Friday, April 30, 2010

An Infinity of Mona Lisas

Last night, after forcing my wife to watch a portion of Hamlet, I told her "You know I'll watch the whole three hours again.  With remote in hand, stopping and rewinding."

I tried to explain why that is.  It's more than just "I liked that movie, I would watch it again."  With Shakespeare's masterpieces you get this dual-nature thing going where on the one hand you've got what Shakespeare wrote us 400 years ago.  That's not changing.  You could see Hamlets now till the end of time and the source text isn't going anywhere. But on the other hand you've got this particular interpretation.  It is one of a million.  So, sure, Hamlet always says "To be or not to be", but how did this particular actor say it?  And why? How does it differ from how that other actor said it?

I was at a loss to explain the analogy. I started down the path of saying "Imagine you have a chance, regularly, to go see the Mona Lisa.  But that's not quite it, because that's a masterpiece that doesn't change, it's the same every time you see it.  What if every time you saw it, it was different?  Still the same, still the Mona Lisa, still a masterpiece.  But ... different." 

Does anybody know what I'm trying to say?  Many a science fiction story has been written about all powerful core sources of "stuff", be it energy or life or power or what have you, and the notion of seeds or splinters of that wellspring being used as the essence of new "stuff".  It's a bit like that.  Here you've got this body of work that's essentially infinite in that we can continue to draw on it forever.  So each time we perform it we're taking a little sliver of it and creating something new. 

Make sense? Am I babbling?

Love it when she does that.

So, Wednesday night before Hamlet came on, I was lying in bed with my wife watching some other program that she likes.  Typically she falls asleep a lot sooner than I do, so it's easier to just DVR my programs and watch them a little later.  She knew full well that I'd be watching 3 hours of Hamlet later, and since it was also my birthday I threatened to require that she watch it with me :), but I did not follow through on that threat.

Anyway, it's getting late, she's falling asleep and mumbles, "I know you want to go watch Hamlet, go ahead and go back downstairs.  Hark who goes there."

Me:  "...."  <open mouth> " .... " <close mouth> "....."  <shakes head> " ... what?"

Her: <mumbling> "Go downstairs, watch your show.  Who goes there."

Me: " ??? You know that's the opening line to Hamlet?"   (* Yes I know it's more like "Who's there?", work with me here.)

Her: "Yup."

Me: "I had no idea you knew that."

Her: <snore>

Boggles my mind when she does that.  Not "To be or not to be" or "what a piece of work is man", quotes she hears the children say all day long.  No, she quotes (accurately or not) the opening line, which many people wouldn't even recognize. I have no idea if she looked it up in one of my books just so she could do that (doubtful, otherwise she wouldn't have waited so long to deliver it), remembered me talking about it (possible, though I certainly haven't done so deliberately in months), or remembered it from an actual Hamlet production we've seen (less possible, as it's been years since we watched Hamlet).

I think I'll keep her.

The Shrug Heard Round The World

If you haven't seen the Tennant/Stewart Hamlet yet, read no more!  Spoilers follow about "the thing".

Here, while you're waiting, have a look at this completely unrelated clip of the "best death scene ever"...

Ok, let's talk about this.  Claudius, holding a cup of poison and with Hamlet's sword to his throat, *shrugs* before voluntarily drinking the poisoned wine.   I called it the biggest WTF moment in a movie full of them. I fast forwarded to that part just so I could show it to my wife, just so I could complain about it to a live person.

Can anybody come up with a logical interpretation for why he'd do that?  For that matter, the final scene is a real character switch for the man.  When Laertes is about to spill his guts (possibly literally), Claudius leaps up and begins frantically waving to have him taken away before he talks.  When Hamlet draws on him. Claudius *grabs the point of the sword*, which is rather unusual, but then at the ensuing booboo on his hand he shows the crowd and says "Help me, I am hurt!" 

I can even live with those, at least a little bit.  I can live with the idea that, once cornered, Claudius is basically a coward.  He has others do his dirty work for him, or he gets you in the ear while you're sleeping.  But when he personally is called to the carpet?  He panics.  I can accept that.

It's the shrug where I lose it.  Two seconds ago he was panicking that he'd been caught.  He makes a play to save himself (Help me, friends!), but no one comes to his aid.  So now he goes all stoic and with a "What the hell," suicides?  No fight at all?  No *flight* at all? If you just declared him a coward, at least have him run for it and get it in the back or something.

Anybody got a justification for this one?

Double Casting?

So Patrick Stewart played both Claudius as well as Hamlet's ghost in the David Tennant production that we're all still talking about.  I'm told that this is common practice.  Fair enough.  Never really thought about it one way or the other.

My question for discussion, though, is ... why?  I understand a live theatre troop having to double up on actors because they don't have the bodies, or need to keep costs/resources/complexity down or whatever the real world reasons are.  I'm not talking about that.  When you've got plenty of budget and big name stars to work with, double casting to begin with is clearly a choice.  To double cast the major roles obviously has a point, such as the fairly obvious one when we see Theseus and Hippolyta double cast with Oberon and Titania in Midsummer.

So then, why Claudius and his brother?  What's the point of that particular choice?  Is it to show that Hamlet's issues with Claudius are really unresolved issues with his dad?  Is it to suggest that Hamlet's dad and his brother were so close in physical resemblance that we can forgive Gertrude for essentially replacing the former with the latter?  Hamlet several times plays up the differences between his father and Claudius (the line "like Hyperion to a satyr" comes to mind), so is it to draw a stark contrast to that, to suggest clearly to the audience that they weren't really so different after all, and Hamlet just wishes that they were?

Any other "well known" double cast decisions you want to talk about?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Calling Doctor Shakespeare! (Or maybe Dr. DeVere?)

Unfortunately the JAMA article linked in this Washington Post piece about Shakespeare's medical knowledge is available only to AMA members, so I'm left linking a link of a link :(.

The article points to a piece from the "100 Years Ago" department that ponders how Shakespeare acquired his "extensive knowledge of medical matters."  Deniers will, of course, tell you that this very sentence is prove that Stratford Will could not have written the plays because he was not a doctor, and we should be seeking out the medical professional who did write them.  (I heard that Oxford once successfully put a Band-Aid onto the pinky finger of his left hand, however.  So he's still in the running.)
But Shakespeare did know his mental illnesses. The article notes that in his day, mentally ill people weren't locked away in institutions. Shakespeare could train his powers of observation on people suffering all manner of mental disorders without going out of his way to encounter them.
It's interesting to periodically step away and look at the words from this "100 years ago" perspective.  We're so used to what Freud told us about Hamlet that we rarely stop to differentiate what Shakespeare couldn't possibly have been trying to say (because the very concepts did not exist yet), from what he really was trying to say that we're not seeing because we fail to look at what he gave us from his own terms.  Would Shakespeare have had a name for the behaviors that he gave to Ophelia? Was he describing what he'd personally seen in someone else?

Since Freud comes so much re: Hamlet, I've often wondered what other modern psycho/socio creations we have today that Shakespeare might have been showing us, in his own way.  Does Hamlet, for example, go through the "five stages or grief"? Do any of his characters suffer from textbook schizophrenia?  In my review of Tennant's Hamlet earlier today I deliberately made reference to Asperger's (and, on Twitter, ADHD) to see if anybody with more knowledge of those subjects would pick up on the thread.

You know what just occurred to me?  I don't recall seeing a single peanut in any of Shakespeare's works.  Perhaps Shakespeare was suggesting that Hamlet was allergic?  More importantly could he have found a rhyme for "epi pen" while still getting the meter to come out right?

