Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I don’t typically post every review or press release about every new interpretation I see, just the ones that catch my eye.  Like this one, which sums up much of what we talk about here:

You need to do it old school enough to serve the language and story, but not so old school that it flashes back to mandatory high school reading lists. It’s about splitting time between classic and cool, between poise and unpredictability.

That gets my attention right off the bat, infinitely more than people who talk about having to bring the language up to date.  Lose that, you lose the Shakespeare.  Keep that, and everything else I think is up to your own interpretation.

Then again…

Some characters have been cut, or merged with others; Juliet is now raised by a single mother, for example.

Hmmm.  That’s quite the statement to make with your production.  The helplessness of Juliet’s situation is pretty crucial to her “I have no choice but to kill myself” logic.  How exactly do you get across “Marry the guy I tell you to marry or GTFO” from a single mom???

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Happy Anniversary To My Wife, Kerry!

Today (September 30) is my ninth wedding anniversary. My ever patient wife Kerry, bless her heart, knew I was a Shakespeare geek when she married me.  I even said, during my proposal, that there’ll be time enough for Shakespeare.

Since then I’ve generally showered her with Shakespeare every time the opportunity presents itself .  I whispered Sonnet 17 in her ear during our wedding dance.  I made her a Shakespearean infinity bracelet.  I write stuff on Valentine’s Day cards.

And much to her credit, bless her heart, she’s driven 100 miles to sit through King Lear with me, buys me Shakespeare toys, and kept me from making a translated Bottom of myself when one of our friends said that Taming of the Shrew is better than Hamlet.  Every now and then she surprises me, too.

And let’s not forget that I’ve turned our beautiful children into raging geeklets as well.  She takes it all in stride.

So for our anniversary this year I thought I’d introduce her to the site.  Or, rather, the site to her.  She knows I’ve got a blog.  I tell everybody that will listen.  She sees the steady stream of books, DVDs and the occasional t-shirt with a rubber chicken on it show up at the door.  But she goes to bed hours before I do, and the last thing she’ll often hear from me before drifting off to sleep is “Going to work on the blog.”  It only seems right to give her a peek at what that part of my life means.

So.  Kerry, this is everybody. 

Happy Anniversary, Sweetie.  O that thou didst know how many fathom deep I am in love! O know, sweet love, I always write of you, And you and love are still my argument; So all my best is dressing old words new, Spending again what is already spent: For as the sun is daily new and old, So is my love still telling what is told. We are in the very wrath of love, clubs shall not part us.  Haply I think on thee!  For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings that I would scorn to change my state with kings.


Everybody, this is Kerry.  Say hi, Geeks.   If you’ve got any good quotes to drop on us, let us hear it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Shakespeare Truthers

I love when my local paper talks about Shakespeare!  In this case it’s a spin on the authorship question, but I’m pretty sure that if somebody calls you a “truther” (lumping you in with the idiots who still argue that Obama can’t be president because he’s supposedly not born in this country), they don’t have a high level of respect for your argument.

This article is a bit different in that it’s mostly about Marlowe.  Although we all know that he’s a contender (blah blah, faked his death because of secret agent stuff….) I don’t hear him spoken of in that way very often.  Usually it’s all Oxford Oxford Oxford.

UPDATE: I mixed up my idiots, they tell me in the comments.  The ones that think Obama’s birth certificate is fake are “birthers”.  “Truthers” are the ones who think 9/11 was deliberately set up … by Bush.  Ok then.


Those folks looking for some good cryptographic puzzles, with maybe a hint of conspiracy thrown in, are encouraged to check out Jim’s new blog Wordplay Shakespeare where he’s already “decoded” secrets including the identity of Mr. W.H. as well as Hamlet’s true age.

