Friday, August 28, 2009

Bring It, Emile Hirsch

An interview with Emile Hirsch, mostly about his new movie “Taking Woodstock” but at the end there’s a paragraph on the upcoming Hamlet he’s doing with Catherine Hardwicke.

But I have to say we're doing stuff with this script that's going to give the average Shakespeare scholar cardiac arrest. That's part of the kick, to like beat the geeks.

The geeks say, bring it.  I’ve got space for you on my wall right under Ethan Hawke, hippie.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

To Sleep No More

So I’m having a total blast going over all the Hamlet clips. I noticed something that I wanted to point out in the Kevin Kline version:  Listen to the way he says “to sleep”, the way he extends the word longingly like someone saying “Sleep, there’s something I haven’t had in a long time. I want to sleep.”

Made me think of a Hamlet who may merely be feigning insanity, but could also well be having serious trouble sleeping.  Who knows, maybe much of his disheveled appearance and manner have something to do with that?

I love that.  I don’t know anything about form, or how Shakespeare wanted him to speak that particular passage.  All I know is what I hear as a fellow human being, and at that moment I hear a guy who wishes he could curl up and go to sleep.(*)

Or we could take it the other way and look at some other plays, and try to find common ideas in what Shakespeare’s saying about the dual nature of sleep?  Look at Macbeth’s own take on the terror of what it would mean to “sleep no more”.

(*) Reminds me of the story of Dustin Hoffman and  Laurence Olivier.  Hoffman’s character is supposed to have been up all night or something, so Hoffman has in fact stayed up all night.  When Olivier asks what happened to him, Hoffman explains.  “Oh Dustin,” says Olivier, “Try acting.”  I actually found this link that goes into a great deal of research about whether the story is true.

Something Awesome This Way Comes

Ok, it’s moments like this why Twitter rocks.  Guess what’s coming?  Guess what’s coming??

Flash back to July, 2007, when I first learned that illusionist Teller (of Penn and Teller fame) is actually quite the Shakespeare geek himself, and was about to embark on a blood and magic filled Macbeth production.

Well, it’s available on DVD (soon) and I’ve already got my copy pre-ordered.  They’ve cut a deal with Simon and Schuster to include it as supplemental material with a new release of the Folger text.

I was going to go snoop around S&S’s press kit and see if I could beg a review copy, but to heck with it, sign me up.  Want.  May not ever show the kids, but it’s got to go in my collection!

More Ted Kennedy / Shakespeare

When VP Joe Biden quoted Hamlet re: the passing of Ted Kennedy by saying “We will never see his like again”, the more cynical in the crowd (or perhaps just those with a darker sense of humor) pointed out that:

a) Hamlet’s talking about his dead father, who he indeed does see a couple of scenes later :), and

b) is it really appropriate to memorialize Ted Kennedy by quoting a play in which a young girl drowns?

So instead, Melanie over at Hands To Soul has got some Henry V, courtesy Ken Burns.

Much better.

UPDATE : Here's a blogger saying that “He made a good end.”  There’s that Hamlet again!

Hamlet vs. Ophelia [Video]

Over in the “He Made Good End” thread we’re discussing the Hamlet/Ophelia relationship and I thought it’d be fun to see if I could take a peek through some of the various interpretations throughout the years.

I went hunting for a very specific scene – when Ophelia tries to give back Hamlet’s gifts, and he has to decide on the spot how to react. The big question, in my mind, is to what degree Ophelia deserves the treatment she gets from Hamlet.  Is she just a pawn, moved one way by her father and another by her boyfriend?  Does Hamlet agonize over his decision to crush her, or is he so far removed from that relationship that he doesn’t think twice about it?

[Note that most of these clips are in fact the To be or not to be soliloquoy, so you’ll have to wait to near the end for Ophelia’s entrance.]

Here we have an old “Great Performances” clip, but I do not know the actors.  At best I can say that it portrays something of a traditional, conservative take on the classic.  Hamlet here clearly looks like someone who is pretending to be something he is not.


Speaking of traditional, here’s the Laurence Olivier .  As mentioned in the other post, it can take years to get this Ophelia out of your head.  She is…mindless.  It’s sad, really, to see just how patronizing he is toward her.  Perhaps Laertes earlier speech about how Hamlet’s no good for his little sister had some merit?  I think that Hamlet *wants* Ophelia to be a stronger person, but knows full well that she is not.  I’m sure he’s disappointed by this, but really, did he ever have reason to expect anything else? Surely he knows her character, or lack thereof.


Ooooo….the Richard Burton version.  Cool.  I’ve never seen this before, and heard that his is one of the best.  Since it is a stage interpretation it’s hard to get the same comparison as modern film versions. 


Kevin Kline .  People who know Kline only from his comedic roles may not appreciate just how fine a Shakespearean actor he is.  In this scene I particularly note the joy with which he first sees and approaches Ophelia, like “here is the only person who has not turned against me…” and then the sheer denial and physically backing away as he realizes that she, too, is lost to him.


Derek Jacobi ?  Wow, I tripped over this one just as I was ready to post the rest.  Cool!  His Hamlet, to me, looks like he’s already gone over the edge.  He doesn’t so much as blink at Ophelia, and he’s practically attacking her (verbally) from the minute she says Hello.  He’s nuts.


Mel Gibson .  The strongest part of this clip is actually Ophelia, one of the few I’ve seen that is strong enough to storm right up to him and hold her own.  She’s clearly one of those Ophelia’s who is doing her father’s bidding because she has no choice – but she most certainly has feelings on the subject.  Hamlet, for his part, looks a bit paranoid, like he’s afraid she’s going to see right through him. 


Ethan Hawke .  I had trouble finding this clip, there’s plenty of him wandering around the video store doing To Be, and later of him breaking up with Ophelia (“no more marriages”) over voice mail, but nothing in the middle.  This clip is actually a collection of Ophelia moments, and Ethan Hawke / Julia Stiles is in there at about 45 seconds.  It’s pretty bad, and I include it only for completeness.  It’s not worthy of comparison to Kline or Brannagh or the others.


Lastly we have modern perfection, Kenneth Brannagh .  I did not necessarily love his version on first viewing, I thought he made some unusual choices particularly near the end.  But when you pick out individual scenes and look only at the acting, and the delivery of the lines, it’s quite genius.  Look at Brannagh’s eyes when Ophelia returns his gifts.  Look at the mix of rage and anguish as he tries to keep it together and not blow his cover.  Wow.

Flings & Eros : Karamazov Does Romeo and Juliet!

Ok, Google is awesome.  I’m checking some GMail and I see a reference to “Merrimack Rep” pass by in one of the ads.

