Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sex and The Shakespeare

Ok, that’s a terrible title, but it’ll get more clicks than “Shakespeare and The City.”

Since I’m behind in my links you may already have seen that Kristin Davis, most famous for playing the “nice” girl Charlotte in Sex and The City (get it now?) wants to do some Shakespeare.  If this were Kim Cattrall we were talking about, the one who plays the slutty Samantha, I’d make a “do Shakespeare” joke right here.  Oh, well.

Davis has specific plans, too.  At 44, she wants to play Viola from Twelfth Night.  I appreciate that she’s got that level of understanding about the plays, and doesn’t want to get into them just because she’s got this vague notion that “Shakespeare” equals “be taken seriously as an actress.”

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

9 Shakespeare-Inspired Novels, and One Piece of Crap

See, lists like this are the stuff I crave.  From the opening quote:

Vivien Leigh once said that acting in a Shakespeare play was like 'bathing in the sea - one swims where one wants'.

You get the idea that the author has at least some clue of what they’re talking about.  Drawing upon the themes and characters of Shakespeare still leaves infinite flexibility in *what* you write.  It is a tremendous playground for Shakespeare Geeks.

So we get the “Top 10” Shakespeare inspired novels, although it’s a bit more like a sampler than a top 10.  We get relatively new David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” (1996) and the classic Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1931).  I’m familiar with “Gertrude and Claudius”  and “A Thousand Acres”, though I’ve not read them.  “Money” and “Wise Children” are really the only ones completely new to me.

But then the list goes and discredits itself with the inclusion of Lunar Park, by Bret Easton Ellis.  I read this one.  It’s been years since I admitted it.  It is terrible.  I mean, seriously, this is a book that I chose to throw away rather than to let someone else read.  It’s horrible.  I’m embarrassed for it to have Shakespeare content.

Still, a top 9 list’s not that bad.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Romeo and Juliet, Sort Of

Should the phone ring one day, and you are asked to recount the plot of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” would you remember which Italian city the play takes place in? The particulars of the faked-death ruse that ends so unfortunately? The immortal lines that Juliet speaks from her balcony as her heart flutters with awakening love?

Well, umm…..yes.  To all of those questions.  But I don’t think I’m in the target audience :).

The show reviewed appears to be something of the reduced/improv Shakespeare variety, starting with the premise that most folks kinda sorta know the story, but are foggy on the details. 

Sounds like a crowd pleaser.  I remember seeing “The Complete Works in 60 Minutes” or whatever it’s called, and not really loving it.  Not so much for the Shakespeare-mocking, but more for the weak attempts at humor.  There’s massive amounts of material to be found in poking fun at Shakespeare so that Shakespeare fans can actually enjoy it.  But there’s the rub, I suppose – these shows aren’t for fans.  These shows don’t start with Shakespeare, they start with “That bit of Shakespeare that everybody in pop culture kinda sorta knows”, and then from there they just run with whatever sex joke they can find.  In the Complete Works we got “Call you buttlove? What?  Ok, buttlove” and other types of lines.  In this version of Romeo and Juliet there’s apparently scenes of Paris … ummm… having some private time with Juliet’s corpse? 

Insert your own “rub” joke here, I can’t bring myself to do it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Time Once Again For The “Secret Catholic” Game

A guestbook for visiting pilgrims to Rome.  A handful of signatures containing references to “Stratford”, circa late 1500s. Hmmm…who do we know that was from Stratford, living around 1585 or so?


“Arthurus Stratfordus Wigomniensis” signed the book in 1585, while “Gulielmus Clerkue Stratfordiensis” arrived in 1589.

A third entry in 1587, “Shfordus Cestriensis”, may stand for “Sh[akespeare from Strat]ford [in the diocese] of Chester”, he said.

Other than the Stratford pointer, you have to get creative.  “Arthurus” is supposed to be “King Arthur’s compatriot”, they say – is that supposed to be some sort of “I’m from England” reference?  The second one, although it’s apparently in Italian, is a more straightforward translation - “William, clerk from Stratford.”

It’s always fun to find “evidence” like this, and see how it fits in the grand scheme of things.  I like the idea of accounting for Shakespeare’s lost years more than I like jumping on the “secret catholic!” bandwagon, I’ll say that much.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Tale Of Two Brothers

As a Shakespeare Geek and a New England native, I couldn’t pass up this story of what might become of Tom Brady’s two sons, told with allusions to Richard III … although I wonder if King Lear might be more appropriate?

For those who don’t follow the sports – or gossip – page, Tom Brady’s first son is John Edward Thomas, with former girlfriend Bridget Moynihan, who lives off on the Other Coast and was the subject of so much speculation when he was first born (post-breakup) that the rumor going around was that his mother deliberately chose the initials JET, for the long hated rival NY Jets.

Just this past week however saw the birth of second son Benjamin to current wife Gisele Bundchen.  Benjamin will be the one that grows up with the luxury of playing catch with all-star quarterback dad.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, getting a bunch of pop psychologists together to weigh in on somebody else’s family life without even a quote from any member of that family, well, that’s pretty much the definition of “waste of time”.   But for those who dig a good story and don’t mind speculating what sports might be like in another 20 years or so?  This stuff is gold.  These boys are not about to grow up like Peyton and Eli, you can be pretty sure about that.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rufus! Rufus! Rufus!

I have Rufus Wainwright’s Sonnet 29 in heavy rotation on my playlist (which otherwise consists of some serious heavy rock and metal, headbanging sorts of stuff).  I’m always on the lookout for more.  Apparently he’s all over YouTube, though.

Anybody know if he’s done studio versions of these?  Live video from YouTube is fun, but not nearly as good as having an MP3 you can take with you all the time.

Sonnet 20:





Monday, December 14, 2009

Commwealth Shakespeare on Boston Common 2010 Presents Othello!

Rumor has it(*) that our favorite Boston based free Shakespeare will be around next year, and finally getting back to tragedy with Othello!

I’m very excited.  The comedies are cute, but I much prefer to really dig into the tragedies.  What about everybody else?

(*) And by rumor I mean Twitter.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Shakespeare Master Class

Thank Twitter for pointing me at this little gem I’d missed, a very young Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry doing “Shakespeare Master Class”.

Given some of the spirited discussion we’ve had here, I got a kick out of it.

“And why did Shakespeare capitalize the T in Time?”
    “Because it’s the first word in the sentence.”
“Well…yes, I suppose that’s partly it.  But why else?”

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Were Shakespeare’s Actors Any Good?

We know what people do with Shakespeare’s words now, sure.  And in general we can point to an Orson Welles, Ian McKellen, John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi and say, “Those, those are good actors.”

But I’ve often wondered about the people who originally created the roles.  Were they any good, to our standards?  Or was it completely different? 

How we interpret Shakespeare changes.  Compare the Hamlets of Kenneth Brannagh, Richard Burton, and Laurence Olivier.  Going back farther we’d have Gielgud or Barrymore.  But what if we kept going, all the way back? 

I’m not asking if a modern audience would *like* it.  They probably wouldn’t, given the different expectations.  What I’m asking is, were the actors “good”?  Would you look at a person playing Falstaff, his facial expressions however slight, and say “Damn, that is heartbreaking.”  Or would he have been more concerned with annunciating everything so perfectly that he could be heard in the cheap seats?

Know what I mean?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Love’s Labour’s Lost : The Show

Ok, finally I can talk about the show.

Well, let’s get the organization out of the way first.  They couldn’t find my seat.  I mean, this is basically a town hall / gymnasium sort of set up, sectioned off and folding chairs set up.  Maybe 200 or so capacity, about 4 rows of seats?  I’ve got a ticket that says “Right section, D 5.”  Usher gets all confused when he realizes that the fourth row, which is logically D, is full.  “They told us that row was general admission,” he tells me.  “Let me go find out.”

I sit around for awhile waiting, hanging out with a dude who has brought a hardcover “Invention of the Human” by Harold Bloom.  The usher comes back and keeps trying to hand me back my ticket and tell me that yes, that is my seat.  I keep telling him that if he put somebody else in my seat to go tell that person to move, I ain’t doing it.  Turns out that the woman who is sitting in my seat has also come down to argue about something, so they basically tell her to move.