[Credit to vtelizabeth on Twitter for the Tweet which pointed me in this direction.]

Review : David Tennant as Hamlet, Nerd of Denmark

UPDATE DECEMBER 2010 - Tennant's Hamlet is part of our 2010 Guide to Gifts for the Shakespeare Geek!
Ok, here we go!  The easiest way to review Hamlet, I've found, is to break it into three distinct reviews : the direction, the rest of the cast, and Hamlet himself.  Otherwise it's just too hard to separate what Tennant did, with what he was given to work with.

Let me just first say that watching Shakespeare on "live" TV as if it were some sort of major event was just awesome.  It was this wonderful combination of nostalgia (remember the days before DVR where if you got up to go to the bathroom you missed stuff?) with modern technology - I sat on Twitter and did play-by-play throughout most of the show.  Could I have DVR'd it?  Sure, and I did, kind  of -- I was running maybe 45 minutes behind everybody else.  But it was important to me to watch it as live as I could, as if we were watching the Academy Awards or something.  I wanted to share the experience with my geeks.  Great time, and I look forward to what PBS has in store for us next time..

First, the direction.  I think I'll call this the WTF? Hamlet, because it had more WTF moments per scene than any production I can remember.  Parts were cool, like how the opening scene is shot from the ghost's point of view.  We're not even going to see the ghost? That's a neat way to do it.  But then ... here's the ghost, standing among everybody.  And oh look, it's Patrick Stewart.  WTF? He doesn't look like a ghost.  At all. He looks, as I wrote on Twitter at the time, like he's just walked out of a first-person shooter video game. That was weird.  Later, Stewart's ghost physically interacts with Hamlet.  Grabs him, hugs him.  WTF, again?

Much of the movie is shot as if through the eyes of security cameras.  I saw this done once before in a Macbeth production, done up as if they were all drug dealers.  It was interesting there, increasing the general paranoia of a man who thought everybody was his enemy, even if they had to come back from the dead to get him.  Here it's ... interesting, but I'm not fully sure what the point was.  The cameras move and track, as if somebody is controlling them.  But who?  In the most obvious scene, where Claudius and Polonius are spying on Hamlet and Ophelia, they are hidden behind a two way mirror.  Yet in a very key moment, the cameras move.  So, who moved them?  Hamlet will often look directly at them, and at one point rip one out of the wall.  But was that the whole point, just to have him rip one out of the wall?

Last thing on the direction, otherwise I'll go on far too long.  The actors look directly into the camera.  All the time.  Hamlet does it, Polonius does it.  I'm sure if I went back and paid closer attention I could find others doing it.  STOP THAT, it is very disconcerting.  It's like watching The Office.  I appreciate that in a live theatre production, certain asides and soliloquies could be directed at the audience.  But there's a difference between speaking to the audience in general, and singling out one person to talk to. When you look directly at the camera you destroy all suspension of disbelief and pull the audience back up to the "Hello there, I'm an actor on a stage doing a show for you, is it not lovely?" level.

On to the supporting cast, and by that I basically mean Patrick Stewart.  It's a bit of a shame, really, when you have such a high powered "leading two" like this, because no one else is going to get the time of day.  If you take in a community production of Hamlet where everybody is an equal, you can appreciate the nuances of what Ophelia or even Guildenstern might bring to their role.  Here it's all about Claudius and Hamlet, and everybody else pales in comparison.  Laertes is ... goofy.  That's the best way I can describe him.  I suppose that's a good thing, he's got that sort of awkward "I know what I'm *supposed* to do in this situation but you can tell I'm nervous about it" thing going, which makes sense.  Ophelia never gets much to work with.  I just plain didn't buy her crazy.  Black eye make up doesn't make you crazy, it makes you look like one of the kids from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.  In a weird directorial choice, crazy apparently does mean stripping near naked (not sure if she went the full monty on the live show) in front of the king before running off.  I say weird choice, because in the next scene don't we learn that she drowned precisely because her heavy clothing got soaked and pulled her down? She doesn't go skinny-dipping in the First Folio, I don't believe. :)  Polonius is...irritating.  He's often played for comedy, but here he's more annoying than anything else.  In a good way.  The supporting cast around him, tolerating him, are the funny ones.  But this is a Polonius where you just know that you'd not want to be in the room, stuck waiting for him to finish his sentence.

Can we talk Patrick Stewart? He is, for most of the play, the ... coolest ... Claudius you'll see.  He's awesome.  He's got the throne, he's got the queen, he's got everything well in hand and he knows it.  Calm, cool, collected.  He's exactly the kind of king who, after Hamlet kills Polonius, has his thugs tie Hamlet to a chair down in the soundproof basement before coming down, taking off his jacket, rolling up his sleeves ...  they don't end up going for any sort of interrogation/torture sequence, but they well could have.  It would have been in character, and would have been very impressive.  I wouldn't have expected Claudius to do any of the dirty work, but he'd have no trouble having his goons do it.

The ghost in the queen's bedroom, by the way, was excellent.  I hated the ghost at the beginning, but in the second coming he's done quite well.  This is actually a credit to the direction, not so much the acting, as it's all about the camera work and whether we're looking at the scene through Gertrude's eyes, or Hamlet's.

But then....  see, I can't spoil things for people that haven't seen it.  All I can say is that there's a moment when you'll stare aghast at your screen and mutter a disbelieving "Oh,, no....."  I can only hope for the love of all that is good and Shakespeare in the world that what happens in that moment was purely a director's choice and that Stewart was forced to do it against his will.  It is the biggest WTF moment in a movie full of them.

Ok, now let's talk about Dr. Who.  I've honestly never seen Dr. Who, none of them, so I come to Tennant's performance with no preconceptions.  To me the man is Barty Crouch from the Harry Potter movie.

What's up with this dude's eyes?  He always, always looks like he's got some sort of psycho-stare going.  This works later in the play, of course, but it's very offputting in the beginning.  He actually does something very annoying in the opening scenes in that he makes no eye contact with anyone.  Asperger's? Later when speaking with Horatio it seems like he does the opposite, getting well up into his friend's personal space for no good reason.  I think that this was a deliberate choice, and it's what makes me give this review the headline that I did.  He's playing up the nerd aspect.  We all know that Hamlet is the smart kid who's been away at school.   Why shouldn't he have some social adjustment difficulties?

Tennant plays Hamlet as crazy.  Simply put.  Before he ever sees the ghost, he's got issues.  After the fact he's full on lunatic.  Which gets very weird, because he's looking you in the eye and he's telling you, "I'm not crazy, I'm just acting this way."  There are parts when it ends up making him look like an insufferable ass, like a spoiled child who's not gotten his way and is now throwing a gigantic tantrum up and down the palace while everybody tries to humor him.   This ends up being what I have the most trouble with.  It's like he took the job just so he'd get to do his crazy act.  He's practically Jim Carrey in some scenes, and that's not a good thing in a Shakespearean tragedy.