Disclaimer: I did spot Jim’s blog in my referrer logs, and he sent me a nice note introducing himself. Particularly since English is not his first language, he’s asking for tips to make his blog better.  So be nice. :)

I have to admit that I don’t fully “get it”.  I don’t see the patterns that he’s seeing, and I’m not sure I always understand the rules he’s applying.  But then, I’ve never had much of an eye for that sort of thing.  Maybe there are some folks out in my audience who’d like to get some conversation going over there where we can help Jim make his case?

Show Caliban Some Love

Who’s the real villain in The Tempest?  Is it Caliban, the monster?  Or Prospero, the all powerful wizard who physically tortures him on stage?

I enjoyed this article on Deeds and Words called Is Caliban a Bad Guy? that attempts to answer this question, taking the position that maybe Caliban’s not quite so bad as we think.

Caliban’s supposed evil acts are all enumerated – and defended.  Did he really try to rape Miranda, or was it more a case of hormonal adolescents who didn’t have any moral structure to know any better?  Sure, he tries to overthrow Prospero, but come on, the guy tortures him and keeps him as a slave, isn’t Caliban allowed some level of anger at the man?

It’s not a small article, and as you read you’re left with a well balanced but perhaps misunderstood Caliban.  That is until a certain line that comes out of his mouth, which would have likely been a throwaway line to Shakespeare and his peeps, sets the article’s author on edge and casts Caliban back down among the beasts.

What’s the line, and is that a legit interpretation?  I’ll leave that as a surprise, we have to show some trafficky love to the original article after all…. :)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hamlet Was 30. Debate?

Unlike with other Yahoo Answers crossovers, I don’t think Ray Eston Smith Jr is a current contributor here on Shakespeare Geek.  But this seemingly simple question, and his lengthy detailed answer, fascinate me.

Mr. Smith (Eston Smith?) states as fact that Hamlet was 30, and then enumerates all the clear instances within the play where Shakespeare tells us.  Including:

* The "30" is also mentioned in "The Mousetrap," where the Player-King said to his queen, "thirty dozen moons with borrow'd sheen about the world have times twelve thirties been" since their marriage. This is meant to signal 30 years, thus relating the Player-King to Hamlet's father.

* King James VI of Scotland, in his private correspondence, liked to use code-numbers in case his letters were intercepted. His code for himself was "30." There are many parallels between Hamlet and James VI.

* Hamlet wanted to go "back to school in Wittenberg." That doesn't mean he was a student. At age 30, he may have been a tenured professor. (Did they have tenure in those days? It doesn't matter, they didn't even have a university in Wittenberg in Hamlet's days. …Hamlet just wanted to go back to Wittenberg where, at age 30, he was well-settled.

I’d never heard some of those before, particularly the James VI thing.  There is debate in the comments, although people seem to agree that the gravedigger scene clearly says he’s 30.


Is There a “Best” Monologue?

I love this article about finding the “best” monologues for audition, for three reasons.

First, because it comes right out and says “there’s no such thing as a best monologue.”  Of course that’s true.  Men, women.  Comedy, tragedy.  Long, short.  Old, young.    But that won’t stop the psychology at work when somebody sees “10 best” – they almost always have to click. I know I did. :)

Second, it’s a lesson in monologues.  It is NOT,  for example, “dialogue where you’ve stitched out the other person.”  Amen, brother.  He also suggests that you’re doing yourself a disservice if you use a sonnet instead.  You clearly haven’t expanded your horizons to appreciate the variety available to you within the plays.

Lastly, Shakespeare’s certainly included – but absolutely none of what you’d expect.  No Hamlet here.  Instead you get 3 out of 10 from the Bard – the Tempest (no, not Prospero or Caliban or Ariel, either!), Twelfth Night, and even Measure for Measure.  I think, having done away with the “best” idea, that he’s clearly trying to make a point that life is more than To be or not to be.

Maybe it reinforces the obvious, but who cares.  Sometimes you need that.  Especially for anybody who really did think they were going to get a magical list of the 10 best monologues guaranteed to get them the callback?

