Friday, May 29, 2009

Disney Macbeth?

I wish this was true, but it looks more like some sort of collaboration among animators to draw what Macbeth might look like, in Disney style. 

Ah, well.  I’m still holding out for The Tempest, but I think the “Gnomeo and Juliet” is the next one coming.

Sonnet Drive-By

Having now read all 154 of the sonnets, I can confidently say that you have probably already heard the good ones. You know, ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’ (18) or ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds’ (116) or ‘Being your slave, what should I do but tend’ (57).

Not, for example, 143, wherein the Dark Lady is represented as running after the Fair Youth like a farmer’s wife chasing a goose around a yard:


… I thought this crowd might find something amusing in that post. :)

The Mathematics of Love

…suppose Romeo is in love with Juliet, but in our version of the story, Juliet is a fickle lover. The more Romeo loves her, the more she wants to run away and hide. But when he takes the hint and backs off, she begins to find him strangely attractive. He, on the other hand, tends to echo her: he warms up when she loves him and cools down when she hates him.

So begins this guest article on mathematical modelling of relationships.  I got an extra kick out of it because of the reference to work done at Worcester Polytechnic Institute – my own alma mater, class of 1991 thankyouverymuch.

I do think it oversimplifies things, although I have to admit that as as computer programmer and a fan of drama, artificial intelligence and natural language processing, I have long daydreamed about programs that could accurately model and answer questions such as “Why does Juliet love Romeo?” and have it give a half decent response.  Or even better, give it a few key plot points relevant to the relationship, and then have the program sketch out the rest of the story.   (I could go into detail about work done by Roger Schank on story generation, if people are interested… :))

It’s articles like this that suggest one day that might actually be possible.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Winter Of Our Discontent

I’d prefer not to lump myself in with the “troglodytes”, but this post does make me curious. 

I think most of the regular readers here recognize the problem with the quote – people take “winter of our discontent” out of context, and never follow up with the “made glorious summer” bit.

What I just learned, I think, is that “winter of our discontent” is not a standalone phrase that generically means “period of time when we are generally gloomy and unhappy with how things are going.”  I realize that in order to understand what’s being said in the play itself you have to put them together, but I guess I always kind of figured that it was two separate things – this period of our life is coming to a close because this new, happier day is dawning.

What the blog poster argues, which is new to me, is that “winter” itself implies the transition, so it is not appropriate to just use it by itself.  It’s not translated as “This dark time for us is coming toa a close because of this new dude…” but more accurately, “This transition out of  our dark time has been brought about…”  If you look at it that way, it doesn’t make sense to use it by itself.

Did I understand that correctly?  Do you use “winter of our discontent” as a period of time, or as the ending of one?

Shakespeare Musicals

Ok, it seems that Shakespeare Musicals are now coming out of the woodwork.  Shall we make a list?

Rockabye Hamlet

The Two Gentlemen of Verona by Galt McDermott (cowriter of HAIR)

The Boys From Syracuse (Comedy of Errors)

Kiss Me Kate (Taming Of The Shrew)


What else?  I’m not terribly interested in just coming up with a Google list, I’m sure that already exists.  I’d like to hear people’s personal experiences with shows they’ve seen, or maybe even been a part of.  What’s good?  What’s ridiculous?

Oh, and let’s not forget Gilligan’s Island…

Shakespeare For Weddings

I know we just did “Wedding Sonnets”, but reading Bardisms recently got me thinking about all those great couple-liners strewn throughout the works that can be used for so much more than just standing up and doing a reading (ala Sonnet 116).

So I’m curious to open it up a bit more broadly.  Think about all the different spots in a wedding where a nice Shakespaere quote might fit :

* formal reading to those in attendance

* a toast, either before or after the ceremony

* well wishes from a guest as the videocamera and microphone are passed around

* advice for parents to children

* lines spoken directly from husband to wife, or vice versa

* notes of thanks from wedding couple to groomsmen / bridesmaids

..and so on.

For instance on the card for one of my groomsmen, who I knew would “get it”, I wrote “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, for he who stands with me today shall be my brother.”  I then went on to explain to him my subtle joke – I’d left out the “shed blood” part, figuring there’ll be plenty of that now that I’m married. *badump*

So who else has got some good lines?  Pick a context (“advice from father to son”, etc…) and then let us have it.

Getting Your Pound Of Flesh From Credit Card Companies

This article starts out like it’s going to give us a lesson in cliches that come from Shakespeare, but it’s actually about politics and finance.  

Technically it’s both, as the author’s point is that people are using the expression “pound of flesh” so much that they’re starting to use it wrong.