That was my only problem with the event itself.  Once that was resolved I had a grand time.  The cast members (in character) came out and mingled. Costuming was wonderful, as was the stage.  Musicians wandered around, eventually signalling the start of the show by all coming together in a single tune.  A fascinating deer puppet wandered through the stage, and interacted with the audience.  Costard and Jaquenetta had a bit of a fling in one corner.

I don’t particularly want to go through the details of the play, both because a) I’m not familiar enough with the material to comment in detail, and b) because of circumstances beyond my control I left at intermission anyway. 

I’m not really sure what I was expecting, having never been to London to see the real deal.  This was … small.  Intimate.  As I mentioned, only a few hundred seats.  Characters roamed around and greeted people.  That was cool.

Their comic timing was impeccable.  I mean, I’ve seen plenty of people do Shakespeare, and do comedy, and there’s a bunch of relatively standard ways to get a laugh. But when you’re made aware that their *timing* is better than you’ve ever heard, I think that says something about the quality.  After all they’re delivering the same words as everybody else, so much of the difference has to be in how they do it.

Two things surprised me, relatively quickly.  The first is how often they broke – and by that I mean, cracked themselves up so badly that they had to stop to keep from laughing out loud.  Ferdinand was particularly guilty of this.  So, somebody tell me – was I watching a rare, bad thing?  Or is it more acceptable than I realized?  Is their approach more of a “Hey, we’re having fun up here, and the audience is laughing with us, not at us” style of Shakespeare?  I quite liked it, I’m just not sure if it was supposed to be happening.  Perhaps it’s that these folks are so confident in the material that they don’t mind as much, whereas an American cast might be a bit too much in awe of the material to let themselves have that much fun.

The second was interaction with the music.  I’ve seen this plenty of times, and it bugs me.  There’s an upper balcony to the stage, where the musicians are handling the background music between scenes.  Several times characters would enter, pretend like they were going to wait for the music to die down as if that was a cue, and then when it doesn’t, they’d go wave at the musicians and make the “Cut it!” gesture, upon which the music would stop abruptly.  Again, not something I haven’t seen before – but is that cool? Is that how Shakespeare’s people would have interacted with the music? 

Something that fascinated me was the dancing.  I’m not sure the appropriate theatre terminology, but at a couple of points (most notably when the ladies go off hunting for deer), the cast onstage break into a silence dance number, as if they were miming “Ok, we’re hunting now.”  Perhaps that’s exactly what it was supposed to be. 

The staging was well was very well handled.  Characters came in through the audience when it would get a reaction, but for the most part they came through the large double doors, stage center, which served to separate the forest and the palace.  To the side were two backdrops done up to look like trees, with balcony above.  Want another good example of that attention to detail I was talking about?  At one point, just before all the gentlemen are to discover that they’ve all broken the pact, Biron is first on stage and has hidden in the balcony (“climbed a tree”, as it were).  After he announces himself, rather than beginning his lines up there, he descends the stair case behind the scenery (climbing down out of the tree)…and emerges with a mouthful of leaves, which he promptly spits out before continuing his line.  It’s the little things.

I didn’t love it all.  Though the accents, timing and delivery were wonderful, some stuck out.  Biron (Berowne? I think I’ve seen it both ways?), for instance, was delivered in a fairly heavy Scottish accent which made me think Craig Ferguson  could have stood in at the drop of a hat.  Had the actor broken our some Sean Connery I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised.  Many that’s just my American, tv-watching self talking.  We hear Scottish, we map it back onto the handful of Scottish actors we know.

Also, I have no idea what Don Adriano was supposed to be.  He’s a Spaniard, yes?  I thought he was doing Russian for most of it.  At some points he seemed more Borat than anything else.

As mentioned, I had to leave at intermission because of the chaos at my house (see previous posts).  So I can’t really say much about the second half.  If I were living a different life, a bachelor whose full time job was to be a Shakespeare Geek?  I’d have been there early and stayed late.  For every show.  In reality, what I did was laugh.  Frequently.  Sometimes at the words, sometimes at their delivery, sometimes at the slapstick clowning that went on between them.   What more can you really ask?

Love’s Labour’s Lost Part Two : And Then The Tree

Ok, so, the story continues.

LLL is playing in Holyoke, Mass, which is about 2 hours from me.  It’s a 2pm show, so working backwards I plan to leave around 11-11:30 in the morning.

We wanted to get a Christmas tree this weekend, and we’re sure about the timing (the rest of Saturday, and much of Sunday, are already booked).  The early plan was to get the tree Saturday morning, then put it up and decorate it Sunday night.  Instead, on a tip from a friend, we go get the free Friday night, and put it up Saturday morning.  That way the wife and kids can decorate while I’m off at the show, and it’ll be a good project what turns out to be a rainy/snowy day.

Plan goes off without a hitch, and I hit the road around 11:30 or so.  I get about 45 minutes away from home when the phone rings, and I think it’s Kerry checking on my progress in the snow.  “Tree fell down,” she tells me in a panic.  She’s holding it up with one hand, dialing with the other, trying to call anybody in town who might be home, whose number she remembers.

I call one friend – no answer.  I call another who says that he’ll go right over.  I mean, I’m stuck – even if I turn around and call off the whole day’s plans, it’s still 45 minutes for me to get home.  I call back Kerry, and one of her friends has come over as well, so everything seems to be going well.

I arrive at the show without a problem.  Call back, and my friend (Rob) answers the phone.  “Still working on it!” he tells me.   I think he is kidding, but he is not.

I’m early so I grab some lunch, and 5 minutes before the show starts I call one more time to say “I’m going to be out of touch for a couple hours.”  Kerry answers, “Can’t talk, still working on it!”

That’s the frame of mind I’m in when the show starts.   I’ll detail the show in Part Three, but let’s jump to when I get home.

The tree is up, tied to the wall.  I see a new vacuum cleaner in the corner, which has been borrowed from our neighbor because ours (which, by the way, was down in the basement hiding behind the Christmas presents) is broken anyway.  All of the carnage has been cleaned up, so I do not fully appreciate what has gone on here today.

The funny part?  First of all, that’s the third time that a tree has gone down on us.  So the way I see it, Christmas trees each come with their own story. :)

Second, the neighborhood Christmas party was tonight, and Kerry’s day is the talk of the town.  Because she called everyone, who in turn bumped into everyone else.  Best story comes from one lady who says “I heard you calling and….well, we don’t have the kids this weekend.  So we…let it ring? You know? We were kinda…ummm…busy. “  Nice.  “After all I figured Oh, that’s Kerry, I’ll see her tonight at the party.”

I see my friend, the one who I called first, and he says the same thing - “Dude, saw you called and figured I’d see you tonight.  What’s up?”

“Tree was on my wife,” I reply.  Takes us awhile to convince him that we are not kidding.

Kerry spends the evening (well deserved drink in hand!) telling people that screw it, next year we’re just converting to Judaism so we don’t have to worry about the tree.  I point out the middle road between Catholicism and Judaism is “artificial tree.”  But we both know that in our world, it’s more likely that we’ll convert than put up a fake tree.  Just not gonna do it. :)  We’ll just have to remember to tie the thing off every year from now on.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Love’s Labour’s Lost Part One : Shakespeare Dreams

So I’ve had a busy week.  Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was coming to town (Holyoke, Mass) to perform Love’s Labour’s Lost, and I’ve been looking forward to it for months.

First came the Shakespeare dream.  I love it when this happens.

It was the day of the show…only, we were at Boston Common, where Commonwealth Shakespeare performs.  “Odd,” my dream self thought, “I did not realize that CommShakes had a winter show.”  Even in the dream I realized that this was not the right place, and I had to get by them in order to get to my show.

The show itself was a rather weird choreographed affair, mostly of children.  They appeared to be dancing, though they were armed, as if miming a large battle scene.  (Funny how this comes into play later during the actual LLL show.)

I jog through much of this (hoping that this is a rehearsal and not a performance, I do not remember seeing an audience).  As I cross to the other side I hear reference to characters of “Richard” and “Katherine”.  I wonder if they are doing Taming of the Shrew, somehow mapping “Richard” to “Petruchio” in my brain.  Even in the dream I recall thinking, “This is probably one of the histories, and I just don’t recognize it.”