I happen to live near Merrimack College, so I think that it is a local reference.

I google “Merrimack Rep”.

Turns out that it’s a theatre in Lowell, MA.

Guess who is playing?  The Karamazov Brothers, one of the best juggling/vaudeville acts going today.

Guess what they’re performing?  Something called Flings & Eros.

Guess what it’s about?  Romeo and Juliet!


Looks exciting.  Best part is I think that a friend of mine has season tickets.  If that’s the case it’d be a golden opportunity to see this one, without trying to explain to the wife how I’m dragging her to yet more Shakespeare :).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Revisiting the Classics : How Old Is Romeo?

We last talked about this question back in November 2006, and it continues to be the most popular item on the site (at least for Google hits, if not comments).  I tend to blog and forget, and I don’t always take time to remember that people stumbling across the blog now don’t always cruise through the archives or use my cool new search box over there…

Anyway, how old is Romeo?  It’s a harder question than you might think.  We know that Juliet is 13, it says so right in the story.  But if you’ve found yourself thinking “That must make Romeo 13 as well…” not so fast.

Some highlights from the original conversation, which I encourage people to check out…

I have always read Romeo as being on the upper end of 15, or early 16. (Some of the arguments I've heard putting him toward 18 always seemed inexplicably "off.") This way, he's just young enough to be so wanton and so reckless with his sentiments (c.f., the Rosalind fiasco), but not quite old enough to have had enough experiences to jade him accordingly.

The Juliet in the original novel – Romeo and Guilietta – is eighteen.

Modern (i.e. post German Romantic) make him younger than he originally was. a 21 year old would have been right - but suggestions of molestation to modern audiences wipe out the possibilities.


I think it's awfully creepy that Juliet was like 13.  My little sister is very mature for her age but it makes my heart sick to think of her in a similar situation of Juliet.

General opinion seems to have him in his late teens, possibly as old as 21.  Whether or not that’s creepy, or normal for the time, is the subject of much discussion. :)

They Say He Made A Good End

Quick, what’s the saddest line in Hamlet?

Maybe you went for “Good night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest,” Horatio’s final words to his dying friend (often spoken while cradling Hamlet’s head in his lap).  I have to admit, that’s a good one.  But it doesn’t tear me up like it used to.  [If you’re going to stake out the final lines of a Shakespearean tragedy for sadness, give me Lear leaning over his dead daughter, believing that she’s still speaking to him.]

For me it comes earlier, and it comes from a different character.

“I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say he made a good end—”

That’s spoken by Ophelia, whose boyfriend Hamlet (apparently crazy in his own right) has killed her father Polonius.  Hamlet is now banished to England.  Her brother Laertes, for what it’s worth, is off back to school as well.  So she’s quite alone to deal with this turn of events.

Ophelia has lost her mind by this point (in stark contrast to Hamlet’s “feigned” madness that still has method in it, Ophelia makes little sense at all) but it’s clear that her father’s death has hit her very hard.  Though much of her song is about Hamlet (and being tumbled before being wed, whatever she’s alluding to there…), most is about “being dead and gone….will not come again….” and "lay him in the cold ground…at his heels a stone….”

I’m intrigued primarily by the second half of that sentence.  They say he made good end.  Well technically no, he didn’t – he was run through quite unexpectedly and unfairly when he was hiding behind an arras in the queen’s bedchamber.  Never even had a chance to defend himself.  I suppose you could argue that he stayed in the room at all in an attempt to protect the Gertrude?

Question – where at this point do you think Ophelia’s line comes from?  Do you think somebody actually told her the circumstances of Polonius’ death, and if so, do you figure they embellished?  I suppose that’s the likely answer - “Your father gave his life to protect the queen, when Hamlet, clearly mad, attempted to do her harm.”

Do you think she knows the real story, and this is something of a denial – she’s tells herself, out loud, that he made good end as a way of coping with the unfortunate circumstances that really occurred?  Refuses to believe that her father was taken away so quickly and cruelly in such a pointless manner?

[We haven’t done one of these  in a while, and I should really post more like this.  This is the stuff I like.  Some people love to dig into punctuation and “form” and such, but for me it’s the psychology of the characters I find most fascinating.  I could forever read between the lines of what Shakespeare does not tell us.]

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Well Roared…..Egeus? [ A Midsummer Review ]

With a Rebel yell, I cried “More, more more!”

I am so pleased that Rebel Shakespeare found me last season.  I love Shakespeare.  I have kids.  I expose my kids to Shakespeare.  Which is precisely what the Rebels do – Shakespeare for kids, by kids.  Earlier this season I saw teen Hamlet.  This weekend?  8-14yr olds doing Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Even better, the whole family, all the way down to my 3yr old, came out for the event!

I’ve said in the past that I get a little tired of Dream, because it’s produced so darned much and I’d like to see some other plays that I’ve never actually seen live.  As I get older (and my kids learn to appreciate Shakespeare as well) I’ve got new love for Dream.  It doesn’t have to be acted perfectly.  It’s pretty darned near perfect on the page, and giving children an opportunity to get up there and act it out gives them a chance to touch it. 

Many of the parts were clearly silly.  There was lots of….well, screaming.  Ironically most of the 8yr olds doing the screaming may not get this reference, but think Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone.  They screamed to announce that they were coming on stage, they screamed when they bumped into each other in the forest, the fairies screamed at each other to fly away.  I suppose that’s an interesting directorial choice.  8yr olds can be told “Scream, just go AHHHHHHH!  It’ll be funny, people will laugh.”  And we did.  Many times.

Which brings me to Egeus (father to Hermia, for those unfamiliar with the details of the play).  Normally he’s got a pretty simple role – show up, treat his daughter like property and say he’d rather have her dead than disobey him…and then show up again at the end of the play to say all is forgiven, of course now that Demetrius wants to marry Helena.

Well this time, a young lady is playing Egeus.  Fine.  She’s dressed in men’s clothes (tie, vest, funny hat) and carrying a very large shot gun.  And yes, she enters screaming, and does lots of it.  It was hysterical.  Lysander tries to touch Hermia and gets his hand slapped.  At one point Egeus goes a little bananas, I can’t remember exactly the line, but she ends up in the middle of the stage holding the gun on everybody.  She totally stole her scenes, and I think she knew it.  I honestly could not tell if this was someone who’d never acted before and was over the top out of nerves, or if she knew exactly what she was doing.  (What was weird to me, though, was that they did change script to call her ‘mother’ instead of ‘father’, even though she was dressed like father.  Made it all the more zany, like ok why is this crazy woman dressed like that and packing a big gun??  Although it did kill Lysander’s joke when he says “Demetrius you have Hermia’s father’s love, marry him.”  Saying “her mother’s love, marry her” isn’t quite the same :)).