Don't get me wrong, the man's a good actor, and I'll speak more on this in a minute.  There are moments, even the briefest, where it is entirely the acting that gets across what's happened, without the backing text.  When Laertes gets in his cheap shot and Hamlet realizes that he's been using a sharpened foil, Tennant's "Nay, come again!" is very clearly, as I wrote on Twitter, him really saying, "Oh you mother f%^&*ing son-of-a%^".  You have to see it.  He realizes, not that he's been poisoned, but simply that Laertes is essentially cheating, trying to hurt him.  And his instant reaction is, less colloquially, "Now, see, that pisses me off.  Ok, punk, you want to play like that? Well I have the pointy stick now, let's see how you like it."  Coupling such a moment with the earlier depiction of "nerd" Hamlet brings things full circle rather nicely.  Throughout the play we've had a very non-threatening Hamlet, someone who clearly thinks he's the smartest kid in the room and gets by on his wits alone because he can.  He's never a threat to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and even when he's got a chance to kill Claudius he's too hesitant.  But here, here he's caught off guard, he's angry, and he's got a weapon.  And now he lashes out.  Even the nerdiest nerd will, pushed to his limits, throw that haymaker punch that knocks the bully out.

Ok, here's my overall summary of David Tennant as Hamlet.  This is a story that happens to be Shakespeare, not a Shakespeare story.  The stars here are the actors, not the words.  It's not just Tennant, either - I mentioned on Twitter that Laertes gets in his own "you can tell what I meant whether you understood the words or not" moment when he first sees Ophelia enter.  If you took this whole movie and rewrote all the dialogue like you might normally write an action/drama movie? You'd have the same movie.  Tennant doesn't need to speaking Shakespeare's words to act out his Hamlet.  He just happens to be doing that.

See what I mean?  I don't think this is a bad thing, I think it's an important thing.  Hanging out last night while it played I noticed two very different camps.  There were the Shakespeare fans who were hesitant, at best, about Tennant's performance.  But then there were the Tennant fans who thought he killed it, and actually made Shakespeare interesting.  I think that's the crucial distinction.  This movie was more for them than for us.  We Shakespeare geeks can go debate how he delivered the third soliloquoy, but the Dr. Who geeks are going to go and debate how he *behaved* during the Mousetrap scene.  They want to talk about him, and his acting, and Shakespeare is secondary.  If we want to talk about the Shakespeare first and the actor is secondary, we can do that too.  But neither group is going to be more right than the other.

(Didn't love my review? JM has his own take on this one over at The Shakespeare Place.)

UPDATE DECEMBER 2010 - Tennant's Hamlet is part of our 2010 Guide to Gifts for the Shakespeare Geek!

Not By Shakespeare

UPDATED!  This has become such a popular topic that we've spun off a completely new site.  Please visit Not By Shakespeare for the most up to date research into who actually said what.

I was very upset yesterday to discover that in my Shakespeare Day blur I'd retweeted a quote as if it were by Shakespeare, only to later realize it is not.  (Yes, that kind of thing bothers me.  I would much rather answer "I don't know" to a question, or remain silent, than to be wrong.)  What's annoying is that if you google these quotes, the vast majority of "sources" on the net will in fact claim them to be Shakespeare, but with no citation.  If you can't find it in the works (and don't forget to check Venus and Adonis!), it's probably not in there.

So I thought now would be a good time to collect some of the more popular ones in one place, and give proper attribution.  At least, disclaimer, I'm giving what I *think* is proper attribution!  Correct me if I'm wrong, and feel free to add what I miss.
"I love thee, I love but thee With a love that shall not die Till the sun grows cold And the stars grow old."
This is the one I goofed on.  It is Bayard Taylor, from the Bedouin Song.
"When I saw you I fell in love. And you smiled because you knew."
Arrigo Boito.  (Who, by the way, was apparently famous for his work on the operas Otello and Falstaff!)
"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."
William Congreve in The Mourning Bride (1697).  Shakespeare did say "Come not between the dragon and his wrath," and "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child" (both King Lear, I believe?), which both seem to be to be of a similar spirit.
"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."
Walter Scott, Marmion.

"If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet at least teach it to dance."
Speak of the devil, I saw this one for the first time on the same day I posted this article. How can anyone think that's Shakespeare? It's George Bernard Shaw.
It's worth noting that there's already at least one other site covering this topic, but two of the ones I list above, that I see on a daily basis passed around Twitter, are not even on that page.  And that one has a whole bunch of stuff that I've never seen attributed to Shakespeare.  The list above, so far, are quotes I've personally seen attributed incorrectly to our boy in Stratford.

So, the next time you catch somebody forwarding along that "til the sun grows cold" line as if it were Shakespeare, then you smack that person right back down and take away their Complete Works. ;)  And don't forget to link.  Geek needs the google juice. :)!

UPDATED!  This has become such a popular topic that we've spun off a completely new site.  Please visit Not By Shakespeare for the most up to date research into who actually said what.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Star Trek Captains of Shakespeare

So just now I see a story about Kate Mulgrew taking on Cleopatra.  Not a Trek Geek? She was Captain Janeway, from Star Trek Voyager.

Naturally that got me thinking. 

Captain Picard, Patrick Stewart? Well, we know all about Patrick Stewart.  I can't even find a single story to link, there's too many obvious choices.

How about William Shatner, Captain James T. Kirk?  No problem.  Hamlet, no less.

Now, now we start to get tricky.  What about Avery Brooks, also known as Captain Sisko of Deep Space Nine?  He's Othello.

Aha, but what about Enterprise, and Scott Bakula as Captain Jonathan Archer? Alas I can't find video, but might I point you to this synopsis of Quantum Leap Episode 411?

The Play's the Thing January 8, 1992 September 9, 1969 New York City, New York 411
Sam leaps into a man named Joe Thurlow who's dating a
much, much older woman and must convince her not to move back to
Cleveland with her straight-as-an-arrow son and his wife. And somehow he also has to get through a nude version of Hamlet.

I hate this picture they keep using.

The Boston Herald's got a review up of David Tennant's Hamlet (called "Prepare to be bard to tears...") so I had to go check it out for that negative headline, if nothing else.  They didn't like it, though I don't think the negative aspects of the review live up to the headline, which makes it sound awful.  The author gives is a C+.

What gets me, though, is that crazy picture that I've seen used in several articles now.  If we didn't know what was happening at the time, wouldn't that look like something straight out of a bad B horror movie?  Why the frick does Hamlet have a crown on his head, has he been playing Henry V? Is Claudius that engrossed in what he's doing that he's let a potential assassin get that close to him? He of all people should know you don't live long as king of Denmark without watching your back!

Saw a production of Hamlet once where they all carried guns instead of swords.  During this crucial scene, Hamlet is at one side of the stage with the gun leveled at Claudius' back.  I thought that was an interesting way to merge the ideas of "I'm this close to doing it" with "well, if I had a sword I'd kinda sorta have to be within arm's reach of him..."  Not to mention all the implications that come with the "good guy" shooting someone in the back, even if it is Claudius.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Who? Hamlet. Where? PBS. When? Tomorrow, April 28

I almost forgot about this, but once again PBS is presenting some modern classic Shakespeare as part of their Great Performances series.  Last year it was Sir Ian McKellan's King Lear, this year it is David Tennant's Hamlet (also starring that other guy, what's his name.... Sir Patrick Frickin Stewart(*)).

I'd seen Lear before PBS broadcast it, but I've not yet seen Tennant's Hamlet.  I've actually been eyeing (? that doesn't look right) it this week, but as my birthday approaches I figured I'd give the family a chance to score it for me first.  But since I never actually mentioned it to anybody it'd have to be a heck of a coincidence.  We shall see!

P.S #1 : I expect my subtle subject line humor to go over the heads of the folks who don't recognize that David Tennant also played a character called Dr. Wherewhen.