UPDATE:  Helps if I include the link!  Thanks Chris!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Funny What Turns Up

So I’m bored tonight and looking for content.  I don’t type “Shakespeare” into the search engines because I’ve got monitors on those to bring the news to me.  I type in character names.

I type in “Caliban” and get this!

Posted just this morning, a blogger on the Huffington Post compares current New York politics (and the whole “Obama’s people tell governor Paterson not to run”) to the Tempest:

In a sense, Cuomo is Ariel to Paterson's Caliban. This of course suggests that Gillibrand is Miranda, and Schumer is Prospero in this New York State Democratic adaptation of The Tempest.

I don’t fully get it, I just got a kick out of the fact that it was posted just today and I happened to trip over it entirely by accident ;).

A House Falls On Hamlet?

Using Shakespeare as the foundation for your game is not new.  Some work, some don't.

But it’s always a good idea, from where I sit.  And eventually somebody’s going to hit upon the formula that makes it work.  I think the trick, like “10 Things I Hate About You” and “Lion King”, is to make it map to Shakespeare without coming right out and saying it.  If you tell people “This is Shakespeare, you’ll like it” you won’t get as good a reaction as if you say “Did you like it?  Cool, because you know, it was based on Shakespeare.”

With that in mind we have “Gamelet”:

Inspired by Hamlet, the new game is — in the words of its solo developer himself — a "twisted" adaptation of Shakespeare's classic play. Players control a "man from the future", who arrives in Hamlet's time just as the Danish hero is about to seek revenge for the death of his parents and rescue his beloved Ophelia from her captors. Unfortunately, you crash land right on top of Hamlet, and must now assume his place in order to prevent the "history" of the world from radically changing.

Sounds like a cross between Hamlet 2 and Wizard of Oz.  Back when I was in school, dreaming of writing games for a living, Hamlet was my holy grail.  Specifically, I wanted to build an engine so rich in AI that all of the NPC (non player characters) would roam around and behave *like* their Shakespearean counterparts, without ever actually being told to.

We shall see how it goes.  By my “map it without telling them it’s Shakespeare” rule, it won’t work.  Fingers crossed that I’m wrong!

Lenny Henry as Othello

Although the name sounds familiar, I don’t know much about this Lenny Henry fellow.  He’s a comedian?  He’s getting great reviews for his spin on Othello:

But appropriately to a tragedy that knows a thing or two about stealth, the director, Barrie Rutter, lets the text’s variable loyalties land where they will — led by an Othello who displays the “free” and life-enhancing nature spoken of by Iago, until suspicion sets in and Mr. Henry’s genial presence starts to cloud over.

I haven’t seen much of Othello, but my recollections do tend toward the … well, boring.  I’ve never really thought of him as a fun guy.  Perhaps I’ve been thinking about him wrong.  Maybe the more you show his good nature up front, the harder the fall as his paranoia takes over.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hamlet : Son of Anarchy?

Sutter has even hinted that he plans a five-year run for the series, with each of the five seasons mirroring the corresponding act in Hamlet. Consider that gang leader Clay (Ron Perlman) killed his friend and business partner before marrying that dead man's wife and raising the woman's troubled, haunted son (Jackson "Jax" Teller, played by Charlie Hunnam), and you'll see the clear connections to Claudius, Gertrude and their troubled son.

Why is it that I never learn about these shows until they’re well into their run? :(

In this case we’re talking about “Sons of Anarchy”, the FX series about a motorcycle gang….errr, “club”.

"When you look at the fifth act of Hamlet, nobody gets out of that mother alive."

Well put.  Nobody tell him about Horatio and Fortinbras, let it be a surprise.

Edwin Booth. Othello. 100+ Years Ago. Wow.

Finds like this send chills up my spine.  The Shakespeare geeks likely know, though others may not, that a certain Booth – Mr. Edwin Booth, to be precise – was a much heralded Shakespearean actor in the late 1800’s.  If the name sounds familiar, you are correct – he is the brother John Wilkes Booth, and hopefully we all know what he did.