The rest of the cast as well were really quite impressive.  I particularly liked Oberon, who went back and forth between roaring at the other fairies (Puck included), to watching Helena and Hermia fight it out with a sort of “Oh no she didn’t!” look on his (Oberon’s) face the whole time. 

One of the best staging moments came courtesy of Oberon.  Behind us (remember, this is an outdoor play) is a very large bunch of rocks, almost cliff like.  Big enough that you could find your way up there, but that you’d likely hurt yourself if you jumped off, too.  My son has pointed out to me that there are boys playing up there, and it looks like one of the stage managers has shooed them away.  A few minutes later while I’m watching the stage, my son is watching the other direction and says, “He’s gonna fall if he doesn’t get down.”

“That’s ok,” I tell him, not looking.  “Someone will make them get down.”

“No,” says my son, turning my face in the other direction, “It’s the king!”

Sure enough, while the action rages on the stage, Oberon is perched up on the cliff watching the whole thing.  Brilliant.  I bet most of the audience never even realized it, until Oberon started delivering lines from up there and they were left wondering where the voice came from.  Great idea.

Sometimes, it’s all about the little things.  For my money, the funniest moment? Not counting all of Bottom’s scenes, of course, which we’ll get to in a minute :).  The funniest moment comes after Oberon and Puck realize that they’ve screwed up the love potion and are now trying to fix it.  They’ve put the drops into Demetrius’ eyes so that he’ll fall in love with the next person he sees.  Well, as he wakes, Demetrius turns so that he is facing … Lysander.  Quick as a flash, Puck jumps on stage, grabs Demetrius’ face in his hands and points him at Helena, then disappears again.  I don’t know if everybody there thought that as funny as I did, but I laughed for a long time.  Oh how different the play would have been!

Back to Bottom.  This kid’s born to the stage, no doubt about it.  When your whole troop is basically overacting, and you need to be the guy that is the obvious overacting one, you really need to kick it up a notch.  He certainly delivered.  To their credit, the rest of the Mechanicals were not to be upstaged, either.  Thisbe, Lion, Wall… all did wonderfully in their roles and got their share of the laughs.  None of the audience lines (“Well shone, Moon!” et al) could be heard from where I sat, which was a little sad as those are some of my favorite parts.  I always say “Well roared, Lion!” whenever my son plays monsters.

Sure, there were times that my hopes were high, only to be crushed a bit.  Oberon rode right over the “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows….” speech without any recognition at all for the quality of the poetry.  And Bottom tripped up on the “Eye of man have not heard, ear of man hath not seen” bit.  But really, that was more of out of hope than expectation on my part.  Is it really possible to tell a 10 yr old (they were all about 8-14 I’m told so it’s hard to guess at exactly what the ages were and I don’t want to imply they were all 8) that she’s delivering lines that have been heralded as perfect for the last 400 years?  Would she understand what you’re saying, and, if she did, would she not crack under the pressure?  Perhaps better at these earliest ages to focus on getting the funny down, first, and then worrying about the details.  Keri Cahill, the founder of Rebel Shakespeare, has 20 years more experience than I at this.

Ok, have to wrap this up.  Can I say a couple words about the professionalism of these kids?  It started to downpour on them – twice.  They never broke stride.  As we all huddled under the tent, they persevered.  We couldn’t hear a word they were saying, of course, but they were doing their best.  I saw blood on a couple of the girls who must have banged knees on the wooden stage or something, and yet they continued.  I don’t mean scratches, I mean we the audience were watching the blood run down Helena’s leg.  That must have hurt.  It’s hot, they’re in full costume, and at times the direction calls for them to wander around out in the audience.  And I never saw anybody freeze, or miss a cue, or break character.  Not a bad job at all for a 4 week program!

I look forward to next year’s season!


Geeklet Review!

7yr old : “I liked the little guy at the beginning.”
”No, the crazy one.”
   “Oh, Egeus?  Hermia’s father?”
”Yeah, Egeus.  I really liked it, I think people should see it.  I liked it better than Henry V.”

5yr old : “I liked the two girls.”
   “The ones that were fighting?  Helena and Hermia?”

3yr old : “I liked the Lion!”

Friday, August 21, 2009

Wherefore “Wherefore?”

This is an old topic for regulars, but sometimes it’s nice to dust out the FAQs and revisit.

Today on Twitter I saw one person correct a friend that “wherefore art thou” does not mean “where are you”, but that it means “why are you here, Romeo.”

No it doesn’t, it means “why are you Romeo”, as in, “Why of all the eligible young guys in Verona did the love of my life have to be a member of the family my enemy is in a blood feud with?”

In sending these folks the correct answer I consulted Clusty for some more examples, which I think explain it a bit better :

Wherefore speaks he this to her he hates?

Wherefore doth Lysander deny your love?

But wherefore didst thou kill my cousin?

All this is comfort, wherefore weep I then?

Wherefore hast thou accused him all this while?

And so on.  I don’t know about anybody else, but after seeing it regularly in its proper context I just see it as “why” and never think twice about it.

The original Twitterer did seem to know that it means “why”, but was perhaps still thinking that there was some sort of location connection with the where/here stuff.  Nope.  “wherefore art thou” is straight 1:1 translation, wherefore=why, art=are, thou=you.  Why are you Romeo.

Had she said “Wherefore art thou here, Romeo” then you’d be on to something, but it would fundamentally change the meaning of the speech.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Shakespeare Translation Party

If you’re a geek you’ve probably seen a whole variety of screenshots coming out of Translation Party, the script that takes an English phrase and translates it back and forth into Japanese before finally settling on an equilibrium – where the Engrish translates into Japanese in such a way that it translates back into the same Engrish.

Maybe I’m just starved for content today, but I just had to throw it some Shakespeare.  Unfortunately it doesn’t have a good way to link directly to results :(, and I don’t have the time to sit and generate a boatload of screenshots, so I’ll leave it up to your imaginations and see what you come up with.

Here’s a few that I tried, although it loses the effect without seeing it worked out on the fly…

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate” takes only 5 steps before reaching equilibrium with “This summer I am, I would have to compare? Your warm and beautiful.”

“Is this a dagger I see before me, the handle toward my hand?” takes 7 steps to reach “To do this, please see the dagger in the handle toward my hand?”

Ah, here’s a good one! 

“To be, or not to be?” --->  “Or to not?”

“Or to not?” --->  “Whether or not?”

“Whether or not?” –> “Whether?”

“Whether?”  --> “Whether?”