But Mr. Barbera warned against overconfidence, saying that Treasury officials thought they would carefully exact only a pound of flesh from Wall Street by letting Lehman fail, helping teach other investment banks not to take excessive risks. ‘But,’ he said, ‘it turned out not to be a pound of flesh that was taken. It was a ton.’

I could see where that would bug me, too. :-/

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rockabye Hamlet

A little glimpse into my evening at home: Wife and I realize that “Don’t Forget The Lyrics”, a show we used to watch, is back for the summer with celebrity editions.  This time it’s Meatloaf and his daughter.  Cool.  My wife during the course of the show will ask, “Is he married to her mom?” which causes me to hit up Wikipedia and find the answer.

Lo and behold what else do I find?  That Meatloaf, he of “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”, was actually in a Hamlet Musical called “Rockabye Hamlet.”  I knew he was well trained, and did some time in As You Like It.  But a Hamlet musical?

Sure enough, the link above speaks to a recent revival of the 1976 flop.  But read the comments, people who saw it say the loved it:

The original was a trip is all I can say. It was ******* amazing
A than unknown Meatloaf, Beverly D Angelo & others performed the hell out of it.

I am trying desperately to find an audio recording.

Then again:

Rockabye Hamlet (1976 - 7) was the most embarrassing nail in the rock musical's coffin. It was based on Shakespeare's classic drama about a fictional Danish prince avenging his royal father's death. Director Gower Champion staged the show like an all-out rock concert, and the result was such an incoherent mess that many found it hard to believe that Champion could have been responsible for it.

List of songs:

He Got It In The Ear???



Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Review : Bardisms, by Barry Edelstein

UPDATED September, 2010: Putting my money where my mouth is, I've released my own "more than just a book of Shakespeare quotes." Hear My Soul Speak is a hand-picked collection of over 100 quotations and sonnets specifically chosen for their usefulness in all parts of a wedding, from best man speeches to writing your own vows. Each is grouped according to who might use it (and when), and details about why you might want to use it (the how and the why) are included.

Anybody can write a book of Shakespeare quotes – just get a Complete Works and a highlighter marker and go to town.  It takes a real Shakespeare Geek like Barry Edelstein to produce Bardisms, a guide to not only *what* to quote, but *how* and *why* to quote it.
This is great stuff.  Quoting Shakespeare properly is about more than just searching for keywords, after all.  It’s not like Shakespeare mentioned the commute to work, or college graduation, or changing diapers, yet it’s not hard (with a little imagination) to find quotes relevant to each of those.
The author goes a bit “meta” ( is that only a computer geek expression? ) by organizing the book itself according to a Shakespeare quote – in this case, the ages of man.  Perhaps you need some quotes about the birth of a new baby, or a lullaby to sing to your own children (my own ears perk up at that one).  Or maybe a toast for a wedding?  A coworker’s retirement?  Edelstein has you covered.  And everything in between.
The bit that perhaps we Shakespeare geeks can appreciate the best, though, is that Edelstein doesn’t just offer quotes.  He doesn’t just explain when and why to quote it.  He actually gives lessons on *how*, from proper pronunciation to which words you might want to swap out to fit the occasion (boys for girls, and so on).  It is a workbook not just in spotting a good phrase, but being comfortable enough with it that you might really bust it out at that retirement party, and not just keep it stuffed in your pocket scribbled down on a cocktail napkin.
Respect the source material!  I love that there’s a section, right in the introduction, that covers the topic.  It’s not necessarily important that the context of the play fit the situation you need – after all you’re probably attending a graduation, not a coronation – but it is crucial that you understand the words coming out of your mouth.  I remember when I wanted to put that “I will swear I love thee infinitely” quote on my wife’s bracelet and it was very important to me to understand whether that was heartfelt or sarcastic.
Edelstein’s step #1 to properly quoting Shakespeare is “Know what you’re saying.”  Amen, brother.  He goes on include “stress the juxtaposition of opposites”, the swing between high poetry and simple prose, “heightening agents”, scansion and metre, and watching syllables.  Truthfully if somebody picks up this book because they’ve got a specific event and they need a specific quote, I don’t expect they’ll spend much time in this section (and honestly perhaps that person needs more of a generic reference book like I described in the first paragraph).  But for those of us who want to deeply appreciate the source material, those of us who understand that we’re quoting it in our daily lives because of the infinite depth of Shakespeare’s words, I think we’d love it.  Maybe you can memorize a couple dozen quotes on your own, and maybe with Edelstein’s tips you can double or triple that number.  More Shakespeare is a good thing.
There are times, I’ll admit, when Edelstein goes so far off the geeky scale he makes me want to turn in my own credentials.  I may enjoy singing Sonnet 18 to my kids at night, and I might drop the occasional “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” in answer to when am I going to cut the lawn, or a “When the wind in southerly Daddy knows a hawk from a handsaw” when the kids tell me I’m being silly.  But it never occurred to me that I might have a quote from Winter’s Tale (“You gods look down, And from your sacred vials pour your graces Upon my daughter’s head”) ready and rearing to go as the first words my children heard upon their birth.  When they’re crying I don’t whisper anything about coming to this great stage of fools.  Maybe one day I’ll turn into that level of Shakespeare geek, who knows.
But when he uses the line “She must have change, she must!” (Iago, Act 1 scene 3) on the occasion of diaper changing, and then goes on to suggest that “One of the ways Shakespeare manages to speak to all occasions is by virture of having survived long enough to address them” and “that speech’s applicability to the present circumstances is what truly counts,” then I think he might go off the deep end a little teeny bit.   I have to say, when I read that it brought to mind people who see Jesus in their morning toast.   I love Shakespeare, but just because he turned a phrase with the word “change” in it does not mean that he was offering up wisdom on diaper duty.  (I’m also reminded of the poster who came in looking for some Shakespeare to use as a command phrase for his dog, and everybody came up with “Cry Havoc!”  - but that doesn’t mean that Shakespeare was making a statement on dog obedience, does it?)
Overall I have to say I’m loving this one, especially the easy organization into life events.  Need something for a wedding?  Got it covered – and not just Sonnet 116, thank you!  He also brings in some Tempest, Cymbeline, As You Like It and others.   Or maybe it’s not an occasion where you’ll get up to speak, maybe you’ll just write a little note to someone in need of comfort.  The section on grief and loss is particularly moving, given how much of Shakespeare’s best work was in tragedy.  I was curious if a certain passage would be in there, and it was – King John’s “grief fills up the room of my absent child, lies in his bed, walks up and down with me…” speech.  I hope to never have occasion to use that one, either for myself or anyone I know.  But man is it powerful.
Summing up?  I want to find people to talk to and occasions to talk to them just so I can have an excuse to talk like this.  I want to be the kind of guy, like Edelstein, who can bust out the Shakespeare at the drop of a hat.  At any given time I can pull a couple out of thin air, but not nearly the level that could be possible with the help of a book like this.