Would you have ever thought in a million years that you could hear what Edwin Booth sounded like?  Here’s a portion of his Othello, courtesy Michigan State:


Of course the quality is terrible – it’s from a wax cylinder!  The fact that it exists at all is amazing.  You’re listening to a guy that was alive when Lincoln was  shot.

How do you like his delivery, what you can make of it?  He seems a little … I dunno, spooky to me.  Bela Lugosi?  I’m trying to remember which of the horror movie actors was famous for that ghoulish sort of elongating of the vowels.  Like the narration on the old “Monster Mash” variety song.

What a horrible comparison to make.  Sacrilege, I know. :)

Guilt By Shakespeare

“Who put their handprint on Mommy’s nice clean glass door that she just Windexed this afternoon?”  said Mommy.

“Not me,” said three Geeklets in Sound-Of-Music unison.

“Line them up and have them each put up a hand,” said Shakespeare Geek.  “See which one fits.”

“Don’t do that!” said oldest Geeklet.

“I think oldest geeklet did it,” says Daddy Geek.

“Why?” asks she.

“Methinks she doth protest too much,” quoth I.

“Huh?” respondeth she.

“It means that when somebody did something wrong, the person who says NOT ME NOT ME NOT ME NOT ME is usually the one who did it,” summarize I.

*squit* *squit* *squit* *wipe* *wipe* *squeaky* *squeak*,” says Mommy’s Windex, onomatopoetically.

“Too late now,” says too-observant-for-her-age oldest.  “Mommy cleaned it, now we’ll never know.  But I didn’t do it.”

The Macbeth Murder Mystery

"In the first place, I don't think for a moment that Macbeth did it." I looked at her blankly. "Did what?" I asked. "I don't think for a moment that he killed the King," she said.

I’d not read this short story by James Thurber, about a woman who reads Macbeth as if it’s a regular old murder mystery.  It’s satire of course, but quite amusing.

I love the bit about Lady M’s dad.  Who’da thunk it?

[ For some reason I cannot connect to the original site, so rather than lose the momentum of discovery I’m linking to the Google cache version.  Safe diff.  It’s short enough not to matter, and n0 images. ]

The Macbeth Murder Mystery (via Google Cache)

Time To Forget The Curse And Move These Bones?

It’s long been known that the church where Shakespeare is buried needs work.  Lots of work.  They’ve raised nearly a million pounds over the years to do it.

Now it seems things are even worse, as the main beam keeping the roof up is rotting faster than they thought.

I don’t understand why the church is in such trouble.  We’re talking about a national landmark, no?  Wouldn’t the government want to throw them a few bucks?  I have to believe that at least a tiny bit of tourism is thanks to Mr. Shakespeare and his grave.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Americans Shouldn’t Do Shakespeare

“Say you are an idiot.  Now, say you are Nicholas Cage.  But I repeat myself.”

With apologies to Mark Twain and none to Mr. Cage comes this story about the latter’s opinion on why Americans should not do Shakespeare:

"There is something about it. I feel the rhythm of the English language and manner of English speech seem to work effectively with William Shakespeare but when Americans do it, something seems stuck."

Now you may be saying to yourself, “The Leaving Las Vegas guy?  Moonstruck?  He won some awards, didn’t he?  Son on Francis Ford Coppola? I suppose he’s entitled to his opinion.”

Wrong Nicholas Cage.  We’re talking about this guy:


Oh, wait.  Same guy.  My bad.  

Turns out there’s at least one American than shouldn’t do Shakespeare, I’ll give him that.

