Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Thy Momma Jokes

So, there’s this person (group? bot?) on Twitter called OMGFacts that sends out random bits of trivia like, “A single human blood cell takes only 60 seconds to make a complete circuit of the body.”

I don’t follow, but it shows up on my feeds all the time because they talk about Shakespeare often.  Sometimes it’s something weird like, “Shakespeare alone wrote as many as 1/10th of the most quotable quotations ever written or spoken in English.” I mean, what? How do you prove that? I count at least 5 different issues I have with that sentence.

But then yesterday they came up with this one: “Shakespeare was the first to use insults about people's mothers. (yo momma, mother******, etc.)” and my Twitter streams just asploded – I was getting that sucker rebroadcast several times a minute.

And I thought, “Wait, that can’t be right.”  So I went looking.

Hunted around Wikipedia, which is very likely where they got their information, and all I got was “It’s as old as Shakespeare”, so that was no help.  I  hunted around some more, looking for references to ancient Greek literature, but while I found some papers that have been written on the origin of jokes and how far back you can find references to things like people getting hit in the crotch (America’s Funniest Videos has been on HOW long?), I found no counter evidence to the “Shakespeare invented the Momma joke” argument.

Anybody got some evidence to shoot this one down, or is it actually true?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why WWE Professional Wrestling Is Harder Than Shakespeare

1) People understand that your tights are a costume.

2) You think Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are silly names? Try drawing heat with a name like The Gobbledy Gooker.

3) Children won’t cry and parents won’t get pissed if they see Romeo having lunch with Tybalt after the show.

4) The audience doesn’t scream “WHAT?” every time Hamlet pauses during a soliloquoy.  "To be..." WHAT?! "..or not to be." WHAT?!

5) That blood on Julius Caesar is fake.  The blood on Ric Flair, not so much.

6) Helena and Hermia can play their fight scene the same way every night.  In WWE it’d be jello one week, then a hot tub, then a pillow fight … with less and less clothing each time.

7) Shakespeare never wrote a comedy sketch about necrophilia and honestly expected an actor to make it work.

8) Nobody chants “You screwed Falstaff!” when King Henry tries to speak.

9) When Hamlet leaps into the grave to fight with Laertes, he doesn’t have to do it off a 10ft ladder. Through a table.  Backwards.

10) In both cases there's a script, nobody really hates the other guy, nobody dies and nobody’s really trying to beat anybody unconscious.  So how come when people find out you’re a Shakespeare fan nobody ever says, “You actually watch that stuff?  You know it’s all fake, right?”

Lesson Plan : Capulet / Montague Debate

Surely this has been done before.  What about getting a classroom of students together, dividing them down the middle, and “solving” the ancient grudge by having a debate over which family “wins”?  Could prove to be popular again, what with all the Twilight-inspired  “team vampire / team werewolf” nonsense going on.

On the one hand you’ve got the Capulets, who appear to be the trouble makers.  After all, they start it with the thumb biting.  The Montagues, as far as we know, are delivering food to the homeless.

Plus, the Montagues have Benvolio, a man whose very name seems to mean “good guy”.  On the Capulet side they’ve got Tybalt, who sometimes seems like the biggest bully around while at others he’s all talk.

However, it is Lord Capulet who says (paraphrased), “It is not so hard for men so old as we to keep the peace.”  It is also Lord Capulet who finds Montagues at his party, and welcomes them.

Then again, he’s not exactly keeping the peace when Juliet tells him she doesn’t want to marry Paris.  Montague, on the other hand, shows genuine concern for his boy Romeo – and nowhere do we see him have an angry side.

As for the mothers, we don’t see much of Lady Montague, other than to ask for Romeo’s whereabouts during the first scuffle, and then later to die of grief at his exile.  Lady Capulet, on the other hand, screams for Romeo’s head on a platter (“I beg for justice, which thou, prince, must give; Romeo slew Tybalt, Romeo must not live.”) even though witnesses admit Tybalt started it.

Lastly, when all is said and done, it is Capulet who reaches to Montague with the first gesture of reconciliation.  Montague responds in kind, but why wasn’t his hand out already? It’s like the dude who doesn’t reach for the check, but is always there saying “Oh yeah yeah, right, sure, how much do I owe?”


I realize that the “evidence” is entirely based on what Shakespeare chooses to tell us, and we see more of the Capulet family life.  But do you use that as positive evidence, or negative? Just because we don’t see Lady Montague throwing dishes at her husband doesn’t mean it *didnt* happen.


Whose side are you on?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Shakespeare Jokes?

Surely we geeks must know some good Shakespeare jokes among us?
Shakespeare walks into a bar, and the bartender says, ‘Oi, you can’t come in ‘ere! You’re bard!’”
A priest and a rabbi walk into William Shakespeare.  “Oh bugger,” says the priest, “We’ve gone and walked into a bard by mistake.”
..many variations on Shakespeare not knowing which pencil to use, 2b or not 2b.
A blonde joke: “One blonde says to the other, Have you read Shakespeare? and the other blond says, I dunno, who wrote it?”

Student Bloopers:
This is a collection of actual student bloopers collected by teachers from 8th grade through college.The greatest writer of the Renaissance was William Shakespeare. He was born in the year 1564, supposedly on his birthday. He never made much money and is famous only because of his plays. He wrote tragedies, comedies, and hysterectomies, all in Islamic pentameter. Romeo and Juliet are an example of a heroic couplet. Romeo's last wish was to be laid by Juliet.

And that’s it.
What else ya got?

UPDATED: Bardfilm took up the challenge and made us a list of Shakespeare Lightbulb Jokes!

The Faces Of Othello

I don’t have much to say about Knightleyemma’s Literature Blog post on the many faces of Othello that’s not already said. The simple question, “What does Othello look like?” is mapped through the years, starting with the portrait of a Moorish Ambassador to Queen Elizabeth from about 1600, through Paul Robeson and Sir Laurence, Orson Welles (no comment) and Patrick Stewart (no picture), to some newer talent like Eamonn Walker (from HBO’s Oz) and Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko from Star Trek Deep Space Nine).

There’s not a great deal of commentary, but it’s not that kind of post.  It’s a quick look.  Comments are made about costuming choices and mannerisms, but nothing too detailed.

Have a favorite Othello? I’ve honestly not seen enough of them to really make a judgment.

Fictional Characters, Stunning Sculptures

#18 Queen Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

As always, I see a headline like that and I go scanning for Shakespeare references.  Found her. :)

Kate Moss is a Nymph

Whenever I see a headline that reads “Actress such-and-such to try Shakespeare” I always have to click to see whether it will be exciting, or a train wreck.

This week it’s Kate Moss, who is perhaps known best as a “super” model rather than an actress.  She’ll be tackling the upcoming Kevin Spacey / Sam Mendes production of The Tempest.

Miranda? No.  She’ll be playing a nymph.

I think that’s actually a good idea.  You don’t start with lead roles.  The question is whether she’s got the star power to keep all eyes focused on her anyway, regardless of the role she’s got.  I remember our Tempest in college, I was dating a girl at the time who was cast as a nymph.  She camped out on top of the sleeping King Alonso and growled menacingly at his would-be assassins.

(While other girls got roses, I got her a unicorn carousel music box and wrote “Now I will believe that there are unicorns…” in the note.  Apparently I was a Shakespeare geek back then, too :)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Isn’t Will Ironic? Don’t You Think?

As I work my way through Playing Shakespeare, I’m now at the selection on irony.  Barton admits that irony is very difficult to get right, because you’re left to interpret clues in the text which could go many different ways.  They then start by doing the “Brutus is an honorable man” speech, calling it the most obvious example and getting it out of the way.

Who’s got another favorite example of a scene that is played for the irony?  One of the actors specifically asks about the difference between being “wry” and ironic, and though Barton seems to suggest that being wry has more to do with going for the laugh (smirk?), I’m not sure I fully understand his answer.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

This Guy Is My New Hero


“And then we come to the question of what to do about the rhymes, does the actor play them, or ignore them? I am sure that he should play them, because they are there in the text.”

- John Barton, Playing Shakespeare

I got a real kick out of that line.   It’s not patronizing the way he says it, but yet I think that off camera and maybe on a grumpy day you could almost hear him add “you idiot” at the end of that sentence. :)  [ I don’t know anything about the man’s real world directorial style, that’s just the way I imagine it going down. ]

It’s like a neat little summary of how to play Shakespeare, however infinitely complicated you may see it.  “Hey, how should I play this scene?”  “What’s it say in the text?”  Repeat.

