsense just so I can say I touched one.

I plan on going back at a later date with camera and laptop so I can take better notes.  I thought some of the descriptions were interesting, such as how they specifically mention that Merchant of Venice, although called a comedy, is actually "extremely cruel" in the Merchant's treatment of Shylock.

Any questions I should ask, or specifics I should look for?  The woman at the desk didn't seem to have much interest in the Shakespeare (I realize that she was digitizing the Adams collection), so whatever I find would be in the placards and whatever pages of the works happen to be shown.

How Much Does The Source Material Count?

I was going to put this in the "what makes it funny" thread, but thought it might stand better on its own.

Once upon a time, after I'd seen one of my first productions of Les Miserables, a friend asked for a review.  I remember responding, "Well you have to figure, the source material that the show is working with is just so good, that any review is going to start at about a 7 out of 10, and is going to have to work pretty hard to get below that."  The same is true for something like a Jesus Christ Superstar.  In my own little world, when you're working from great literature, you're starting with a leg up on the competition.  Alan may already tell me I'm an idiot, who knows.

Anyway, just now a coworker asked me for a review of the Boston As You Like It, which as my readers will know I gave a "meh" review.  When it came to the question of whether I would recommend somebody else see it, I found myself giving a similar answer:  "You have to realize that you're talking to someone who already loves this stuff so much that I'm going, either way.  I don't think I've ever seen a Shakespeare show that was so bad that I regretted it."

Which gets me back to the "funny" thing, which is basically the same general idea - where does the quality lie, in the printed word, or the performance?  We all know that you can have a line that is funny on the page that just dies in performance, or vice versa - something that looks stale on the page that comes to life when delivered.  Is it possible to explain the balancing act that goes on between the two?  Can you ever really have a "bad" Shakespeare show, or is it a completely different review if you say "The acting and directing were bad, but the source material is good."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Starring Helen Mirren as Prospera?

Ok, TheShakespearePost scooped me on this one.  Julie Taymor, who I'd noticed did her own Tempest a little while back, is looking to do it again.  This time with a twist - Helen Mirren to play Prospera, Miranda's mom.

“It goes back to the 16th or 17th century, and women practicing magical arts of alchemy, who were often convicted of witchcraft. In my version, Prospera is usurped by her brother and sent off with her-four-year daughter on a ship. She ends up on an island; it’s a tabula rasa: no society, so the mother figure becomes a father figure to Miranda. You have the power struggle and balance between Caliban and Prospero; it’s not about brawn, but about intellect.”

Monday, July 28, 2008

What Makes A Good Shakespearean Comedy?

I mean right now, to present day audiences.  What's a good comedy, and why?  Is Shrew better than Much Ado?  Twelfth Night over As You Like it?  Say that you had opportunity to get all the comedies in front of a group of people who otherwise aren't Shakespeare fans, and who were just looking to be entertained / get a laugh.  Which come out on top of the pile?

Is it the slapstick?  Do people need to be falling over each other and wrestling in the mud?

Or maybe it's a "timeless issues" thing, like the battles between men and women, or everything that surrounds a "romantic comedy"?  People laugh at what they recognize to be true, so to speak.  I still contend that this is the primary reason for the popularity of Shrew.

Does the writing and the dialogue count for much?  If you have one guy out on the stage saying witty things, will he carry the audience's good favor and end up at the top of the pile?  Or most often does the witty dialogue go over people's heads?

I'm curious if we can get a discussion going on the subject.  Recently Alan was hyping the value of Shrew over in a different thread.  Having just seen AYLI for the first time, I can say that I thought a line like Rosalind's "Don't you know I am a woman?  When I am thinking, I must speak" (or however it was said) would have brought the house down, but it barely registered.  But the simple exchanges between Jaques and Orlando:

"Rosalind is your love's name?"
  "Yes, just."
"I do not like her name."


"I was seeking for a fool when I found you."
   "He is drowned in the brook: look but in, and you shall see him."

Got a much better reaction.  The second in particular, Jaques didn't even have to follow up with the "There I shall see mine own figure" to get the laugh, people understood it without that. 

Lorem Ipsum William Shakespeare

When marketing and design folk need generic copy to fill space, they use something called "Lorem Ipsum", a sort of greek gibberish that pours out of generator scripts in as long and varied a length as you need it:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Sed vel nibh id augue tincidunt feugiat. Integer auctor ante at sapien volutpat ultrices. Donec congue. Suspendisse pellentesque. Proin vitae augue. Aliquam sapien metus, cursus vel, rutrum vel, pharetra eu, felis. Donec sed diam sed eros ullamcorper commodo. Duis faucibus ante eget justo. Aenean sollicitudin purus sollicitudin arcu. Nulla a turpis id tortor congue gravida. Praesent sodales cursus est. Nullam eu enim. Sed dolor nunc, accumsan ut, mattis vitae, consectetuer sit amet, ipsum. Etiam scelerisque nisi porta risus. Donec velit. Curabitur lobortis, dui quis condimentum bibendum, dui metus lacinia tortor, nec tincidunt lacus diam sed est. Cras et arcu ac nisi auctor pretium.

As a software developer I tend to work more in objects and actions than in actual copy.  Right now for instance I'm doing a database of relationships between people and educational institutions, so I've got a database full of stuff like "Gertrude is the parent of Hamlet, Claudius is the husband of Gertrude.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are former friends of Hamlet.  Horatio is a friend of Hamlet. Horatio and Hamlet are students at Wittenberg...."  and so on, for testing the various branches of the system.  (Like, Gertrude as the mother of a student might by default be allowed certain permissions, whereas her new husband does not get those same rights.  Similarly, Horatio's friendship with Hamlet allows for functionality that R&G no longer get...)

I find it fun, and I like to think I'm educating my coworkers :)

Rotten Tomatoes Does Shakespeare

Rotten Tomatoes, a popular movie review website known for unapologetically telling it like it is when it comes to the movies, has put up it's "Top 30 Shakespeare Movies."  Fans and purists alike are sure to find stuff to infuriate :).

I am only disappointed in one thing, and that is that they seem to have gone through their database and grabbed everything that mentions Shakespeare.  So for instance Lion King is on the list (and ranks relatively high), but it's hardly a Shakespeare movie.  It's only borderline Hamlet-inspired, at best.