Oh God. The bees.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why People Believe Weird Things

Check out the quote I just tripped over, strangely enough when googling “Zombieland” :

"If a group of Shakespeare scholars believe that the universe is explained in the bard's plays, does that mean science courses should include readings of Shakespeare? Shakespeare's plays are literature, the Bible contains scriptures sacred to several religions, and neither has any pretentions to being a book of science or scientific authority." ~~ Michael Shermer in Why People Believe Weird Things

As somebody who has made the “all of human experience can be seen on Shakespeare’s stage” argument, I think I know what he’s getting at with the “universe is explained in the bard’s plays” thing.  No, Shakespeare didn’t say much about the orbits of the planets.  But he did do a pretty good job at saying “Here’s people, and here’s how people react in certain situations.”  So good, in fact, that 400 years later we have to often remind ourselves what he did actually say, and what we’ve just projected onto him.

But it’s not science, and has no claim as such. 

Iago’s Love

That’s right, love.  Caught your attention?  Mine too.

Their talking about a new production of Othello starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, opening this week in New York.  There’s a video interview with Hoffman, but I have not yet watched it.

What’s even more interesting in the article is the bit about a new play by Toni Morrison called Desdemona:

In Morrison’s words, “The only reason Desdemona loves Othello, or so she says, is the stories he told her. She listened to these stories of his, of his travels and his adventures. Where are those stories? We need to hear those stories that are not in the play.”

That idea intrigues me.  We so often dissect the tiniest details of Hamlet that we forget you could do the same sort of thing with Othello, or for that matter any of the tragedies.

Dame Judi Loves Us And Wants Us To Be Happy

Dame Judi Dench, who made movie trivia history by playing Queen Elizabeth in two movies simultaneously (and winning an Oscar for one of them though I can’t remember which), was given the theatre set from Shakespeare in Love as a gift.  What to do with such a thing?

Why, donate it to a trust that’s going to set it up as a permanent structure, of course.

Dench wants to see the set turned into a full-scale replica of the Rose theatre, which stood close to the Globe on the south bank of the Thames and was also used by Shakespeare. The actor, who was born in York, has donated the set to the touring British Shakespeare Company for re-use as a permanent Shakespeare centre in the north of England.

Dench said her husband, the actor Michael Williams, had called her mad to accept the present, but she had been determined to see the open-air apron stage, with its horseshoe of galleries and open space for cheap ticket "groundlings", used as a working theatre. Structural reinforcement will be needed, but the building parts are basically sound and it held up to heavy, sometimes rowdy, use during the making of the film.

I may never get a chance to see such things, but I’m glad there are people in the world who want to make such things happen.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Help Raise Money with Shanghai Low

An old friend of the blog, David “Master of Verona” Blixt, has got a new project going that I thought I’d plug.  For a quick summary I borrow from their basics page:

Shanghai Low Theatricals is a group of craftspeople engaged in the development of literary adaptations for - but not limited to - the stage.

The company is a non-profit 501(c)3 arts organization based in Chicago, Illinois - and, as a whole, constitutes one playwright.

Anyway, the link of interest is the fundraiser / coloring contest that they’re doing, with profits going to benefit the non-profit Illinois Arts Organization.

The contest?  Coloring stuff.  It doesn’t even say you have to stay in the lines.

The prize?  Books and Chocolate.

Sounds like win all around.  Check it out.

Worst Mothers in Literature

8. Gertrude from Hamlet by Shakespeare

The fact that she marries her brother in law, who killed her husband, is proof that she's nuts but what really makes Gertrude a certifiable psycho is that despite all the adultery and killing she tries a little too hard to show compassion to Hamlet giving the kid a serious Oedipus complex.

Mostly blogging this one because Gertrude’s on the list.  I’m not sure I even agree.  I tend to have more sympathy for Gertrude.  She certainly never says “Screw what my son thinks, I’m doing what’s right for me.”  Maybe she was in an unhappy marriage with Hamlet’s dad and is glad to be free of it.  Maybe she was having an affair with Claudius right along.  Maybe she’s just still in mourning over her husband so deeply that she doesn’t even fully recognize what she’s done.  I’m leaving out the Oedipus stuff, since that’s all baggage that Freud brought to the table well after Shakespeare put words to paper.