P.S. #2 : I am from Boston, where when we feel strongly about somebody we give them a new middle name.  Another owner of this proud distinction, but for completely different reasons, is Bucky Effing Dent.

P.S. #3 : UPDATED, The date is tomorrow April 28, not Thursday April 29.  The latter is the date of Open Mic Shakespeare, which was on my brain because I'd posted it earlier in the day.

Ok, So, How Great Is My Week So Far?

Just got word that there'll Shakespeare in the Park in my hometown this summer!  Woot!  More details to follow (since I literally just got word 10 minutes ago I don't want to jinx things), but babbling about Shakespeare is a good thing.  You bring it up, it turns out you're speaking to a librarian who wants local Shakespeare and just hasn't made it happen yet.  So you point out that you know some people a few towns over who have a Shakespeare group and are looking for places to perform.  Badda boom, badda bing, Shakespeare in my back yard!

Want to see a complete misunderstanding of Shakespeare?

I can't help but laugh at this article, which takes the position that Taming of the Shrew is conclusive evidence for Shakespeare's personal hatred of all women.  This one play, out of some 38 or so, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Shakespeare's goal in life was subjugation and inhuman treatment of women.  After all, aren't all his women examples of this?  Lady Macbeth, Gertrude.  There, that must prove it.

I really want to leave a comment but I can't decide whether it would be worth it.  The icing on the cake is when the author invokes the ghost of fictional Anne Wetly, arguing that Shakespeare clearly loved her but was stuck marrying Anne Hathaway instead, and thus forever had a hatred of women that he vented in his plays.  Which would be a valid point, except for that whole "she didn't really exist" thing.

Personally I don't love Shrew.  It's little more than slapstick to me.  I really have no interest in debating the "wink" moment in the final scene, and what it really means.  But I don't know how you meaningfully write a piece that on the one hand points to Katherine as a poor weak creature cowering under her husband's hand, while at the same time using Lady Macbeth as an example of the same point? Lady M clearly wears the pants in her family.  Apparently the author's point is that Shakespeare thinks that men want to ... dominate women, be dominated by them, or, re: Gertrude, marry them.  Yes, that makes a very consistent and logical point?  I suppose perhaps we could take all the girls who dress up as boys and use that as evidence that Shakespeare was into transgender, too?  And all the ones that kill themselves as evidence that Shakespeare wants all women dead?

It'll make you laugh, if it doesn't make you tear your hair out.  Articles like this make you realize where the stereotype of feminists as man-haters comes from.

Open Mic Shakespeare in Salem, MA

I was wondering if they'd have this event again this year, and looks like they will indeed.  Gulu Gulu in Salem, MA, in partnership with Rebel Shakespeare, does an Open Shakespeare Mic Night in honor of you know who's birthday.  This time it's Thursday April 29.

I went last year and loved it.  With short notice on a weekday night, however, I don't expect I'll be able to attend this year.  :(  Somebody go and tell me how it went!

And next year give me some notice and maybe have it on a weekend!  I know, I know, getting bar space on a weekend night to do Shakespeare is asking for trouble...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mission Statement : theShakespeareProject

Regular readers of Shakespeare Geek may not recognize the name Joseph Mooney/Mahler but they'll probably spot the initials, JM.  JM's a regular contributor here, and we've developed something of a game where he comments on what I wrote and then I desperately try to understand what he said. :)  At the heart of our "disagreements," however, I think we're both in this for the same reasons.  We love this stuff, and we want to expose the world to it in any way we can.  He's got his ideas for how to do it, and I've got mine.

As such, I'm happy to link my readers over to the mission statement for JM's theShakespeareProject, his own very real world project for putting his stamp on the Shakespeare (and classic literature) universe:
theShakespeareProject is dedicated to the idea that a fresh
approach to these literary/dramatic gems, employing them as living
examples of excellence, might lead to a regeneration of heightened
interest--in the theatre, the classroom, the boardroom—even the family
room—and result in a natural and progressive repossession by the
community at the grass roots level.
I may say it differently, but how can I disagree with any of that? 

Britain's Got ... Talent?

My kids love the American version of this show.  I can only hope that we get our own version of this one particular act, though I don't expect I'd let my kids watch it:
54 year-old actor Jonathan Hartman, an American, claimed his dream
was "to make Shakespeare accessible to everybody."
His real dream seemed to spank Rebecca, a buxom young English girl
with a well-proportioned backside, who was only too happy to oblige him.

I have to report, for my fellow Geeks, that the article does *not* say which play he recited, because I'm sure that you're dying to know.  I was.  I'm thinking it just had to be Taming of the Shrew.
"I rather enjoyed that !" TV's Piers Morgan told Hartman voting him through. "But then I like Shakespeare."
Amen to that, brother.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dirty Jokes You Have To Work At

I’m sorry I missed Shmoop’s article on Shakespeare’s hidden dirty jokes for the big day.  This is one of the more interesting “Shakespeare said dirty stuff” articles I’ve yet seen, as it throws out “the beast with two backs” and “my tongue in your tail” right off the bat as too easy.  These examples, you need to work at.  Even better is the style in which with a wink and a nudge they try to explain it, without ever coming right out and saying it.  They even include modern music equivalents, in case that’s easier for the modern listener!

As I look, the examples may not be new to the hardcore geeks among us (happy daggers, walls with chinks for kissing, and Malvolio’s commentary on his lady’s handwriting…) but the archery references in Love’s Labour’s Lost had gone over my head.

Take That, Bob Dylan!


Last night I wrote:

What was my most popular day ever?  It was the day I titled a post “Shakespeare as Bob Dylan”.  That one post got onto a Dylan fan board and hoooboy did traffic spike!  They didn’t stick around, really, since that post didn’t have much meat in it.  But man, he draws a crowd.  The discovery of Cardenio hit maybe 2/3rds the traffic Dylan got.

Well that’s true…as far as visitors go.

But can we talk page views?  Yesterday ended up whooping Bob Dylan day.  People who come to talk about Shakespeare tend to browse more. Best Shakespeare Day Ever!

Friday, April 23, 2010

King Lear, by James Earl Jones

This is how I exercise my new Netflix Streaming option. :)   How will the man known for the booming voice handle the range required for Lear?

I’ll admit I skipped through this one, really watching just the opening and closing.  As I mentioned in an earlier post I’m trying to whip out a few more before the day’s over.  Wife’s asleep. :)

The opening, what we’ll call “angry Lear”, is exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from Jones.  Here’s a guy that makes the ground rumble when he speaks in his normal voice, so can you imagine when he’s angry and yelling? He’s a scary scary man. Strangely a bit too scary, if you ask me.  When he turns to Cordelia for her turn to go, it’s like he’s upset with her before she ever speaks.  In other Lear’s I’ve seen he’s more loving, making it obvious that she is the favorite.  Here, even though he does admit that he was counting on her to come through so he could give her the big piece of land and relax, he’s very intimidating about it.

What about the end? How does Jones howl?  He doesn’t, and I don’t understand it.  He could have howled in a way that would have echoed for miles (the video is actually a filmed stage production).  Instead he enters simply speaking the lines.  “Howl.  Howl.  Howl.” I suppose this is supposed to show him as confused and helpless, almost as if he is speaking gibberish, but that’s not how I like to imagine it (as we discussed re: Olivier).  He definitely plays up the “lost it” aspect of the character, mumbling mostly to himself before leaping up to stage a re-enactment of “I killed the slave that was hanging thee”.