(To be fair, this quote comes in the middle of his lesson on irony, which Barton clearly admits is *not* clear in the text, and something you have to interpret for yourself.  More on that in later posts.)

Call Me


(That’s 936-225-4226 for the more numerically inclined.)

I have no plans what to do with this new feature, yet.  I’m just curious what people might have to say.  Recite something? Suggest an idea?  Sing the praises of bacon(*)? Up to you. Speak the speech.

(*) capitalization as intended, as I’m referring to the tasty food group, not the Shakespeare wanna be.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Shakespeare And His Co-Authors

I’m not a big fan/follower of the Authorship question.  I prefer Occam’s Razor (the simplest solution is the most likely) so until I see compelling evidence to the contrary, it’s just not interesting to me.

That’s why when I saw the name James Shapiro floating around this week, linked with the authorship question, I didn’t pay much attention.

That may have been a mistake.

Mr. Shapiro’s position seems to be popularizing the reasonable and realistic idea that Shakespeare always had plenty of co-authors, so perhaps we should get over ourselves about the whole “looking for an autobiography in his works” thing.  Hamlet is not about his dead son, and the Tempest is not his farewell to the stage.

It seems to logically extend from there, then, that if the plays were always collaborative works, that there is no individual biography told in them, regardless of who the man was who signed the Shakespeare name.  And without that biographic hook, all of the authorship theories go out the window. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hamlet, the Indie Game

How did I not know about this?  The trailer tells us nothing about how the game will work, but it’s got Hamlet, Ophelia and Claudius in it.  That’s a good start!

It’s being released in about two weeks, will have to check back in.  Maybe there’ll be a demo or something.

Vonnegut At The Blackboard

I saw Kurt Vonnegut speak at WPI sometime in the 1987-1991 range, where he gave this exact talk.  This is the one where he graphs the dramatic progress of major works of literature including Cinderella, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and Hamlet. His Y axis is basically the difference between “having a good life” and “having a bad life”, and the general dramatic plot is supposed to be “good person has bad things happen, over comes them, lives happily ever after.”

He draws Hamlet as a straight line. 

At the time, I was very upset by this.  In fact, I completely dismissed his talk because of it.  I attributed it to the rumor that he’d been out drinking with some students and was basically winging it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the man’s work, I’ve read everything I could get my hands on. But trying to make the point that the dramatic rise and fall of Hamlet equates to a straight line?

Now, almost 20 years later, I get it:

But there’s a reason we recognize Hamlet as a masterpiece: it’s that Shakespeare told us the truth, and people so rarely tell us the truth in this rise and fall here [indicates blackboard]. The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is.
Very nice.  That might be the longest it’s ever taken me to get the point.
Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind.

MacArthur? Arthurbeth?

This morning while getting ready for work, the kids had on an episode of “Arthur”, the animated series about a boy aardvark.  I’m only half paying attention as two characters are at the circus and visit the fortune teller.  Fast forward to them playing some sort of trick on a fellow classmate, who gets in trouble for it.  Fast forward to one of the original girls from the circus washing something off of her hands.  I don’t have time to say “Out, damned spot! Out I say!” before the character on screen says exactly that (minus the damned, of course).

Neat.  Only then does it dawn on me that the episode opened with them being told their future by a fortune teller. Paying more attention now I piece together the plot – there’s some sort of student of the month contest, the “witch” has told the girls that they’ll win, and now they go about fixing the contest by getting the obvious king (“Brain”, the smart kid) disqualified.

At this point there’s a scene where we get a close up on what appears to be a list of spelling words, and all I can think is that we’re going to see some version of the “Wherefore could not I say Amen?” scene, but it was not to be.  Besides, that would be silly – that scene clearly comes before the hand washing. :)


The episode is called “MacFrensky”, though I’m not quite sure why.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Be Not Afeared … Manuel!

Been in a Tempest mood lately, was looking for an example of Caliban’s dream speech, and found this little gem …

Fans of Fawlty Towers might recognize Trinculo as Andrew Sachs, the man who played our own lovable Manuel. 

Poor guy, gets a beating every role he takes.

(By the way, I was researching how that opening line is delivered, the “Be not afeared” part.  I like the way they did it here, how Caliban smiles when he tells it.)

Digging for Shakespeare?

Is anybody following the Dig For Shakespeare project? I mean, I want to be excited, and maybe I’m just too early, but so far I see references but not much of anything else.  People are more excited about the NotCardenio.

For those who haven’t heard about the project, it’s an archaeological dig around New Place, Shakespeare’s final home.  They’re even selling tickets, which I think is a wonderful idea and I hope I’ve got some Stratford geeks who plan on going to have a look.

But … that’s it?  The dig supposedly begins March 26 – two days from now – and the web site still just says “Full Site Coming Soon.”  Worse, they type worse that I do.  One sentence reads “mark a key milestone in the understanding of how the Stratford-upon-Avon” (whut?) while right below that on the next line, archaeological is spelled wrong.

I hope they really do start on a Friday, because if it ends up as primarily a weekend thing I’m typically not behind the computer enough to stay on top of any news.

Falstaff, Briefly

Dropping off my kids at school today I was explaining to them about the standarized testing that the school is doing (for older grades) and said, “Don’t expect to see any Shakespeare on a test like that. You kids might understand some of it but nobody else would.”

“I know,” says the 7yr old, “Like if they asked what play is Romeo from, I’d know that the answer is Romeo and Juliet.”

“That’s an easy one,” I say, “Since he’s got his name right there in the name of the play.  But what if they asked about Falstaff?”

“Who’s he?”

“Oh, just another character in one of the plays.”

“Yes, but who *is* he?”

That got me stumped, as I’m now about about 3 seconds from where they need to be.  “He’s a funny fat guy,” I tell them, and say a silent prayer that the karma gods don’t give Harold Bloom a heart attack.

This seems an acceptable summary to small children, however, and they go off to school laughing at the idea of  a Shakespearean funny fat guy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Word Is Worth A Thousand Pictures

At least, when Shakespeare writes it it is.

The idea for this post didn’t really strike me until I started talking about The Tempest, but I can see supporting evidence in Playing Shakespeare.  Director Barton has just gone through the “Montjoy the herald” speech from Henry V, which is really a giant list of soldiers’ names, and he makes the comment, “It’s almost as if  Shakespeare intended each name to stand for five thousand men.”

This weekend I was speaking with a director about staging The Tempest, and the power of an opening scene.  In particular, whether you can move the shipwreck.  As I read it, the idea was reinforced to me that there’s really not much there other than the words.  The wreck itself is surely not portrayed on stage.  In fact, if I had to reduce the entire wreck down to one line?

We’ve split, we’ve split! Farewell my wife and children!

Shakespeare doesn’t show us a shipwreck, but can’t you hear a shipwreck in that line?  I sure can.

Or maybe you prefer Macbeth?

For brave Macbeth--well he deserves that name--
Disdaining fortune, with his brandish'd steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valour's minion carved out his passage
Till he faced the slave;
Which ne'er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,
Till he unseam'd him from the nave to the chaps,
And fix'd his head upon our battlements.

It’s not one line, no, but it sure paints a picture! We haven’t even met Macbeth at this point, but haven’t your expectations been set?

My point is to just offer a little nod of acknowledgement and appreciation to the “Shakespeare as literature” way of thinking.  There are times, absolutely, when to read the words on a page you’re left scratching your head, and you need an actor to bring them to life.  But then there are those picture painting times, no matter how small, when a simple sequence of carefully chosen words can make the image explode upon your brain whenever you like.

Play Director For A Minute

Over the weekend a director asked for my opinion on his staging of an upcoming Tempest.  Cool!  If he’s listening he can jump in, but I’m not going to identify him without his permission because it’s for a competition and I’d hate to leak any surprises :).

I’m no director, as I’m sure we all know. I’m no actor at all.  I just don’t have the visual imagination for it.  I have to put myself more in the “Shakespeare as literature” group when it comes to that stuff.  Doesn’t mean that I don’t have opinions on what makes a good story, though!

This director and I spoke mostly about how to open the play, and whether you can get away with moving the shipwreck scene (later Ariel will describe the scene anyway, so is that enough?) Could you act out Prospero’s story of how they came to arrive on the island, show Prospero as Duke, sitting in a library, surrounded by his politician brother (and his cronies) becoming angry that he’s not paying attention to him, and so on? Maybe a little dumb show right at the start?

There might well be good theatrical reasons *not* to do some of these things.  Personally I prefer a big opening, something attention grabbing.

