Wednesday, February 24, 2010

To Be Or To Have Been : That Is A Different Question

(Warning, this is about as related to Shakespeare as any other turn of any of his phrases, but it’s as good a place as any to braindump something I’ve been thinking about.  I’ll try to make it as Shakespearey as I can. :))

There’s an expression among writers, I’ve lost the original source, that goes “I don’t want to write, I want to have written.”

In a strangely ironic twist I’ve often found myself using a related example in regard to books when I’ll say, “I don’t want to read it, but I want to have read it.”  The author of these books is almost always Dan Brown, by the way. :)   I once pitched to a friend a similar concept for movies, where you could rip the audio track from a dvd, and then listen to that the same way.  For dialogue heavy movies you could still get the general plot, recognize the famous quotes, and be able to say that you are familiar with it. Even though you never saw it.

I realize this morning that this philosophy could be extended to just about anything.  I don’t want to eat, I want to have eaten.  I don’t want to sleep, I want to have slept. I don’t want to do, I want to have done.

Is it the journey, or the destination?  Hamlet’s question is deeper, but precisely because we can’t experiment with it.  We can’t both be and not be and then decide for ourselves which is better, we can only hypothesize about it.

In its own way, my question is quite related to his.  After all, doesn’t “to be” imply some level of awareness, of actually paying attention to your own life?  If you’re just going through the paces, always considering the future at the expense of the present, are you really “being”?

I don’t really have anywhere I’m going with this, just wanted to throw it out there. I’ve had times when I’m awful at this, and I was reminded of it when speaking of audiobooks and I told the story of how I used to listen to them and 2x speed in the car for exactly the above reasons – I wanted to have read it, but not to read it.  Reading is supposed to be enjoyable, and yet here I am deliberately shortening that portion.  It’s just not right.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Queen Judi

[ Ok, that’s something of a meaningless title but I thought it went well with my post from a minute ago about King Hapless. :) ]

Just how good is Dame Judi Dench?  Who else could reprise a role 48 years later?

That’s precisely what’s happening at the Rose Theatre on March 20 when she takes on Titania once again, working with director Peter Hall – who also directed her in the 1962 version.

In this particular instance I think I’ll let the original article speak for me, when it describes her as a “star that elicits affection from an audience busy purring its devotion from the minute Ms. Dench sweeps on stage.”  Yes, that’ll work.

You know, until the moment when I went to look this up, I’d been under the impression that Dame Judi had played Queen Elizabeth simultaneously, both in Shakespeare in Love as well as in the movie Elizabeth, which was out in theatres at the same time.  I never saw the latter, obviously, as she is not in it. 

Really weird trivia, though? I’m trying to figure out what special place in history Ms. Dench has, as I could swear there’s some sort of “award for playing the same role at different times” sort of thing that has to do with her and Queen Elizabeth.  So I google for it and end up on a question about “the only performers nominated for playing the same character in the same film”.

Answer? Judi Dench and Kate Winslet – but for the 2001 movie “Iris”, having nothing (as far as I can tell) to do with Shakespeare or Queen Elizabeth.

But now we get to play Six Degrees of Dame Judi, because Kate Winslet and she have both played Ophelia, who was also played by Cate Blanchett, who, you guessed it, played Queen Elizabeth in the 1998 movie.  Small Shakespeare world.

One last thing – the “special place in history” that I’m confusing appears to be that Ms. Dench has the award for shortest amount of screen time – less than 8 minutes.  Because she’s just that damned good, apparently.  She’s like the Chuck Norris of Shakespeare.   Hey, that could be a fun series :)  Judi Dench’s Ophelia doesn’t drown, she walks on the water.

King Hapless

Quick! If somebody said “the most hapless of Monarchs”, in reference to a Shakespeare character, who are they talking about?

All the fun is taken out of the question, though, when you get to the second half  : “This king is in the title of Shakespeare’s only trilogy,” and the answer is of course Henry,

Apparently it was a question on Jeopardy.

I’ve always thought it would be great for Jeopardy to do a Shakespeare-themed show.  They periodically have a category for him, which is nice, but if you really tried I bet you could fill up the entire board, twice.  And then we Shakespeare geeks could Tivo it and watch again and again and again and again ….

UPDATE: As clarified for me in the comments, the answer of “Henry” is hardly sufficient, as Henry IV/V/VI refer to different people, AND Henry VI is actually 3 plays by itself.  So the correct Jeopardy answer would have been, “Who is Henry VI?”

It was early and I was blatantly reposting without thinking.  Sorry for the lapse in quality, folks.  Go read the Judi Dench post that came next, I promise I actually researched all my links for that one. :)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Good Geek, Bad Geek. A Public Service Announcement

Somewhere along the line it became cool to be a geek about something.  At least I hope it has, as I’ve kinda staked my “personal brand” on it, obviously.  I’ve always preferred the term geek, I find it less pejorative than nerd, dork, dweeb and a few choice others.