Friday, May 22, 2009

James Earl Jones. White House. Othello. Video

I am linking this before I’ve even finished watching it. :)

“When I found out that I had a chance to come to the White House to deliver two or three minutes in the realm of poetry I immediately thought of Dr. Seuss…or William Shakespeare.  And then I remembered how Jesse Jackson had so well acquitted himself with Green Eggs and Ham-you remember that, do you? - so I decided best I stick with Shakespeare.”

Thursday, May 21, 2009

It Is The East, And …. That Capulet Chick … Is The Sun

Here’s a fun question that just popped up on the Twitter radar:

When does Romeo actually learn Juliet’s name?

From what I can see there’s no explicit moment at the party, just an exchange with the Nurse:


Marry, bachelor,
Her mother is the lady of the house,
And a good lady, and a wise and virtuous
I nursed her daughter, that you talk'd withal;
I tell you, he that can lay hold of her
Shall have the chinks.

Is she a Capulet?
O dear account! my life is my foe's debt.

There’s an argument to be made that Capulet can’t have that many daughters, and so it wouldn’t be hard for Romeo to realize who they were talking about.  But it’s not like he says, “Oh, *that’s* Juliet?” He still calls her “a Capulet” as if she was a third cousin twice removed, and not the sole daughter of the head of Capulet house.

There’s plenty of logical places where he could have learned it that Shakespeare just didn’t write down (overheard at the party, Benvolio told him, etc…)  I also can’t find anyplace where Romeo was on stage and anybody called Juliet by name so he would have overheard it. 

I just like noting stuff like this when it comes up.  Best I can tell, Romeo just starts calling her Juliet during the balcony scene, and I’ve got no idea when he figured out her name.

Shakespeare Holidays

I had fun celebrating Shakespeare holidays this year.  Somehow Shakespeare’s birthday (April 23) got turned into “Shakespeare Day” in general, complete with Talk Like Shakespeare in Chicago.  And yesterday, the 400th anniversary of the publication of the sonnets, I declared Sonnet Day, and had a number of people forward it along saying “I didn’t realize today was Sonnet Day!”

I’ll have to remember next year to crank out some greeting cards.


What other good Shakespeare holidays can we come up with?