So, here’s the game.  Whether you’re a theatre pro or not, director or not, pick a scene and tell us how you’d stage it.  We don’t need to get into every last nuance of how you want the actors to *play* the scene (though you can give it a shot). I’m more interested in the off the wall stuff, like the dude who SETS THE TEMPEST IN NAZI GERMANY.  It can be something you’ve done, if you’re a director, but it’s not as fun if it’s something you saw somebody else do.  This is your chance to show *your* ideas, especially if, like me, you’ll never get a chance to direct in real life.

Monday, March 22, 2010

[ADMIN] Help A Geek Out?

Hi everybody,

Mind if I interrupt for a bit?  Time for a bit of shameless self-promotion.  Well, it’s not really shameless, as I’m very self conscious about doing it.  There are folks that are good at this sort of thing and are always selling themselves. I’m not one.

But, honestly, I think maybe I should step it up a bit.  The site’s been up and running, building a respectable audience, for almost 5 years now.  People “get” what I’m trying to do here.  I get linked and referenced on a regular basis.  People ask me to review things, they ask for my thoughts and opinions.  I now regularly carry on conversations about Shakespeare with random people every day, very often because “I run a Shakespeare site in my spare time” comes up in conversation, opening the door for more.  I love that.

I’m also all over the social networks, spreading the word. I’m on Twitter, I’m on Facebook. I’ve got a good following.

But I think it can be better, a lot better, and that’s where I’m hoping some of my regulars can hook me up.  I’d like to celebrate Shakespeare Geek’s 5 year anniversary by starting to put some real numbers on the board, and I’m asking people who enjoy the site to help spread the word.  Are you following on Twitter?  I’ve got 770something followers, I’d love to get that number up over 1000.  Can you help? Even if you’re already following (thank you!) how about passing the word along to some friends, maybe some “retweets” to help introduce me to your network?

Maybe you prefer being a Facebook fan? Although I’ve had the fan page for a little while I’ve neglected it, and I’m trying to remedy that.  So if you’re on Facebook and could do me the favor of becoming a fan of Shakespeare Geek, I’d appreciate it! How many fans could we get?  There are assorted Shakespeare groups and pages all over Facebook, but most of them seem like they were abandoned long ago. Why don’t we the Shakespeare Geeks storm Facebook and put him back on the map?

My goals for myself and for the site remain the same, I’ve got nothing new to pimp.  I want to talk to people about Shakespeare.  I want people to talk to me about Shakespeare, so I can learn more, so I can talk to more people about Shakespeare.  I want to talk to parents who go home and talk to their kids who go to school and talk to their teachers who go to conferences and talk to their fellow teachers who go back to their own schools and talk to their kids who go home and talk to their parents …  get it?  I want now, and have always wanted, more Shakespeare in the world.  Know what I did this weekend? Went out for pizza and listened to my 7yr old explain to my 5yr old how to properly pronounce “To be or not to be.”  In the middle of a restaurant, while other parents wrangled other children into other booths.  And every time a head turns and somebody realizes what they’re hearing, and who they’re hearing it come out of, we win.

I’ve decided that by not being more aggressive in getting the Shakespeare Geek word out, I’m doing a disservice to that mission.  So that’s my plea, and I’m hoping you can tolerate the brief interruption in service and hook a brother up. I’m open to ideas, if people have them. Merchandise? I’ve thought about advertising, but I don’t bring in the kind of money to spend on that sort of thing. I’ve often wondered if I could work out some sort of sponsorship with a local Shakespeare group.  I’ve thought about seeing if I could teach some sort of “Shakespeare for Grownups” class at the local continuing ed place.  Who knows where the next idea will come from?

Thanks for listening, and I appreciate any social network love that comes this way.  Now, back to the entertainment. :)

            - Duane, your friendly neighborhood Shakespeare Geek

Shakespeare in Bits

We all know that Shakespeare is best learned by experiencing it.  Well, what does that mean? It’s not like your average student can just head out and find a production of any given play at any given time.  So the next best thing is the movie, right?  Movies are tricky for classrooms, who have to get the appropriate rights to show a movie like that.  And they are not very conducive to working as study guides, when the student might want to bounce around the text a bit.

So what about Shakespeare In Bits, a project that attempts to fill this gap by offering a Flash animated movie of the play, integrated with the text and a browser?  It’s an interesting idea.  The people are computer drawings, of course, but the voice over is real people.  So sit back and watch as the computer reads Romeo and Juliet to you.   Each scene also comes with a synopsis of what happens, and some notes about what to look for.  I like that.  The typical synopsis / “modern translation” doesn’t ever attempt to break out of that line-by-line translation and just say “Look, her’es what happens, here’s what’s important, here’s what to watch out for.”  This version does.
Even more (that I literally just discovered while doing this review) there are character sheets with profiles, a character relationship map (people often forget that Mercutio is related to the Prince!), and analysis of themes, imagery, language and all that other good stuff.  It really is attempting to be a valid classroom companion text for the play and not just a quickie “flash version”.

Made for the classroom setting, the trial model is a little unusual (and I’ve spoken with the author, who by the way is in Ireland).  You can watch a portion of Romeo and Juliet (just the first scene, really), but only for a limited time.  This being a very easily copied product they’re still working out the optimal model that will allow a classroom full of students to experience Shakespeare without necessarily buying just one instance and copying it 30 times.  I can’t fault them for that, business is business.

I know I’ve got some teachers out there, so you might be interested in giving it a spin.  Certainly innovative in its methods from bringing Shakespeare to life without having to go license the latest movie rights.

Patrick Stewart Loses Shylock Battle

As I continue through Playing Shakespeare, I’ve come to what Angela called the Battle of the Shylocks. In this episode director John Barton sits down with just Patrick Stewart and David Suchet, both of whom have played Shylock under Barton’s direction, and walks through the whole play with them – starting with look, and then accent, and then how each scene is performed.

Truthfully? I give this one to Suchet.

The two actors are diametrically opposed on the character.  I can only assume that they harbor no ill feelings toward each other because of this, but there are times when it makes you wonder.  This was no subtle battle of nuance.  Stewart starts out very clearly by saying how he didn’t even want to play the character because of all the “traditional” baggage that comes with him.  Suchet, on the other hand, comes off as if the role is the sort of thing he’s wanted to play all his life.  When Stewart suggests that he found a Shylock who “was an outsider, who was also a Jew”, Suchet counters that his Shylock “was an outsider…because he was a Jew.”  Suchet even has statistics – Shylock is called by name 6 times, but addressed as simply “Jew” 22 times.

Merchant of Venice is a controversial play, no doubt about it.  It is impossible to have an objective conversation about some topics.  David Suchet is Jewish, Patrick Stewart is not. So when Stewart feels that Shylock’s motivation is all about the money, it’s hard not to let that slip into “Patrick Stewart thinks that to be Jewish means to be all about the money.”  Since he’s about to play all the sample scenes that way I couldn’t help but wonder whether David found them to be entertaining, enlightening, or offensive.

To both actors’ credit neither of them tries to play Shylock like a good, sympathetic character.  Neither one, even if they are living an unfair life, is a nice guy.  Stewart even tells of a version where he strikes his daughter.

As they worked through the play I simply could not escape that I was watching Patrick Stewart do Shylock.  Maybe it’s because he was not in costume (which, he pointed out, included a very large beard when he played the role).  Maybe it’s just the uniqueness of his presence and my familiarity with his work. But he deliberately chose almost no accent, and everything he did he seemed to …well, *boom*.  He plays a very loud Shylock who bellows loudly about everything.   When he did slip into a normal voice he tended to speak very quickly, and  I thought I was listening to his Ebeneezer Scrooge.

Suchet, on the other hand, seemed more like Shylock to me.  Again I have to ponder, “Am I projecting? Am I giving more leeway to the Jewish guy in thinking that he looks better in the role?” I’d like to think I’m not.  How do you manage to say that the Jewish guy “plays Jewish better” without making it sound awful? His whole approach I just liked better.  He brings an accent, a posture, mannerisms, his whole character just felt better for me.

Patrick Stewart’s Shylock was just a businessman trying to get along in the world and work against a handicap he didn’t ask for (albeit a little overly dramatically).  Suchet’s was a man who was burdened with the very nature of who he was, who it just so happens was a very good businessman.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

For Hire : Will Shakespeare

Times are tough for everybody.  The Globe has gone bankrupt, and the Bard of Avon is now trying to eek out a living doing freelance work.  In reality he’ll take whatever he can get – advertising copy, humor pieces, whatever works.  The only problem is that while his command of the language might technically be “modern”, it doesn’t “pop” for today’s audiences like it once did, so he’s having to find his voice all over again.