That doesn’t mean, though, that all geek habits are socially acceptable.  There is still such a thing (in my opinion), as “bad geek”. 

A while back while out at a restaurant with the family, we ran into another family we know.  During whatever in the conversation the father makes a movie reference, I make what I think is the next line of the movie reference, and his maybe 10yr old son, complete with eye roll, loudly re-quotes my line with one word changed because obviously I’m a frickin idiot.

Many things make this a bad geek moment.  Thinking, for example, that it is at all important who gets a movie quote right, and that it’s your job to correct somebody? Wrong.  Nobody cares.  It’s not important.  Teaching your child that this is an important skill to have?  Even more incorrect.  Lacking the social skills that enable you to understand how not to be rude to someone?  Strike three.

I asked on Twitter recently what to call this idea - “if quoting Monty Python makes you a geek, what does correcting other people’s quotes make you?” I was surprised at the number of responses I got back: “It’s called awesome!” “How about soulmate?” “Ubergeek?” and other, entirely positive, suggestions.  I don’t know if I just phrased the question wrong, or if I’m the only one to point this out, but it’s not cool, and nobody cares.

Don’t get me wrong, there are of course times when your superior knowledge of the subject is useful.  Such as, when the other person actually invites it.  Somebody starts out a quote by saying, “Oh, how’s that expression go, that one from Shakespeare about not being a borrower…” then of course you get to show off.  But when somebody in conversation says, “Remember what Shakespeare said, neither a borrower or a lender be.” and you feel a moral obligation to pipe in “NOR, it’s NOR a lender be,” then you kinda sorta need to go back to courtesy school, my fellow geeks.

Am I guilty of this? I think I probably am, at times, but I try to be conscious of the problem and not do it.  My crime is more often in talking too much, not shutting up, stealing other people’s stories.  But I don’t find myself correcting people without invitation, for exactly these reasons.

Dale Carnegie, in the classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, tells a story on this subject. While at a dinner party, a fellow guest quotes the Bible (“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends…”) and Carnegie calls him out on it, knowing for a fact that it is from Shakespeare.  After the argument becomes heated they agree to ask a third party, who turns out to be a friend of Carnegie.  “You’re wrong, Dale,” says the friend, “It is from the Bible.”  Later, Carnegie corners him and says “You know perfectly well that’s from Shakespeare.”

“Yes of course,” he replied, “But we were guests at a festive occasion. Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make the man like you? Why not let him save face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him?”

Had to be said.  Something to think about the next time you’re about to open your mouth and show off just how much of an awesome ubergeek you are, regardless of subject.

Caliban’s Hour

When I heard that Tad Williams, author of the excellent “Otherland” scifi series, had written a Shakespeare book?  I went on the hunt.  It’s pretty much out of print so I had to hunt a little farther than usual, but I did manage to find it.

The Tempest ends with Prospero and Miranda leaving the island, Ariel released from bondage, and Caliban…. what? Left alone to rule the island? How’s he feel about that? Is it what he wanted?

Flash forward 20 years.  Prospero has passed away, Miranda is married with kids of her own.  And Caliban has at last escaped the island and shown up in her room to tell his side of the story.

The premise, is pretty neat.  It makes me think of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and all that “who is really the monster here” stuff that comes along with listening to the monster tell his side of the story.

Unfortunately the execution turns out incredibly boring.  The book is written in second person – told from Caliban to Miranda.  I’m not a big fan of that style, it’s jarring to me to keep reading lines like, “I see by your expression that you do remember the place I’m talking about.”  Argh. No, no I as the reader do not.  Don’t do that. I’m aware that I am reading a book about fictional characters, third person he-said/she-said is fine with me.

Now take that style and tell 20 years of story (more, actually) from the point of view of a character who didn’t even know how to speak for the first half of it.  Caliban tells the story of how he and his mother arrived at the island, and how they survived.  The amount of story that Williams has to backfill, since Shakespeare gave us none of it, is pretty hefty.  How’d they get there? Much like Prospero she was kicked out of town and put on a boat to starve.  Why?  Because she was a witch, not to mention pregnant. Who was Caliban’s daddy? Doesn’t say.  Why did she not teach Caliban language herself? Townspeople burnt out her tongue before they shipped her off.  Ah. How, then, does Caliban know all the details of the story, if she was not able to tell him and she died before Prospero showed up?!  Turns out that Prospero knew all about her from before she was sent off to the island, and knew all about her and Setebos.

Imagine if you could remember when you were 6 months old, before you knew how to talk.  Now imagine trying to explain what you were feeling.  Worse, imagine a hundred or so pages of that. That’s what Caliban’s story is like.