I suppose March 15 (The Ides of March) is an obvious one, but a) people associate that more with Julius Caesar than with Shakespeare and b) it doesn’t exactly represent a happy day, now does it?

Crispin’s Day?  That’s a good one, although I suppose technically it’s already a holiday.

Is it known what day Shakespeare got married?  We could celebrate his anniversary.  I see November 27, 1582 as the date of the marriage license.

Also noticing that their first child Susanna was born on May 26, that’s coming up next week.  Hard to make a case for her getting her own holiday, though :).


What else?

Best of the Bard

I have nothing but respect (and envy!) for Shakespeare Teacher’s ability to pull out such creative wonders as this summation of “The Best of the Bard”:

A witches’ brew. A fiery shrew. A knavish sprite. A portly knight. A maid’s disguise. A Jew’s suprise. A bastard’s plan. Each age of man. A paper crown. A motley clown. A nightmare haunt. This John of Gaunt. A guarded door. A jealous Moor. A castaway. St. Crispin’s Day.

A eulogy. A balcony.

The death of kings.

And other things…

I’m a bit stuck on “nightmare haunt”, though…

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Happy Sonnet Day!

We may have gone a little wild last month in celebration of Shakespeare’s 445th birthday, but how about a little love for today, the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Sonnets?

The Sonnets of the Bard appeared, without his permission, in 1609 and advertised as "never before imprinted". The publisher, although reputable, clearly wanted to make use of the celebrity of Shakespeare who by 1609 was a famous member of the Globe Theatre and could count royalty amongst his patrons. The 1609 quarto, entitled Shake speares Sonnets, was published by Thomas Thorpe, printed by George Eld, and sold by William Aspley and William Wright. On May 20, 1609, Thomas Thorpe was granted a license to publish "a Booke called Shakespeare's sonnettes" as this entry in the Stationer's Register attests: "Thomas Thorpe Entred for his copie vnder thandes of master Wilson and master Lownes Warden a Booke called Shakespeares sonnettes". The publisher clearly went through the correct procedures prior to publication, so despite Shakespeare's reticence in publishing any of his works, there were apparently no irregularities by the publisher. Sonnets 138 and 144, despite the "never before imprinted" claim, had been included, albeit in a slightly different format, in The Passionate Pilgrime (1599) a poetry collection containing twenty poems by various poets. The title page to the second edition contains the inscription "By W. Shakespeare" but only five of the poems appear to be his. Once again these appear to have been published without the consent of Shake-speare.

Show the sonnets some love, people.  Recite a sonnet today.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What Shakespeare Are You Looking Forward To?

Good for us, Shakespeare never goes out of style.  As summer rapidly approaches, what special event in the Shakespeare world has got you excited?  Your local Shakespeare in the Park?  A new movie coming out, a DVD release?

I’ve always loved our local Shakespeare on Boston Common, put on by Commonwealth Shakespeare.  This year is especially important as Citibank dumped them (good, they never appreciated what they had!) and now the founders are going it on their own.  So I’m looking forward to getting to the show – Comedy of Errors – and showing my support.

I saw a story today (that made me think of this post) that they’re doing a Coriolanus movie, but I have to say I’m not that interested.  However, Julie Taymor’s Tempest will definitely put my butt in the seat.

Last year we saw a great Tempest for the kids down on Cape Cod, and I’m hoping to find another “for kids” show this season to make a family event of.  Maybe Dream, but surprisingly my oldest (not yet 7) has spotted Winter’s Tale in her book and wants to know more about that one.

What else?

Friday, May 15, 2009

How Far Do You Go For Your Shakespeare?

So last night I got invited out to New York City to see Hudson Valley Shakespeare rehearsals.  I greatly appreciate the invitation and the recognition, but I do not lead the kind of life that lends itself to spontaneous weekend trips to a different state.

Fair enough – somebody asked me if I’d been out to Western Massachusetts to see Shakespeare and Company.  And, well…no.

I have, however, driven (with just wife, not kids) over 2 hours up into Vermont I think it was to see my first live King Lear performance.  And last summer we made a family trip – one night only! – to see a special children’s version of The Tempest on Cape Cod(*).  Other than that I think the farthest we went was our trip to see the Rebels in Salem (Salem, was it?) which is surprisingly close to an hour drive, I had no idea it was that long.

Personally, I’d happily become the sort of guy who takes a quick trip out to the Berkshires or to New York City to catch a show, if I were a single man.  But family obligations do count for something, and for any Shakespeare I do have to ask myself whether the whole family can make it, or if not the kids then at least the wife, otherwise that trip isn’t even business, it’s Daddy going off on vacation by himself, and that’s not really cool.