A while back I got to see Orson Welles’ Othello and I think something I said there is true here when we get to the “Cordelia, stay a little” line.  When Olivier said it I had to stop the film because tears welled up in my eyes so fast.  When Jones says it there’s more a sort of “Ok I said that line and now I put my ear to her lips as if I’m hearing her say something”, know what I mean? I didn’t buy it, basically.  He didn’t transcend from “actor doing the role” to “father refusing to accept the death of his daughter.”  That’s a shame.

I’m curious to see what other Shakespeare Mr. Jones has done.  Perhaps something a bit more warlike, a little less tender.  He might make for an interesting Othello. 

So, How Was Your Day?

Whew!  I’m exhausted.  Granted I was nothing more than online all day, but still!  Seemed busy.  I greatly enjoyed being surrounded (virtually) by Shakespeare stuff all day. Kept wanting to say that I celebrate Shakespeare Day like an Irishman celebrates St. Patrick’s Day but there wasn’t nearly enough alcohol to back that up.

As promised I broke my last year’s record (which turns out to only have been 9 posts in a day) with, well, this will be the *11th* post on Shakespeare Geek today!  My RSS people must be getting sick of me!  And I’m very happy to have a tolerant boss at the day job, because about half of those bad boys were queued up and ready to launch throughout the day but a bunch of them I whipped up on the fly as stories came in that caught my eye.

Meanwhile I put out 27 Twitter posts.  Traffic was flying all over the place, thanks to all the “mentions” and “retweets” that came along with that.  Picked up a whole bunch of new followers!  Thanks everybody for the boost!

Day’s not over so I won’t have my real traffic numbers until tomorrow, but I can already see that today’s been my second most popular day ever, beating out the “discovery” of Cardenio back in March.

What was my most popular day ever?  It was the day I titled a post “Shakespeare as Bob Dylan”.  That one post got onto a Dylan fan board and hoooboy did traffic spike!  They didn’t stick around, really, since that post didn’t have much meat in it.  But man, he draws a crowd.  The discovery of Cardenio hit maybe 2/3rds the Dylan traffic got.

Ok, I’m about Shakespeare’d out for the day (ok, who am I kidding, if the wife falls asleep I’m gonna bang out two or three more posts and maybe a movie review before midnight..)  Take care, geeks!  Happy Shakespeare Day, and THANK YOU SHAKESPEARE!

Best (?) Movies Inspired by Shakespeare

Ok, I saw this list earlier this morning and quite frankly didn't love it, but it's going around like crazy on Twitter so maybe I'm in the minority.
These films are not adaptations of Shakespeare's plays - that would be a completely
different list - but rather stories that showcase the inspirational
power of Shakespeare's work. It's a list that is eclectic, with
something for everyone, so get some WIll power and check out one of
these DVDs this weekend!
They're certainly right that a list including the Hobart Shakespeareans, Shakespeare in Love and Shakespeare Behind Bars is "eclectic".  I think that was my problem with it, I'm not really sure that a list with no meaningful theme (other than, apparently, having the word Shakespeare in the name? :)) does any good for anybody.  At the very least it should have more than 5 items on it.

Compare that list to the one over at The Stir which seems more consistent.  They call it "movies you might not know where based on Shakespeare", and it swings from She's the Man and 10 Things to Lion King and West Side Story.  But at least I can point at that list and say "Ok, I see what you were going for there."

Geeky Ways to Celebrate Shakespeare Day

Starting off such a list with "Go watch Star Trek for the Shakespeare references" qualifies what kind of geeky they're talking about :).  Done it.  Read Neil Gaiman?  Done that, too.  Two out of the five, though, are new to me, so I have to go do them :)

Shakespeare in Advertising? Love it. Sometimes. Not often.

I saw this article from AdLand about Shakespeare's influence in advertising  and thought I'd see some examples of the occasional "Wherefore art thou?" reference stuck into a commercial. Imagine my surprise when the first one in the list, for 501 jeans, was a verbatim enactment of the Bottom's transformation from Midsummer Night's Dream!

There are more than a dozen video clips, and I have not watched them all.  Some are very old, some I've seen.  I think the embedded one above might well be the best, simply out of its respect for the text. But go check them out for yourself, there's plenty to pick from.  Shakespeare in the Park, trying to teach Hamlet to the squirrels, was sort of cute in a bad pun sort of way.

Got Kids? Got a Computer?

My kids, at 7 5 and 3, spend their fair share of time on the computer.  Mostly that involves the 7yr old doing all the work while the other two watch and kibitz.  Despite all my best efforts, their time is always spent on Sprout Online or PBS Kids or Go Girls Games, all of which seem to fit the same general pattern of Flash games - some puzzles, some coloring, some printable stuff.  Always on a different theme.

So why not a Shakespeare theme?  Especially today, of all days.  The Folger's got just such a page ready to go, which I've sent to my kids already.  The coloring on theirs might be a little too advanced for my little ones, but they are very good at jigsaw puzzle (it's the favorite game on my iPhone), and I'm happy to see "maze" in there.  I think that one, while being the least Shakespearean, also probably takes the most brainpower.

Review : Teller's Macbeth

"Something awesome this way comes," I wrote back in August 2009 when I heard that "Teller's Macbeth", as I've come to call it, was going to be released on DVD.  Teller is perhaps most famous as the quiet partner of the Penn and Teller magic act, which in itself is known for special effects and lots and lots of gory violence.  People don't realize that he's actually an accomplished scholar.  Put together Macbeth with an illusionist who specializes in gory violence?  How could you not love it??  Note that, in conjunction with the Folger, that this is actually a book that is packaged with a DVD.  So if you go hunting for it look in the book section.  Honestly I bought it entirely for the movie, so I can't tell you much about the book.

The DVD is fascinating. It's not a movie version, it's a filmed version of the stage performance.  So you can see and hear the audience.  Right off the bat you know what you're in for, as even the woman who comes out to announce that the plays about to begin ends up getting run through with a sword.  (Truthfully this special effect was fairly weak, as she was holding a folder in front of her that was pretty obviously there to hide the prop sword.)

The special effects later are more interesting.  The witches seem to be where they put most of their effort.  There's a fairly neat scene where Macbeth goes to grab at one and it disappears underneath him, leaving him holding an empty cloak.  Not movie quality stuff here, but then again they've got CGI and all Teller's working with is live actors on a stage.  When Macduff's wife is murdered it's downright chilling, as you don't see anything, we just leave her in the clutches of a ski-masked bad guy who is ... singing.  Something right out of a horror movie, that was.  

Hard to tell the time period of this performance.  Everybody's wearing leather jackets, for instance.   Some, but not all, wear kilts.  The backdrop appears to be like an iron fence of some sort, some pedestals and a staircase, giving the illusion of  castle.

As for the performance, I'm surprised that it gets a good number of laughs.  The porter is one thing, sure.  His scene is practically stand up.  He comes right out and hangs with the audience as he does his very long scene.  But there are other times as well where even Macbeth gets the occasional laugh.  Not sure that's always right.  (Right now, for instance, the doctor's just come in to report that Lady Macbeth is not well, and the audience is laughing?)

I'm actually watching as I'm typing right now, and digging the performance Macduff provides as a man just told that his family was murdered.  All my pretty ones?  Somehow he manages the trick of monologuing about his feelings while still *looking* like somebody that's about to go on a murderous rampage.  Later he loses the leather jacket and dons a blue bandanna, which is a mistake because it makes him look like a pirate.  When he takes off the shirt he looks like Lord of the Dance meets Last Temptation of Christ.