Truthfully it’s just not for me. The overwhelming feature that keeps pulling me back to Shakespeare is the essence of what it means to be human that he puts into each character.  It’s hard enough to do that with Caliban, it’s not like in this day and age we get a lot of feral children introduced to society who come to regret it.   It dawns on me that there’s a certain irony in comparison to A Brave New World, where the “savage” is actually the wisest character of the bunch, and he spends most of his time quoting Shakespeare! Here you’ve got a Shakespeare original and somebody putting a book’s worth of non-Shakespeare words in his mouth.

Friday, February 19, 2010

365 Characters

Somebody comes up to you and asks you to name a fictional character, for a project that they are doing.  Who do you pick?  Naturally I go skimming to see if anybody’s picked Shakespeare, and I see that the current entry (#255) is Ophelia.

The project itself seems to be about artistic interpretation – a “portrait” a day.

The concept of character is interesting, though.  At first I thought the artist wanted specific people (like, for example, Ophelia).  But paging through previous days I see generic ideas like “librarian” or “cook”.

I flipped back to about 150 or so and did not see any other specific Shakespeare characters, but maybe somebody else in a different time zone (it’s late here and I’m sleepy!) can flip through the rest and see what other Shakespeare showed up.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Other People’s Favorite Quotes

How much of a Shakespeare geek am I? When I see a forum thread titled “Your favorite quote of all time?” I cruise through it looking for Shakespeare, even though in this particular case it’s very much a computer-geek board with little chance of Mr. Shakespeare showing up.

At the time, I count 3 Shakespeare – all from Hamlet, and yet all different quotes.  That’s kinda interesting.

Mistress Shakespeare

Did you know that there’s actually two documented references to William Shakespeare’s marriage … to two different people?  Days before his recorded marriage to Anne Hathaway is another line, referring to Anne Whateley.

Most frequently this is written off as clerical error or simple misspelling in a time when Mr. Shakespeare himself seems to never really write his name the same way twice.

But what if Anne Whateley was a real person, Shakespeare’s true first love, and his marriage to her was unable to happen because he went and knocked up Anne Hathaway?  Could you get a book out of that premise?

Karen Harper did.  Better than just a planned first marriage that did not occur, she goes all Romeo and Juliet and has Will and Anne#1 marry in secret, but then he has to go and do the shotgun wedding thing with that other hussy.  I’m not sure, reading this review, whether Anne#1 ever takes issue with her man knocking up some other broad, or if she’s cool like that.

I suppose it’s a quaint idea, but as for the reviewer’s suggestion that “Shakespeare buffs need something new to mull over, and Harper provides it,” I dunno about that.  I’m sure it makes a nice story, and we do all love to map “real” stories onto Shakespeare’s archetypes for maximum effect, but how realistic would a “secret” wedding have been, really?  From everything I’ve understood about the time period, documentation and doing such things by letter of the law was very important.  Didn’t they even need special permission of some sort to waive some requirements in order to make the wedding happen in a hurry?  If it was at all as easy as grabbing a priest and saying I Do, I think they would have done that first and filled out the paperwork later.

But then, I’m no expert in the historical side of things like Ms. Harper, so maybe this sort of thing happened all the time?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ok, Who Needs A Reading Buddy?

Just got an email from Ingrid, a fellow “tech geek with a love of literature” who wants to beef up her Shakespeare by doing a maddening one-play-a-day read through starting on March 1.

She’s looking for folks who might be interested in reading along, in what I can only describe as something of a “speed book club”.  I can’t pull it off, I don’t have nearly the time or attention span to tackle such a thing, but I promised that I’d post her request.

Anybody up for a month of Shakespeare?    She’s calling her project “38 Plays in 38 Days” and has a site up (linked) to track progress.

Good luck!

Why No Love For Shakespeare In Love?

It’s widely understood that Shakespeare In Love winning the Best Picture Oscar (over Saving Private Ryan and Life is Beautiful) is considered one of the top WTF? moments of Academy Award history (though in the above list it only makes #9).

So, I have two questions.  First, do you think that’s valid?  I mean, we’re all Shakespeare geeks here, I’m sure we all have some amount of love for Tom Stoppard and the source material if nothing else.  Did you love the movie?  Do you think it deserved Best Picture?

Second question, assuming I can count the above three as variations on a single question : If you agree that it did not deserve the award, why do you think it won?  Some sort of political wrangling going on that we’re not privy to?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Why Does Romeo?