The story doesn’t have a climax, that’s really about it.  I never got to LLL in the dream.  Just crashed a rehearsal for what only now occurs to me may not even have been a Shakespeare play to begin with :). 

If I know my brain, and I think I do, then the production was children because of what Keri from Rebel Shakespeare (the kids’ group) has been going through this week.  It was highly choreographed because what little I know of Love’s Labour’s Lost comes from cursory knowledge of Kenneth Brannagh’s movie, which I understand to be a classic 1930’s musical (I’ve not seen it).  I have no idea where the Richard and Katherine references came from, although if I had to guess I’d say that was my brain’s way of generically referring to “the Shakespeare stuff you don’t know.”  Which would be logical, given that I’m not that familiar with LLL, either.

Ok, that’s enough of that story.  Part two shortly.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Hamlet, In The Original Klingon

When I saw “Klingon Hamlet” going around Twitter I ignored it, because I’ve seen it a million times.

Well, ummm, no.  How about a video of someone actually *performing* it (selections, obviously) in Klingon, in full garb as well?


Imagining Shakespeare

I’ve never had a chance to see “Shakespeare & Company” out in Lenox, MA.  Recent stories of their financial difficulty have made me wonder if I’ll ever get the chance.

So it is with great optimism that I link this project by Kevin Sprague, who has compiled a book of some of the best photography he’s done for them over the years. I can’t tell from the writeup whether this is a personal project of his, or a for-profit opportunity for the group as a whole, but I’m hoping for the latter:

I’ve created an exciting new book called “Imagining Shakespeare” that shows a comprehensive look at all of the award-winning photography, design, advertising and illustration work that I have done for Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass for the last 15 years. It is 284 pages, 8.5×11 softcover, with luscious full color throughout.

So if you’ve got money left over this gift giving season(*) and you’re left wondering how to support Shakespeare, perhaps a nice coffee table book for someone?

(*) Given the circumstances I expect these will not exist for this Christmas.  Just saying.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

README : Bring Anya Home

Pardon the interruption folks, but kindly bear with me.

I’ve often mentioned my friends over at Rebel Shakespeare, in particular the founder Keri Cahill who’s already spent a large part of her life dedicated to giving children a gift few people can give.

Well, she’s got something straight out of a Shakespeare play going on in her own life, and it’s taken a nasty turn.

Keri’s got a daughter, Nastia, adopted from Russia.  So far so good.  But, dig this – Nastia finds out that she’s got an older sister Anya that she never knew she had, stuck in a different orphanage.  Keri immediately sets about trying to reunite the sisters, bring Anya to the US and give her a home as well, flying over to Russia to make it happen.  Out from under her Russia essentially changes the rules, declaring Anya to be an adult and pretty much kicking her out on her own.  In the process, making her ineligible for the same sort of adoption that Keri was able to make happen for Nastia.  (At least I think I’ve got the details right.)  The orphanage that Keri’d been working with essentially just disappeared out from under her, years of money and paperwork vanished.

Keri’s been working for years to get Anya an education visa, and had everything so close to complete that she was literally days away, after all this time.  Seriously.  All of her friends have been watching her count down the hours on her Facebook status.  That is, until the US Embassy denied the visa at the last minute.  Why?  Nobody knows.

They’re looking to get some attention, any attention, on the story.  It’s on the local news (NECN, as linked) and will be a live story at 9PM tonight as well.

They’ve got a Facebook group going, too, to get the word out about what’s going on.

It seems like half Keri’s life has been dedicated to Shakespeare.  I think it’s only right that if there’s anything we Shakespeare geeks can do to support her in this heartbreaking part, that we do it.  Post the story on your own blogs.  Forward.  Link.  Repeat.   We’re talking a mother whose kid is stuck in a foreign country, and she can’t do anything about it.  I can’t imagine it.

No Words, No Words … No Words.

When I saw a story about somebody doing Hamlet “without a single one of Shakespeare’s words” I assumed a modern translation, and was all set to lay in some snarky comment about making sure they don’t use any of the words Shakespeare invented, either, if they’re gonna play that game.

Well, umm, no.  The play’s got no words at all.  He’s doing Hamlet entirely as a dumb show.

I'd been thinking about how to do a play that can travel anywhere in the world, without worrying about language barriers. Someone told me that Charlie Chaplin was a huge star in non-English-speaking countries. I started thinking about how to sustain full-length comic narratives without dialogue. I was going to write an original play - something along the lines of satirizing/apologizing for foul American foreign policy - but decided I didn't want my first experiment in the non-verbal medium to also have the pressure of perfecting a new story. I started thinking about stories that I could hang this concept on, and "Hamlet" came to mind pretty quickly. First I thought of the dumbshow, then about how I could establish so many of the characters with body language. It flowed pretty easily after that.

I’m far more interested in it now.  I’m not sure as a modern audience I could sit still for 2+ hours of silence (even Charlie Chaplin movies had background music, didn’t they?) but the idea of making it universal by taking language out of it is neat.  We can say Shakespeare’s universal all we want, but when you get right down to it that means “…to the English speaking world.”  As soon as you translate it, you don’t have Shakespeare’s words anymore.  So why not a project that just gets rid of the words altogether?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

No, I’m the Shakespeare Geek!

Somebody down in Orlando steals my intellectual property :)

I do not dress like that.

Realistic Expectations?

At some point or another in their careers, I expect that all young actors and actresses will consider Shakespeare, in order to be taken seriously.  Sometimes it’ll work, sometimes not.  For every Jude Law there’s an Ethan Hawke.

I think the ladies have it even tougher.  Shakespeare didn’t write many Daisy Duke / blonde bombshell roles, so once an actress is stereotyped as eye candy it’s that much harder for her to be taken seriously.

I was a little worried, then, when I saw this article about country star Carrie Underwood being "more than just blonde hair and a pretty dress", especially when it came up in my Shakespeare filters.  Ugg.

But surprise surprise:

"I don't have an acting "bug." It's not something that is on my bucket list," Underwood said. "But if the right thing came up and we were approached and told 'hey, this would be something cool for you, something small.' I'm not looking to do any Shakespeare or anything major. Something small, something fun and it sounds like it would be a good time then I'd be in."

Maybe she could write a song about Shakespeare instead?  It worked for Taylor Swift.

Memory in Motion

Tips for Memorizing Shakespeare is one of my more popular posts.  So I was happy to see this updated article in my local paper, interviewing professional actors on their own best tips for remembering lines (and what happens when you don’t!):

I had a blooper when I was doing "King Lear." I was playing Regan, and I came walking out onstage and I had to give a bunch of orders, and I started saying . . . something from "Much Ado About Nothing." At that time, I was doing "Much Ado" by day and "Lear" by night, while also learning a new play. But it didn't matter. I said it with such conviction that people bought it.

Digging Up New Place

Archaeologists plan to dig up Shakespeare’s home, known as New Place, some time next year.  This is not the church, this is not his bones.  We’re talking about his house.  Just to get that out of the way.

It seems like an interesting project, not the sort you often hear about.  It’s not like there’s much mystery.  They’re not picking a spot and saying “I wonder if we’ll find anything.”  They known what’s there – at least, generally.  They’re trying to get enough information to create a modern recreation of the place.

I’m all for learning more factual evidence about Shakespeare’s life.  You just know it’ll turn into the same sort of tourist attraction everything else about his life has.  Oh, well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Meeeee Annnnnd Orson, Orson Welles

If you do a movie about Orson Welles, the logical question is going to come up whether you focus entirely on Citizen Kane and War of the Worlds, what he’s most famous for, or if his vast body of Shakespeare work will come into it.  In the new movie “Me and Orson Welles”, which is sure to get some press for the presence of High School Musical star Zac Efron, the answer appears pleasing to Shakespeare geeks:

It's 1937 and for aspiring actors the Mercury Theatre is the place to be. In "Me and Orson Welles," Zac Efron plays Richard Samuels, a plucky actor with chutzpah who ingratiates himself into the world surrounding legendary actor Orson Welles (brilliantly played by newcomer Christian McCay) as he prepares his version of "Julius Caesar," billed as "Caesar: Death of a Dictator."