Sound interesting?  Such is the premise of the new blog Will for Hire, a new poetry experiment from Mike Southern.

If you’re serious about your Shakespeare, and only the master’s blank verse will do it for you, then you may not want to read on.  But if you like poetry in general and you don’t mind a bit of a laugh at dear Will’s expense, you get to find such gems as this ode to Hershey’s chocolate:

An ode to chocolates dark; I write this day
Of sweetness tinged with bitterness sublime,
Like life itself. You draw my hungry gaze.
Impassioned, overcome, I lust for you.
Despite your grams of fat – in number, twelve,
And of those, seven saturated are –
Yea, burdened though you be with sugared vice,
These you transcend; your soul is naught but health.

That is not complete, I didn’t want to snip too much of his content.

I’m not a big “poetry for poetry’s sake” guy, but I admire the creativity.  I’m sure there’ll be some folks here that get a real kick out of it.

The Fictional 100

I’m a sucker for lists that might have anything to do with Shakespeare.  Greatest books of all time, books you must read, most controversial, most popular … I see a list, I go scanning for Shakespeare.

So when I spotted “The Fictional 100” I was very pleased to see a whole set of Shakespeare characters, including some obvious choices (Hamlet, Romeo+Juliet) and some unusual ones (Troilus and Cressida).

Here’s my problem, though, and why you’re not finding a link to it.  The choices don’t actually have any *reason* for why they are the choices.  Each page is just a quote from the character, and then a list of books about the character – all Amazon affiliate links, of course.

I *think* that the actual book (yes, there’s an actual book) contains more information.  However, I don’t see any samples of that on the web page.  I think this is a giant mistake.  Use your web site to promote your book, not to try and pick up a few pennies by selling other people’s books.

So, I’m disappointed.  I would have liked to see why Falstaff was placed on the list where he was, but I didn’t get that.  So, I don’t see much value on that web page for Shakespeare folks.  You can google for it if you want, but they won’t be getting any link love today.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Young Kent, Old Kent?

Here’s something I’ve always wondered.  I can’t remember what made me think of it recently, but what the heck.

King Lear.  Kent.  He’s the only one with the guts to stand up to Lear in his fury, and he gets banished for it.  But his loyalty still won’t let him leave Lear’s side, even after all that goes down.

So here’s my question – how old is Kent?    Not looking for a specific age, but rather, are we talking about a Kent who is young enough to not know better when he stands up to Lear? Or someone who has been around for a lifetime and thinks (incorrectly) that he can get away with it?  I totally see either of these working.  An old Kent comes off as Lear’s peer, an old man standing by his friend’s side as his friend descends into madness (Gloucester/Lear?). A young Kent, though, would be the son Lear didn’t have, a sort of Edgar/Gloucester parallel.

Who knows.  Just rambling a bit.  Is there evidence in the play to suggest one of these theories over the other?

So, Somebody Speak To Me Of Editors

It’s been an interesting week for the importance of editors.  At the one end we’ve got the maybe-Cardenio, which has been through so many editors hands that it’s probably got little Shakespeare left.  On the other we’ve got Barton and his Playing Shakespeare, where every comma and line break means something in how you build the character so you’d better pick the right version.

It’s a distinction I’ve never fully appreciated.  I mean, I have the Complete Works on my iPhone.  Similarly, if I need to lookup a quote while at my PC I will typically hit up the MIT collection.  For my own personal projects I also keep the XML-formatted versions handy (the geek in me likes to process structured files rather than plain text).  In none of these cases could I tell you *whose* version these are, or what that means.

When people speak of carrying around a First Folio, what edition are they talking about? I mean, I know what a First Folio is, but somebody point me to it on Amazon or something.  How big, how much did it cost, who did the editing/publishing, etc?

So Tell Me Again About This Barton Fellow?

As I continue through Playing Shakespeare I’m becoming more intrigued.  I don’t really know anything about this Barton who runs the show.  Are these people in his workshop professional actors who are doing him a favor, helping him to demonstrate techniques to a mostly off-screen audience of younger, less experienced actors? Or when Ben Kingsley asks a question, is he honestly the student to Barton’s teacher?  Yes, that Ben Kingsley.  Gandhi.  Holding a script and asking Barton questions about how to play a scene.

There’s a moment I watched last night when his “students”, Kingsley among them, encourage Barton to do a passage to show them what he’s talking about.  They give him this speech, of all things:


Where is Montjoy the herald? speed him hence:
Let him greet England with our sharp defiance.
Up, princes! and, with spirit of honour edged
More sharper than your swords, hie to the field:
Charles Delabreth, high constable of France;
You Dukes of Orleans, Bourbon, and of Berri,
Alencon, Brabant, Bar, and Burgundy;
Jaques Chatillon, Rambures, Vaudemont,
Beaumont, Grandpre, Roussi, and Fauconberg,
Foix, Lestrale, Bouciqualt, and Charolois;
High dukes, great princes, barons, lords and knights,
For your great seats now quit you of great shames.
Bar Harry England, that sweeps through our land
With pennons painted in the blood of Harfleur:
Rush on his host, as doth the melted snow
Upon the valleys, whose low vassal seat
The Alps doth spit and void his rheum upon:
Go down upon him, you have power enough,
And in a captive chariot into Rouen
Bring him our prisoner.

And at the drop of a hat he’s right there, boom, whole speech, in character, as a demonstration of what he’s talking about (in terms of his students “not going far enough”).  They even ask him about how he chose to pronounce certain words, and he specifies when he chose the Folio pronunciation.

Who the heck is this guy? All of the other actors, Patrick Stewart included, refer to a script when doing relatively well known passages such as from Julius Caesar or Merchant of Venice.  And this Barton fellow riffs off the above, which is basically a whole sequence of proper names – French names, no less! – without so much as a pause?  Maybe it was a good editing job (this is video, after all), but it was quite impressive, I have to say!

There Was A Leprechaun In Coriolanus?

The star of “300” and “Bounty Hunter”, Gerard Butler, will take on the role of a foul-mouthed leprechaun in an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus.”


Describing his role in the movie Butler said “I play the most perverse, disturbing, disgusting, foul-mouthed leprechaun you could ever imagine.” He also said that it will feature a lot of swearing.

Wait, what?

The project is being led by, “Shallow Hal” director, Peter Farrelly and is expected to be released this year.


[ via Irish Central , and I swear I thought this was some sort of weird St. Patrick’s Day variant on April Fool’s or something! ]

Forget DeNiro – Shakespeare as Michael Jackson

When comparing Shakespeare’s body of work to Robert De Niro’s (“frayed at both edges”) I failed to account for a particular factor that Frank Skinner points out in his comparison to Michael Jackson: Once the artist is dead, our attitude toward his work changes.

So it is with Cardenio, or a new Michael Jackson CD, or a new Dr. Seuss book or Frank Herbert or Robert Heinlein, or a new John Hughes movie.  When a creator of things we like is taken from us, we’re sad because something in our brain says, “No more stuff from that person.”  So then we hear that there might still be more stuff and we’re all, “Hurray!  More stuff!”  We are so excited, in fact, that we are more willing to overlook the obvious (which kinda gets back to my point) – there may be a reason why this “lost” material was lost to begin with.  Maybe it’s just not any good.  Maybe the creator never intended for it to be produced.  Maybe it wasn’t finished.

An even worse fate that the publishing of unpublished work is when somebody continues it for you.  We are so desperate for that new work that, when we hear it is unfinished and therefore we can’t have it, somebody steps up and says, “I’ll finish it!”  At this point it’s easy to be torn, because one side of your brain says “Hurray, I get more stuff after all!” but the other side is still able to say, “Hey wait a second, Eoin Colfer, you’re no Douglas Adams !”  But still, partial new content is better than nothing, right? Maybe?

I expect this is where Cardenio ends up.  Assuming it is real, who knows what state it was in when Theobald got his hands on it?  He “punched it up” a bit.  It appears now that Brean Hammond and the folks at Arden have done the same thing.  So no, it’s not like somebody opened up a desk drawer and found a complete script for “Cardenio, by William Shakespeare ” sitting there waiting for the world to see.  But we knew that was never going to happen.  Heck, we don’t have *any* of the plays in that sort of form.  If it’s legit, this is really the closest we’d ever come to a “new” Shakespeare play.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Yay for Being Right

Just to complete a thought from yesterday ..