More log-looking shows me that Romeo’s actually the most popular character to ask about.  Which I suppose is only logical, as he’s most likely to be on a high school homework assignment.  Since Google tells me that “Why does Romeo …” is the most popularly phrased question I thought I’d kill many birds with one stone and make a quick reference. 
(For the record, these answers are all off the top of my head so please forgive any misquotes.  My point isn’t to write a Wikipedia article, it’s to show that the play can in fact reside in your brain in a perfectly logical way such that you still understand and appreciate the story as a whole and not a connected series of well known quotations.)

Why does Romeo go to the Capulet party?

Put in the simplest of terms, Romeo’s just been shunned/dumped/ignored by the girl he thinks he’s in love with, and his friends Benvolio and Mercutio try to cheer him up by telling him that there’ll be plenty of other girls at the Capulet party.  There’s nothing special or tricky about their motivation.  They tell Romeo, “Look, we think there are better girls out there than Rosaline, you obviously don’t, so why not come to the party and see for yourself?  Rosaline will be there anyway, so you’ll get to check her out compared to some of the other girls and then you can decide.”    (For his part, Romeo is humoring his friends while really thinking “Yay I’ll get a chance to see Rosaline again.” He truly has no interest in looking at other girls.)

Why does Romeo hide from Benvolio and Mercutio?

Romeo’s friends have already mocked him once for thinking he was so head-over-heels in love with Rosaline.  Well, now Romeo’s in love again – for real this time! – with Juliet.  Real love at first sight stuff.  And Romeo just knows that Benvolio and Mercutio aren’t going to understand (“They jest at scars that never felt a wound,” he says), he can tell just by the way they’re acting. They’ll no doubt tell him that he’s crazy for falling in love with a Capulet (sworn enemy of the Montague family, by the way), and try to drag him home before he does something stupid. So rather than deal with them at all, he avoids them completely and sets about trying to see Juliet again. 

Why does Romeo compare Juliet to the sun?

I’m not about to go into a high school essay type of answer on all of the poetry in the play, I’d be here all day.  I’ll just say this – Shakespeare played with opposites to make his point.  A lot.  As in, all the time, you can’t swing a dead Ophelia without hitting an example of it:  “so fair and foul a day I have not seen”, “to be or not to be”, “more light and light, more dark and dark our woes”.  (That last one’s actually from Romeo and Juliet, by the way.)

Romeo’s descriptions of Juliet start the minute he sees her -- “a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear” is another image, once you realize that by “Ethiop” Shakespeare is really referring to an African person, i.e. someone with dark skin, and the jewel he's thinking of is a pearl - you know, the white one.  He keeps trying to paint that “world is dark, she is light” image.   He goes on to talk about “snowy doves” hanging out with crows (which are black – you see where he’s going with this?)

Later in the garden, when Romeo is down on the ground looking up at Juliet against the night sky, he starts by comparing her to the moon but decides that’s not good enough.  Sure it makes a nice “white spot against a black background” image like he’s already made a few times, but it doesn’t really hit it out of the park like he’s trying to express.  The moon only does a partial job of lighting up the night sky, after all. What’s the real opposite of night time?  What *does* have the radiance to banish the darkness?  Why, the sun of course.  That’s what my man Romeo is talking about.  Arise fair Sun and kill the envious Moon.   Juliet’s beauty doesn’t just light up the night sky, Juliet’s like the sun, making you forget that it’s even night to begin with.

What’s interesting, in case you don’t get to make this connection, is that Juliet returns the favor for Romeo later in the play during her famous “Gallop apace you fiery footed steeds, toward Phoebus’ lodging” speech.  In it she says, “When he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.”  It’s cool because of the obvious parallel, while at the same time being the exact opposite – Romeo paints the picture of Juliet as daytime, while she paints the image of him as glorious night. 

Why does Romeo refuse to fight Tybalt?

Short answer?  Romeo and Juliet have gotten married, but nobody knows it.  Since Tybalt is Juliet’s cousin, that technically means that Romeo is now also family with Tybalt.  He has united the Montague and Capulet clans.  He’s also downright giddy with excitement about how great life is going, and he’s having one of those days where you can walk up to your sworn enemy, give him a big hug and tell him “No hard feelings,” and seriously mean it because the world is just that great of a place for you right now. 

The problem, of course, is that nobody understands Romeo’s real motivation, and everybody interprets differently.  Tybalt thinks that Romeo is mocking him, and it only makes him angrier.  Mercutio, on the other hand, thinks that Romeo is chickening out of the fight, and that makes Mercutio mad.  This does not end well.

Why does Romeo kill Tybalt?

Unable to watch his friend’s honor go down the drain, Mercutio takes up the challenge to duel Tybalt instead.  Is Mercutio a bit of a hothead?  There’s huge amounts of interpretation to go along with this scene.  Was it a bunch of kids fooling around and things got out of hand? Or did they really mean to do each other harm?  In a post called Empathy for Tybalt we examined the interpretation of this scene from both the 1968 Zeffirelli version, as well as the modern Leonardo DiCaprio version.