How are the leads? I don't love Lady Macbeth, but I suppose it's a very hard role.  She reminds me of the wife from The Sopranos, for some reason.  I don't mind her shrieking, but I'd like to think of them as scary psycho shrieks, and not just bitchy ones.  You know?

Macbeth's good.  They don't go with the "monstrous" interpretation.  He's just a normal looking soldier.  He wears a t-shirt while most wear jackets, so you can see his muscular build a bit more, I'm sure that's intentional.  I'm enjoying the way he's playing the last scenes.  Some lines are completely confident in that "Nothing can hurt me, I'm immortal" way - while the very next line is screamed like a man afraid of his shadow. He's nuts.  He's got that sort of maniacal laughter thing going just right.

I don't want to give away all the good stuff, so I have to stop now.  I like it.  It's not going to go down in history like an Orson Welles, but it's a nice addition to the collection.  The laughter is bugging me.  I'm scenes from the end, the climax is building, bodies are falling, and people are laughing.  I think that if I was in the audience that would have bugged the heck out of me.... yeah, you know what?  I'm gonna change that, and say it's ruining it for me.  That's a shame.

Contest Update : Shakespeare in Bits Giveaway Ended

This contest has ended. Thanks for playing!  Winners will be notified shortly via Facebook.

Like these contests, want to see more?  I've set up a link up there in the top menu where you'll always be able to check on the current contest.  And by all means if you'd like to a sponsor a contest and give away some Shakespeare stuff, be it books or t-shirts or software or what have you, contact me and let's discuss! I'm always open to creative ideas.

Hilarious Hamlet Essay Circulated In Teachers' Lounge [ the Onion ]

This is old, but I'd never seen it.  The Onion's always good for a laugh, triply quadruply so when they're doing Shakespeare!

"Listen to this: 'When we first see Hamlet comma he is getting over his
father's death comma which some say comma indeed comma was a shock to Hamlet comma and he could not get over it when he sees his father's ghost comma which comma wants revenge,'" Burroughs read aloud during her turn. "If you ask me comma this paper sucks pretty bad."
Admit it, teachers!  You've done this.  I know you have.

Get RIPT For Shakespeare's Birthday

RIPT Apparel does a specially designed, one-of-a-kind t-shirt each day.  Yesterday's shirt?  Earth Day.  Today's shirt?  Why, who do you think?

Designed by Ressa McCrae, this shirt is called "What Fools These Mortals Be." She's been featured on their site before.   I think it looks pretty cool.  Anybody can slap a public domain image on a t-shirt.  This is not that.  This is a unique item, designed specifically for old Will's birthday. He's going something of an eye-roll going, wonder what he's thinking?

(*) Note that this is not an affiliate thing and I'm not making money off the deal, I'm posting entirely because it's a "Shakespeare's-Birthday-only" thing and I highly support merchants and other folks recognizing our holiday ;)

Happy Shakespeare Day!

I like to think of today as "Shakespeare Day" in general rather than Shakespeare's Birthday.  Makes it seem bigger and more important, and gives me an excuse to pretty much do Shakespeare stuff all day.  Talk like him.  Read him, read about him.  Go see him performed.  Tell people about him.  That latter tends to be how I spend my day, talking Shakespeare to anybody that I can corner.

Alas, I have a day job schedule that doesn't lend itself well to taking my own personal holiday off (not when the kids' spring vacation was this week and my own birthday is next week), so I'll be at work today.  But! I've queued up a bunch of posts, hoping to break my own record of 10 in a day, and I'll try my best to keep tabs on what else is going on and update here.

What about you?  Got links to your own celebration? Consider this your invitation to post them!

To the memory of our beloved, Mr. William Shakespeare, and what he hath left us.

This article on Shakespeare's Eulogies is obviously intended as a defense in the Authorship debates, opening with the argument that the Oxfordians claim no eulogies were forthcoming with William Shakespeare died in Stratford.  However, I like it as well as a good collection of what people had to say about Shakespeare when he died.  Let's remember, after all, that today's not only Shakespeare's birth day, but it's the day he died, too.

Ivdicio Pylivm, genio Socratem, arte Maronem,

Terra tegit, popvlvs maeret, Olympvs habet

(In judgement a Nestor, in wit a Socrates, in art a Virgil;

the earth buries [him], the people mourn [him], Olympus possesses

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Free Stuff, Last Chance!

Reminder that today, April 22 2010, is the last day to enter our Shakespeare in Bits Contest for a chance to win 1 of 10 copies of their multimedia Romeo and Juliet application!  More details, including an independent review by Mad Shakespeare, available here.

To enter, here's what you need to do:

* "Like" ShakespeareGeek on Facebook.
* Do the same for Shakespeare in Bits.
* Now go post something on one or both of our walls.

The original rules say that the comments with the most "likes" wins, but we've got 10 copies to give away so just posting something gives you a good shot at winning.  What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Adonis? Helen? Uggos!

Another sonnet I bookmarked as potential wedding fodder is #53:

What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since every one hath, every one, one shade,
And you, but one, can every shadow lend:
Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit
Is poorly imitated after you;
On Helen’s cheek all art of beauty set,
And you in Grecian tires are painted new;
Speak of the spring and foison of the year,
The one doth shadow of your beauty show,
The other as your bounty doth appear,
And you in every blessed shape we know.
In all external grace you have some part,
But you like none, none you, for constant heart.

The bit in the beginning about shades and shadows might be a little over the head of many casual listeners (in really quick summary it seems to be saying "Everybody only gets one image, and yet somehow everybody else's image seems to be just a reflection of you, so how come you get so many?")

The middle part is a bit more clear and direct -- describe Adonis (you know, a handsome dude) and you'll find that you're really describing the subject of the sonnet.  Likewise with Helen (also famous for being hot, you see) - paint a picture of her, and you'll end up with a picture of Shakespeare's beloved. If you want to get more symbolic let's talk about springtime and bountiful harvests...but yet somehow we see an image of you there, too.  What's up with that?  Everywhere we look, there you are.

It's not until the last line that we get that little flip -- everything *else* is just a shadow of *you*, but when it comes to your "constant heart", you are unique.  Nobody ..ahem...holds a candle to you.    (Get it?  Candle? Shadow? :))

I can't really see anything negative about this one, unless that last line is straight up sarcasm. 

Stupid Sonnet 91

It's been awhile since we've done a sonnet analysis, and given my hunt for wedding content I was cruising through potential candidates this weekend and bookmarked #91 for further investigation.  Looks like a good one, until stupid Shakespeare goes and messes it up for me at the end.  Note that, as in previous efforts, this is all off the top of my head.  I know that I've got experts in the audience who will correct me if I go too far astray.

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force,
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humor hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest,
But these particulars are not my measure,
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost,
Of more delight than hawks or horses be;
And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast:
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away, and me most wretched make.

At first glance this looks like it would make a fine reading.  The repetition, in particular, makes it easy to follow.  Some people's pride comes from their family name (their birth), some from what they can do (skill), some in their wealth, some their strength...and so on.  And then comes the nice turn, "I can do one better than none of you can beat -- the fact that she loves me is worth more to me than all those things."

If he'd stopped right there I'd say, "Cut! Print it!" and move on to the cake.  But dear Shakespeare with his insecurities doesn't let me off easy by sticking in the last bit - "What makes me most miserable is the fear that she might take that away."  Curse you, Shakespeare!  Currrrrssssse yooooooouuuu!