P.S I hope it turns out that Geoffrey Rush’s lucky charm is the Daffy Duck, I like the idea of Daffy hanging out on the set of Shakespeare in Love.

Today I get to see the answers, and I was right?

Geoffrey Rush : Daffy Duck figurine
Cate Blanchett : elf ears
Robin Williams : ivory trinket
Meat Loaf : two stuffed bears
Sharon Stone : crystal

This post has nothing to do with Shakespeare, I just felt obliged to close that loop from yesterday’s post.

3 R’s : Readin’,’Riting and … Regicide???

My 5yr old needs to work on her letter formation.  We’ve been encouraging her to copy sentences, monk-like, to practice word formation, spacing, punctuation and so on (as opposed to just writing the same letter repeated over and over).

Hmmm…. I need something that my daughter can work on copying, a short sequence of short words.  Whatever shall we pick? No bonus points awarded for guessing the answer to this most obvious of questions:


This is actually the second copy that she did. The first, where I sat next to her and went over every letter, was accidentally thrown out.  I said “Can you make me another one?” and this is the version I got, without a single bit of help from any grown ups.  I think it looks even better.

The story gets even better when you imagine the scene in my kitchen.  My wife and I are cleaning up after dinner, my 5yr old is at work on her letters, repeating to herself “To be, or not to be.”

Her 3yr old brother wanders in, hears her and says, “To be or not to be? That is the question.”

Love it!

UPDATE : You know what? It’s only just now, some 8 hours after getting this, that I notice the extra “to” in there.  I love it even more.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Does Memorizing Do More Harm Than Good?

I’m not talking about actors who memorize as part of their job, or geeks who memorize just by experiencing the same passages over and over again.  I’m talking about the legions of school-age children who stop by, having been tasked with memorizing the balcony scene or a sonnet or even a passage of their choice, just for the sake of memorizing it.

As I work my way through Playing Shakespeare I’m becoming a convert to the “there are clues in the text about how Shakespeare wanted you to play it” school.  Why is this word emphasized while this one is not? Why is there a comma here, or a line break? When do we breathe, and what does that mean?

I wonder, outside of theatre school, does any teacher bother mentioning any of that to the students when assign the memorize assignment?  Or, to the hapless pupil, is it all just a stream of words on the page?

What I fear is that even after memorizing a passage, if you asked most students what it means they’d say “I have no idea.”  Maybe, hopefully, I’m wrong.  But I know that I listen to my children learn how to read and it’s very important to work on the comprehension part, because it is not just a given.  It is quite possible to read a stream of words and then come to the end with no understanding at all of what happened.  I can totally see that happening with Shakespeare.

So instead what if we made students act it out? What if instead of reciting the balcony scene just to prove you can, what if your homework was to actually become Romeo and deliver the speech as he did? To pay attention to the stresses and pauses, maybe not as deeply as a professional actor might, but enough to get an idea for how you might play the character?  Maybe Romeo is still the overdramatic boy from the earlier scenes, tripping over himself to find the right phrase.  Maybe he’s impatient (read: horny) that he can’t just be with Juliet right now. Maybe angry, that he’s fallen in love with his enemy?

I don’t expect the performances would be anything to write home about.  But I bet that if you gave those kids a quiz about what’s going on in that scene, the discussion would be far more interesting.

Thoughts?  Where my teachers at?  Am I projecting a memory from 20 years ago of how this stuff used to be taught, and nobody’s doing that anymore? Are we all about the performance now? Getting the words up and off the page?

Forget Catholic, Shakespeare Was A Creationist!

I just stumbled across something which in context is perfectly obvious, but still it made me laugh.  From As You Like It, Act IV, Scene 1:


No, faith, die by attorney. The poor world is
almost six thousand years old, and in all this time
there was not any man died in his own person,
videlicit, in a love-cause. Troilus had his brains
dashed out with a Grecian club; yet he did what he
could to die before, and he is one of the patterns
of love. Leander, he would have lived many a fair
year, though Hero had turned nun, if it had not been
for a hot midsummer night; for, good youth, he went
but forth to wash him in the Hellespont and being
taken with the cramp was drowned and the foolish
coroners of that age found it was 'Hero of Sestos.'
But these are all lies: men have died from time to
time and worms have eaten them, but not for love.

I say it’s obvious in context because Mr. Shakespeare certainly didn’t have the benefit of modern science, evolution and all that good stuff to work with.  He’s got Rosalind pretty much quoting the Bible on this point, best I can tell.

I just found it funny.  If anybody today tried to argue that the world is six thousand years old (“almost”, at that!) I wouldn’t have much more for them than a sad sigh and directions to the nearest elementary school science classroom, whether they were vice presidential material or not.  So naturally when our beloved Mr. S says it, it makes you pause and say “Wait, what?”

Wondering if I can get the Creationists to claim Shakespeare as one of their own? :)

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other…

So this morning on my “Insight from the Dalai Lama” calendar, on the “Daily Extra”, the game is to match the actor with his or her lucky charm.  The actors:

Geoffrey Rush
Cate Blanchett
Robin Williams
Meat Loaf
Sharon Stone

And the lucky charms:

Daffy Duck figurine
two stuffed bears
ivory trinket
elf ears

I do not currently have the answer, as that will be on tomorrow’s page and I do not tempt karmic fate by peeking.

Does anybody else spot what I did? Leapt right out at me.  At least 4 out of those 5 people have Shakespeare credits to their name:

Geoffrey Rush was Henslowe in Shakespeare In Love, though if that doesn’t count for you, you can go back to 1987 where he played Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night.

Cate Blanchett you have to dig a little bit more but you’ll find that she played Ophelia theatrically (in Australia) opposite….Geoffrey Rush!  That’s different. :)  I always, always, always confuse her with Kate Winslet.  That’s why she was so fresh in my mind, even with the more obscure credit.

Robin Williams played Osric in Brannagh’s Hamlet.

Meat Loaf?  MEAT LOAF?  Yes, that Meatloaf.  Apparently he was quite good in As You Like it before he went on to tackle a fairly infamous musical Hamlet.

The odd one out, surprisingly, is Sharon Stone, the Oscar-award nominated (and Golden Globe-winning) actress.  Try as I might, I cannot find any Shakespeare connections for her.  Well, there was Police Academy 4, but I don’t think everybody fully appreciated what she was trying to bring to that role.  Those that want to look for weird connections in the universe will note that Sharon won her Golden Globe for her role in Casino where she played opposite … you guessed it, Robert DeNiro.

P.S I hope it turns out that Geoffrey Rush’s lucky charm is the Daffy Duck, I like the idea of Daffy hanging out on the set of Shakespeare in Love.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

10 Things We Actually Didn’t Know

These lists come up frequently – 10 things you didn’t know about Shakespeare!  Most of the time it’s boring for geeks, half common knowledge and half not really true anyway.

So I’m happy that this one includes, at least to me, some new stuff.

3 Shakespeare hid on Robben Island

There was a copy of Shakespeare on Robben Island prison that one of the Indian ANC inmates had disguised as a Hindu prayer book. It got handed around, and various inmates would read it and underline their favourite quotations and autograph them. Walter Sisulu underlined “For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe”, Shylock's line from The Merchant of Venice. Another ANC inmate underlined Caliban's line from The Tempest: “This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother.” So you get very different spins on apartheid between those two quotations. Nelson Mandela's favourite quote was from Julius Caesar, when Caesar himself says: “Cowards die many times before their death, the valiant only taste of death but once.”

Of special note is point #7, about Cardenio, where he says “We’ve found a bit and the RSC is going to produce it.”  The article was written in October, 2009 – so much for this week’s “discovery”, eh? :)

I did know about the “raid” by Delia Bacon, the starlings, and King John in 1899, but a couple of the others were new (although a couple of them seem to be a stretch).

Define “Shakespearean”

Just a quick question, looking for a quick, one word answer.  When you use Shakespeare as an adjective, what do you think it means?

Does it mean quality, as in “Just write me a quick blog post, I don’t need it to be Shakespeare”?

Does it mean sad, as in “Shakespearean in its tragedy”?

Perhaps grand, sweeping, epic? A story of Shakespearean proportion!

Or maybe difficult? “It all sounds like Shakespeare to me!”

Perhaps pompous? “Look who we got here, we got ourselves a real Shakespeare!”  Maybe “pompous” isn’t the right word there.  Superior?

The easy answer is probably “All of the above”, but where’s the fun in that?  Let me phrase it differently – when you hear it, what’s the first usage you think of?