Also worth mentioning is Ethan Hawke's Hamlet, which we were trashing last week.  Yeah, it's 30 out of 30.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Review : As You Like It, Boston Common 2008

I tell myself every year, don't go with people. :)  The show's been rained out for a week so the crowd is huge.  I convince our dinner dates to skip dessert so we have any chance at all of getting a seat.   Our seats are in the back, and they stink.  We can see people walking around on stage, but anything that involves sitting on the stage, or worse, down in front of the stage, we'll have just audio.

The opening few scenes worried me a bit.  I was thinking that they'd catch the audiences attention, what with the fight between Oliver and Orlando happening so quickly.  But, first disappointment.  Orlando throws him instantly into a quick hammerlock sort of hold, and that's that.  No fight.  Later, the fight with Charles goes longer, but not any better.  I was hoping for something more in the judo/grappling style, but what I got was bad professional wrestling.  Seriously.  Punching, kicking, all that sort of thing.  Perhaps they thought they were making it look like the popular "mixed martial arts" style.  These folks could have learned something from the WWE, such as "When you are going to pretend to drive your knee up into the head of your opponent, but you're going to come short by about a foot?  Yeah, don't be turned *toward* the audience so they all see that."  That's why I thought maybe more of a grappling style, because it seems to be safer to teach someone to fall realistically than to actually hit each other realistically.

Rosalind and Celia were handled much better.  For my taste they did the "giggling school girl" thing a bit too much (complete with that cliched "grab each other by both hands/forearms and then screaming while jumping up and down in a circle"), but if that's what works for the audience, it won't kill me. 

The forest scenes were interesting.  Maybe somebody who saw the show can tell me....why the plane?  The forest scene involves a downed airplane, and I think from the distance we were at that Duke Senior was dressed as an aviator.  So I'm guessing the interpretation was "the exiled Duke was flying from his kingdom when he crashed in the forest"?  I don't recall any specific references to it, expressed or implied. Pretty big prop to never mention.

I don't think the crowd really got Touchstone (who was dressed in a bright yellow suit that made me alternately think "vaudeville" and "carnival barker").  His humor, that whole sort of "I'm bored so I will play a wordgame with you", never really seemed to get much of a laugh.

Jaques on the other hand got a reaction every time.  Someone had told me that the actor playing this role was Bottom last year, and once I knew that it was hard to hear anything else.  Maybe he's got all the funniest lines, or maybe he just delivers them better.  [Can I just admit, I would never have thought about pronouncing the name Jay-Kwees?  I just always assumed it was like the French "Jack".  This is my first time seeing AYLI performed.]

One telling moment came when he began, "All the world's a stage..."  and I swear, the crowd noise ceased and heads turned.  It was like people otherwise bored with the show suddenly perked up and went "Ohhhhhh!  THIS is where that comes from!"  I thought it was funny as all heck.

Anyway, the rest of the show goes pretty much as you might expect.  Rosalind's got all the good stuff, especially in her interaction with Orlando.  Her pretending to be a man (and often forgetting) has probably all been done before, but that doesn't make it not funny.   I think the audience for the most part could have done without the whole Phebe/Silvius subplot, which really seems like it's there just to flesh out the second half.

I can't say I loved it.  It was nice, and funny in the expected places, but what else can I really say?  Sometimes the acting seemed pretty wooden, other times it seemed like they went for the easy interpretation (like all the giggling schoolgirl stuff).  Our friends left at intermission.  Not being big Shakespeare fans to begin with, the lousy seats just put it over the top.  My wife stuck it out with me (what's she gonna do, I've got the keys? :)) although toward the end she was asking me to point to paragraphs in the synopsis to see how far along we were.

Of the comedies I've seen on the Common (Dream, Shrew, Much Ado, AYLI), this one ends up fourth of the four.  Somebody's gotta be, I suppose.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Apparently I'm On Twitter Now

So at my day job, we're experimenting with some Twitter integration.  Since my normal name (dmorin) is taken and I didn't feel like playing with a bunch of random variations, I went with ShakespeareGeek.  Wouldn't you know it, people start following me?

So I guess I'm obligated to actually post now :). 

Friday, July 25, 2008

As Nobody Likes It?

Tough year for Shakespeare on Boston Common, as it's rained pretty much every night this week.  Has anybody actually gotten to see the show?  I was supposed to go Wednesday, but ended up going home sick from work (and it poured torrentially all night long anyway).  Right now the weather is good, and I'm scheduled to go with friends Saturday night...which is when the weatherman says the rain is going to start again :-/.

Good year for Lear. :)

I am still emotionally scarred from the time we waited until the last weekend to see Hamlet, and it was rained out.  I sat in a restaurant in Boston until about 5 minutes before showtime waiting for the rain to stop, and when it did, I ran over to grounds to ask, "Is the show still on?"  They thought I was crazy.

Last year's Dream almost met a similar fate, although we chanced the drive into Boston in the hopes that the show would go on since the rain had stopped earlier in the day (if I recall, this was on their "Shakespeare Day" day for families, which was cancelled).  But we got there, and though the grass was pretty wet for sitting, the show did go on!

Ever since Hamlet I've explained to my wife that I plan to see every show twice - once with her and friends as a social engagement, but once by myself, just staying after work, geeking out in my own little way.  I don't care if the social event gets rained out (and I don't think my wife and our friends do, either), but it will bother me very much if I don't get to see the show at all.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Advice for Helena

Didn't want this to get buried.  In a very old post about memorizing Shakespeare, an Anonymous reader asks,


I don't imagine you would have any advice for someone playing Helena in All's Well That Ends Well, do you?


Anybody help her out?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Scary Fairies

I found this brief article interesting.  It's all about how, prior to Shakespeare, "fairies" were actually scary little beasts that people feared.  It also puts Puck/Robin Goodfellow into a bit of context, for anybody why in the beginning of Dream one of the characters says "Hey, I know you!  You're Robin Goodfellow!"  He is not a Shakespeare creation, although Shakespeare appears to made some changes to his story.

Monday, July 21, 2008


It's the strangest thing, but "akfarrar shakespeare" keeps showing up very highly in my referrer logs.  I'm wondering if our own Alan K. Farrar has a fanbase I never knew about? ;)  Or if he's just doing a huge amount of ego surfing!



Remind Me Never To Do This

Say it with me:  No matter how well, or how many different ways you translate Shakespeare, if you try to do it line by line, you are doing the source material a grave disservice.

The value is in the *poetry* first and foremost, so if you take that away, then you've got no obligation to try and swap out the words (unless you happen to be doing a side-by-side, which most often people are not).