Either way, Mercutio ends up dead and it’s pretty clearly Romeo’s fault. Romeo is trying to break up the fight so nobody – friend or “former” enemy alike - gets hurt.  And all he ends up doing is holding Mercutio down, allowing Tybalt to deal the killing blow (whether it was intentional or not).
How’s this got to make Romeo feel?  Mercutio was fighting in the first place to defend Romeo’s honor, though technically the roots of the battle were nothing – the “ancient grudge” between the families.  They started dueling for no other reason than being Capulets and Montagues. But Romeo basically wiped that slate clean when he married a Capulet.  He doesn’t fight Tybalt now just because of his name, he fights for revenge.  Mercutio was wrongly killed, and Romeo takes it upon himself to deliver justice.  One of my favorite, spine-tingling quotes in the whole play comes when Romeo says, pardon the misquote, “Mercutio’s soul is just a bit above our heads, and you, or I, or both must go with him.” That is seriously bad-ass.  You killed my friend, and either you die now or you’re gonna have to kill me too.  If Tybalt never meant to kill Mercutio, that’s certainly going to give him cause to worry.  He’s not playing around with schoolyard taunting anymore, he’s facing an enemy who, man-to-man, wants him dead and is willing to die to do it.  En guard.

Why does Romeo buy the poison?

It’s the ultimate in melodramatic to say, “What will I do without my love? I can’t live without you!”  Well, that’s kind of the whole point of the story, Romeo is the king of the melodramatic. Cliches have to start somewhere, and Shakespeare’s audience would have been on the edge of their seats at what these days many of us cynically think of as "Look how stupid these kids were.”

As far as Romeo knows, Juliet is dead.  The touching thing about this whole scene is that his response is *instant*.  Balthasar, his servant, has mistakenly delivered the news.  Romeo asks him several times, “Are you sure? You don’t have any letters from Friar Laurence or anything?” and then dismisses him.  His first line when he is alone?  “Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight.” He then starts thinking out loud about the best way to do it, and that’s where the poison comes in.

I’m old enough at this point to realize that killing yourself is pretty stupid, but I’m not cold-hearted enough not to see the romance in that.  He doesn’t hesitate.  He doesn’t say “Whatever shall I do?”  There’s been many double-suicide pacts over the years that have gone wrong when someone thinks better of it at the last minute.  The fascinating thing about Romeo here (and please remember, kids, he is a fictional character, don’t try this at home!) is that he is single-minded in his determination.  This is not going to be easy.  It’s illegal to buy poison, first of all.  Second of all, he’s a criminal in Verona, so it’s not like he can just walk back into town.  The DiCaprio version of the story here is pretty awesome, turning it into an actual police chase as they race him to the tomb where Juliet has been placed.

Why does Romeo kill Paris?

“Tempt not a desperate man!” DiCaprio’s gun-wielding Romeo screams at the cops in his version, and it sums up the situation.  He is a desperate man.  He’s known only one thing since finding out that Juliet is dead – that he will be with her.  “Come Hell or highwater” is an expression maybe you’ve heard?  Yeah.  That. 

Poor Paris gets the short end of the deal in this play.  Juliet never really cared about him one way or the other, but no one else did, either.  He was never a threat to Romeo, at least not physically. It’s not like he was all about the duel, like Tybalt. 

So poor Paris really was in love with Juliet (or at least, what he thought love was, not like Romeo), and has come to her grave to mourn.  He thinks that Romeo has come to desecrate (that is, vandalize) the site, and tries to apprehend him.  Good old Paris.

Did I mention that Paris was no threat to Romeo? The whole desperate man thing? Romeo actually has a moment of calm here, and tells Paris, “Look.  Leave. Live to fight another day.” If Paris was a bit smarter he might have understood what Romeo was up to, as Romeo clearly says “I have come arm’d against myself … hereafter say a madman’s mercy bade thee run away.”  If Paris had in fact run away, he could have gone screaming to the nearest authorities “Romeo’s going to kill himself! He’s gone crazy!”

But no, Paris doesn’t get it.

Up until this point, Romeo doesn’t even know who this is, nor does he care.  Dude’s in the way.  Romeo’s given him a chance to leave, he didn’t take it, so he has to die.  It is only after killing him that Romeo has a moment of clarity, recognizes Paris and thinks, “Wait, didn’t somebody say something about Juliet was supposed to marry this guy? Is that why he was here at her grave?  Oops.”  (Ok, he doesn’t say oops, but he can’t feel good about himself. )

Ok, that’s one of the longest posts I’ve done in a while, hope you all enjoyed it.  I like doing stream of consciousness like that sometimes, I actually stumbled over some ideas I’d never had before (like Romeo wiping the Montague/Capulet slate clean, and being the only person in the play to actually fight for a real reason).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Geek Romeos and Geek Juliets

We more cynical Shakespeare geeks can point out that Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, less about the romantic ideas of “how far would you go for love” and more “look what happens when adults are stupid,” but that doesn’t change the fact that the world at large loves a good tragic love story.