Shakespeare as Robert DeNiro

All this recent talk of Double Falshood / Cardenio as Shakespeare’s legendary “lost” play brings up a very different question.  Not whether it is or not, but what if it is?  How would that change our opinion of Shakespeare’s canon of work if we really and truly knew, for sure, that there was a new play to add to the mix?  One that, by most accounts, isn’t very good?

I wanted to put it in terms that the modern reader can understand.  It’s so easy to speak of Shakespeare as perfect, Shakespeare as god, that it’s easy to escape Shakespeare as working man. 

So instead I want you to think about Robert DeNiro.  Know the name?  You probably do, at least if you’re in the US.  Now, can you quote something from the Godfather II?  I’m willing to bet that you can.  Or how about Goodfellas? Casino?  Maybe Taxi Driver or Raging Bull, for the purists.  You like his comedy better? How about Midnight Run, or Meet the Parents?

Now what about Analyze That? Or how about The Good Shepherd?  Oh, didn’t see them?  Maybe something from his earlier work, could you tell me a little bit about Bloody Mama, or Jennifer on my Mind?  What about Stardust?  Surely I have to mention Stardust, I mean come on, the man played a character named Captain Shakespeare.

(There may indeed be some DeNiro Geeks in the crowd who can, indeed, speak at length on all the movies I mentioned.  But bear with me here, people, I’m trying to make a point!)

Any large body of work will naturally fray at the edges.  It takes time to hone one’s craft, and then eventually time dulls the edge of even the sharpest talent.  Robert DeNiro is quite arguably one of the best actors of modern times.  He’s certainly been a part of some of the best movies.  But does that mean that all of his work was genius?  Not hardly.

I think people often forget that with Shakespeare.  We’ve likened the name Shakespeare to the work as a whole when really it’s probably more like a bell curve – we’ll all put Hamlet and Lear and Dream and such up at the top, surround them with Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar and so on…until down at the edges we have the Measure for Measures and Pericleseses….however you say it.

So, would a proven Cardenio jump to the top of that pile?  Almost certainly not.  Masterpieces don’t tend to disappear.  Junk is what tends to be forgotten.  Maybe Shakespeare was phoning it in during his elder years.  Maybe he collaborated loosely just to pick up the pay check.  Who knows, maybe he never wanted the burden we place upon him, and his heart just wasn’t in it anymore.  People tend to forget this.  People think we’re going to find the next Hamlet.  We’re not.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Jude Law as Hamlet on SNL

Did everybody catch Jude Law, fresh off of Hamlet (and pimping the upcoming “Repo Men”) on Saturday Night Live this weekend? Thanks to the miracle of DVR I did not miss it, although I’m a bit late :).

Luckily for us Shakespeare geeks he did a bunch of Shakespeare material!

Sorry for the links instead of embedding, but I can’t figure out how to make Hulu go right in the post.  And while the vids are in YouTube, they are loaded up with spam and I can’t stand that.

Opening Monologue

All about his “impressions” of Hamlet, which for a Shakespeare geek were hysterical.

“These people came all this way, dressed up real nice, and I don’t want to get in trouble like Piven.”

“Hamlet is sent to England, and this is my favorite part of the play because I get to go back to my dressing room, maybe play on Twitter, have a biscuit.  … And then I come back out on stage and Ophelia’s dead, I don’t really know what happened there I’ve never read that part.”

Interesting “mistake” there, as he says “Hamlet kills the guy in the hat and is sent to England by mistake.”  Clearly he means, “kills the guy by mistake, and is sent to England.”


Hamlet Auditions

Jude waits for his audition spot along with Nathan Lane, Al Pacino, Nicholas Cage (irony!! Oh, the bees!), and Sam Elliott.

“How you gonna play Hamlet? I’m torn between black and Puerto Rican!”

Could have done more with this.  Then again, they could have done the whole thing with Al Pacino, if you ask me. :)

Cardenio / Double Falshood : News (?)

Ok, ok, ok, Double Falshood (spell it right!) is in the news this week, what with “new” evidence to support the case that it is indeed Shakespeare’s lost play Cardenio.

First of all, here’s the text of the play, something I first wrote about back in May 2007.  You can also read it at Google books.

Likewise, in June 2007 the Royal Shakespeare Company did a project in Spain that also played fast and loose with whether it was Double Falshood or Cardenio.

Additionally, Shakespeare expert Gary Taylor came out in support of the Cardenio theory in April, 2009.

So, what exactly is this week’s news

Yesterday that changed when The Arden Shakespeare, one of the best regarded scholarly editions of Shakespeare’s plays, published Double Falsehood, endorsing its credentials and making it available in a fully annotated form for the first time in 250 years.

Next summer Double Falsehood will become more embedded in the canon when the Royal Shakespeare Company mounts a production based on it as part of the first season back at its revamped Stratford-upon-Avon home.

So, there you go.  More support for the Cardenio argument, but proof?  Compelling evidence?  Who knows.

Playing Shakespeare : First Impressions

So this morning the phone rings at 5:30am, an automated call telling us that school is cancelled due to flooding.  Awesome.  Wife and kids don’t need to wake up.  However this also means an hour and a half for me sitting in a dark house trying not to make any noise.

iPhone and headphones to the rescue, and I finally sit back to enjoy some Playing Shakespeare.  For those not in the know, this is a series of actor’s workshops with John Barton, dating back to apparently 1982.  Cast includes Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Judi Dench, Ben Kingsley and a whole host of others that I have to admit I do not recognize.

All I can say so far is that the people who told me I’d love this, were right!  Hours and hours and hours of real actors and directors talking about how to speak the lines, I pray you, trippingly on the tongue? How not to saw the air thusly?  I use that example on purpose, because it’s how the show opens, you see.

The show is wonderfully dated – the fashion choices are very interesting, everybody smokes freely throughout, and many of them give off this sort of, I don’t know to say it, this overly dramatic, “I am an actor! I have my method, this is my art!” sort of vibe.  Hard to explain.  You’ve got this one lady who admits to coming to Shakespeare late and is clearly nervous about her portrayal compared to some others, sitting across from a younger woman who so exudes “I am an actress!” that you can’t help but see her as the type who’ll scream at the director for being an idiot and then storm off to her trailer the minute somebody looks at her cockeyed, accusing them of breaking her character.

Let me put it another way, I think I like to watch actors, but I’m not sure I’d want to hang out with them. :)  Lots of “Well, I think it is *this* way,” always followed by lots of “Yes, yes, Judy has said a brilliant thing there, did you all see it? Let’s go with that…”  I suppose it’s a normal day at the office for actors.

As an American I have a hard time not seeing it as the Ian and Patrick show, though.  This show is nearly 30 years old, but yet I get a kick out of the fact that Sir Ian is the first to interrupt the professor/director (whatever he is) and say “This distinction you’ve been making for the last 10 minutes, between naturalistic and heightened language, I disagree, I think that what you’re talking about is the difference between good and bad acting.” (Not in those exact words, though the latter half is pretty much a direct quote).  When Barton tells McKellen to deliver a line “sad”, any other actor might have just thrown on a sad voice and done it but McKellen has to ask, “What, you mean just paint it with a broad brush of sadness?”   I suppose it’s like grabbing your nearest Nobel prize winning physicist and asking him to do a simple math problem deliberately incorrectly.  You have to stop for a minute and make yourself do that, since you’ve just been asked for a very alien thing.

Then there’s Patrick Stewart.  30 years ago and still no hair.  And sweet Jesus does he have an actor’s voice.  The minute he opens his mouth he’s a Shakespearean.  There’s a funny bit where he does a scene with an actor, then Barton tells them to do it “wrong”, adding pauses where there should not be any.  The fellow actor says, “We did it that way once, in rehearsal,” and then quickly puts his hand on Patrick Stewart’s shoulder and says, “Not with you, Patrick, because I know you wouldn’t do it like that.”

I thought that was strangely telling, since he was speaking of a rehearsal, so why wouldn’t somebody be willing to play around with the lines a bit, for creativity? Could it really be the case that, even back then, people like Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian had already risen above their craft to the point where fellow actors were separating themselves?  Or am I just reading into that?

I’m only maybe an hour and a half or so into it, but definitely enjoying.  I’m finding an interesting distinction of my own, however.  I love the Shakespeare, let’s be obvious.  Everytime Barton says, “Now let’s hear a scene…” I perk up. I was going to write “even when” it’s a scene I don’t know, then changed it to “especially when”, but then left it out altogether because I’m not really sure which I like better.