Without the poetry, you're left with plot and character.  So forget about the line-by-line stuff and just retell the story in your own way, if that's what you really want to do.  If you want to get somebody interested in Shakespeare and you're afraid of the language, that's the way to do it.  Hook them with the story and the people, and then bring in the language.  Don't take away the language and say "Trust me, the original is much better than this."

Excuse Me While My Head Explodes, In The Good Way


Rufus Wainwright already does a killer version of Sonnet 29, so much so that I've been on a hunt for "sonnets to music" ever since.

The article above links an interview with the man, where he says he's working on a compilation of 9 sonnets (to debut in April, in Berlin) for a potential album.

Does anybody mind if I quote myself?



(Thanks to listenerd for the link, which I almost passed over because it looks too random to be valuable....wrong! :))

St. Crispin's Day

Since I missed the big speech yesterday at Rebel's Henry V, I went home and brought up a few versions on YouTube for the kids.  First is Olivier's:

Then Brannagh:


For kicks (thanks Christine!)  here's Jackson from Rebel Shakespeare during the performance I missed this weekend:

Here's an intriguing one.  It's Brannagh's audio, but someone has placed the entire speech over battle scenes from the game Starcraft.  I actually counted the number of times the shivers went up my spine during this:  16.  Damned near brought tears to my eyes.  It's one thing to watch Brannagh standing among his troops giving the speech, it's another to listen to it while you watch a glorious battle with soldiers going bravely to their doom:

Tragical Comical

Over the weekend, a comment came up in conversation (re: As You Like It) that I would apparently not like it, as I'm more into the tragedies.  (This said by the neighbor who, a few years ago, we attended Taming of the Shrew with where we argued about the relative merits of Shrew v. Hamlet).  Here's what came out of me, on the fly:

"You want to know the difference between tragedy and comedy, as far as mass appeal goes?  For the tragedies, you can go see one 50 times, and every single time you'll walk away saying 'Wow, I never thought about it in that way before.'  There's just that much depth in them, that you always see something new, something to think about, every time.

The comedies on the other hand, excepting the few really great ones, are pretty much the same shallow sort of stuff whenever and however you see it. Miscommunication,'s like seeing a romantic comedy in the movie theatre.  You might like it, you might come away saying it was good, but a few weeks later it's not like you're still talking about how it gave you something to think about, and nobody's in a rush to go make it again and interpret it differently. It is what it is.

So where's the gap?  Simple - the academics, and the Shakespeare geeks like me, we are the sort who will go see a play 50 times, and look at the differences each time and think about what they mean.  But most people won't do that.  Most people in general will go to see a show once.  So for them, the comedies are awesome, because they don't need depth, they just need laughs."

A little something for a Monday morning.

My Visit With The Rebels

When I discovered that there's a bunch of kids (of varying ages) doing Shakespeare quite literally right down the street from me, I was left in a bit of a quandary.  My kids are 6, 4, and 2.  I've retold all the tales about how "into" Shakespeare they are.  But would they sit still for a show?  If so, which one?  We're scheduled to try The Tempest at the end of this month, which seemed like a perfect fit because that's the story I told them first (and thus the one they know the best).

So Rebel Shakespeare, the group out of Salem, MA, is actually doing a variety of shows throughout the summer including As You Like It (also being done in Boston by the grownups), Romeo and Juliet, and this week:  Henry V.

We decided to give Henry V a shot, because it would be a good opportunity to try them out, see if they like it and such.  If not, Christine informed me, there's a whole park where the kids could play.

So, off we went to see the show.  Winter Island in Salem is a fun place, complete with beach, campground, swings, a nice view of the boats.... the kind of place that you can generally come and just hang out.  And oh look, there's some people putting on Shakespeare.  I was quite impressed with the production levels, honestly - particularly the costuming.  There were children dressed up in flowing royal robes, there were soldiers in armor.  I'm impressed that they all carried it off as well as they did, it being a humid 90degree day and they're all in knit long sleeve outfits, most of them several layers heavy.

We only really stayed for about 20 minutes (more on that in a moment) so I can't comment on the entire play. But I did quite enjoy their Henry.  He was.....intense.  Seething, is perhaps an even better word.  From the moment you see him, he's got this sort of "Why doesn't anybody take me seriously?!" face on, which periodically turns into more of an outright "I'm the King and if you doubt it I'll have you killed at the snap of my fingers" rage.  The young man playing the role (Jackson was his name, although I don't have the program handy so I can't recall his last name) was excellent, and I'm disappointed I didn't get to see his Crispin's Day speech.  [Although given the brief bit I saw I imagine it went something like "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.....and if I catch any of you not being happy I'll KILL YOU YOU BASTARDS!" ;) ]

We only got see about 20 minutes, as I said, which was probably expected.  Here's some random quotes from that time...

My 2yr old son:  "Doggie!  Doggie!  Doggie!  WAKE UP!  Doggie!"    You get the idea :).

My 4yr old daughter:  "Daddy, when is Shakespeare gonna show up?"   (This is not as odd as it sounds, when you consider that at church she often asks when Jesus is going to make an appearance.  Shakespeare to her is a pretty abstract concept, as seen even more clearly after the show when she told me that her lollipop was Shakespeare flavored.  Her reaction would have been different if it was a story where she knew any of the characters.)

So my wife took the two younger ones for a stroll while I hung out and answered my 6yr old's questions:

"Why is that guy made and yelling at his friends?"
    "Well, because they found out that he wanted to invade France, so they ran and told the King of France all about it."
"He looks like he might cry."
   "He's very upset about it!  They're supposed to be his friends."
"Oh.  How come those other guys are holding swords up to their necks?"
   "To make sure they don't run away.  You know how these days police men carry guns to stop the bad guys?  They didn't have guns back then, so they used swords."

Later, during Falstaff's funeral (for lack of a better description):

"Why are those people all sad?"
   "Well, their friend died, and now they're all hanging out telling stories about him."
"What happened then?  Why did everybody laugh?"
   "You see that one guy with the blonde hair? [Bardolph]  He's funny."
"Why is he funny?"
   "Because he's very drunk, and very loud, and very inappropriate."