What do we Shakespeare geeks think?  Should she be higher, lower?  Is there a better mother to put on the list?

Shakespeare’s Last Day

Imagine Will Shakespeare on his death bed, visited by his friend Ben Jonson.  What would they talk about?

Such is apparently the premise of The Careful Glover, a new play by Jim Baines:

Ben arrives and meets spirited, restless Judith almost immediately. She takes him to her father, where the two swap memories, sing songs and get soused. It is in these moments that Will admits to having one more script almost finished, one that should get tongues wagging again back in London. Will gets Ben to promise to get the play produced.

I think I’d like this one.

Maybe somebody here can help me with something, though.  Does this sentence make any sense?

There are some yawning minutes in Act II when Will is awash on his own version of Macbeth’s moor, a storm raging in a transparent nod to Shakespeare’s fondness to show nature’s fury when earthly relationships — individuals, families, countries — go awry.

Is that a Macbeth thing, or a Lear thing? Took me a couple of readings of “moor” to realize he wasn’t talking about Othello. :)

Harry Potter, 44. Hamlet….7?

I, too, am unfamiliar with this “Accelerated Reader” program and perhaps I’m the better off for it.  Books are assigned a point value, and students, upon reading those books and passing a test, are awarded those points.  It’s unclear what happens when you reach your point goal.

Putting aside the debate over whether any of that is a good idea, we jump to the meat of the matter, the point list.  For a formula that is supposedly based on reading difficulty and word count, we get a list in which the big fat Harry Potter books score a 44 out of 50, while Hamlet scores a 7.  Gossip Girl (I thought that was just a movie, shows how old I am) even rated an 8.

I think the problem should be obvious.  Hamlet, being a play rather than an overrated novel written specifically to turn into a movie franchise, has far far fewer words than JK Rowling’s juggernaut.  It’s all dialogue.  Even with a brief swag at it, you look at say 800 pages of Harry Potter compared to the maybe 30-50 pages that it takes to print Hamlet, and it’s no contest.

That would be even somewhat acceptable if the other variable, reading level, was realistic.  And that, obviously, is where it fails.  Maybe Harry Potter gets a 2nd or 3rd grade reading level, while Hamlet gets 10th grade.  Who knows, but really, who cares? Harry is still going to win.

I think this system needs a third variable.  Maybe we call it “depth”, “value” or even “relevance”.

Harry Potter books?  2.

Hamlet? 1000

Now we can have a conversation about relative merit.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Shakespeare Troll Iz Funny

And now for your amusement I present “Clear’s Own” view of Shakespeare:

I was studying Shakespeare recently and I realized something that no one else seems to have figured out. He really, really sucks. Seriously, why am I the only one who has noticed this? Well, I assume I won't be the only one after I inform the world.

He then goes on to rant about the poor quality of Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet and Julius Caesar (misunderstanding, or at least misrepresenting, some key bits) in a somewhat amusing manner:

The morning after Romeo nails Juliet, he goes strolling through the city and runs into his A-hole enemy, Tybalt. Still feeling good from whatever sex hormones are running through his blood, he tries to ignore him and his best friend dies as a result. I feel for you, Romeo. We've all done stupid things because of sex. For instance, I once told a girl I'd slept with that I'd help her move. What a waste of a Saturday that was.

I don’t believe for a second that this guy actually thinks Shakespeare stinks, but I got a kick out of his delivery.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Willy’s Wily Wenches

Oh, the irony!  On many levels!

Today, a coworker new to Twitter asked me what the deal was with spam bots.  He’d just signed up 5 minutes ago, he said, and there were already 10 strangers following him.

I explained that yeah, that happens, and that in general if it’s a complete stranger saying something completely unrelated to anything you’ve just said, and providing a link, it’s spam.  But, I pointed out, the problem is often directly related to the number of followers you get.  I as a ShakespeareGeek with a smaller niche audience don’t see nearly the problem as much as a celebrity with a million or so followers.