Truthfully I don’t know anything about his Julius Caesar.  Somebody fill me in?  I’ve seen the Macbeth, Othello and Chimes at Midnight.

I think I’m a generation removed from Orson Welles.  He will, to me, forever be that caricature of himself from assorted cartoons (Pinky and the Brain comes to mind), hocking wine and frozen peas.  Ah well.  I’ve also gotten to see his face during Chimes in the “I know thee not, old man” scene.  I know he can act.

The big scene starts around 8:15 or so, and unfortunately whoever was kind enough to upload the movie also split the uploads right in the middle of this very scene!  This is part 10, you’ll have to move on to part 11 to get the whole sequence.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What’s Your Favorite Non Shakespeare?

I thought of this question while watching a collection of great movie monologues.  I thought, “Shakespeare fans may  not flock to classic literature in general, but they’ve probably got a higher appreciation for the classics than average.”

So here’s my question : Not Shakespeare, what’s your favorite “classic”?  Book, or movie.  Or both. 

Tis the season so I’ll put up some props for A Christmas Carol - you simply *must* hear Patrick Stewart (a Shakespeare Geek fav in his own right!) perform his one-man show.  Brilliance.  I love the way Dickens manages to create characters so vivid that the story has been retold over and over and over again, in every flavor from the Muppets to Mr. Magoo. 

Another shout out to Dickens for A Tale Of Two Cities, one of my favorite “epic novels” in this category.  It certainly screams “high school English”, and I’m not sure that I’d ever sit down and reread it for pleasure, but it might be one of the great “martyr hero” stories of all time.  It is a far far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.  Gives Shakespeare a run for his money.


Lastly, getting back to what originally triggered this post, comes To Kill a Mockingbird, easily one of the top American novels ever, and surely a contender for best book-to-movie translation ever.  When flipping randomly through the channels late on a Sunday night, I stumbled across this movie and immediately froze in my tracks, transfixed.  20+ years out of high school and I sat and explained to my wife just how good this story was, and the whole significance of the “Hi Boo!” scene that we’d just spotted. 

Ok, that’s my list.  Who else?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Goodness, Where Have I Been?

Hi everybody,

It seems like I’ve been neglecting the blog a bit lately, and for that I apologize.  The day job got busy, and then my whole went and got sick (although technically I was the only one to test positive for flu) simultaneously, taking us out of action for over a week.  Between getting back ahead of the game, and the upcoming holidays, I’m finding very little time to get things posted.

I do have some stuff, most notably a book review (Actors Talk About Shakespeare) and a movie review (Teller’s Macbeth).  I just have to finish both so I can get them posted!

Sorry I haven’t been around.  I hope to get back on track soon.



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Shakespeare and The Muppets

Everybody knows it’s the anniversary of Sesame Street this week, and I’d be late to the game if I broke out a bunch of “Shakespeare on Sesame Street” moments. Mostly since we’ve been down those roads before.

Instead I’ll link to this story by Stefanie C. Peters (my Twitter pal) about the actual timeline of Shakespeare references across the lifetime of the muppets.  We all know about Patrick Stewart doing the B thing, and Cookie’s Monsterpiece Theatre bits.  But what about *before* that?  How about Rowlf the Dog on the Jimmy Dean show?  Shakespeare there, too.  How about before *that*?  I admit, I’ve seen the Rowlf stuff but anything before that was new to me.

Worth the read just for the description of hypothetical(??) musical “Kermit, Prince of Denmark.”

Anybody that knows me and this blog at all knows I would so be standing in line for that, with three little geeklets in tow.

Quartos, Quartos, Quartos! (Quartos)

It’s funny when you say it over and over like that :).  The Folger this week announced their interactive online version to 32 rare, early editions of Hamlet.  Very cool. 

I don’t think they are the first to do this, but I’m intrigued by the idea of an annotations layer.  Looking forward to what sorts of notes people make in the virtual margins, to so speak.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who Wants Google Wave Invites?

Ok, I’ve only got a couple left (2, to be specific), but I’d like to make sure some Shakespeare geeks get a shot.

I’m not going to bother explaining what Google Wave is, because either you saw “invite” in the title and jumped at the chance, or you have no idea.

If you’re interested, send me an email telling me how you’d use this new collaboration tool for a Shakespeare-related project.  (Whether you follow through or not is up to you).

I’m out of commission with the something strongly resembling the flu right now, but in a couple days I’ll pick some random responses and send out the invites.

UPDATE Invites sent!  Enjoy, and invite more Shakespeare geeks! Pay it forward!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Shakespeare Had No Blackberry

I’m not going to bother linking the story that I saw, as I don’t think they care enough about Shakespeare to take their passing (albeit, titular) reference to Shakespeare any further (farther?)

But you may see it floating around.  It’s from an environmental/green site arguing for the Luddite “tech is bad for us” point of view.   “Shakespeare had no Blackberry,” it argues, “And Aristotle managed without an iPhone”:

Shakespeare had no Blackberry; Aristotle managed without an i-Phone. Christianity spread round the globe without blogs. Christ preached his sermon on the mount without the need of a PA system and Powerpoint presentation. All of our technology is completely unnecessary to a happy life.

Does this ring stupid for anyone else?  Shakespeare also had no MODERN MEDICINE AND LIVED DURING THE PLAGUE, YOU MORONS.  IT IS ONLY THROUGH LUCK THAT WE HAVE HIM AT ALL.  I do not think, sitting at the deathbed of his only son, that Shakespeare was thinking about how happy his life was.  I think he would have been that much happier with penicillin.

It is ludicrous to point to the “best” of past eras and say “See, they managed,” you mindless fools.  You should be asking who we *dont* have, who we *lost* because we failed to save them.  Don’t look at what Aristotle and others accomplished and say “See? They managed.”  Look at them and say “What else could they have achieved?”  How on the one hand can you hold up Shakespeare as one of the great geniuses of the last 500 years, but in the same breath argue for the conditions that allowed him to “manage”?  Wouldn’t you be better off looking for ways in which he could thrive?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

1795 Book Value?

Got a request from a reader how she might go about finding the value of a very old book:

The book is "The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare" First American Edition Vol. III.

It is printed and sold by Bioren & Madan in MDCCXCV.

It appears it is from a set of 8 books. It is worn with yellowed mottled pages and has some writing in pencil on the inside front & back covers and on some pages. On the title page it has a signature that appears to have been written with a quill pen.

Anybody recognize the description and can offer a background?  Any book collectors got links to the good sites for doing research about such things?

Post details here, and I’ll forward back to the original requestor, if she’s not already listening.


Friday, November 06, 2009

McSweeney’s Is At It Again!

McSweeney’s was all over the map a few months ago with their Hamlet on Facebook, and now they’re at it again.  This time it’s the Shakespeare Police Blotter, and covers a number of favorites:

John Macduff, 32, of Fife County, decapitated his long-time acquaintance and political rival, William Macbeth, of Cawdor County, last Sunday at the latter man's home in Dunsinane.

At approximately 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, a Verona man ingested a fatal dose of arsenic inside his lover's family's mausoleum. He was later identified as Romeo Montague, 22. A second victim, later identified as Juliet Capulet, 17, also of Verona, was found dead next to him.

I just realized they made Juliet 17, I wonder why?  Seems odd that they’d miss such an obvious detail, they seem to know their stuff otherwise.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Hamlet is 16. Discuss.

In my head, the words and works of Shakespeare are … how can I explain this …. they exist outside of time.  They are timeless, and I mean that in all senses of the word.  I could not tell you off the top of my head whether Merchant of Venice is technically supposed to happen in 1275, 1623 or 1941.  It is part of what I love.  It is what enables people to go to the well over and over and over again, keeping the essence while simultaneously changing everything.  If you tried to tell me that there is something about Hamlet that *must* take place in 1601, you’d ruin it for me.

So it is something of an eye opener for me to stumbled across a book like Steve Roth’s “Hamlet : The Undiscovered Country” where he very literally maps the action of Hamlet to actual calendar days, in the process rebuilding many core beliefs about the play. I am not in the least kidding when I say that he discusses which of the action, for example, happens on a Monday.  More so, *what* Monday and why that is important, why Shakespeare chose it.