Over at GeekDad they’ve got Top 10 Tragic Love Stories in Geek Fiction.   I think I’m stretching the Romeo and Juliet connection a bit as all of their examples are tragic in the sense that only one of the two lovers dies, leaving the other alone.   I suppose that makes it even more depressing?  At least Romeo and Juliet ended up together, kinda sorta.  In all these examples, one lover is left to wander through life alone.

This being the realm of scifi,it’s a sad truth that 3 out of the 10 stories have been ruined by film interpretation, and you have to go back to the source material to get at the good stuff. They do offer up a classic, though – Lancelot and Guinevere make the list.

Got any favorite “tragic love stories” along these same lines? I’m tempted to bring up Tale of Two Cities, and Sydney Carton’s legendary “Far far better thing that I do” speech.  Or perhaps Jean Valjean in Les Mis, devoting his life to the protection of Fantine’s daughter Cosette?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What Did Shakespeare’s Father Do For A Living?

Saw this question go by in my referrer logs, thought it was an interesting topic we don’t usually cover.

Here’s my understanding of Shakespeare’s dad. 

Shakespeare’s dad was a relatively well regarded business man (a glove maker), and member of the community, holding several political positions.  He got into some trouble for illegal dealing in wool, and his debt got to the point where he would no longer attend church for fear of being arrested.  Eventually he   dropped out of public life completely.  He did at one point apply for a family coat-of-arms, which was eventually granted in 1596 when son William applied for one on behalf of his father.

John Shakespeare actually held numerous public offices including burgess, chamberlain, alderman and ultimately bailiff, which was the rough equivalent of mayor.  So he was well connected, well liked and respected in his community to keep moving up the political ladder.

There’s evidence that he was involved in usury – lending money with interest  - something on which his son would have something to say later in Merchant of Venice.  He was apparently good at it, as records have him associated with a loan of money that would today be worth more than $50k.   This, however, was highly illegal at the time, subject to fines equal to all of the loaned money, plus interest, fines, and still imprisonment on top of that. Risky business.

If he was so successful in his political career, why did he turn to the shady dealings?  My guess is that he was a man of entrepreneurial spirit who had his hands in many things, and as he got closer and closer to “the line”, sometimes maybe he stepped over it – knowingly or not.  But once you step over it, reap your profit and don’t get caught, then guess what?  You’re going to want to hang out on the wrong side of the line again.  It’s like a gambling addiction.  You tried it, you won, you liked it.  You tried it again, oh hey look, you lost. Now you’re screwed, but now you keep playing because you feel the need to get even and win it back.  I suspect John Shakespeare had much the same issue.

[Credit to both Wikipedia and also the tremendous that has a dozen or more pages on the topic.]

All Common Elements In Shakespeare’s Plays

I don’t often see Shakespeare mentioned so I couldn’t resist. :)


[ Found via ]

Best Of : Shakespeare for Valentine’s Day

Think of Valentine’s Day and we think of love, and poetry. And who did it better?  Over the years we’ve hit on this Hallmarkiest of holidays a few times, so I thought I’d go back and grab some favorites:
[Originally posted January, 2007]
Once, a coworker asked me if I knew any good love quotes from Shakespeare.  Apparently it was his anniversary and he was working on something for his wife.  I asked him to be more specific.  While there's plenty of love to be found in the works, there aren't too many happy marriages :).  (I think we ended up with something from Romeo and Juliet).
Anyway, as Valentine's Day approaches I thought I'd go combing for some of the more obvious Cupid references.  At first Sonnet 153 leapt right out at me, but then I saw Sonnet 154.  I'm not a big student of the sonnets, so maybe somebody can explain this to me?

Cupid laid by his brand, and fell asleep:
A maid of Dian's this advantage found,
And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep
In a cold valley-fountain of that ground;
Which borrow'd from this holy fire of Love
A dateless lively heat, still to endure,
And grew a seething bath, which yet men prove
Against strange maladies a sovereign cure.
But at my mistress' eye Love's brand new-fired,
The boy for trial needs would touch my breast;
I, sick withal, the help of bath desired,
And thither hied, a sad distemper'd guest,
But found no cure: the bath for my help lies
Where Cupid got new fire--my mistress' eyes.
The little Love-god lying once asleep
Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand,
Whilst many nymphs that vow'd chaste life to keep
Came tripping by; but in her maiden hand
The fairest votary took up that fire
Which many legions of true hearts had warm'd;
And so the general of hot desire
Was sleeping by a virgin hand disarm'd.
This brand she quenched in a cool well by,
Which from Love's fire took heat perpetual,
Growing a bath and healthful remedy
For men diseased; but I, my mistress' thrall,
Came there for cure, and this by that I prove,
Love's fire heats water, water cools not love.