No sooner had I said that than I get an email telling me that Willy's Wily Wenches are now following me.

Something’s funny about it, though.  Too alliterative.   More effort went into that name than the typical spam name.  And then there’s Willy …   I dare to click.

My guess is correct – it actually *is* a Shakespeare reference!  Turns out that Willy’s Wily Wenches, based out of Texas it looks like, is some sort of  all-female “Reduced Shakespeare”, as best I can tell.  Even their tagline, “Getting revenge on history”, shows that they’ve got some appreciation for their subject matter and are really working the whole “Yes we realize that boys played all the girl parts” thing to death.

I wonder how many “willy” jokes they make in any given show.

Welcome, Wenches.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Best Things To Say Before Killing Somebody

[ From the archives.  Originally posted March 12, 2008. ]

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

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

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

#5) Othello, Act V Scene 2

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

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

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

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

#4)  Hamlet, Act V Scene 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2) Titus Andronicus, Act V Scene 3

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

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

#1)  Macbeth, Act V, Scene x

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Shakespeare Geek's Top 10 Shakespeare Plays

Over the years I’ve seen many Shakespeare lists.  Instead of linking to yet another one I thought it would be fun to combine several and come up with my own, the Shakespeare Geek Top 10.  This is not my opinion, this is the mathematical analysis (according to my own algorithm :)) from a variety of places, some here and some elsewhere, that people have voted on a general “top 10” for Shakespeare’s plays. 
How you define “best” is up to you and I fully expect that people use different scales all the time.  That’s why I’m looking at it statistically – if most people pick Dream as the best play, then does it really matter why they think they picked it?
#10. The Tempest.   Maybe it’s the fascination with “Shakespeare’s last play”, maybe the fairy tale, happy ending nature of the story (I know it’s the latter that gets my vote), but I’m happy to see one of my favorites just make the top 10.
#9. Julius Caesar.  I appreciate that this is one of the great tragedies that most of us will read in high school, but I was surprised at the showing it made.  I don’t understand.  If the Twilight lady announced that she was filming a new version of Julius Caesar I’d bet you can hear the crickets chirp.
#8. A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I know there are folks out there who will put Dream up against Hamlet as one of the best, and I have to concur.  I’ve ranted at times that I get sick of seeing it, but really, as I called it the other week after seeing a production, it’s “pretty near perfect on the page.”
#7. Richard III.  I’m not familiar enough with this one to have cast a vote on it.  Tell me why you love it?  Just the evilness of the title character, or something more?
#6. Henry V.  Do we all love it because of the Crispin’s Day speech and the Muse of Fire, or is there more to it?
#5. Romeo and Juliet.  Now we get into some of the more obvious ones, will there be any surprises in the top 5? Does Romeo and Juliet deserve a spot this high or is it just because we’re all so familiar with this high school favorite?
#4. Othello.  I’ve seen many people speak of Othello as one of the great underrated tragedies, and I have to agree.  When you really take the time to dig into it, it’s far better than the more shallow analysis might suggest.
#3. Macbeth. Glad to see the Scottish play fare so well, it’s one of my top choices. 

…and the big question *still* not answered:
#1 King Lear and Hamlet
We have a statistical tie for the #1 spot with Hamlet and King Lear both getting the exact same score!  (That just means I need more data, hint hint hint.)
Disclaimer : Only 7 of my top 10 made the final list, so I’m not skewing the results to my own personal choices.
I can’t say there are many surprises.  If I pulled it out to a top 15 we’d start to see some of the popular comedies, As You Like It, Much Ado, Twelfth Night … but at some point I run out of numbers to make a meaningful argument, too.
Disagree?  Make your own top 10 and post it in the comments!  I’d love to keep my statistics up to date and have a true and accurate top 10 list, as defined by the audience of Shakespeare geeks as a whole and not just one person’s personal opinion.  I may have even added you already, if you’ve made a list. Who knows? :)

Just Like Romeo and Juliet (If Romeo Choked Juliet Out After The Grammys)

Another good one I missed as Chris Brown, who I know only as the singer who beat up his singer girlfriend Rhianna, compares his relationship to Romeo and Juliet.