(For some reason that reminds me of my old Esperanto lessons.  Cxu esti, aux ne esti!)

UPDATED:  Never, never, never, never, never.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What SciFi Can Learn from Shakespeare

On any other day I might have just retweeted this and called it a day, but it is such a very good post, full of equal parts Shakespeare and SciFi goodness, that I wanted to get it out to the bigger audience. 

Working with the “whatever you’ve got, Shakespeare said it first” theme, Charlie Jane Anders breaks down several major modern sci-fi franchises including Dollhouse, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek and Star Wars .. in terms of Malvolio, Prospero, Oberon, Macbeth, Henry V and others.

There’s so much content in this single post that I don’t really know what to do with myself.  I only wish I followed half the series she mentions so I’d know for example that this Topher person (in Dollhouse) is a sort of weird Malvolio/Macbeth mix of crazy.  I mean, come on, how many people could even imagine such a mashup of two very different characters from such very different plays?

Go read this.  Then come back and pitch me some topics that we can dig into deeper.

Shakespeare, Toasted

I thought I knew what I was getting into with Shakespeare On Toast by Ben Crystal.  The introductory chapters left me thinking that I’d like to hang out with Ben, he seems like my kind of guy.  His book, he writes, was targeted at the audience between the “for dummies” crowd that loses the poetry, and the academic crowd that studies this stuff for a living.  All, he adds, while trying to keep the level of appreciation and ownership of the text very high.  Starting off with a comparison of Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Gielgud, he certainly captured my attention quickly.

He then goes on to mention Authorship, dismissing it in much the same way I do – let’s talk about the works, not the man.  Though he did not miss the opportunity to make his feelings about the subject of Authorship known, such as the emphasized “some of the contenders were dead several years while Shakespeare was still writing!” he sneaks in, while saying he’s not going to talk about it. :)

But then he starts talking about soap operas (British ones, at that!) which lost me a bit.  I appreciate the “Shakespeare got to get paid” analogy, but I don’t think I agree quite so strongly that what Shakespeare was doing 400 years ago was the equivalent of what soap opera writers do now, especially when one turns out 5 episodes a week and one turned out, what, 2 or 3 plays a year?  It’s hard to compare.

There’s a lengthy discussion of the Globe itself, the audience, the costumes…even the lighting.  It was here, near the beginning, that I began to understand Mr. Crystal as an actor.  (I’ve always contended that my “hook” for being a Shakespeare geek is that I  have no other claim to the work, not being an actor/director/writer).  I find it hard to make this leap.  People who have never acted Shakespeare will never understand what it means to act Shakespeare, anymore than people who don’t play jazz will know what it means to play jazz (the author makes the Shakespeare/Miles Davis connection frequently).  We the audience are the ones that listen to the music, or see/hear the play.  I prefer the focus on that.  Tell me what the lighting means for me as audience, not you as actor.

Then it gets pretty deep, even for me.  There’s a lesson in vocabulary, which is fine, explaining that Shakespeare didn’t really use *that* many words that are no longer used, it’s the ones that he used differently than we do that are the most confusing.  But then we get a grammar lesson in when to use “thou” instead of “you”, and I’m flashing back to conjugating the verb “to be” in Latin (“eram eras erat, eramus eratis erant….”).  The point?  Once you realize that sometimes the address is casual and sometimes it is formal, you will spot when each is used, and you will better understand the context of the conversation.  Makes sense.  A little scary if you think about it – people are worried that they’re not going to understand all the words, and we’re splitting hairs about when to use thee versus thy?

And then we get to the point that I expect will perk up the ears of several regular readers (I’m looking at you, Carl).  Half way through the book, Crystal brings up iambic pentameter.  Not in a general “I have to tell you what this is” way like most introductory books do.  In this book, iambic pentameter is everything.  The rest of the book (we’re half way done at this point) is all about the details of the meter.  We even dive right into “trochees” and other variations of the meter, and suddenly I feel like I’m having a conversation about the sonnets again.  When did Shakespeare use true iambic pentameter, and when did he mix it up?  More importantly, *why*?

But this book isn’t about the sonnets. They’re barely mentioned.  Crystal is talking about the plays, and it’s his contention that right down to the syllable level, Shakespeare was providing detailed direction to his actors. If Macbeth delivers 10 syllables and then 6, what happens with the next 4?  Does Lady Macbeth come in immediately, as if she’s interrupting him?  Or is there a pause before she starts in again?  What sort of beat did Macbeth end on, and what does that mean?

It’s in this discussion where the book clearly differentiates itself from any other “intro Shakespeare” I’ve ever seen. I can’t disagree with Crystal’s argument – you really can dig down into this level and consider every last syllable of what a character speaks as a form of insight into the character.  I just think the audience for that level of understanding is very different from what I thought he was going for.  This book isn’t a trip through the works, this book is the key to unlocking the works, and it’ll be up to you to take what you learn here and go reread your favorite work keeping all these new tricks in mind.

To that end, the book includes a lengthy discussion of a particular scene from Macbeth, broken out according to all the rules the author has laid out (including graphs depicting changing syllable counts!).  Honestly at this point I think that Crystal gets so overexcited and caught up in this “unlocking the secrets” stuff that he sometimes trips over his own argument.  For instance he lays out his example scene, and then says “I don’t like that layout, let’s change it….even though, I have to admit, that’s how the Folio laid it out.”  Wait, what now?  You’ve spend the whole book telling us that Shakespeare left us all the clues for exactly what he wanted, but you’re just going to go ahead and reformat the play the way you think it should be?  Hmmm…

People speak of the bottomlessness of Shakespeare, or cracking it open to release the infinite energies, and books like Shakespeare On Toast serve to give you..well, a taste … of what we mean by that.  Go see a show. Did you like it?  How about that lead actor, what did you think of him?  What was your favorite scene?  How about the way he delivered that famous line?  Did you particularly like the emotion he used to stress the third word?  How about how he chose to emphasize the first syllable instead of the last?

There are some folks that will read that and say, “Umm…yeah, sounds real fun.  You’re crazy.”  And then there are those like we Shakespeare geeks who grok everything I just said, and crave more.  I can’t say that this book will convert any Shakespeare haters – if anything it’ll probably confirm their fears.  No, this is a book for Shakespeare geeks, and those who want to be Shakespeare geeks.  I quite liked it – in fact, I finished it about two days into my vacation and didn’t think to bring another book :).  I have complete faith that the next time I see Macbeth or Lear I will be looking for the little details that Crystal describes.