Are those not almost the exact same sonnet?  I don't really have the attention span here at work to dissect the whole thing, so I'm going to assume that the ending is fundamentally different for each, but the setup's certainly the same, isn't it?  Cupid falls asleep, the nymphs come and steal his little bow and arrow and shove it in the water to cool it off.  Only instead of cooling it off, it produces a hot spring that men come to soak in.  153's ending makes clear sense - Cupid see's my mistress' eyes and that is enough to light his torch again, and the cure for the poet's ills is not the hot bath, but his mistress' eyes as well.  But what's 154 mean?  He went to the bath to try to stop thinking about his mistress, and it didn't work for him?

[ Originally posted Feb, 2009 ]

I’m a pretty big believer in that whole “eyes are the windows to the soul” thing.  Ask me if there’s beauty in a person, and I’ll look at the eyes first.  Does that make me an eye man?  Ain’t nothing in the world like a big-eye’d girl, as the song goes…;)

But let’s talk Shakespeare.  When I picked Sonnet 17 to be “our” sonnet (that being my wife and I, not you my dear reader), it was this one line that stood out:

If I could write the beauty in your eyes, and in fresh numbers number all your graces, the age to come would say “This poet lies, such heavenly touches never touched earthly faces.”

(Yes I was lazy with the syntax of the original there.)

For Valentine’s this year, on the card for my wife’s roses, I wrote this:

The bath for my help lies where Cupid got new fire – my mistress’ eyes.

That’s from Sonnet 154.

Then of course there’s the famous sonnet 130, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…”
I’m at work and don’t really have time to write a small novel on the subject, so I thought I’d throw it out there for discussion – were eyes a particular theme of Shakespeare’s more so than other things?  Am I just seeing what I want to see?  I went combing through the sonnets last night and actually found him referring to his own eyes (most often in the context of “I get to see how beautiful you are”), but very often he does speak of “thine eyes” or “mistress’ eyes” and so on.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Macbeth : The Aftermath

We’ve talked about Shakespeare sequels here before.  So how about Macbeth?  Seriously.

“About five years ago there were a lot of productions of Macbeth,” Greig recalls. “And I remember thinking, ‘This is interesting because obviously it is to a certain extent a response to the fact that we’re at war.’ And yet Macbeth is a play about the toppling of a tyrant. It seemed to me that the interesting story was what happened after you toppled the tyrant.

The same could be said of all the tragedies – what of Fortinbras? Or Albany?  Surely none of the tragedies truly have a neat ending.

The more he worked on the story, the more vivid the 11th-century world became. The play focuses on Siward’s genuine impulse to help but it also envisages the aftermath of a war from the viewpoint of those who have been liberated.

Like all war-themed theatre these days, the parallels to Iraq and Afghanistan are deliberate and obvious.  Personally that turns me off,but I may be in the minority there.  I don’t read Shakespeare and ask what the political climate was when he wrote it, so I don’t want to sit through modern theatre wondering the same thing.

Dunsinane opens on February 17, Hampstead Theatre, London,

First Dante, Now Shakespeare

I was hoping that the release of the new video game Dante’s Inferno would generate some discussion about classic literature as a source of modern videogames.  Yay! How about a videogame Macbeth?

We’ve talked about Shakespeare and games many times before.  The massive online world of Arden didn’t really pan out.   There are, however, no end of Flash games, board games, cellphone games… so the canon is certain rich with material.

I think part of the trick is to not let people think they’re learning.  Have you seen the Dante’s commercial?  It is this : Massive effing demon steals girl, takes her to the Underworld. Warrior hero, without a moment’s hesitation, dives in after them.  He’s then swarmed by some big muthafrickin monsters and demon hordes, trying to get to what I can only assume is his beloved.  There’s your plot.  How much of the actual Dante’s Inferno is in there, I have no idea.  But I don’t think most gamers care.

Looking at today’s videogame console standards, what Shakespeare would make a good game?  Macbeth’s certainly a good choice – crazy warlord who think he’s immortal, and wants you dead.  The histories, particulary Henry V, would also seem to be a natural if a little obvious fit.  What else?  Anything more creative than that?  How about Julius Caesar?  Richard III?

How to Become A Videogame Tester!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

How Much Of A (Shakespeare) Geek Are You?

We’ve done the “You know you’re a Shakespeare geek when” schtick from time to time, but after last night I thought I’d spin it around.  Confession time, you tell us when you’re feeling your most geeky.