I first stumbled across Steve’s work on the “Hamlet is 30” topic, which we’ve discussed twice before.  It is his position that the well known “I have been sexton here, man and boy 30 years” – the primary evidence that Hamlet is 30 – is actually a misinterpretation.  He feels that the line actually reads “I (the gravedigger) have been sixteen here (i.e., have been at this job 16 years)…”

It is a bold position to take.  The secondary bit of evidence, that Yorick – who Hamlet played with as a child – died 23 years ago, is harder to contradict.  But Roth finds Q1 evidence that the line was originally 12 years, which would fall right in line.

As I said above, and as my regular readers probably know, this is not how I do it.  There’s a world of difference between just assuming that “some time” elapsed before the nunnery confrontation, and mapping that time out to a number of days, a time of year, everything.  The flowers that Ophelia picked (if she didn’t imagine them), were they in bloom at that time of year? The old king was supposedly sleeping in his orchard… how cold was it?  There are folks that eat that stuff up.  I’m willing to bet that there’s a handful of regular readers of my blog, in fact, who are all over it.

It’s often hard to make the case, and Roth knows that.  When he’s got details he makes his case clear.  When the case is a little weaker on fact, he’s not afraid to say “That sounds about right.”  In particular, Hamlet’s time with the pirates is particularly tricky to nail down.

There are also times where I just don’t plain understand what calendar we’re supposed to be using.  The anachronism of “going back to Wittenberg” is oft cited – it wasn’t there in Hamlet’s time, but would have been in Shakespeare’s time.  Ok, fair enough.  But much of Roth’s calendar calculation is done against the 1601 calendar, when Hamlet would have been *performed*, not when it took place.  Is that too much a convenience?  Did Hamlet really write in jokes and references that would have been out of date a year later, much less 400?

Within all the calendar counting, though, there are still opportunities to learn new things (again, this is part of what I love).  For instance, this book brings up the idea that Hamlet’s harping on Gertrude not going to bed with Claudius is not because he’s got some Oedipal issues, but because (if Hamlet is 16, mind you), Gertrude is clearly still young enough to bear a child by Claudius.  A child that would be next in line to the throne, bumping Hamlet out of the picture.  Maybe that’s common knowledge, but I’d never thought of it.  And if Hamlet is 30, it’s more far fetched.

Roth’s book is small, barely 150 pages, and has it’s fair share of tables taking up space.  So it’s a quick read.  You don’t have to buy the “Hamlet is 16” premise to enjoy it either, though Roth certainly makes a good showing for his case.  This book would be a fine addition to the collection of any Hamlet geeks out there.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Shakespeare Tarot

Have you ever seen the Shakespeare Oracle deck of Tarot cards?  It’s really quite beautiful, and I kick myself that I did not buy when I had the chance.  Whenever I stumble across a shop that deals in such a things I still browse through, in hopes of seeing another one.

The linked article is an interview with Cynthia Von Buhler, the artist who did the cards.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Yes, But Shakespeare Tastes Like Book

My family is going through the classic Muppet Show (via Netflix) one episode disc at a time, and tonight we got to see Season 1, Episode 1 – the very first Muppet Show.

They often did a “ballroom” segment, where various couples danced and told relatively standard jokes.  In this episode, two pigs are dancing.

Pig #1:  Do you prefer Shakespeare to Bacon?

Pig #2:  I prefer anything to bacon!

<insert Statler and Waldorf old man laugh here>

Later in the show, though, Kermit tells Juliette Prowse that he does not want to be accused of “gilding the lily pad.” I wonder if the writers that threw in the Shakespeare joke realized the connection?

Monday, November 02, 2009

What Do Sonnets Sound Like?

What do Shakespeare’s sonnets sound like?  There’s no end of discussion about performance of the plays, what iambic pentameter and punctuation mean to the motivation of the characters, and even the stage directions.  But what of the sonnets? Intended for publication (or perhaps not?), we’re not used to hearing them performed in quite the same way.

Such is the challenge that Will Sutton over at I Love Shakespeare has taken upon himself, recording his performance of all 154 sonnets.

I’ve known about his site for awhile, and it took a reminder to get me off my butt and look at it more seriously.  After all, it takes awhile to listen to that many sonnets.  Will’s got his own embedded player as well, so you can follow along with the text of the sonnet while you listen to his performance.

Truthfully, though, the geek in me couldn’t resist a shortcut.  After admiring the site’s coding (nice use of XML, Will) I wrote a quick scraper to pull down all the MP3 files and get them onto my ipod.  I lose the text that way, but it’s the only real way I’m ever going to get the time to listen to them :).

The actual audio is interesting.  These are not “dramatic readings” like you might hear out of a Ralph Fiennes or Alan Rickman on the Love Speaks cd.  No, these are more like…how to put it, like a reference version.  There are actors who say “Well, this is *my* interpretation.”  I think Will’s approach is more that there is specifically a “right” way to do it, and he’s trying to deliver them that way.  It’s pretty clear that he’s doing this out of love for the material.  The audio production quality is quite high.  This does not sound like a guy sitting behind the built-in mic in his laptop.  There are no throat clears or unexpected pauses for breath.  He’s taken the task seriously and done a very nice job of it.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not qualified on how good his actual delivery is.  Is he pausing in all the right places, emphasizing where he should?  I mean, it sounds good to me.   I know you can’t listen to a long stream of them with no context – they start to run together.  That’s totally my fault for trying to play them like that.  Although it does actually make me think that he could try his had at an audiobook.  Make some bumpers that talk briefly about each sonnet, and then deliver the performance.  Repeat until done.  Wrap that all up into a single MP3 file, package it with a PDF, and put it out on the net.  Could be a big hit.  I know a number of sonnet books, but very few offer audio commentary.  Those that due, certainly do not do a performance of all 154.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Shakespeare Geeks on The Bench

Courtesy of our friend Carl Atkins comes this pointer to the case of Bernard Kerik, who if I understand it right is a former head of New York City corrections department, and is either in the midst of a corruption trial or appealing one, or something. 

Anyway, it seems that Mr. Kerik’s half a million dollar bail was just revoked by US District Judge Stephen C. Robinson on grounds that he (Kerik) was disclosing confidential information about his case.

Why is it here?  Because this particular judge likes to quote Shakespeare:

The judge recited Shakespeare's Sonnet 29 in reference to Kerik, to illustrate his point that Kerik sees himself as an outcast unjustly attacked by the federal government.

The actual line, for those not familiar, is “When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state.”  I’m guessing the judge picked up on the “I all alone beweep” bit, i.e. “No one else is weeping for you, buddy.”

Friday, October 30, 2009

Anthony Hopkins to Join THOR

Bonus points to the article’s writer who starts off with “Sounds more like a Shakespeare play than a superhero movie,” because yes, yes it does.  Kenneth Branagh going from Hamlet to Marvel is strange enough, but adding in Anthony Hopkins as Odin?  Anthony Hopkins who is set to play King Lear sometime next year?

I’m actually both intrigued and a little worried by this.  How can a man play the most powerful of all the gods, and then switch over to a frail old man who spends most of his time between raging against those same gods, and cowering before them?  It’ll be genius if he can pull it off.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

And Now…. Sir Ian.

Just a little piece on Sir Ian McKellen from the Boston Globe this week, for those who are fans.  Thoughts on the popularity of his Shakespeare versus his Gandalf and Magneto, and what his next project will be (alas, though a “classic”, it’s not Shakespeare).

If you’re at all sitting there and thinking to yourself that old Shakespearean actors must be a complete bore to listen to, do not miss Sir Ian Pretending.  He may not get to use it much in his blockbuster roles, but the man’s got a killer sense of humor.

Please Do Not Joke About Burning A First Folio

We have a gazillion (that’s a scientific term for “metric buttload”) of books about the publication of the sonnets, but how many do we have about the First Folio?  I mean, I’m sure like all things Shakespearean there are more than a few, but it’s not like I see them knocking down my door like the aforementioned sonnet books.