Why Everyone Should Read You Know Who

Dug primarily because I just got back from the Cape last week (where I did not find any Shakespeare, apparently I’d just missed a Romeo and Juliet…), but also for the funny “modern translations” of Shakespeare which I can only hope are intended as a satirical stab at the “Shakespeare for Dummies” movement:

Shakespeare: "My salad days, when I was green in judgement." Ordinary schmo: "I had lotsa fun when I was a kid, even though I was sorta dumb."

Shakespearean villain facing a tragic end: "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It's a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Modern sourpuss: "Life sucks."

Shakespeare: "Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look." Modern private eye: "That guy looks like a sleaze bag."

Update on Greville’s Tomb

If you missed the original story, let me recap:  there’s this gentleman named Fulke Greville who some believe has an Authorship claim, to Anthony and Cleopatra if not other plays.  It’s been discovered through some sort of x-ray process that there are a bunch of boxes in his tomb (which he designed himself, by the way) and now people are all a-tizzy about the possibility that an actual manuscript might be in there.  So, natch, they want to dig him up.

Not so fast! The Diocesan Advisory Committee says there’s not enough evidence to merit desecration of the tomb.

I’m sure that’s not the end of it.


I have to admit to being a little intrigued.  Say we did find a manuscript in there, which question exactly would it answer?  It would be our first original manuscript of Shakespeare’s... but wouldn’t it also simultaneously prove that Shakespeare wasn’t the author?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I May Love The Man, But These Folks Didn’t

Mental Floss gives us 10 people who were less than impressed with Mr. Shakespeare, including some of the more well known ones like Voltaire, who called the works “an enormous dunghill”, and Darwin’s “so intolerably dull that is nauseated me” comment, which I refuted a few months ago.

But then it completely skips what I thought was one of the most well known, namely when T.S. Eliot refers to Hamlet as “certainly an artistic failure.”

Dear Macbeth …

Long time reader Angela Sauer sent me this piece she wrote in college, a letter from Lady Macbeth to her very busy husband.  Funny stuff!  Count the references :).  I particularly liked the “stop by the butcher’s (if he’s not dead)” line.


By Angela Sauer 10/01/05

My husband? Don't forget we're hosting that family dinner of mine tonight. I know you've had some problems with my weird sisters in the past, but hopefully they won't cause too many problems in the future. Consider it not so deeply! Just sit down in the nearest vacant seat and try to act naturally. Be welcome in your eye, your hand, your tongue. Try not to make any dirty jokes. Would it hurt you to be stoic a skotch? Don't talk about your snake too much (although I do appreciate that you're not afraid to be the same in act and valor as though art in desire. To bed, to bed! *wink, wink*). I'm sure we'll be fine. After all, it's only dinner... what's the worst that could happen? And do NOT start in about me being drunk the last time we had company. I only participated in 3 rounds of wine and wassail. I know you think I was being a little flirty with my crazy brother-in-law Paul, but I swear I wasn't smashed along with the rest of my family (certainly not as inebriated as cousin Hope!). It's just... what hath made them drunk hath made me bold! (Speaking of Hope, remember that hideous pale green tunic she was wearing? I wonder... Do you think she was drunk when she dressed herself?)

I'm trying to get dinner ready before our guests get here and I need a few things. It would be kind of you to stop at the butcher's (or is he dead?) on your trip home for some haggis and maybe a nice turkey (you'll have to carve it, of course, as I'm terrible with that sort of thing... I swear, it's as if my knife sees not the wound it makes!). Hit the bakery to get some fresh round rolls (I know how you've been craving the golden rounds, my love) and vanilla cream tarts for Paul (he's on this crazy diet where he can only eat blanched foods. I don't know about you, but I shame to have a tart so white!). Lastly, we're out of beverages. Stop at the market to take home some milk, as that would be the nearest way (and I could use the whey). If you'd rather get juice or pop, then you can just take my milk for Paul.

Speaking of family, have you seen our children? I can't seem to find them anywhere... Those kids are so frustrating that I swear I'm about ready to dash their brains out! I think I heard one of them cry 'murder' in his sleep last night (maybe we should take that painting of the devil out of his room...), but it might have just been one of those disturbing dreams I've been having lately. I have been meaning to tell you about them, but it seems like you're never in bed when I wake up. This insomnia of yours is unnatural. We had that strong sedative in the house, but I seem to have dispensed all of it the last time we had company spend the night. I think I'm going to take you to this great English doctor I know. He seems to want to talk about sleep a great deal. Maybe he can help you out.

I just noticed how dirty my hands are from this afternoon. I should really stop playing rugby and pick up some quieter sport like cricket, but I like how violent and manly it makes me feel. The downside, of course, is that it seems like I've managed to get blood on ALL my clothes! I'll have to do a lot of laundry later, and pray that I can get those damned spots out! (Maybe Hope can help me)

I know that everything will go off without a hitch tonight. Don’t worry about anything. You just show up, and leave all the rest to me.
"'Cause I'm your lady
And you are my man
Whenever you reach for me
I'll do all that I can"

I'd better go. I think someone's knocking at the south entry. (We should really discuss doing away with the doorman. He's always drunk, he never lets anyone in, and he keeps talking as though the devil is around. What, in OUR HOUSE?)
Your dearest chuck,
P.S. That Celine Dion reference reminds me... I seem to have misplaced my nice new 'Heart of the Ocean'-sized diamond, and I really wanted to wear it to show off to the family. You'll have to ask Duncan for another to replace it. Oh... damn... Well, maybe he gave some extras to Banquo and you can... Wait... damn. Hmm... Oh! The Thane of Fife has a wife! I suppose I can talk to Lady Macduff about borrowing... No... DAMN! Ah well... What's done is done. Or rather, what's done cannot be undone. HARK - More knocking. We will discuss it further... tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Greville’s Tomb May Contain Manuscripts

I’ve never heard the name Fulke Greville, so I’m not sure how much of a contender for Authorship he really is.  However, this intrigues me:

Some of the writings of Greville, a “distant ancestor” of the historian A.W.L. Saunders, have suggested to Saunders that there are manuscripts contained in the tomb; a radar scan of the tomb shows “three ‘box like’ shapes,” according to the Telegraph’s David Harrison. The manuscripts would still be intact if they had been encased in lead boxes, which was a common practice at the time.

People have always said “Until we find some actual manuscripts we’ll just never know” about many things.  I suppose it’s still possible that there really are some out there, and it’s fascinating to think about.

UPDATE: Much better link here talks more about who this Greville person is, but also pads pretty heavily throwing in bits about Shakespeare’s will and the whole “second best bed” thing which seems to have no relation to the story at all.