A special nod, by the way, to Bardolph, who seemed to be carrying on the Falstaff tradition quite proudly.  He was the very definition of jovial, always wandering around with a bottle in his hand and a smile on his face, as if to say "I'm happy, I'm drunk, how bad can things really be?"  I did not get to see him hanged, and I'm left wondering if he took that same attitude to the gallows...,

I quite enjoyed the show, brief though my visit was, and hope to get back later this summer for their As You Like It.  Though my kids might understand Romeo and Juliet better, I'm not letting them see the real ending quite yet.  The new plan is to leave the 2yr old at home, bring blankets to sit on, and probably something to occupy the 4yr old's attention in case she gets bored.  Who knows, maybe it'll just me myself and my 6yr old.   Although I am tempted to sneak out to see their Romeo and Juliet, which I'm told (and I think I mentioned here) actually does take place on the playground swings, which ought to bring a very creepy air to Act III.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Willy "Shakespeare" Wonka

Just happened to find Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the original good one, with Gene Wilder) on tv and watched it with the kids.  While I knew of some Shakespeare references the last time I saw it, I really had no idea just how many there were!

The page lists 6 different Shakespeare references, although 1 is arguable.  I'd caught 2 of them the last time I saw the movie.

My Name Is Will

Speaking of Shakespeare fiction, David recommended My Name Is Will by "the marvelous Jess Winfield."

Coincidentally, the Los Angeles Times reviewed it this weekend.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ethan Hawke's Hamlet

So my DVR noticed that Ethan Hawke's Hamlet was on this week, and recorded it for me.  Am I going to like it?  I can tell you, I'm about 15 minutes in or so and I don't.  It's like a bunch of 20 something actors got together and said "People will take us seriously if we do Shakespeare!" Meanwhile they walk through their lines as if to say, "I have no idea what I just said."

I hear Bill Murray is good in it, though.

The Macbeth Sonnets
This lesson at the Folger took me by surprise when I saw it flash by my alerts.  The idea is to take one of several sonnets (71, 144, 147, 148) and analyze them from the point of view of Macbeth or Lady Macbeth.
Interesting idea.  Here's sonnet 71 for those that don't feel like following the links:
1. No longer mourn for me when I am dead
2. Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
3. Give warning to the world that I am fled
4. From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell:
5. Nay, if you read this line, remember not
6. The hand that writ it, for I love you so,
7. That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
8. If thinking on me then should make you woe.
9. O! if, I say, you look upon this verse,
10. When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
11. Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;
12. But let your love even with my life decay;
13. Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
14. And mock you with me after I am gone.

Am I supposed to say that this is Lady Macbeth's suicide note to her husband?  Is that the idea?  Master of Verona beat me to it a long time ago :).

Friday, July 18, 2008

Oh, They Are So Hooked

So my almost 4yr old is now all into Romeo and Juliet, and each night at dinner she says, "Daddy, you promised you'd tell me the Shakespeare story again!"  I greatly enjoy feigning ignorance and asking, "Which one?  King Lear, The Tempest, As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet?"

Of course, her primary experience with Romeo and Juliet is that animated movie about the seals called Sealed With A Kiss.  So I find myself bouncing back and forth between the "real" story and the movie.  For instance:

[at the Capulet party]  "So then the Prince says Hey, you're not a Capulet, you're Romeo!  And then Romeo has to run away before he gets in trouble."
    4yr old:   "No Daddy, he doesn't run away, he falls into the water."
      6yr old:  "Or Daddy are you telling us the *real* story, not the movie story?"
"Actually, sweeties, that's one of the neat things about Shakespeare stories, is that everybody tells them a little bit different.  Romeo had to leave the party, and whether he snuck out or ran away or fell in the water is really up to whoever tells it."

[And this one, near the end]  "So anyway, Juliet is asleep, but poor Romeo never got the message, so he comes to her and says Oh no, she's dead!  And then he kisses her and he falls down dead too.  But then the sun comes up and they both wake up together and live happily ever...."
   4yr old: "Daddy, no!  That's not how it ends!"
"It's not?  What did I miss?"
   4yr old: "Romeo's father comes in and says Oh no, Romeo, my son!  You forgot that part."
"Sorry.  So Romeo kisses Juliet, and then he falls asleep, and Romeo's father comes in and says Oh no, Romeo, my son!  But then the sun comes up and they both wake up together and live happily ever after."

(Man are they gonna be mad at me when they get to school and learn how it really ends.....)


On the other end of the table, my 6yr old is going to "camp" this summer.  At that age it's little more than a continuation of school where she's dropped off for half a day and "counselors" (as compared to "teachers") walk them through some games and crafts and generally keep them out of Mom's hair.  Anyway, my daughter has learned that camp for older kids is full day, and lasts several weeks.  She is anxious to go next year.

Mom:  "We'll worry about that next year, sweetie.  You might not even want to go to that camp.  There's lots of camps you can go to, dance camp, swimming camp, gymnastics camp."

Dad:  "Don't forget about Shakespeare camp!"

6yr old:  "Daddy, are you sure they let girls in there?"   (I think somewhere along the line I told her that boys used to play all the girl parts, and it's confused her.)

Dad:  "Of course!  They need girls for all the best parts!  How else are they going to have Cordelia, and Miranda, and Juliet?"

6yr old:  (with a wonderful expression dawning) "Wait....they actually *play* the stories?"

Dad:  (beaming)  "Yup."

6yr old:  "And I could get to *be* Juliet????"

Dad:  "Yup!"

The sparkle in her eye was wonderful.  I think she's hooked.

William Shakespeare (2000)

Anybody seen this documentary?  I'd never heard of it, and IMDB offers no reviews or other details.  But look at the cast!  Ian McKellen, Kenneth Brannagh, Mark Rylance, Julie Taymor, Germaine Greer, Harold Bloom....  It'd be funny to get them all in the room at once, and then throw in Greenblatt and Rosenbaum :).

A Quick Marlowe Fix

Pretty much Marlowe 101 stuff, but since it's a blog and commenting is on I thought the Marlowe fans in the audience might appreciate a new source of stuff to read.

Folioed Again!

Slate's got a lengthy story up on the recently recovered First Folio, including an amusing profile of the thief.  Or rather, the dealer who still claims his innocence, Raymond Scott. 

Quote of the article: "...aside from the Ark of the Covenant, a Shakespeare First Folio is the worst loot in the world to steal."

What I did not know, the article goes on to explain, is that a lengthy census has been done of every mark on every surviving Folio, so identification of each one is pretty much mistake-proof.

I say if you're gonna steal something like that, just keep it for yourself.  It's worth more than money anyway.

Here's another blog reference, with a twist.  Whenever I find a blog with a Shakespeare story I typically hunt around the blog to see if the author speaks of Shakespeare often, and whether I should follow.  In this case the blog is actually "the observations of an Iranian-American female" who uses the story to add at the very bottom, regarding the Cuban connection of the story: "at least he didn't use Iran or an Iranian family as his source for the book!  ... it might have been the only cause for war against Iran that the academic, intellectual Shakespeare adoring community may have supported.  Phew!"