But what I don’t like? I don’t like when the actors say, “Here’s how I think of this” or “This is what I think.” Everytime I hear that I’m left thinking “Shut up! I don’t care about you, get back to the text!'”  I want to hear how it *is* done, not how this one person would do it.  Know what I mean? Somebody expressing an opinion on this stuff sounds very bold to me, I don’t want your opinion, I want what Shakespeare wanted.

I do realize the error in this thinking, since of course it is often the actor’s interpretation that gives us everything.  So I do appreciate the end result.  I’m just not watching the DVD to hear them pat each other the back, if that makes sense.  See earlier bits about not wanting to hang out with actors :). 

I’m no actor (obviously), but my favorite quotes from and about actors are often the ones that say (and I first heard Anthony Hopkins say this), “I’m the actor, I do what the director tells me.” It’s easier for me to get in my head the idea that a single person has a vision for this particular production, rather than a dozen people all off doing their own thing and then just kinda sorta coming together mutually. I may be totally far afield here, and just imagining things, but I notice that when Stewart gives a reading he’ll pause and say, “Now, there’s a few different ways I can do this.” To which Barton seems to typically say, “The right way is the way that you feel is right.” 

There are many enjoyable bits.  I love when Barton makes his actors do a scene several different ways, you quickly see the strength of the text when he does that.  Or when one actor is demonstrating from Tamburlaine and has to keep coughing because the delivery is killing his throat (he even curses Marlowe at one point for it).

I’ve only seen a bit so maybe it’s too early to go on and on, but since there’s so much content I think I’ll probably end up doing a series.  I also don’t want to end up pissing off my actors by misrepresenting them :). 


It’s just been pointed out to me (Thanks, JaneFan!) that I had inadvertently spammed the living heck out of my readers by dumping about a dozen ad blocks on the page. 

Sorry about that, that was most definitely a mistake.  Blogger (where I’ve always hosted this site) introduced some new templates over the weekend, and I was playing with them.  Some folks may have even noticed downtime I think it was Friday night while I tried some out and quickly reverted.

At one point I discovered that I’d lost all my “gadgets”, and was trying to put them back.  I do remember trying to put in an AdSense link and having it not work, no matter how hard I tried.

Looks like it was working and somehow I just wasn’t seeing it, and I ended up adding a whole bunch more than I intended.

Sorry once again!  There are adsense links on the page, don’t hate me for that (would you rather I beg for PayPal donations?), but if you run ad-block you won’t see them anyway :).  But no, I never intended to turn the site into ad central like that.  No point in it!

Hampstead Stage : Shakespeare For Kids

I unfortunately have to miss this show when it comes around next weekend (previous, unbreakably family engagement) but didn’t want others to miss it.

Our interactive educational tours run year-round and are performed by two professional actors, each playing multiple roles. Our scripts are original adaptations, based directly on literary classics, and include children and adults from the audience. The plays last one hour, with a question and answer session following the performance. We travel to your space and bring our own realistic sets and costumes, designed using extensive historical research, which are flexible enough to fit into any assembly/performance space.

It’s hard to find info on their actual shows, as their web site seems more geared toward “You can pay us to come to your school and perform.”  Which is also awesome – more schools should do this.

Has anybody ever seen one of these shows? I think my kids would love it.

Happy Ides of March!

Doing anything special?

Where I’m at it’s rained pretty steadily for, oh, 3+ days now?  Luckily I just had a system installed in the basement a week or two ago, and it’s holding up nicely. 

I really have nothing special to say, just felt obliged to mark the obvious Shakespeare day in much the same way geeks around the world celebrated yesterday, 3/14, as “Pi Day”.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Everyday Geek

Funny who you meet online.  I’ve mentioned in the past that I went to Worcester Polytech (WPI, Class of 91), right? That I was involved in the theatre program, and such?  Last week I received an email from a very surprised Michelle, follower of my little ol’ blog, who just happens to be the Shakespeare professor at WPI since 1999!  Turns out she’s got her own blog on the subject, and asked for an interview.  Happy to oblige!

Thanks Michelle!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

It Doesn’t Say It Doesn’t!

This post is something of a spin-off from the “Ophelia Was Pushed!” thread going on earlier. 

Shakespeare wrote a play.  It has a start and a finish, and either he puts something on stage, or he has somebody tell of something that happened off stage.

What about everything else?   What’s your opinion?

In my other life, the one with all the computers, we have this idea of “specifications”.   Any good project is supposed to have a good specification, which defines all the inputs to the system and how the system handles them.  Inevitably there are conditions that are missed, and for those we say simply that the behavior is “undefined.” 

As computer geeks we’re cool with that having a certain meaning – it doesn’t mean “these inputs can never be provided”, it means “the system can do whatever it wants, and each implementation of the system may handle it differently.”

I see something very similar here with Shakespeare’s work.  He gave us a closed system.  He left some stuff undefined.  So when those questions come up we could say “Those questions cannot be asked, because they cannot be answered” or we could say, “Since Shakespeare does not answer them, it is understood that we can answer them however we think is right.”

What’s your position on this?  Tolerable, because you can’t stop it? Or perfectly natural and welcome?   I don’t have to like or agree with any individual interpretation, of course, much like I can see a certain implementation of a spec and say “Well, no, that behavior makes no sense to me.” But I’m perfectly happy with the rule that “undefined” means “do whatever you think is right.”

UPDATE: For bonus points, point to an example of a production where something was added that clearly Shakespeare never said.  Isn’t there an example from history where Fortinbras shows up, and his line “Bid the soldiers shoot” is actually an order to execute Horatio?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ophelia Was Pushed!

I have to admit I’d never thought of this.  How, exactly, does Gertrude offer such a perfect description of Ophelia’s apparently lengthy death? Did she basically watch it?

I don’t know if the public in general can see Linked In groups, but Aren Bass poses the question “Did Gertrude do it? Did she push Ophelia in?”

My first thought is, “There’s no motivation.”

But later somebody offers this blog post from 2007:

Which argues that if Gertrude didn’t directly kill her, then she certainly watched her die. It still does not fully answer the motivation question (I am deliberately ignoring the person who mentions the “theme” of Oedipus Complex …)

So I offer it up as a valid question – what’s the deal with Gertrude sitting there and watching Ophelia die? Anybody got any rationale for that, how she came to be watching, why she didn’t summon help, or try to go in after her or anything like that?  Does anybody think the “Gertrude did it” argument has any legs? If so, what’s her motivation? Jealousy over her son’s lover? Putting the crazy girl out of her misery, like a mercy killing?

It’s obviously not a new idea (the linked blog is from 2007), but it’s new to me. :)

Go Deep, Part II

Continued from yesterday’s discussion when I realized that the following does not fit in a comment :)

JM wrote, "I guess it comes down to a philosophical, rather than a simple black and white choice for me. "

Which was, actually, my initial point - go back and look where I specifically spoke of not making it an either/or thing.

Knowledge is an interesting thing.  We can get it for ourselves, and then we can impart it to others.  Both take effort on our part.  Though technically people can learn from you even when you didn't intend to teach, I'm talking about the deliberate awareness of "I am trying to teach you something" in this case.

My point was not for people sit on the "I have X much knowledge and therefore wish to hang with people who have (X+1) or (X-1) knowledge", but rather to look at the forces that compel us in one direction or another.  I could focus on learning, or "going deeper" to use our original analogy, to the point where I care about little else.  Or I could take what I know and spend the rest of my life imparting that to others, and though maybe I might increase my knowledge a bit here and there, it would be a side effect of my teaching, and not the primary goal.

Of course those are the polar ends, much like the person who's never seen the ocean versus the dude who builds his own bathysphere to visit the Marianas Trench.  Everybody ends up in the middle.  My original point was to get into which way the forces pull you *more*.  Is it more valuable to you to increase your own knowledge, or to impart your knowledge to others?  Not an either/or, and if I'd asked "what is valuable to you" then of course the answer is "both".  But reality is rarely 50/50, and it would be a pretty poor argument for people to say "Oh, both equally, all the time." 

Tangent : When I interview programmers I'll often divide the world of software into broad areas like "user interface", "server-side / infrastructure" and "database", and then say "Where are you most happy? Pick one."  Never in all my time asking that question has anybody comfortably said "Oh, server side, definitely" (or what have you).  Every person, without fail, tries to hedge and say "Well, I can do them all."  That's why I ask it, because I didn't ask whether you could do them all, I asked which one makes you the happiest, and for you to answer that question you need to pick one.

Tangent over.

Different Tangent : A long long time ago, when I hung out on USENET newsgroups, I once put forth "Duane's Rule of Categories" that says, "Whenever you propose a list in which you claim all people fit into N categories, regardless of the size of N, the majority of your responses will be from people arguing that they do not fit into any of your categories."