I also had to read the “This will keep the Shakespeare industry going for years” quote a few times before I realized she was talking specifically about “we’ll be analyzing any new findings for years.”  I thought that 400 years in, the Shakespeare industry is doing pretty well on its own, thank you! ;)

My Rude Mechanical Children

I wish I had this on video, but yesterday while on vacation my children (and their cousin), 7, 5, and two 3 yr olds “put on a show”.  I was probably the only one there who fully appreciated the similarity as they all stood up by the garden shed, ready to perform and the came out for introductions.  My 5yr old daughter played the role of Chorus/Quince to introduce the players, including my overacting 7yr old who could easily have passed for Bottom.   I did shout “O for a Muse of Fire!” but nobody got it :)

The introductions even included my 3yr old son “as the Monster”, and right on cue he came out, roared, and went back.  “Well roared, Monster!” I called.

I have to show them Dream, if only that final scene, to see if they get it.  I think it’d be hysterical.

Tony Andronicus?

Remember Tony Danza?  Whether you only go as far back as “Who’s The Boss” or all the way to “Taxi” it’s hard to forget the guy – sort of a real life “Joey” from Friends.

How’d you like him teaching your kids Shakespeare?  All in the name of good reality television. 

Sounds like somebody should just pitch it as a sitcom … and then kill it because “loveable goofy guy with no academic smarts ends up being the best teacher these kids ever had because he teaches  them about life” has already been done a few zillion times.  (And I’d be willing to bet that every time they had a “Let’s do Shakespeare” episode :))

[* The title comes from the old joke about Tony Danza either being *such* an Italian stereotype, or else just being so dumb, that he always plays a character named “Tony”.  While this is not technically true, his IMDB profile does list five Tony credits to his name … as well as one “Pony”.]

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Classic Novels as Video Games

When I see headlines like this I immediately scan for Shakespeare (I know he didn’t write novels but typical web writers don’t make such clean distinctions…)  Alas, no Bard in this list.

But it does beg the question, what Shakespeare makes for good video games, and what sort of game would it make?  I’ve seen a number of variations on Romeo and Juliet as a game, ranging from text adventure to platform/jumper.  But what else?  Could Macbeth make a good first person shooter? 

Yup, That’s Definitely A Dagger I See Before Me

3D Shakespeare.  Love it.  Immediately makes me think of Macbeth more than Hamlet, though.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Who Is The Scariest Tragic Hero Of Them All?

Don’t ask me why, but I was thinking about Othello a minute ago, specifically the “It is the cause, my soul, let me not name it to you” scene.  It clicked with me just how scary that really is, if you consider Shakespeare’s characters as real people who could really be walking the Earth next to you.

So I thought I’d ask : Which of the tragic heroes, if you knew them in real life, would be the scariest? 

Lear’s got a temper on him and he goes a little crazy, but it’s more the forces around him that cause the damage, not him. 

Macbeth?  Sure he’s a bit of a mass murderer, but I’m left thinking that everybody who gets it in that play is really in his way in one form or another (even if hypothetically, like Banquo, or collaterally, like Macduff’s family).  Who knows, maybe it’s the bloody nature of that one that makes it hard to even imagine in real life.

Hamlet’s a bit scary when you think about it.  Not for butchering Claudius, that was straight up revenge.  Or for how he ran through Polonius, which was a bit impulsive.  I’m talking about sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths, a purely calculated move.  Did he have to do that?  Couldn’t he have written “throw them in jail” instead of “execute them”, or something similar?

Now compare Othello and Desdemona.  He’s not even really that bad of a guy, is he?  Does he run around the play killing anybody?  Desdemona is a complete innocent.  Othello gets just completely brainwashed, not into a rash and impulsive act, but into something so calm and collected that he pretty much explains to his wife what he’s going to do before he does it.

That, I think, is what worries me most of all.  That there are personalities like that who can be manipulated to any degree, even to the killing of innocent loved ones.  It’s not that Othello was crazy like Lear (and arguably Hamlet), or that he was already a little bloodthirsty like Mr. “unseamed him from nave to chaps” Macbeth over there.  PTSD much? 

Othello was a regular guy who was manipulated into doing a pretty bad thing.  Which means you could quite possibly say the same about anybody around you.

O Brave New World!

I’ve thought about it, and decided that this news that Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio teaming up to do a new Brave New World movie counts as Shakespeare news.

While it’s true that the title comes from our beloved Miranda in The Tempest (“O brave new world that has such people in it!”), the book itself if you’ve never read it has quite a bit of Shakespeare.

I'd like to say I’m looking forward to it, but I’ll have to refresh myself a bit on the story and what their plans are.  Wasn’t Gattaca awfully close to this one?

And Sometimes, Just Sometimes, The Teacher Is An Idiot

I link this article on “Shakespeare and Texting” not because it is a new or useful idea (it is neither), but because of this quote:

"The language is terrible," said RayLene Dysert, who teaches freshmen composition at West Texas A&M University and led a recent workshop on teaching Shakespeare for high school teachers.

That pains me in so many ways I can’t begin to tell you, but I’ll give it a shot.

If you think that the language of Shakespeare is terrible you probably shouldn’t be teaching it, don’t ya think?  Much less teaching other teachers how to teach it?  Really??

Listen.  It’s really not that hard to understand.  Shakespeare is neither play nor poetry – it is both, simultaneously.  Yes, it is complex, but that is precisely why you can’t separate them.  Anybody could have written the plot of Romeo and Juliet (as we all know, Shakespeare didn’t invent most of his plots).  It’s *how* he wrote it that makes it genius.  I think that’s the word you were going for when your word processor swapped it out for “terrible”.

If you want to keep just the play, fine, rewrite it.  But it’s no longer poetry, and it’s no longer Shakespeare, so don’t call it that and don’t claim that you made it easier.  I can make math easier by getting rid of all numbers greater than 10, too, but that’s not doing my students any favors.

And if you do insist on doing that?  You know, because it’s too hard?  Please do me and your students a favor and get rid of all studying of all poetry in all forms.  Who cares whether Robert Frost was writing about thoughts of suicide in Stopping By Woods?  Forget Edgar Allen Poe, let’s have Stephen King.  Truth is beauty and beauty truth, and that is all I know on Earth and all I need to know? W TF does that even mean?  Poetry has no purpose, after all.  It’s hard.  Why do they insist on using strange words that I myself don’t use on a daily basis, and why do they order them in unusual ways that I myself would not order them?  That’s stupid.  Everybody should talk like everybody else, that’s the only thing that makes sense.  People who don’t talk like me are stupid, after all.  That’s the only lesson to learn, is that the world revolves around me, and if something is different from how I do it?  Then it is broken until somebody else fixes it for me.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

To Be Or Not To Be? Why Not Both?