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Naked Bard Podcast

So I just stumbled across this new Shakespeare podcast called Naked Bard.  It's only on episode 2, so I haven't missed much.

I like it.  Quite a bit, actually.  The near hour-long shows are doing an in depth analysis of Hamlet, at the level that I like.  For instance the author (Dr. Melissa) doesn't just reference the "melancholy Dane", she actually busts out a reference on the subject of melancholy from 1621 or so about the relationship between melancholy and, if I remember the term right, "overmuch study."  She then relates it back to Hamlet's college experience.  It is very deep on content, and I both managed to learn a lot while not losing interest because it got too far over my head.

Having said that, I have two major concerns.  The first is that it's terribly over produced.  She stops every few minutes for a music break.  When she's talking, there's background music.  It's just too much.  It's one thing to accompany the presentation with some sound, but I'm talking about just stopping in the middle of your point to play a rap song.  Stuff like that annoys me.  I didn't sign up for your podcast to hear rap music, I signed up to hear about Hamlet.  Don't make me sit through that other stuff.  That's long been a complaint of mine with podcasts in general that do that.  "I've got your attention, so here's a song I like!"

My second concern is that....well, I can see where it would be pretty boring except for us geeks.  It sounds very much like high school English, where you sit down and somebody talks at you for 45 minutes.  I felt like she could have lost me at any moment if not for my love of the subject matter.  I wonder if maybe, instead of wasting my time with too many sound clips, she could interact more with the reader, maybe open up opportunities for interaction, ask questions, stuff like that that makes me connect more with her as the author and not just as the random person that's reading the Hamlet material.

Overall, though, I give it the thumbs up, and I'm glad I found it.  I plan on listening, and learning some things.  I also plan on contacting the author directly with my thoughts (if she doesn't contact me first).  Who knows, she might be up for the input.

Update: The more I listen, the more I don't love her analysis, actually.  I'll still listen, because it's still good content - nothing wrong with dissenting opinions.  Like her idea that "Hamlet can't kill Claudius and live."  Huh?  Why not?  Or how she finds the "undiscovered country" bit a little odd, seeing as Hamlet's seen the ghost - and comments that "I don't think this is an area of the play most people consider."  Well that's just not accurate, since we've discussed it here. I hardly think that my little blog breaks new academic ground.

Shakespearean Functional Shift

I've seen several blogs on this subject lately, and I'm still trying to decide if this is a rehash of the older "Reading Shakespeare makes you smart" argument or if it's entirely new research.  I'm linking this one because it seems to state the problem most clearly. 

Here’s an example from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (at least, I think it is; this is how I interpret it):

No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
Where thrift may follow fawning. Dost thou hear?

The word ‘crook’ would be heard as a noun but later information forces a verb interpretation. It draws the listener towards the sentence. Its metaphor burns brightly.

Philip Davis, Guillaume Thierry and Neil Roberts are investigating how the brain responds to these functional shifts.

Shakespeare Fiction Recommendations?

It occurred to me the other day that Chasing The Bard will have to end soon, despite my threat to travel to New Zealand, kidnap the author and force her to write nothing but Shakespeare stories ("Misery style").  And then I will be sad, because it really is just that good of a story.  I think what I love best of all (and I raved about this in a past post) is that while it is fiction, she didn't muck with the known facts.  She simply worked around them (and in the case of the Dark Lady even proposed some answers).

This is substantially different from, say, Shakespeare In Love, where the story was flipped all around to suit the movie's needs.  You folks all saw how I went bouncing off the walls when I thought that Clare Danes had misspoken a line in R+J, you can imagine how....disconcerting it is for me when somebody just helps themselves to whatever bits of Shakespeare they want, without respecting the text.   [Note - Shakey In Love actually turns out to be a great movie because of its respect for the R&J material.  It's the fictionalization of his biography that I'm referring to.]

I'm wondering what other sorts of "Shakespeare fiction" are out there.  We've discussed various children's literature, I'm not really talking about that.  Nor am I talking about "slash" fiction.  I mean legit, published novels for adults that happen to derive their central plots from Shakespeare, either the man directly, or perhaps alternate versions of the stories.  Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead would be an excellent example of the latter case, successfully weaving their story in between bits of the actual play.

I know that the Clockwork Orange guy (Burgess?) wrote a Shakespeare novel, but I don't know anything about it.  I suppose I could look it up but I'm at work.  And besides I'm trying to drum up conversation, not answer my own questions.

Anybody else?

While I'm here I should mention Jasper Fforde, a very bizarre "lit fantasy" writer who weaves bits of Shakespeare into his stories with some regularity.  I fell in love with his ideas in the very first book when he had the Baconians coming door to door like Jehovah's Witnesses, trying to find converts to their cause.  In a later book he actually has Hamlet play a role, but other than a few specific references to the text ("If I'm such a religious figure why would I say something so atheistic like There's nothing either right or wrong but thinking makes it so?"  Good question!), it is a minor role.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Blame Shakespeare For The Stabbings?

So apparently this Boris Johnson fellow, the mayor of London or some such, said that knife crime should not be looked upon with the glamorous image that is currently has thanks to Shakespeare characters such as Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet.

I'm a little confused by the reference, since he was asked to explain who Mercutio was.  (If this was happening in America his response would have been, predictably, "Mercutio.  You know, the black guy from Lost.  He played DiCaprio's gay friend at the party.")  If nobody understands the reference, then can it really be said to have a "glamorous" image?

I appreciate a politician trying to seriously work in an actual Shakespeare reference, and not just a random quote, however.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Three Hour Cruise....

Shakespeare Cruise, anybody?  I believe our own Robin P. Williams is involved in this one.  Not sure if that was a one time thing, or if she's one of the organizers or what.  Maybe she's listening?

Somebody do a Boston one of these :)

Good Times For Chicago Theatre

Here's a quick rundown of some of Chicago's Shakespeare choices this summer, including "Funk It Up About Nothin'", "Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief", and the main subject of the article, "A Midsummer Night's Dream : A Queer Tale."

With forbidden lesbian and gay relationships, a Drag Queen Titania lip-syncing to Cher and Madonna and an outrageously erotic dance party fueled by euphoric intoxicants, this show celebrates the ‘old school’ joie de vivre of the community while, at the same time, illustrating the ongoing struggles for acceptance and equality. With a charming cast, fantastic soundtrack and the most playful choreography in town, this will reinvent your notions of Shakespeare in love to include sophisticated and stylized same sex subversion.