Last night I’m reading a “Magic Treehouse” book with my 7yr old daughter. It is no Lord of the Rings.  It’s a silly little book with short sentences and simple dialogue, about two kids who travel through time to the great areas of history and have adventures.  In this particular case they travel to 1600 England and meet William Shakespeare (turns out they actually get up on stage as fairies).  (To the book’s credit part of the plot involves the children rescuing a bear from the “bear gardens”, though it does not go into great detail about what bear-baiting was.)

While progressing through this simple little book (we are half way through) all I could think was stuff like, “Well, which fairies are they going to play?” and “What do you mean Puck is being played by a big fat guy?” and, mostly, “Do the lines, do some lines, please dear god I hope they get to do some lines….”  Because I swear if I get to hear “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows” come out of my kid I may fall down in an ecstatic fit on the spot.

This morning before getting dressed for school the kids were all watching an old “Pink Panther” cartoon on the Boomerang channel.  What their fascination is with 30+yr old cartoons is beyond me.  But the Inspector was running away from a monster, and the chief yelled “Cowards face a thousand deaths, the valiant taste of death but once!” at his fleeing back.

“Shakespeare,” I said.

“What?” they said.

“William Shakespeare said that first.  Julius Caesar.”

I know they have no idea what I’m talking about, but I can’t help myself.  I don’t post nearly half the times I spot such references. 

In Charlie Brown’s Valentine’s Day special there’s a segment where Snoopy sits atop his doghouse, typewriter at the ready, banging out love notes while Lucy criticizes.  At one point he writes something, tears off and hands it to her, and she reads, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”  Sitting in the dark family room on movie night I am the only one to throw my hands up in the air and yell “Woo!  Shakespeare!”

This morning at breakfast the 5 yr old said, out of the blue, “Daddy, I think you’re teaching us about Shakespeare.”

“Ya think?” I asked.


Tom Hanks + Oprah = Hamlet

That’s right, you heard me.

Hanks and Winfrey are teaming up to produce the movie version of Edgar Sawtelle, which is based on Hamlet:

"Edgar Sawtelle" is about a mute boy who runs away from home after the murder of his dog-breeding father and other subsequent misfortunes. He travels through the wilderness of Wisconsin and Canada followed by three pups from a litter he'd been raising himself until he decides to return home and face the man he suspects is the killer.

I’ve been looking at that book, wondering whether to pick it up, but I always skip it.  I’ve got a stack of books I’m not reading already, I don’t need to make it bigger.  This one will definitely go in the “see the movie instead” pile.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

What’s Your Favorite Mistake(*)?

So the other day during a meeting we notice that the boss’s clock is not out of batteries, it is in fact broken.  “Did they have clocks when Shakespeare was writing?” he asks, knowing me to be a Shakespeare geek.

“Funny you should say that,” says I, and tell him the story of the Julius Caesar anachronism, how Brutus hears the clock chime three times when, for ancient Rome, there wouldn’t have been such a clock.

(*) We can debate whether that’s a mistake of whether Mr. Shakespeare knew what he was doing and just went with it, but it’s no fun to say “What’s your favorite anachronism”?

What are some other “mistakes” Shakespeare might have made?  Little things that, once you draw attention to them, don’t make a whole lot of sense?

Word Is Spreading

Ran into one of my older daughter’s teachers (who I knew only by site, have never spoken with her) at McDonald’s the other day.  She recognized me though as well, because she said, “So I hear you’re a Shakespeare geek.”  (Actually she said “afficionado of the bard”, but is too hard to spell. :))  I informed her that yes, yes I was, plugged, and said, “My kids know Shakespeare as well.”

“I know,” she said, “I was helping your oldest look for books in the library when she pointed at one and said Oh look, Shakespeare’s on that one.”

This morning, oldest says to me “Mrs. M knows you’re a Shakespeare geek.”

“I know,” I respond, “I saw her at lunch.”

“I told her you’re a Shakespeare geek.”

“Dot com, sweetie.!”

Hey if the girl’s gonna shill for me she might as well plug the website!

Jokes At My House

Those of you with young children will know this, but the little ones love a good joke.  They just don’t fully get how a joke works.  So they’ll often take the structure of something else they heard, swap in a few different words, and expect it to be equally funny.

“What did the cow say to the Martin Luther King guy?” was one such joke my 5year old started, but she couldn’t think of a punchline so she changed it and we got this instead:

“What did Queen Titania say to King Oberon?”

”Umm….I know a lot of things Titania said to Oberon, sweetie, but they’re probably not in your joke.  So I don’t know,what did Titania say to Oberon?”

“Will you marry me?”

“I suppose after she started speaking to him again, maybe.”