I’ve seen much talk of Undead Shakespeare, but this I believe is different:

There’s something rotten in the State of Denmark, boys and girls, and it isn’t the cheese. Rather, it’s the putrefying bodies of the undead, rising up to take control of Denmark away from King Fortinbras (Ben Cunis). But Fortinbras, clever lad that he is, has his own scheme, which involves reanimating the corpse of the Lady Ophelia (Amy Quiggins), to join reanimated corpses from other plays – specifically, Juliet (Megan Reichelt) and Lady Macbeth (Katie Atikinson) – as a trio of zombie-butt-kicking heroines allied with monster-slayer Horatio (Andres Tolero).

Just sounds fun, doesn’t it?  The review itself is quite the piece of work as well:

Under the direction of the fine fight choreographer Casey Kaleba, they fight each other, bite each other, throw each other around the room, poke each other, smoke each other, and send each other to their doom.

Sounds like something Macbeth’s wyrd sisters (who are also in the cast, by the way)  might say, about so fair and foul a play.

Somebody Loves Shakespeare

Spotted this testament of love for Mr. Shakespeare over on Twitter.  Recommended reading for those of us that know what she’s talking about.

Bonus, something I’d never heard before:

In an essay about Othello from A New Mimesis, A.D. Nuttal quotes A.C. Bradley who said that if you swap Othello and Hamlet into each other’s plays, both plays end rather quickly.  Hamlet would see through Iago in 5 minutes and then start making fun of him in the next 5.  The ghost would have said, “Kill that usurper” to Othello and the next sounds would be the ring of Action Man drawing his sword and then the thud of Claudius hitting the floor after Othello cleaves him in twain.

Many Eyes Make Shakespeare Shallow?

Have we talked about this visualization tool from IBM in the past?  I don’t see it when searching my own archives, so many not.

The programmer side of my brain has always seen the complete works of Shakespeare as a vast set of data.  Word frequency and variety, character interactions, timelines…you name it.  Well IBM’s made us a nice tool for looking at all that stuff visually, and playing with it.  Some of it’s fairly well known, like a number of “Wordle” images (which I know we have talked about). 

But then you get to look at something like pie charts showing "kills" in each play.  Needs to be normalized, though – you’ve got Macbeth taking up almost his entire pie with 5, while Titus has more kills (6) but only gets half the pie.  So it’s a good visual indicator of who did the most killing per play, but it doesn’t tell you enough about which plays were bloodbaths.  Maybe something where the pie itself gets bigger, the higher the body count?

(* The title expression, if you don’t recognize it, is a twist on the open source programmer’s mantra “many eyes make all bugs shallow.”  It means that if you can get enough people to look at a problem, eventually the solution will be spotted by someone.  Given that this toy is from IBM’s Alphaworks group, I’m relatively sure that they had this in mind when naming it.)

Gates/Crowley, Shakespeare Style

This story has been beaten to death so I’m a little disappointed that this came out so late, but still it’s a must read for us Shakespeare geeks.

You probably already know the story, what with our illustrious President getting involved, but in case you don’t – black professor Henry Gates can’t get into his house after returning home from China, neighbor thinks he’s breaking in, calls cops.  Cops show up, everybody starts yelling at each other (I am NOT going to get into who started it :)), Gates ends up arrested and then charges quickly dropped.  Fast forward a week later to beers with Obama and Biden.  By the way, I love the way the news reported that Biden “unexpectedly” showed up. 

Anyway, now do it all Shakespeare style.  I love it.  Biden even shows up as Fool!

…although truthfully I’m pretty sure that if Shakespeare ever used the word “beastmistress” it would have meant something different and quite likely been the most filthy thing he ever wrote.

Monday, August 03, 2009

David Tennant’s Hamlet Coming To PBS

There was a great deal of speculation about this deal, but apparently it’s official – they will be putting the David Tennant  / Patrick Stewart Hamlet onto DVD, and PBS will showing it in 2010.

Can’t wait!  As I’ve mentioned, I don’t know much about Tennant but this seems like the best chance to learn.  I’m fascinated by the number of times I’ve seen this mentioned from the Dr. Who perspective where people add almost parenthetically “Oh yeah, it has Patrick Stewart the Star Trek guy, too.”  Those folks need to do their Shakespeare homework! :)

Review : So Long As Men Can Breathe, by Clinton Heylin

So long as men can breathe and eyes can see, people are going to be arguing about Shakespeare’s Sonnets.  On this the 400th anniversary of their publication, Clinton Heylin’s book gives us a roadmap of how we got here, though there’s no reason to think that we’re any closer to the truth now than we were then.

What surprised me most, although I suppose it shouldn’t have, is that Shakespeare is not in this – like, at all.  For those that are unfamiliar with the history of the sonnets, they were published in 1609 by a man named Thomas Thorpe, and the question ever since has been, “Who’s Shakespeare to him, or he to Shakespeare?”  We have no records, so we have to guess.  Were they stolen? Heylin uses the expression “publisher/pirate” quite frequently, and many of the commentaries on publication use variations on the expression “came into possession,” whatever that means.

So while other books on the sonnets will take the text and look at “What did Shakespeare mean by this?” Heylin’s book asks the question more like “Who printed it, in what sequence and grouping, and how did this change how future generations interpreted what Shakespeare might have meant?”

Most of the setup for the “Shakespeare didn’t want these published” argument comes from the fact that there are multiple and obvious mistakes in the initial printing, something that would not have happened if the author was working alongside the publisher to see the finished result.  I have to admit, it’s a pretty logical point, and I don’t know the answer.  Perhaps it’s true that the mistakes just weren’t as big a deal as Heylin suggests, and Shakespeare didn’t care all that much. 

From there it becomes a history lesson in sonnet interpretation (once you get past some fighting and suing each other over who had the rights to publish what, and who stole from whom).  When did the  Dark Lady come into the picture, and what are the different theories about her identity?  Which editors took the position that Shakespeare was gay, and which felt obliged go with the “nonono, that’s just how men talked to other men in Shakespeare’s day” interpretation?  I remember hearing that one in high school ;).  I never really bought that one, because you can read some of Shakespeare’s own dedications (like the one at the front of Venus and Adonis) and you can see just how flowery he did get, and how very different it is from the outpouring of love found in the sonnets.

Speaking of dedications, just who was “W.H”?  The sonnets are dedicated to these mysterious initials, and the book spends significant time right off the bat discussing the possible theories, most notably Pembroke (William Herbert) and Southhampton (Henry Wriothesley).  If you’re already saying “Hey wait, that second guy is an H.W., not a W.H,” then you’re starting to get a glimpse at what this detective story is all about – maybe it was a typo or a mistake?  Or maybe a secret code!  Heylin, by the way, seems to come down pretty strongly on the Pembroke side.  I don’t recall him ever actually stating his belief on the subject, but the argument does stick in my brain as being pretty lopsided in favor.