I leave it to Carl and anyone else who wants to join to fill us in on where 91 fits in the story and why it ends on what, as far as I can tell, is an absolute bummer note.  I mean, is it supposed to be a compliment? Like, "The worst thing in the world would be if I didn't have you?" sort of thing? I suppose in a different context that might sound nicer, but here it just seems like he shoots down his whole argument.  It's one thing to have something better than everybody else has, but to then freely admit that your biggest fear is losing it? The dude with a hawk and a horse can always go buy more hawks and horses, or make more money to buy new clothes. But poor Shakespeare's admittedly screwed.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Talk Like Shakespeare Day 2010

Talk Like Shakespeare Day is back!

If you’re too chicken to actually talk like Shakespeare on Talk Like Shakespeare Day, you can always combine two geeky holidays and talk like a Shakespeare Pirate.  Ta be or not ta be, arr, that be the question laddies.  The rest be silence.

Free Stuff for Shakespeare’s Birthday!

Don’t forget that April 23 is also the last day (technically April 22, we’re giving them away on the 23rd) for the Shakespeare in Bits Contest.  We’ve got 10 copies of  their multimedia Romeo and Juliet software [independent review here, courtesy MadShakespeare] to give away! 

Details here, but the general scoop is this:  fan our Facebook page, then write something on the wall.  Easy!  What are you waiting for?  It’s Shakespeare, it’s for the computer, it’s free.  There are, like, no words in that sentence that I don’t love.

Letters to Juliet : The Lawsuit?

Where have I been?  I got the book for Christmas, as I mentioned, and only just discovered that there’s to be a movie.  So who knew about the lawsuit, and why didn’t anybody tell me??

It seems that no less than three separate parties, including Club di Giulietta themselves, claimed rights to make such a movie.

Apparently everything’s been settled to mutual satistfaction of all involved.  As the article headline says, “Fans of sappy love stories with a dash of Shakespearean melodrama are in luck.”  Yes we are!

Well, How Many Words Do You Know?

This article on How Many Words Did Shakespeare Know? seems to be from 2002, but it’s making the rounds on all the bookmarking sites lately so somebody must have dug it up.  In short, Shakespeare used about 31k words and we predict he “knew but didn’t use” another 35k, for a total of 66,000ish words.

What that *means*, I have no idea.  I could not for the life of me give you even an order of magnitude guess at the number of words I know.  What does it mean to know a word?  If I’ve never used the word myself, but saw it written down and could figure out what it meant, do I know it now? Did I know it before then, too?  You can’t exactly just start at the beginning and write down all the words you know.  

What Are You Doing For Shakespeare Week?

Ok, I’m back from vacation and we’re coming up fast on Shakespeare’s birthday.  Got plans?  I hope to put out a plethora of posts over the next couple days (last year I want to say I did 10 posts on April 23 alone), so stick with me!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Letters to Juliet : The Movie

As mentioned on Twitter, it appears they'ved turned the Letters to Juliet book into a movie!

I expect the wife and I will be going to see this one. :)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Free Idea : Do-It-Yourself Shakespeare Video

There was a day when I would have kidded myself into thinking I’d write this, but it’ll never happen so I put it out here in the hopes that somebody else with more resources might decide to run with it.

I was speaking with Stefanie from MadShakespeare today about the future of Shakespeare on the iPad (since Shakespeare In Bits is leading the way with an iPad version of their Romeo and Juliet experience, which we are giving away, hint hint big hint).  While I think that the iPad itself might not change the world, I think it is ushering in an age of “tablet as primary interactive device”, which I think could be huge. 

Here’s what I want:

You know how on YouTube right now there are short clips of just about everything under the sun?  I just posted some King Lear earlier today as an example.  Sometimes you only get a snippet, sometimes if you look you can find a whole movie that’s been broken down into a dozen pieces.

What I want is a directory of Shakespeare video that allows you to stitch together all those videos into a meaningful form.  Say, for instance, that I was looking for King Lear.  I’d get a list of all the versions of Act I Scene 1 there are on YouTube (assuming I wanted to start with I.1).  And then I could compare them.  Maybe I put the Olivier up next to the James Earl Jones and see what they do differently, or similarly.   Maybe I can see a whole list of Olivier’s Shakespeare videos, and jump instead to his Othello.

While I’m doing this I would also have some sort of note-taking application available so I could jot down ideas, either for myself (such as if I’m doing research for an article or a paper), or directly onto the video with the intent of sharing my thoughts with anybody else who watches the video.  And of course  there would have to be some sort of snipper/highlighter for capturing, well, highlights.

This would be perfect for an iPad type of application, using the interface to essentially build your own Shakespeare movie.  Maybe I could combine my highlights and my notes into a research paper, and publish just the descriptor file so that anybody with this browser could load up what I created and play it?  The original videos wouldn’t have to change, just the way you access them.

It’s really a very simple idea.  Somebody would have to host a  directory where people register their videos, stating some simple meta information – play X, act Y, scene Z.  It’d be nice to believe that you can scrape YouTube for this, but the simple problem with that is that the edges are rough and you don’t always find apples-to-apples comparisons.  You could even start it yourself by priming the pump manually, scraping YouTube for whatever you can to start with.

I expect that there’s something in YouTube’s terms of service that would prevent such an app from being created.  That means that if anybody does want to build this for real, their future would probably involve becoming a video hosting/streaming site of their own, and that’s big business.  So maybe it’s not so easy on the execution.  But then again that’s why I never build these things, I always talk myself out of them.

Author versus Author

There’s not a great deal new about Shakespeare in this piece from the Examiner detailing examples of classic authors bashing other classic authors.  We’ve got George Bernard Shaw who despises nothing as much as he despises Shakespeare, and Samuel Pepys who found Dream to be the most insipid ridiculous thing he’d ever seen.

What I found fun, though, was seeing how long I could trace through the list.  For instance:

William Faulkner bashes Mark Twain (#25)

Hemingway bashes Faulkner (#27)

Nabokov bashes Hemingway (#1).  Bells, bulls and balls!

And so on.   Can anybody find a longer connection?  Who gets bashed the most, who does the most bashing?

BONUS for Shakespeare Geeks! For every time we’ve spotted “Harry Potter” on a list of most influential/popular/blahblahblah books, beating out something by Shakespeare, here’s the illustrious Harold Bloom giving JK Rowling a good swift kick (#9):

How to read 'Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone'? Why, very quickly, to begin with, and perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do.

Sir Laurence Olivier as King Lear [Video]

When I was just out of college and getting into Shakespeare independently, I got it into my head to watch the best.  This was some time right around when Mel Gibson did Hamlet, so I think I wanted something to compare it to.  So, naturally, I got a VHS tape of Laurence Olivier as King Lear.

Honestly, I never finished it.  I’d never read the play at this point and I simply couldn’t follow it.

Funny how time changes us.  Here is the end of the play where Lear, a ghostly shadow of his former self at this point, carries the lifeless body of his daughter back on stage …

(*Note attention to detail – they actually put a scar around Cordelia’s neck!)

I’m intrigued by the “howls”.  Here, Olivier does manage to make near animalistic noises, but he’s still articulating the word “howl”.  I always wondered if perhaps this was the equivalent of an “o-groan”, something to be taken more as a stage direction (“Enter howling”) than actual script?

I think the interaction between Kent and Lear is excellent, how he so conversationally gestures to him with that “what is your name? you look familiar…” as if it’s just a normal interaction, and yet how he does not make the Caius connection and thinks Caius dead.