Hence my curiosity about Paul Collins’ “The Book Of William”, where he goes in search of the known 230 copies of the most important book in the history of literature.  Sounds like he’s got a sense of humor, too:

“In a room filled with middle-aged men in spectacles and dapper linen blazers for the July heat, I’m the one guy who looks most likely to douse himself in lighter fluid and scream gibberish about Freemasons,’’ he jokes. Later, at auction, he finds himself “within spitballing distance of Steve Martin.’’

I have to admit I cringe at the image (lighting the book on fire, not spitballing Steve Martin).  I’ve read too many “DaVinci Code for Shakespeare” stories.  Is it wrong of me that in the image he describes he never actually mentions burning the book, but I care more about that than the human being? :)

I wonder if I’ll be able to get my hands on this one?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Curse You, Macbeth Witches

So this morning on the way out the door to school, my oldest daughter showed me a Halloween poem that was pinned to the school-stuff wall.  As she read it in the sing-songy poem voice that little kids are so good at, I noticed it is very similar to the obvious, from Macbeth.  I told her that I’d get that one for her to bring to school.

Problem #1:

Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one

Somebody break those last two lines down for me, so that they a) rhyme and b) scan?  It looks like the Toad line doesn’t have enough syllables, and despite all our discussions on counting and timing and such, I can’t figure out how to break it up to keep the rhythm.


Problem #2:

For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Pretty sure nobody’s gonna like me teaching “hell” to 7yr olds.  Looking for something I can swap in there to keep the general idea but not push the boundaries.

Problem #3:

Liver of blaspheming Jew,

Pretty sure no version of that’s gonna make the final cut. :) 

Here’s the edited version that I’m working on.  Doesn’t need to be particularly long, it’s more important to whittle it down to something that 7th graders would be allowed to recite without getting strange looks.  I may just chop the first verse and go with the middle (“Fillet of…”) plus the bumpers.  But then I still need to swap out “hell broth”.

Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone   [ <—problem 1]
Days and nights has thirty-one 
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.  <-- #2
Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Oh, Sure … *Now*.

What caught my eye was not the Playing Shakespeare, but rather the sponsor – DeutscheBank.  The title of the project is actually “Playing Shakespeare with DeutscheBank.”

It helps the story to know that I was employed by DeutscheBank in the 1998-2002 era.  More specifically I was employed by Scudder Stevens and Clark, oldest mutual fund house in the US I believe, which then became Scudder Kemper Investments (bad move *), which then became Zurich Scudder, which then became DeutscheBank, which then led to the whole northeast office being shut down.

I have no love for DeutscheBank.  Whether they play Shakespeare or not.

(*) For the financial inclined – Scudder was, like, the inventor of the retail mutual fund.  A product whose whole purpose in life was to tell the end consumer “You don’t need a financial advisor to buy this for you, and eat up all your money in fees.  You can buy it direct.”  And then they went and bought a financial advisor company.  Oil and water, is that the expression?  I was in IT at the time, and I remember at least one meeting where the advisor people demanded their own web infrastructure so that the database of customers who were still stuck paying for advisors would never ever get the opportunity to see the world of do it yourself.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Agincourt Was An Even Fight?

This one caught me off guard.

Henry V’s “happy few” were not outnumbered five to one by the French at the Battle of Agincourt, as traditionally believed, but were in a much more even fight, according to new research.

I don’t think it’ll change my opinion of the speech at all, but this new research suggests that rather than 4 to 1 odds (24,000 French against 6,000 English) it may have been closer to 12k to 9k. 

By the way who’s the genius that clearly states the 24k and 6k figures, but also says “5 to 1” earlier in the article?  Am I missing something?

Thou Base Footballer!

I suppose this is a nice article about a particularly well rounded football coach who is happy to share with you his favorite kids’ shows, heavy metal band, and even Shakespeare plays – he’s partial to Henry IV Part II, an interesting choice.

Here’s the thing, though.  We’re talking about Jim Schwartz, coach of the Detroit Lions – the worst team in football. 

No, seriously.  This is the team that set the record for going winless last season (to be fair, Schwartz was just hired this season), but who are starting out something like 1-5 so he’s got a long road ahead of him.  Maybe a little less time watching Phineas and Ferb and reading Dan Brown, and more time watching video of the game.  I don’t see anybody doing one of these profiles on Bill Belichick.

[ For the curious, Schwartz was hired away from the Tennessee Titans, who now hold the dubious distinction of losing 59-0 to the New England Patriots last week. ]

Bric-a-Brac Theatre : Romeo and Juliet, starring Christopher Walken?

I’m not quite sure what I just watched, but I like it.  Narrated by Christopher Walken, this little movie tells the story of Romeo and Juliet from Cupid’s point of view.  Of course, Cupid is voiced by John Madden, Romeo is Nicholas Cage, and a few other surprise “guest” voices.  Neat.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shakespeare and New Media

Folger’s reporting on a call for papers for a special issue of the Shakespeare Quarterly called “Shakespeare and New Media”:

Shakespeare's works have provided launch content for new media technologies since the seventeenth century, as Peter Donaldson has observed. At the turn of the 21st century, we are experiencing particularly rapid transformation of our basic tools for studying, teaching, learning, reading, performing, editing, archiving, and adapting Shakespeare.

Shakespeare Quarterly invites submissions of essays on the impact of media change, now, in all these arenas of Shakespeare studies. Submissions that make innovative use of new media publication modes, such as hyperlinks to the Folger Shakespeare Library's digitized collections, are particularly welcome.

I know I made it into somebody’s PhD thesis once upon a time (they requested permission to cite the blog), and somebody over in the Oxfordian camp used some material from Shakespeare Geek in their recent newsletter as well.   Maybe we’ll make this issue as well? :)  Hint hint?

Madness? This is Shakespeare!

Ok, that meme is long dead, but it’s true that Gerard Butler is still pretty much known as “the screamy guy from 300, the Sparta movie.” 

Well pretty soon he can add Coriolanus to the list, which when you think of it is probably not that much of a stretch.  I expect Coriolanus to wear more clothing.  And I never saw all of 300, so I’m not quite sure what Sparta guy’s relationship was to his mother.  Kicking people into bottomless pits could maybe work in both.

UPDATE : Ralph Fiennes is actually slated to play the lead, no word on who Butler will play. Thoughts?

UPDATE 2 : Thank you, Twitter!

“It looks like I might be doing Coriolanus, the Shakespeare play, the movie version… the adaptation of. Ralph Fiennes will be directing and playing Coriolanus and I’d be playing Tullus Aufidius his nemesis!”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gnomeo and Juliet Is Really Happening

[Thanks, Twitter!]

If we go all the way back to April, 2006 we find our first mention of Gnome and Juliet, the Disney animated version of Romeo and Juliet, in the world of garden gnomes.

Looks like it is actually happening, as you’ve got Eugene Levy on video talking about doing voice work for it.  Scheduled for release in 2011.  Cool!

I just wish I could get somebody to listen to me and do The Tempest, instead of R and J again.  After all, I’ve already got a version with seals.


UPDATE : Since Levy does not mention it, here’s a link with more of a direct Disney connection.  It’s part of their Miramax studios.

If Shakespeare Were Alive Today …. What?

I see this question all the time on Twitter.  If Shakespeare were alive today he’d be writing soap operas.  He’d be hanging out with Lady Gaga.  He’d have a blog.  And so on.

Pretty much all of those come from folks with little more than the typical knowledge of “Shakespeare as great writer” much like you’d associate “Einstein” with “genius” without having a clue about what the latter contributed to science.  Ya know?

So I’m curious.  Most of us here are fairly well versed in Mr. Shakespeare, all facets of his life.  What *do* we think he’d be doing? 

Here’s a couple to get it rolling:

* I highly doubt he would have had a shotgun marriage to Anne Hathaway. That alone could alter his whole life story.

* He could work “virtually” anywhere, and wouldn’t have to leave his wife and kids in one town while he trekked off to live miles away for most of the year.

* He’d have the potential for worldwide recognition, and as such could have potential audiences with a number of world leaders.  However, unlike his own time, he wouldn’t be constrained by fear of pissing off those leaders and ending up in jail.  He could be much more direct in his political commentary.

* Assuming he made a success of himself I expect he’d spent a great deal of time suing people for copyright infringement.  Back in his day it was much harder to bust people for it, but we do know that Shakespeare was the litigious sort who wouldn’t let a debt go unanswered, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him attempt to go after the pirates.