So, since I haven’t written much this week, I thought that might make an interesting topic for discussion.  How far are you willing to travel for your Shakespeare?  What variables factor into the decision?  Would you plan a vacation around a show?  Would you plan a vacation *specifically for* a show?  Would you get on a train, or a plane? Would you could you with a goat?  Or do you not?  Do you content yourself with whatever show rolls through town?


(*) By the way that summer trip last year was so well received by everybody that my wife has even said she’d be open to doing another one this summer.  Alas, that troupe is not performing this season.  So if anybody knows a good kid-friendly production happening this summer in the New England area, I’m all ears!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother’s Day!

I’ll be off on a brunch cruise today, but I thought I’d check in to ask:  Who’s your favorite Shakespeare mom?  Much like Disney movies, the mom often gets the short end of the stick in a Shakespeare play (Lear and Tempest come immediately to mind…)  Lady Capulet?  Gertrude?  Tamora??

I’m trying to run through the list in my head and hate to miss a good one…

How about this?  How about making a list of mothers first?  Who’s got the complete list of Shakespeare moms, so we can pick from them?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Good Wedding Sonnets?

Ok, I’ve been challenged.  I stated on Twitter that I don’t like Sonnet #116 because it’s become so cliche as “the wedding sonnet.”  I always hope that I’m going to hear a different one, but I never do.  116 is nice enough in it’s own right, I just get the feeling that people think of that as “the” sonnet and never consider using any others.
Personally (and my regular readers know this whole story) I did Sonnet #17, almost entirely because I liked the whole bit about “the age to come would say ‘This poet lies, such hea’enly touches ne’er touched earthly faces’” bit.  (I did not love that being a procreation sonnet, it ends awkwardly with “so you should have a kid”. )
However, I did not have this one done as a reading.  Instead, I whispered it in my new wife’s ear during our first dance.
So on Twitter somebody asked me what a good wedding sonnet would be, and I thought it a good question.  If you’re going to have someone get up and recite a sonnet to everybody on the occasion of a wedding, which one would you pick?  Is 116 the best one?  Or is it only used because is says marriage right there in the first line?

UPDATED September, 2010 I liked this idea so much I wrote a book on the subject of Shakespeare wedding quotes, including an entire section on the sonnets.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Dom Deluise and Shakespeare

Dom Deluise has died.

In tribute, I went looking to see if the man had ever done any Shakespeare.  The closest I could find was Baby Geniuses. :)

However, I did find this interview where he brings up the subject:

I had to audition for the High School of Performing Arts because they wanted to see if you could, in fact, carry on and, you know, act a little. So my brother, who was older than me and not as wise as I thought, said the thing that I should learn was Shakespeare. So here I was talking, just barely talking when I was a young person, and my brother said you should learn "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women are merely. They have their entrances and their exits and in their lives they play many parts. The mewing puking child…" And so here I tried to do… can you imagine, a Shakespeare thing? Then they said, "Now we're going to improvise. Find that book on the table and there's a piece of paper in it, and just ad lib." So I looked at the book and looked around and I said, "Oh, a letter!" And I took the piece of paper and I said, "If you don't pass your…" I was reading the letter. "If you don't pass your audition, you'll never get into the High School of Performing Arts."

So I’m guessing that he never thought of himself doing Shakespeare.  Oh, well.  He might have made a good Henry VIII?  Falstaff’s an easy guess for a big jovial type, but I don’t think Mr. Deluise ever did “serious”.  Perhaps Merry Wives of Windsor?

Now, Gods, Stand Up For Sabretooth!

In this week’s episode of “NPR’s Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me” they have a good deal of fun with actor Liev Schrieber who is currently playing mutant Sabretooth in the new movie Wolverine.  But he is also an accomplished Shakespearean, and they have a grand time with that.  Schrieber himself makes the X-Men / King Lear comparison, first noting that today’s comic book movies are very similar to Shakespeare, then later going with “Shakespeare is easier.”

“I’m just glad you didn’t say Snagglepuss.”
     “Also a fine Shakespearean actor, not a lot of people
       know that.  Exeunt, stage left!”
”I can’t believe I never squeezed that in.”

Monday, May 04, 2009

Well, You Can Say Goodbye to That Subscription

People Magazine ran a “Historical Hotties” survey and, using the recently debated Cobbe portrait, 73% of readers declared him “Not.”

The great thing about images of Shakespeare, though, is that there are so many to choose from. :)  Maybe they’d like Chandos better?

Although I suspect that poor Will is going to lose this one to Marlowe regardless of which image you pick.