Second tangent over.

So, back to the question at hand, since I'm getting into it now :).  Let's go back to our scalar that now goes between "100% Teach" and "100% Learn".  It *approaches* those two ends, and naturally cannot ever really touch them, so let's stop talking about absolutes that make no sense in the real world.  You have to place yourself on this spectrum somewhere.  I can't stop you from claiming "50/50, right in the middle!" (see tangents #1 and #2 :)) but I don't think it does justice to the debate to claim that, since it's almost certainly not true.  You are an entity of limited resources (there's 24 hours in the day for all of us) so there will be times when you have to pick one opportunity over another.

Got a side picked, even if it's just 49/51 in favor one way or the other? 

This spectrum is what originally had me thinking.  Because the math doesn't balance.  If I know something, then I can teach that to 100s of people, right? But I can only learn it once, and learning it is, primarily, for little ol' me.  True that I can pass on what I learn, but it's not like it's perfectly 1:1, I'm a human being not an information sieve.  It’s this knowledge lifecycle that intrigues me, because of course to teach you have to learn, but they happen at such different rates that they have to find a different equilibrium for each person.  The professor with his nose in a book would in all likelihood, if asked a question, answer it.  That doesn’t mean he takes 20 hours out of his research time every week to go teach a class, unless the university forces him to do so.  Or he could be the young upstart who spends most of his time hanging out on blogs like this one looking for people to chat with, and totally ignores his mandatory research until publish-or-perish kicks in and he has to come up with something.

Five years ago I found that I wanted to talk about Shakespeare, but had nobody to talk about it with.  I’d spot a reference in a tv commercial, point it out to people, and have nobody know what I was talking about.  I didn’t, however, rush off to sign up for Shakespeare night-school classes so I could find a like-minded audience.  Instead, I started this blog.  Now when I want to talk about Shakespeare I have a place to do it, and people who listen and want to talk about it with me.  This has, in turn, brought more Shakespeare into my life since he comes up in conversation far more frequently (teachers, coworkers, playgroup moms are always asking me, “So I hear you’re all about Shakespeare? You run a site about him? What’s your favorite play? Is it true he might have been gay?”)  On the whole I expect that my audience is learning more than teaching, by the simple fact that most traffic reads but does not post.  The folks that post are the ones I learn from.  There are Shakespeare sites that go way, way over my head.  I could spend time on them and learn much more than I currently know, but I don’t.  I tend to dip my toe every now and again, and take a little taste.  I don’t have to blog at all, I could just research for my own interests.  I could blog less, and at a higher/deeper level.  But those things don’t interest me.  What I wanted to create, and hopefully have, is a place where anybody who wants to talk about Shakespeare, at any level, can jump in and do so.  And by existing, we raise the universe’s Shakespeare quotient by a couple points :)

On that note… see ya.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Go Deep?

We’ve covered this ground before, but as I listen to Bill Bryson’s “History of Everything” book an analogy occurred to me that I wanted to get down.

You can’t ever really fully “get” Shakespeare.  The man’s just not around anymore, and he left few clues as to what he was really up to.  Even if he was still with us and could answer our questions, we’d still be limited by the simple and unfortunate fact that we cannot crawl in his brain and be him for a little while (though how much we might wish to be!)

There’ve been other analogies – I like the line attributed to Peter Brooks about “splitting the atom and unleashing the infinite energy”.  But right now I’m thinking about swimming in the ocean.  Go deep.  Deeper.  While it’s not technically infinite, it’s pretty damned close enough.  We’re about as near to understanding the deepest part of the ocean as we are to understanding how Shakespeare felt about his wife and kids. We may think we know, we may have evidence on which to base reasonable guesses, but do we know? Do we have first hand experience? No, not even close.

So, here’s my question.  On the one end of the spectrum you’ve got oceanographers who have seen more of the oceanic depths than most mere mortals, and on the other you could occasionally find somebody who’s never actually seen or touched an ocean.  And you’ve got a bunch of people somewhere in the middle.  Likewise, with Shakespeare, you’ve got figures who’ve spent their lives combing over every last smudge and speck of every letter of every Folio, and you’ve got people who maybe have some general concept of the word Shakespeare but wouldn’t know their Hamlet from Green Eggs and Ham.

Where would you rather have people be?

Most regular people with no interest in studying marine biology can enjoy a dip in the ocean.  They may even like to swim with the sting rays or take in some scuba diving.  And at every turn there could be a professional who has done more, deeper, saying “No, you fool, you’ve barely scratched the surface, you have no idea what you’re missing! You just don’t get it!”

Most regular people are also not Shakespeare academics, or theatre folk.  But they can still take in a play, maybe read them for fun, maybe quote the man from time to time.  And there can always be the Shakespearean equivalent of the oceanographer turning his nose up, sighing and saying, “No, you fool, you’ve barely scratched the surface, you have no idea what you’re missing! You just don’t get it!”

You’re down there in the deep end, hanging out, checking out the wonders that only you can see.  Perhaps it is your job, and you’ve got the benefit of having someone pay you to get better and go deeper.  Or maybe you’re self taught.  Either way, what would you rather have? One or two others down there with you who equally “get” it? Or would you rather swim back up toward the more shallow end and entice more people to get into the water in the first place?

In a way it is a very specific, somewhat selfish question – what would you prefer.  But it’s also got a broader application.  In a given situation where there is some sort of “finish line”, is it better for a small group to cross the finish line, or for a much larger group to all move closer to the line?  What if we were talking about something like grade point average?  I’m tempted to bust out the Star Trek  reference (“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”), but I’m trying very hard not to make it a question of “outweigh” because that implies some sort of failure of the smaller group, which I don’t think is the case here.

(I’ve also just realized, while writing this, that I caught a piece of the movie “A Beautiful Mind” on television late the other night, and I’m beginning to wonder if I’m directly channeling John Nash’s revision of Adam Smith …)

Anyway, that’s enough of that.  Feel free to dig in and tear apart.


P.S. – I think regular readers know my answer.  I’ll never be a “deep” Shakespeare guy, and even if somebody told me tomorrow that I could support myself doing nothing but this I suspect that I’d still be right about on the same level I’ve always been.  I don’t even love having the deep discussions, and admit freely that people lose me quickly.  Given the choice, I’ll take a world where in any given crowd somebody could come up with a Shakespeare reference, and have an equal chance that the rest of the crowd actually *gets* it.

Attention Boston Shakespeare Directors

Somerville's Theatre@First is looking for directors for our seventh annual one-acts festival. This year our theme is "shaken up Shakespeare" so we're in the market for scenes from the canon, reinterpreted with a modern (or not-so-modern) twist!

[ Story continues, at the link… ]

Personally I’ve never had the skills to be a director.  I know what I’d like, in my brain, but I could never articulate it in a meaningful way.  I’d love to see somebody one day tackle my “Juliet is blind” idea.

Monday, March 08, 2010

24hr Shakes

I’m really sorry that I missed this.  It’s been a long time since I was in college, but this sounds like a blast.

Imagine a dorm full of kids performing Shakespeare.  Several plays at once, kids dropping in and out as other needs require (i.e. sleep, food, class…)  24 hours of straight Shakespeare.

The whole thing apparently played out on Twitter.  Don’t ask me where I was, I must have been seriously asleep at the switch.

“Shakespeare’s words never stop; that’s the rule,’’ said Ashley Gramolini, a senior theater major and the Shakespeare Society president.

That just gives me warm fuzzy feelings.  I like a world where Shakespeare’s words never stop, if even for just 24 hours.

Five Happy Endings

Now, see, here’s a better way to do it.  I posted that lesson plan about “Plan Romeo and Juliet’s Wedding” and we all tore it apart for just plain wrongness on many levels.

Instead consider these 5 quick scenes in which the author has taken an existing scene from the play (welllll…..4 out of 5), and then with a twist, changed everything.

I think I like #2 because you’ve still got a story with that one.  With #1 there’s no story.  #3 and #4, which are basically the same, you get a happy-if-unsatisfying ending.

The author and her commenters mostly like #5 the best, but I like that one the least.  If you throw in “here’s what wisdom and maturity would have taught them” then you’re back into the whole area where you’ve so fundamentally changed the point that the story need not ever have been written.  It’s almost sanctimonious in its “Well obviously this is the way it would have gone if the characters were smart” argument.

What this continues to prove, however, is that none of us is Shakespeare.  It’s fine the way it is, and it’s silly of us to try rewriting it.