[ Here’s my query : Do we know for certain that Shakespeare wrote the dedication, since we don’t even know if he wanted the sonnets published?  Perhaps Thorpe wrote it himself?  If that’s the case, then shouldn’t we be asking who WH is to Thorpe, rather than to Shakespeare? Some people see “we’ll never know the answer” as a challenge – others, like me, see it as an opportunity to say “then let’s stop asking the question, shall we?” ]

I have books on Shakespeare the man, and I have books on the sonnets themselves.  I think it’s a worthy addition to anybody’s book collection to look specifically at the editing of the sonnets like this.  We may never know exactly what Shakespeare meant, but at least we can take a realistic look at what cases have been made, who made them, and why. Only then can you really decide for yourself whether you’ve found the answer than sounds right to you.

Commonwealth Shakespeare presents The Comedy of Errors on Boston Common 2009

Hurray for free Shakespeare on Boston Common!  I’ve had a grand time for the past few weeks pimping the show to anybody that would listen.  Without Citibank, their big sponsor, the show had to go on entirely via donations this year.  They deliberately picked Comedy of Errors, a relatively simple show to stage, to keep costs down (and, I’d expect, a slapstick comedy to bring the audience in a bit more than a Pericles might :)).

We got there on Saturday just before 6pm for the 8pm show.  I was doing play-by-play on Twitter for those that watch such things.  We got our dinner (P.F. Chang’s), got our chair rentals, and found a spot.  As usual, all the prime seating near the front of the stage was roped off.  I’ve always assumed that was for paying customers.  At the time there was a big tent right in the middle, but they took that down.

I’m told there were 6000 people there, which I think is pretty good!  If everybody coughed up some donation money that would certainly help.  The volunteers were a little aggressive in the begging, but you can’t really fault them, can you?  I bought a sweatshirt for $25 and the girl working the counter even said, “…unless you want to leave more as a donation.” I informed her that I’d already rented my chairs and put my $20 in the hat that had been passed, and I was all tapped out.

[ On a related note, I appreciate that they were all volunteers, though I do wish they’d maybe been trained a little better.  I could not get a single question answered, no lie.  “Are you doing chair rentals this year?” I don’t know, not my department.  “Got rained out last night, huh?”  We did?  “Did the announcement just say something about discount parking?” I don’t know I wasn’t listening. ]

The show of course was wonderful.  Is there anybody reading my blog who does not know the plot?  Start with a crazy premise – that there’s two sets of identical twins, both of who have a master/servant relationship (Dromio is servant to Antipholus), who do not realize that they’re both in town at the same time.  One set, from Syracuse, has come to Ephesus, where the others live.  It just so happens that it’s illegal for people from Syracuse to come to Ephesus, which is a whole different plot point.  Anyway, you can imagine how the farce goes.  Antipholus of Ephesus is married, but Antipholus of Syracuse is not.  And then he (of Syracuse) runs into his supposed wife, who has no idea that he’s not her husband.  “Come home to dinner!” she says.  “Who are you and why are you yelling at me?” he says.  You don’t need to follow Shakespeare to know what happens when a husband says that to a wife :).  And it just gets sillier from there.

The fun thing about this play is that it’s almost entirely about the over the top physical comedy.  The Dromios take the brunt of it, getting beaten regularly for screwing up messages delivered to the wrong master.  Which of course makes them more likely to run around the stage screaming like crazy people.    The “round like a Globe” scene, where Dromio describes just how big fat and sweaty his counterpart’s girlfriend (wife?) is, was hysterical.  Act out the words in the right way and the audience comes right along for the ride.  We may not know what “break your pate” means but if somebody gets clobbered over the head when it’s said, you can kinda sorta figure it out.

How do you pull off two sets of twins on stage?  Well it helped that for the Dromios, one of them was clearly maybe 40lbs heavier than his counterpart, something not referenced on stage but clearly noticeable by the audience.  Whether that was intentional, I don’t know.  They were both dressed identically (as golf caddies).  The Antipholuses were much harder, since they looked identical from where I sat.  The only way you could really tell was by the staging, and by following the story.  There were logical places where one Antipholus just ran out stage left, and then entered stage right, and you’re left saying “Oh, ok, that’s the other one.”  Luckily they are never both on stage, at least until the last scene.

There is one plot point we did not get (I admit to not reading up on the play before attending).  A goldsmith brings a custom made chain to Antipholus, which he had done as a gift for his wife.  He even says “Bring it to my wife and she’ll pay you,” so we know that it is intended for her.  But later some new woman shows up claiming that she gave him a ring, and in exchange she was to get the chain, or some sort of chain?  I was completely lost by that.  Where’d she come from? Not knowing what scenes may have been cut I don’t know what we missed.

My wife loved the show, telling me that she much prefers the silly comedies to the deeper stuff like Hamlet.  “They’re two different things,” I point out.  “Sometimes you just go for the laugh.  But it’s not like years from now I’ll be saying Hey remember how well Egeon did the scene where he reunites with his long lost wife?  This sort of play’s not about that.  But I can tell you in detail every Hamlet I’ve seen.” [And for the record that’s different than a few years ago when another couple told us that “for her money, Taming of the Shrew is *better* than Hamlet.”  Don’t say things like that, that makes me sad when you say things like that.]

The only thing I’m left to figure out is the scene breaks, where they would perform a sort of zany dance number.  We’ve got at least a partial beach theme, complete with lifeguard in his chair, and beachballs.  Fine.  But then a bunch of nuns dance by (was one of them on a bicycle? I forget), and one strips off to reveal a bathing suit underneath.  Then come the cops chasing the bad guys, cops run into nuns, everybody dances… know what I mean?  I think there’s a name for the style, and I can’t quite place it.  Was like something out of a silent movie (though there was a soundtrack).  Kind of Benny Hill, though not as fast :).

This is the first I’d ever seen Comedy of Errors produced, so I was a little bit lost.  Somebody explain the significance?  I want to say that the Karamazov’s did a similar thing where there was a circus-like number between scenes.  Is all this just to put us in the mood of “Ephesus is a zany place?” Reminds me of Monty Python.

If you’re around, go.  Go early and camp out with a picnic, or come late and just sit down on the grass.  There are a number of food trucks where you can get your dinner, so don’t worry about that.  Be generous in your donations, they need everything they can get.  I am tremendously appreciative of what they’ve been able to pull off on their own, and I can only hope that each year’s efforts are enough to carry the show on for another year.