Apparently Shakespeare Should Sue JK Rowling

A lengthy (and serious) comparison of Harry Potter and Hamlet, including the dead fathers, denial of the love interest, unwilling avenger, and so on.  Some of the points are strained, but it's not like the author just whipped something out.  Obviously a good deal of thought was put into the argument.  Apparently he's working on a conference presentation on the subject.


(*) Title comes from the fact that Rowling has attempted to sue people who borrow "her" ideas, which in turn caused a great number of authors (Orson Scott Card among them) to point out that, if that's the case, she'd certainly stolen many of theirs.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Arden Comes To Boston

It's a mediocre picture at best, but on my lunch hour I wandered by to watch the crew set up for As You Like It.  Hopefully you can see the set will consist mostly of stage trees.  A very different approach from last year's Dream where the fairies all carried balloons wherever they went.


Top 10 Shakespeare Plays
Well, not really.  Whoever made the list apparently knows nothing about Shakespeare, leaving King Lear completely out of the list while including stuff like Taming of the Shrew.
I link it only because of the over 150 comments, most of them outraged, that follow :)

Update: You'll probably be far more interested in this later post where Shakespeare Geek readers offered their own thoughts on the real Top 10 Shakespeare Plays.

William Shakespeare folio worth £15m recovered 10 years after being stolen


Thanks to Angela for the link!

Tag! Over-rated Classics

So I've been tagged by C.B. James to do "over-rated classics."  Never done one of these before, let's give it a shot!

What is the best classic you were “forced” to read in school (and why)?

I won't go cliche and mention Shakespeare, I'll say A Tale Of Two Cities. So much of the Dickens seems to revolve around the little orphan boy who ends up finding a family (Great Expectations, Hard Times, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist...), Tale really stands out as different from the rest.  It also both opens and closes with some of the greatest lines in all of literature ("It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.....    It is a far far better thing that I do than I have ever done, it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."   [To Kill A Mockingbird would have easily been a close second, but CB took that one already...]

What was the worst classic you were forced to endure (and why)?

Return Of The Native, by Thomas Hardy.  I don't remember a single thing about it, except perhaps if that was the one about the red-faced man who just kind of walked around and showed up every now and then.

Which classic should every student be required to read (and why)?

Saying Shakespeare here would be a cop-out since most students are required to read him already.  So I'll go geeky the other way and say Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, the story of a young boy who is bullied and picked on and basically has nothing but bad things happen to him, until he's put in a position to save the universe.  It's important to read this one when you're a kid yourself.

Which classic should be put to rest immediately (and why)?

A number of choices by Ernest Hemingway, like Big Two-Hearted River.  Seriously.  I honestly don't believe that high school students are capable of grasping what Hemingway had to say.  Here's what I remember about Hemingway - he spends 50 pages to tell the story of a guy standing in the river trying to catch a fish.  Has no luck, moves to a new spot.  That's it.  50 pages.  Oh, and something about "inability to love."  I remember writing that frequently in essay questions.  Something something because of the war, inability to love, blah blah blah.

When I was in the first grade (that'd make me what, about 6?) I had to stay in the hospital for a little while for something.  A well meaning aunt, knowing I liked to read, brought me some books.  One of them was The Old Man and The Sea.  I read it (honestly I can't remember if I read it then, or some time later).  Know what it was about?  Guy spends a long time trying to catch a fish, catches it, but it pulls him so far out to sea that by the time he comes home with his catch strapped to the boat, the other fish have eaten it anyway.  That's what Hemingway means to a kid.


**Bonus** Why do you think certain books become “classics”?

I love to read compilations of classics, particularly on the net, because they fall into one of three categories:  The stuff that "everybody" agrees is classic (like for instance dear Mr. Shakespeare), stuff that is far too new to be a classic and is simply popular right now so people want to force it to be a classic (DaVinci Code?  Really?), and then the wide variety of stuff in the middle.  It's the stuff in the middle that's most interesting to me, because not everybody agrees.  I'll find plenty of items where I say "Yup, read it, liked it" (Heinlein, Asimov, Vonnegut, Simmons....) and others that I probably should, but haven't (Ayn Rand for instance just recently scored very high on Lifehacker's poll). 

In short I think that the value of calling something a "classic" has become overrated, and is now more likely to simply mean "The stuff they made you read in high school."  But that eventually backfires and you end up with people who think that the only reason to read Shakespeare is because they made you read it.    Meanwhile other "classics" that might resonate more with you individually, like I, Robot or something, you have to go find on your own and read voluntarily.

Rebel Shakespeare (Salem, Mass) : Romeo and Juliet

Christine and Keri, my new friends in the neighborhood,  have put up the schedule for their Romeo and Juliet.  Rebel Shakespeare is acted by kids - perhaps Christine or Keri can chime in and tell us what age group will be performing this show?

Friday August 22 5pm: The Athanaeum. Salem MA, outdoors in the garden... Friday nights they do a "speakers series" and Keri will be the speaker, and the kids will do the production. Very high class.

Saturday August 23 1pm: Mary Jane Lee Park, Salem MA. Saturday August 23 5pm: Open - Possibly Beverly or Marblehead.

Sunday August 24 1pm: Open - Possibly Beverly or Marblehead

Sunday August 24 5pm: Derby Square, Old Town Hall steps, Salem MA.

Monday -- Day off, or as they say in theatre "dark" day.

Tuesday August 26 1pm: The Senior Center, Salem MA

Tuesday August 26 6pm: Palmer Cove Ballfield. Salem MA. Around the corner from Mary Jane Lee Park, the outfield will be Verona, and the lights will be turned on so everyone can be seen.

Wednesday August 27 1pm: Tentative -- Moesley Woods Park, Newburyport MA. A natural wooded amphitheater with a giant rock sculpture/climbing thing that will be good for the balcony scene.

Wednesday August 27, 5pm: Winnekenni Castle, Haverhill MA.


I love the idea of Romeo and Juliet performed by kids on a playground.  Seems like such a natural setting, which I suppose could turn really dark once the killing begins.

Commonwealth Shakespeare On Boston Common : The Blog

Not all of you can work on the edge of Boston Common like me and watch the sets go up every day :).  So Christine passed along this link where you can watch Commonwealth Shakespeare blog their production progress!


Bonus - scroll down and you'll even get a peek at some costume sketches.  Neat!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Shakespeare Riots?