* While he’d be good at self promotion and no doubt have a fairly significant brand associated with his name, I wouldn’t expect to see him hanging out on Twitter for example. Why give it away?  He’s a business man, people pay him for what he writes.

Back To Edward III For A Minute,8599,1930971,00.html

I said I’d come back to this story when I had a moment and could find a good link.  The Time article seems to get all the relevant details, including some examples of the important phrases found in Shakespeare’s work that are also to be found in Edward III.

Don’t get me wrong, the computer geek in me thinks it’s an interesting story.  I just think the reporting on it is a little … overboard.  Look at the title - “How Plagiarism Software Found A New Shakespeare Play”.  Found?  New?  Now look at the very first paragraph of the article:

Yet the software may have settled a centuries-old mystery over the authorship of an unattributed play from the late 1500s called The Reign of Edward III. Literature scholars have long debated whether the play was written by Shakespeare — some bits are incredibly Bard-like, but others don't resemble his style at all. The verdict, according to one expert: the play is likely a collaboration between Shakespeare and Thomas Kyd, another popular playwright of his time.

So how do you find a new play that is centuries old, and long considered to maybe have been Shakespeare already?  And am I the only one that sees that big old likely right in the middle of the last sentence? 

Much of the rest of the article (and the story overall) is directed at the general populace, less so than we geeks.  We know, for instance, and are not bothered by the fact that Shakespeare collaborated with other playwrights.  Yet the article phrases it like, “Why would Shakespeare need to collaborate?”, taking the classic position of Shakespeare as literary god who put perfect pen to page and never blotted lines.

When we start saying that Shakespeare wrote 39 plays instead of 38, somebody let me know.  Heck, I still haven’t read Noble Kinsmen yet! :)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Just Another Marlowe Monday

Also making an appearance in my “star for later” bucket is Casablanca Girl’s “Hamlet / Dr. Faustus” crossover.  At 1000 words or so it’s a pretty quick read.

The premise is kind of neat.  Everybody’s quick to point out that Hamlet at Wittenburg is complete anachronism, as the university did not exist in Hamlet’s time (it did in Shakespeare's).  So then was Shakespeare maybe copying directly from Marlowe?  Is the connection deliberate?

Marlowe. Kit, Marlowe

Always fun to talk about the mystery man that some feel was indeed Shakespeare himself in disguise (that is, Marlowe wrote as Shakespeare – stay with me, people.)  I’m not quite sure the larger point of this article at “La Stampa”, and I think this might even be part 6 of something larger, but it’s loaded with good Marlowe info that casual geeks may not have already known:

This is what the “School of Night”, which formed around Sir Walter Raleigh did. Here the greatest original minds of the day thought and discussed in secret the unthinkable and Raleigh, another self-made man of extravagant tastes, and the Queen’s favourite became Marlowe’s patron. Like Tamburlaine Raleigh was a man of humble origins who was setting out to conquer the “New” World in Virginia and was capable of barbarity in Ireland. Like Dr Faustus were the mathematical genius Thomas Heriot who created modern algebra and went to Virginia, the “Wizard Earl” of Northumberland, the greatest contemporary Alchemist/scientist Dr John Dee and the cosmologist Giordano Bruno; all friends of Marlowe in the School of Night. Indeed both Raleigh and Marlowe were accused of “atheism” though they were probably, like later Isaac Newton, Arians; denying the divinity of Christ.

I’m no Marlowe Geek so I can’t speak to how much of the article is the same old stuff, how much is just restating urban legend, and how much might actually be new.  But I found it a nice change of pace from all the “Computer proved Shakespeare didn’t work alone!” stories cluttering my newsfeeds this past week.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Prospero Lost

Now, see, how come I don’t get to review stuff like this?

More than four hundred years after the events of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the sorcerer Prospero, his daughter Miranda, and his other children have attained everlasting life. Miranda is the head of her family’s business, Prospero Inc., which secretly has used its magic for good around the world. One day, Miranda receives a warning from her father: “Beware of the Three Shadowed Ones.” When Miranda goes to her father for an explanation, he is nowhere to be found.

I’m dying to make a joke about Ethan Hawke playing Miranda, you realize. :)

When Shall Comm Shakes Perform Again?

For those in the Boston area:  I note with serious interest that Commonwealth Shakespeare, the wonderful people who bring us Shakespeare on the Common every summer, are sending out mysterious messages on Twitter about another play, coming in November.  How exciting would *that* be?  I highly doubt it’ll be free and outdoors, but then again, who knows what they’re up to?

Hamlet Was Gay?

How’s *that* for an attention grabbing headline?  Such is the premise of Myrlin A. Hermes’ coming novel, “The Lunatic, The Lover, And The Poet,” waiting for me this morning.  The book comes out in January, but sometimes I get sneak peeks like this :)

A 16th-century Divinity student at Wittenberg University, Horatio prides himself on his ability to argue both sides of any debate--but does not fully believe in anything. Then he meets the beautiful, provocative, and quite possibly mad Prince of Denmark, who teaches him more about both earth and Heaven than any of his philosophy books.
But his patroness, the dark and manipulative Lady Adriane, employs her own seductive wiles to test whether the "platonic true-love" described in Horatio's poetry is truly so platonic--or so true. And when a mysterious rival poet calling himself "Will Shakespeare" begins to court both Prince Hamlet and his dark lady, Horatio is forced to choose between his skepticism and his love.
Laced with quotes, wordplay, thespian in-jokes, bed-tricks, cross-dressing, and a steamy bisexual love-triangle inspired by Shakespeare's own sonnets, this witty, sexy new novel will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about the Bard.

There’s a video trailer up on her site, if you’re curious.   What’s got me thinking is that right at the end the word ‘satire’ flashes on the screen.  Is the whole thing a joke? A comedy?  At first I thought it was just traditional net slash fiction gone book length.  But now I wonder …

Monday, October 12, 2009

How Old Is Too Young?

Over at The Shakespeare Place, regular commenter JM has finally put up a topic that’s near and dear to my heart : kids and Shakespeare. 

Regular readers know my answer.  Cruise back through the archives (sorry, I am way too busy at the day job to bring up the links) and you’ll find recordings of my kids – as young as 2 – reciting Sonnet 18.  Or my 3yr old naming her Barbie dolls Regan and Goneril, and asking to sleep with King Lear under her pillow.  Or my 5yr old asking me to explain Hamlet’s ghost.  Or drawing the shipwreck scene from The Tempest on the back of her placemat at breakfast.

The all too common response to Shakespeare among schoolchildren is “Oh, no.”  What I get from my children is “Oh, cool!”

I think that most people start late, and then only come to appreciate what Shakespeare really means later in life.  I am hoping beyond hope that my kids get the kind of jumpstart I never had, and who knows, maybe go on to discover depths as yet undiscovered.

Edward III, Now With More Shakespeare

[ ADMIN : For some reason I cannot access any of the key articles about this breaking topic, even though it’s all over my newsfeeds.  I’ll try to update this post with pointers when I figure out what the problem is. ]

When I go on vacation, I like to seek out used bookstores.  When I find those, I like to seek out Shakespeare books.  I recently found a 100yr old Venus and Adonis that I have to get around to blogging more about.

But once I saw Edward III, by William Shakespeare.  “Odd,” I thought, “Shakespeare never wrote an Edward III.”

According to today’s news, that’s half right.  A researcher claims, with the help of his computers, that Shakespeare worked with Thomas Kyd to write this play.

I want to see the original articles because I want to see how frequently people are saying “did write” and how often they’re saying “may have written.”  Because if it’s the latter, well then, didn’t we already know that?  And haven’t we proven nothing?  May have also implies may not have, after all.

But if it’s pitched as conclusive prove, definitely did, then I think that’s just silly.  No amount of textual analysis is going to *prove* anything.  It’s going to raise your confidence higher, perhaps so high as to be indistinguishable from proof, but that still doesn’t make it proof.

More info on the story when I get some links to work.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Two Hours’ Traffic…But Talk Fast!