On second thought, maybe he’s right.  Go ahead and kill yourself, Mr. Brown, and then we’ll compare.

Even better, when told that this is what he’d be remembered for, he apparently (I have better things to do than watch the video, I’m just reading the summaries) brings up Michael Jackson.  I think maybe “O.J.” is what you meant to say there.

Tainted Muse

I’d not heard of Robert Brustein’s book “The Tainted Muse”, but it does look interesting – particularly for historians of Shakespeares’s era.  How much of the poet is reflected in his plays, and how much of that can be attributed to the time period?

The most notable example, of course, is whether our boy Will was an anti-semite, given what he did with Merchant of Venice.  The argument is ancient – he was, he wasn’t, it’s not biggie because everybody else was back then too.  The article doesn’t say which side of the argument the author comes down on, which is probably a smart move.

He also wades into less charted territory with discussions of Shakespeare’s machismo, misogyny, and “effemiphobia’’ - his distaste for courtiers such as Osric in “Hamlet’’ and his abiding respect for warriors such as Hotspur in “Henry IV, Part 1.’’ Here, for example, is how he differentiates between contemporary and turn of the 17th century sensibilities - “ ‘Make love, not war’ was the primary motto of protesters against the Vietnam conflict. Elizabethans would have reversed this axiom, for moral reasons . . . but also for physical ones - making war, not love, was believed to improve one’s health’’ and he goes on to compare how copulation was considered deleterious.

The article goes on to say that the author himself acknowledges that much of the problem comes from separating the playwright from the written word.  Shakespeare never said “I feel this way about this subject”, only his characters did, so how often when we make that leap are we getting it 100% wrong?  Merchant’s still the shining example, of course.

When Is Shakespeare Hilarious?

This thread on Metafilter came up back in May, but we missed it the first time around.  If somebody asked you which of Shakespeare’s scenes is the most hilarious, so that it could be acted out as part of a birthday present to a fan, what would you go with?

Hard not to pick out the ending of Dream, but then again I tend to study the tragedies more than every last comedy so I don’t know if there’s some gems hiding in, say, Merry Wives of Windsor.

The thread shows a wide variety – several votes for Shrew, Much Ado, and even Romeo and Juliet.  Macbeth’s porter shows up, as do the Hamlet gravediggers.  Falstaff doesn’t get as much love as you might hope, but at least one person does stand up for the jolly fat bastard.

Having just seen Comedy of Errors this summer I’m glad somebody mentions Dromio’s encounter with his twin’s wife.  That’s surely one that is best acted out.

Believe it or not, Pericles, All’s Well and even Henry V are mentioned as well.

Friday, September 04, 2009


There’s a simple little blog post with a deeper question.  On the subject of “What play would you assign?” the two friends discuss the understanding of revenge – one recommends Hamlet, the other suggests The Tempest.  (The interpretation of how best to handle your revenge, between those two plays alone, could fill quite a few lectures…)

But let me ask the bigger question – how many of Shakespeare’s plays, and to what extent, have revenge at their core?  Is what Edmund does, revenge?  How about Iago to Othello (if we assume, as the text hints at, that Iago does in fact have some previous slights from Othello, and he’s not just a sociopath).   What about Romeo killing Tybalt?  Sure it’s a brief flash of a moment inside the play, but it’s a pretty pivotal moment.  How about Merchant of Venice?

I realize that there are some “revenge plays” where that’s the overall point of the story.  I’m just curious, if you tried, whether you could find some level of revenge in just about all the plays, short of the silliest comedies. 

How about Dream?  Is Oberon’s spell cast over Titania a form of revenge for the way she’s been treating him?