So a coworker comes over to my cube today and says, "Surely you've heard about the Shakespeare Riots?"

No, I had not.

I see there's a book about it - some scuffle in 1849 that resulted in 100 people wounded and 20 dead at Astor Place in New York City.

Anybody know the scoop?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Hamlet Art

Artists impress me, because I have no talent for that sort of thing at all.  I love the variety of interpretations to be found in these visuals.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


I do hope this is a joke - a musical starring Victoria and David Beckham as the Macbecks, the story of a man who sacrifices his career for his ambitious wife.

Update:  More information here tells me that it is not a joke. Apparently it will use quotes from Macbeth, King Lear, and Romeo and Juliet.  Now I just need them to use "wherefore" in the context of "where" instead of "why" and I'll know what the ninth circle of Hell is like.

Summer Shakespearience : Photo Contest

Check this out.  Shakespeare's Den is holding a photo contest to find people who are putting a little Shakespeare in their summer vacation.  I'm on one of my summer vacations now (no Shakespeare to be found), but in August I'll be heading down to Cape Cod to see The Tempest, maybe I can get some shots in there.  I'll dress my 2yr old up like Caliban or something :).


Here’s how this is going to work…

We are looking for photographs that incorporate Shakespeare into your summer vacation. This could range from going to Ashland, dressing up as a duke at a Renaissance fair, choreographing a sword fight, or starring in your own performance of one of the Bard’s plays!

Here’s how to play…

1. Read the rules below.
2. Take the picture.
3. Email the photograph to
4. Along with the picture, please include:
- Your name
- Your email address
- Your street address, city, state, and zip code (for prizes)
- A short description of the photograph—i.e. location, what was the
event, etc. Bonus points if your explanation is in iambic pentameter!
(We promise that we do not share your names, address or email with anyone. This is for us only!)


Everyone who submits a photo will get a free Shakespeare/Marlowe ’08 Bumper Sticker.

1st place—$100 Gift Certificate to Shakespeare’s Den & a bag of Shakespeare’s Den schwag.
2nd place—$50 Gift Certificate to Shakespeare’s Den & a Shakespeare’s Den T-shirt
3rd place—A Shakespeare’s Den T-shirt


How can we judge art? It’s a tough call. But here’s what we’ll remember when looking at a photograph:
- Was it artistic? Humorous? Clever? Inspiring? In the spirit of the contest?


1. You must have taken the photograph or are the copyright holder. You can be in the photo, just don't send in a picture taken by Herb Ritts of Judi Dench, okay. Just cause you bought the magazine, doesn't mean it's your photo.
2. Please submit photographs taken this summer.
3. Please submit an authentic photograph—i.e. no photo-shopping!
4. You may submit more than one photo but only one winner per household.
5. By submitting the photo you are giving us permission to post your photo on our site along with your first name and city you reside. We also can post this photo and info in any future contests or advertising.
6. Employees of Shakespeare’s Den are the sole decision makers on the winning photos.

Contest ends August 31st, so get your pictures in by then. In the meantime, we’ll post our favorite pictures at Shakespeare’s Den as they come in, so stay tuned—er—stay online!

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to send us an email at

Sports in Shakespeare

In honor of the upcoming Olympics I thought it might be fun to look at references to sports in Shakespeare's plays.  They can be in passing, or actually portrayed on stage. 

I know about the wrestling in As You Like It, and I suppose we need to count the fencing in Hamlet (they are after all counting points, not trying to kill each other, in theory).

What else?  Sorry for the short post I'm on vacation :)

Friday, July 04, 2008

Hamlet's Blackberry

Thanks to Noah for this link to an NPR segment on the future of paper.  Haven't listened yet, but it's in my queue.  I love stuff like that.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Not quite sure about the usefulness of this tool, but it sure represents lots of work.  Work your way through the script of Hamlet, pointing out other literary references to the text.  For instance on one hand you've got James Joyce making use of the text "For this relief much thanks."  But later in the same scene, linked to the line "Not a mouse stirring", we find a Charles Schultz reference to Sally reading "The Night Before Christmas" and coming to the "Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse" line.

The site appears wiki-driven, so the entries are all from users trying to help.  I appreciate the attempt, but like I said, not really sure what you'd *do* with it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Review : Shakespeare Wars, by Ron Rosenbaum

It's taken me almost 2 years to finish Shakespeare Wars, and given how often I've blogged about individual pieces it's somewhat anticlimactic to review it now.  But, I'll give it a shot.

Start with a common assumption about the quality of Shakespeare's works.  That it is possible to run into another person, discuss that special something that makes Shakespeare Shakespearean, and understand what each other is talking about, even if you can't define it.  (I find, when I really get animated, that I either stop talking all together because words can't adequately express it, or I just start cussing like George Carlin because of the outlet it provides in getting one's point across :))

In one way, this book is Rosenbaum's effort to define what that something is.  He gives plenty of examples that skirt around the issue.  His retelling of Brooks' famous "split the atom and release the infinite energies" line, for example, is what convinced me to buy the book.  Lines like that abound throughout the book, making the Shakespeare lover in us all laugh and rock back and forth in our chairs and say, "Yes!  yes yes yes!  Exactly!" to no one in particular, because we know there's someone on the other end of the page, the author, who has captured the feeling exactly as we felt it.

He speaks of Cordelia's line, "No cause, no cause..." in such reverent tones that the memory of the moment brings tears to his eyes even as he types it, and we believe him.

He describes Kevin Kline's Falstaff almost entirely based on how the character gets up from a bench in the first scene, as if that were enough to capture the entire performance.  And we know it is, because we've all had moments like that, split seconds in time, where you feel some brief glimpse into the bottomlessness of what Shakespeare's words provide.

I chose that word bottomlessness on purpose, because it is a major theme in the book and it's where I think things start to go over the edge for me.  Rosenbaum's position seems to be, "Ok, let's assume that a true and perfect understanding of what it means to be Shakespearean is like a bottomless void, and we will never know the real answers for certain.   Now, having agreed to that, let's spend our lives pursuing the answer anyway."

And that's where, as a logic-driven engineering sort, I mentally start to check out.  If you've agreed that there is no true answer, then pursuit of one can only lead to madness. 

I had an idea once for a book called What Shakespeare Means To Me, which would essentially be a collection of those moments in time, those glimpses of the infinite, that we've all had the joy of experiencing.  I would read a book like that.  Just story after story of shared bliss.  Where Shakespeare Wars was that, I was all about it.  Heck, where it was about that it was all I could do to not rush back to the computer and blog about it (as I often did anyway). 