BardBlog’s got a good point, noting the difference between the prologue from Romeo and Juliet clearly saying “two hours’ traffic of the stage”, and with the more accepted feeling that Shakespeare must be 3 or 4 or even 5 hours long.  Why the difference?

It’s all in how quickly you deliver the lines, apparently.  “Stop acting between the lines!” he tells us. 

Shakespeare’s plays (and most other classical works) are not natural everyday speech, it’s thought and action. When people criticize Shakespeare saying “nobody talks like that!” smack them. I mean, say, “That’s the point!” People think a lot faster than they speak, and if the verse is thought, then the words need to move a lot faster than natural speech.

Of course there are times when the verse should be spoken slower, and maybe even (gasp!) pause.

I guess I’d have to see it.  Somebody show me a scene and say “These people are playing it too slow” and then show me that same scene and say “It should have gone more like this.”  Then I’ll understand better what’s being discussed here.

How Iago Defines The World

Now there’s a scary headline if I’ve ever heard one.  How bad is the world, exactly, if you’re defining it in Iago terms?

The New York Times spins off the recent badly reviewed Othello, by Peter Sellars, to look at who Iago is and what he’s always meant.

Focusing on the themes of “transparency” versus “secrecy”, the article takes  a number of interesting turns.  The new movie “The Invention of Lying” comes up, as does Michael Jackson’s death, David Letterman, and of course, Obama.

The moral agony of “Othello” is, in fact, that its bone-chilling villain is the only character who is in possession of the play’s truth. Through his machinations, Iago demonstrates that directness and honesty are, indeed, not safe — and in fact never are — because the overly transparent victim sometimes invites the predator’s manipulations and so becomes complicit with him.


Friday, October 09, 2009

Oxford : The Movie

More info about disaster-king Roland Emmerich’s new movie about the Authorship question.  Turns out that it’ll be a “political thriller” about Edware de Vere.  I like how the interviewer starts by asking “Marlowe?” rather than Bacon.  Of course, the answer when someone says “Bacon?” is “I’d love some, thank you.”

More “disaster” jokes are just too easy.  But man, the Oxfordians are gonna be in seventh heaven when this comes out, aren’t they?

“Pssst!  Dude, this guy dies before Macbeth is written.  How we gonna get around that?”

“Time machine!”

Young Hamlet’s Agony

I always stop and read when I see Shakespeare references mixed in with politics.  Here we have somebody comparing Obama’s needed decisions about what to do in Afghanistan with the melancholy prince of Denmark.  I believe the point of the comment, and I need to read more, is that much like our beloved Hamlet, Obama can’t seem to make a decision to save his life.

Don’t know whether that’s an accurate assumption or not, I have to read both articles.  But I wanted to get the link up so I didn’t lose it over the weekend.

Macbeth, Othello and King Lear Walk Into A Bar

No, seriously, that’s how the article starts:

Macbeth, Othello, and King Lear walk into a bar... what happens next? Director Sam L. Linden ’10 and his cast have worked to answer just that question. The Hyperion Shakespeare Company’s newest production, “Seven Deadly Sins of Shakespeare,” has created a user-friendly version of Shakespeare’s works in a short, action-packed montage of sins and laughs.

Doing a “sampler” of Shakespeare scenes isn’t particularly new, but the canon offers so much to choose from it’s fun to see how people put different scenes together to make a connection.  Here, the director’s going with “7 deadly sins”.

But is it off target in its interpretation, or perhaps just a little too shallow?

Whether it is the wrath of the Macbeths, Iago’s envy of Othello or Falstaff’s gluttony, each scene will present the audience with a collage of human flaws and malicious intent.

Wrath of the Macbeths?  I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve heard wrath as a defining word for that play, rather than ambition or obsession.  And is gluttony the best word for Falstaff, or just the easiest?

The Seven Deadly Sins, and yes I had to go look these up, are commonly summarized as:  Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride.

Which Shakespeare characters would you put in each role? I’m immediately tempted to associated Lear with wrath, but I recognize that that’s for his “come not between a dragon and his wrath” comment. Still, though, his temper does have something to do with his problems.  Given the choices, is Macbeth better defined by greed?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Shakespeare In Love … With Roman Polanski

Ok, when I saw a Roman Polanski story turn up in my newsfeed filters I assumed there’d be some reference to his 1971 Macbeth.

Nope.  In this case it’s a Shakespeare In Love reference.  It seems that producer Harvey Weinstein was at the forefront of recently circulated Hollywood memo of support for child rapist Roman Polanski.  Weinstein was also the producer for Shakespeare in Love.

But wait!  The connection is deeper, the article suggests.  We Shakespeare geeks know that Shakespeare In Love won the Oscar for best picture in 1999, beating out Saving Private Ryan, which many people still scream is the greatest tragedy in the history of that particular award.  So be it.

Gary Thompson argues that Weinstein is typical of Hollywood’s growing insular nature, where it no longer cares about anything but itself:

…its story of a theater troupe outsmarting censors reminded all of the writers and actors who vote for the Academy Awards how wonderful they are.

He then goes on to suggest that this is Weinstein’s method – make movies that flatter actors and writers, because they’re the ones that vote.  They don’t want to be reminded of WWII, they want to be reminded of how wonderful they are.

I don’t know if I agree or not.  But I do know that the next time the topic comes up I’ll have a point to make. :)

It’s Time Once Again For Meet The Geeks

I haven’t done one of these in a little bit, and the growing number of Shakespeare sites out there reminds me that maybe I should.

A blog’s only as good as its content, and as much of that content comes from the comments, as from the original articles.  I can’t take credit for that.  Nor do I want to single out individuals, since missing folks would be a huge faux pas and I’m not typically good at that sort of thing anyway.

So I regularly like to open it up for folks to introduce themselves and their projects.  Free plug time.  Who are you, and what’s Shakespeare to you?  Actor, director, teacher, student?  Got a site of your own?  A show?  A book? Let’s hear it.  I’m officially giving permission to include links.  It’s not much, but the least I can do as a thank you for your contributions is to throw a little traffic your way.

Ground rules : It’s gotta be a Shakespeare thing, if that’s not obvious.  I’m not so much with the spamming.

I’d Love A Romeo, But I Think I’m More Falstaff-Shaped

Now, see, this is just a tease.  Normally I do not get dressed up for Halloween, but apparently kids’ school is having a family night and going as a family implies that we all get dressed up.  The thought most certainly crossed my mind (I just mentioned it on Twitter not 10 minutes ago) about doing something Shakespearey.

Wouldn’t you know it, but the Shakespeare Theatre Company is having a costume sale!

Because the theater has covered a lot of Shakespearean ground since 2006—remember Twelfth Night, Hamlet, and Macbeth?—the selection is diverse. Period details such as doublets, cloaks, and armor pull an elaborate character together—or check out some of the unexpected options, such as animal headdresses or 1960s mod fashions. And it’s not just clothes, either: There’ll be jewelry, masks, and props such as sculpted wedding rings and table settings from The Taming of the Shrew.

Alas, it’s down in Washington DC and I’m no way near there.  But if you are, go check it out!

More details can be found here:

(There’s gotta be a joke in here someplace about going as Bottom and not needing a costume at all…..)

Can We Call This The Falstaff Contest?

I must be getting old because I don’t understand about 9o% of this “Candy Council of Cool” blog post.  But one bit did catch my attention (more specifically it caught my filter’s attention, and then mine :)).  I don’t fully understand what sort of initiation they’re talking about, but the challenge sounds fun:

First, they had to memorize and exchange Shakespearean lines (Act II, Scene 1 of “The Merry Wives of Windsor”) in 10 minutes; and Second, they had to eat the most number of donuts in 10 seconds!

Memorize Shakespeare and eat donuts?  I think I want to join.

The fact that they picked Merry Wives, featuring our loveably corpulent Falstaff, makes it that much more enjoyable.  I wonder if they did that on purpose?

Happy National(?) Poetry Day

Well I’m not in the UK so it’s not technically my nation, but Shakespeare’s home turf is celebrating National Poetry Day today (Thursday, Oct 8).  It didn’t feel right to not mention it just because I’m over here across the pond.

Anybody want to offer up some poetry for the occasion?

I’ll forego the sonnets and offer up some Ariel, instead:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.