But the remainder of the book ends up being an exploration of every corner of Shakespeare's works by the various personalities who champion each direction as being the one true source for the one true answer.  There's the Original Spelling group.  The Two Hamlets and the Three Lears war.  The "never blotted a line" argument.  The "close readers".  Where each of these was a lesson in how one might study Shakespeare, I was all for it.  Where it turned into a story about one individual who has spent 30 thankless years trying to prove his point, I don't know what I was. I can't really say I was sympathetic.

There is more in this book that bored me than thrilled me.  Rosenbaum spends much of the book (he opens and closes with it) salivating over Brooks' Dream, something that I never saw and apparently will never be able to see.  When he tries to define the infinite, either through his own experience or the example of others, I was usually lost.  But we he pointed to specific examples - Kline, Welles, even Clare Danes as Juliet - things that I could share in, I was hooked.  It was those moments that kept me reading this book, because they are just that good.

Snakes On A Stage

The current Washington DC production of Anthony and Cleopatra is apparently using real snakes.  Yikes.  Interview with snake wrangler Dani Rose interview with NPR.

Review : Classical Comics

Karen over at Classical Comics was nice enough to send me some review copies after the announcement of their US publishing deal.  Her company publishes "graphic novel" versions of Shakespeare (and other classics).

I received two copies of Macbeth (they also offer Henry V) yesterday - one "original text" and one "plain text".  This, I thought, would be interesting - I could go back and forth and compare both!  Fun.

As graphic novels they are quite good.  I showed them to a colleague who is more the comic geek than I, and he was immediately impressed.  He did question some of the coloring choices, but we are talking about Macbeth here, so it doesn't bother me at all to have a heavy emphasis on the darker colors (lots of red and black, but Macbeth himself spends the story dressed in purple).   The visuals are what you might expect, lots of violence and blood, plenty of "action".  When we first see Macbeth (as the soldier recounts the "unseamed from nave to chaps" line) I swear he's actually delivering a flying sidekick to one badguy while skewering another.  All it needed was some Batman style BAM! noises.  Ok, not really.

There is also a massive amount of supplemental material, including a visual cast of characters so you'll always know whose talking, maps, and a history lesson.  There's certainly plenty to read here once you're done with the comic itself.

I chose to read the plain text version, and did so in less than an hour (two train rides).  A few times I thought I found possible mistakes in the translation, and not only consulted my original text version, but also my actual original text that I keep on all my computers, and I was mistaken each time.  Heck, I even learned a few things!  For instance I'd gotten it into my head that Lady Macbeth said "If I had a child, I'd bash its brains in...." but she does indeed say "I have given suck", clear evidence that she did have a child.  Likewise I'd forgotten all about Malcolm's argument to Macduff that, ahem, he's too into the ladies, shall we say, to be king? 

Unfortunately what I found over and over again is that the plain text version - which is basically a direct translation from the original, as opposed to a retelling - serves merely to emphasize everything that is wrong and hated about Shakespeare to begin with.  Some examples:

  • References still won't make any sense, only now they stand out more.  "They tore into the enemy as if they wanted to cover themselves in blood, or create another Golgotha."  You may understand that line a little better than, "Except they meant to bathe in reeking wounds, or memorise another Golgotha, I cannot tell" but you either know the Golgotha reference or you don't.  I suppose if you look at it in a more positive way, the plain text version leaves you with just one thing to lookup in the dictionary instead of several.  But I found it jarring.
  • Shakespearean characters talk too much.  Seriously.  Once you understand what they're saying a little better it is more painfully obvious that they are not speaking in a way you'd expect any real person to speak.  Like after the murder of Duncan when someone (Banquo?) says, "Let's get together again when we're properly dressed and investigate this bloody piece of work.  We're all too full of confusion and suspicion now -- but I trust in God and for that reason I'm prepared to fight against all hidden treason and malice."  Yes, that's a translation of what Shakespeare had him say, but if you're just looking to read a story cover to cover you're left saying "Who are these people and who talks like that??"   (More on this in a bit)
  • When you translate, you take away the poetry.  I learn this when I watch the faces of my kids as I retell Shakespearean stories to them.  My 6yr old is starting to give me confused looks that say, "I don't see what's so great about that story, Daddy."  In this case, our favorite final lines get translated into, "I will not surrender just to kiss the ground in front of young Malcolm's feet and to be jeered at by the common rabble.  Though Birnam Wood has come to Dunsinane, and though you're not born of a woman, I'll fight you to the end.  My shield's in front of my body.  Lay on Macduff, and damned be the one who first shouts Stop, Enough!" Fine fine, yes that's what he said, but that's hardly the kind of thing that would make people 400 years later say, "Hey, remember when Macbeth said I'll fight you to the end?  That was awesome."

These are not failings of this particular edition - I could have made those same three points of any "plain text" translation.  Classical Comics also offers a "quick text" version that I did not see, although I suspect that it does away with the first two points relatively nicely since it is not bound to be such a thesaurus-driven translation as the plain text.

Having vented about plain text translations in general, let me now turn to the original text version.  Now we're talking.  Here's exactly the kind of thing that I'd read for myself - the real text, backed up with cool pictures.  You can't beat it.  Never ask again "What's going on in this scene?"  You'll know.  Oh look, two guys on horseback talking.  Cool.  That makes sense.  I will keep an eye on their offerings and may even snag copies for myself (original text only thankyouverymuch!) of plays I'm less familiar with.  Not that they'll likely ever do a Cymbeline, but you never know.

It's projects like this that make me wish e-books were a thing of the present.  The visuals in this book are identical, regardless of what text you choose.  So how about an e-book delivery mechanism that defaults to original text, and then only when you touch a dialogue balloon does it translate itself?  That way you can choose to read the translations as you need them, or even better go back and forth and tell yourself "Ok, now I understand what happened here, let me look again at how Shakespeare really wrote it....Ohh!  Now I get it!"  I wonder if they have any plans to do a sort of 3-in-1 binding so that buyers wont have to choose which versions they want? Hint hint?

All in all I find these books wonderful.  The quality of the presentation is excellent, as I said.  And the supplemental material is a complete bonus that I did not expect.  My issues are entirely with the plain text translation.  But that's fine, because I'm holding a copy of the original text as well :).

Let me put it this way, they tell me that The Tempest is coming out in January 2009.  I'll be getting it.  I'll probably be getting all three versions, actually.  That way my kids can grow up with them.