Ok, need to stop, the “Cordelia, stay a little…what does thou say?” just brought tears to my eyes.  Wow.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Enter Mad Shakespeare’s Postcard Contest!

Mad Shakespeare is having a contest, and they’re giving away the hot new book by James Shapiro, CONTESTED WILL: WHO WROTE SHAKESPEARE?

Contest details, courtesy of editor Stefaniya:

In honor of Shakespeare’s birthday on April 23, Mad Shakespeare is holding a contest: create a postcard (photo or digital art) based on the theme “Mad Shakespeare.” We’re looking for a postcard that epitomizes the aim of our website: to show how Shakespeare is still modern, relevant, and interesting.

Photograph a reference to Shakespeare in your city: a memorial or mural, a restaurant or public performance. Create your own portrait of Shakespeare (maybe based on our tagline, “Shakespeare’s face is changing”). Or take a play or a quote from Shakespeare as your starting point and get artistic. For example, what image is suggested to you by “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury”?

The winning postcard will be published on and the winner will receive a copy of CONTESTED WILL: WHO WROTE SHAKESPEARE? by James Shapiro. There are only a few days left to enter; the deadline for entries is April 19. Visit to enter.

Sounds like fun!

While you’re in a contest entering mood, remember that Shakespeare Geek has partnered with Shakespeare in Bits to give away *10* copies of their multimedia Romeo and Juliet software!

Prince of Persia Movie is "Kind of" Like Shakespeare

"...It's kind of a Shakespearean story we tell about these three brothers. One grew up on the streets and gets adopted by the king because in those days, when you had sons, they were inclined to assassinate the father to become king," Prince of Persia producer Jerry Bruckheimer said. "By having this kid who could never be king in the palace, he was always protected. If the father died, they'd throw him out. That's the kind of Shakespearean part of our story," Bruckheimer said.
Ummm...ok?  That's about as Shakespearean as any other "kings had a tendency to get assassinated" storyline.  And Shakespeare didn't really make that up.  Which brother is the hero? What's his flaw?  Help me out here, Jerry.

P.S. - Insert joke here about Earl of Oxford having two brothers, one of whom gets adopted by the king ....

Patrick Stewart As ... Shakespeare Himself

Why not?  In Edward Bond's Bingo : Scenes of Money and Death, William Shakespeare has "lost his writing mojo" and is living off the profit of his real estate deals.  A local landowner is trying to force him out, setting up a King Lear-esque "man who loses his kingdom" storyline (that's from the article).

Captain Picard gets to play the man himself for a change.  He must be having a grand old time with it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Help! I Need Wedding Content!

UPDATED September, 2010 - My first book, Hear My Soul Speak : Wedding Quotations from Shakespeare, is available now!

Last month I wrote of my desire to “kick things up a notch” here at ye olde blogge and see if I can put a little more effort into getting the Shakespeare Geek brand out in the universe.
Well, those folks who’ve been following for years have heard it from me before, I want to publish something.  I don’t want to *write* something, heck, I’ve been doing that for five years (and over 1500 posts, if my blog software is to be believed).  I want to create something independent of the blog, something with valuable content that will stand independently and gain its own following.  If somebody ever wanted to actually publish it for real and pay me real money then all the better :), but I’ll take what I can get.
Anyway, I am happy (and a bit nervous) to announce that I’ve cut a deal with some wedding planners in my neighborhood to distribute a project I’ve been thinking of, a sort of “Shakespeare for Weddings” quote book that covers all the good stuff – readings, toasts, blessings, stuff to write on your thank  you notes, you name it.  I know that if you google “Shakespeare wedding quotes” you’ll get a zillion generic sites that slap up a few quotes and twice as many ads.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  I believe that whoever is writing about the topic should have as much passion for it as the people who’ve come to read about it, don’t you?
So my planners have agreed that if I can write it, they’ll get it in the hands of the brides.  Awesome!   <—Me being happy.
Now, of course, I have to write the blessed thing.   <—Me being nervous.
We’ve covered weddings in the past, and I’m going through and collecting my notes, but right now what I need is content and lots of it.  Anybody who wants to contribute, hit me!  Sonnets, snippets, you name it I’ll take it all.  Stuff for husbands to say to wives, for parents to say to children, for groomsman to say to each other.  Stuff to write on the “save the date” cards.  The more the merrier!  Who’s got the best marriage in all of Shakespeare (and have you got a quote to back it up? I will swear I love thee infinitely!)  Young or old, rush-to-the-altar or long-time-coming, I’ll take it all and organize it later.  I’d rather have too much and work on a version 2.0 than not have enough and be disappointed in the final product.  They are in the very wrath of love, clubs cannot part them.
This is strictly a promotional effort, not a for-money one, so the finished product will have a blurb about and a modest number of links back to the site for more information on certain topics. 
Thanks in advance for any help I can get, and wish me luck!  I’m off to mark up my copy of the Complete Works with a yellow highlighter ….

UPDATED September, 2010 - My first book, Hear My Soul Speak : Wedding Quotations from Shakespeare, is available now!

Such Tweet Sorrow

Performing Shakespeare over Twitter is nothing new - Twitter of the Shrew took place a year ago.  But here we are again, this time with Such Tweet Sorrow, backed by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The thing is ... I don't get it.  I visit the page, and I see stuff like this:

Tybalt_Cap:  "It's a joke! Salty mash, sausages that are basically hotdogs, overcooked veg and was that water or gravy? Now for my meeting with the head"


LaurenceFriar: " sitting with a sandwich on a cold stone wall,memories rushing re #10yearsago when I waited for the most wonderful woman 2 meet me for brunch"

I was very confused until I read their story so far page, which lets me know that this is not Romeo and Juliet, this is a "modern retelling" which is not the same thing at all.  They've put specific details to the ancient grudge - a car accident between Capulet (driver) and Montague (victim).  They've added characters - who exactly is "Jess"?  And there is no "Romeo" listed in the cast of characters.

Looks like a sort of young adult / fan fiction / soap opera that happens to use some Shakespeare names.  If you started calling Scar "Claudius" and Simba "Hamlet", it'd still be the Lion King, not a modern retelling of Hamlet.  I don't really know why the Royal Shakespeare Company is involved.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sanford and Shakespeare [video]

Over the weekend we had some friends over, and the old 1970's tv show "Sanford and Son" came up in conversation.  This reminded me of a post I made back in January 2008 about the episode where Lamont (the son) is playing the role of Othello.  I thought it was worth dusting this one off for folks that hadn't seen it:

Funny how things have changed in 30 years!

LA Times Decimates Emmerich's Authorship Movie

Thanks to reader James Weston for sending this one my way.  We've covered disaster specialist Roland Emmerich's plans to tackle the Oxfordian argument in the upcoming movie, "Anonymous".  The LA Times doesn't seem to like the idea

Funny, only after reading the article and moving to post this did I realize that the opinion piece is written by James Shapiro, currently making his own mark in the Shakespeare books with his argument that they are most certainly collaborative and most certainly not autobiographical:

In cashing in on this fantasy, Emmerich's film may lead moviegoers to believe that only a nobleman had the necessary gifts to write the works of Shakespeare. Sure, it's only a movie, but try explaining that to schoolteachers who will soon be confronted by students arguing that the received histories of Elizabethan England and its greatest poet are lies -- and that their teachers, in suppressing the truth, are party to this conspiracy.

Emmerich's film will also do a deeper disservice to Shakespeare's legacy. Encouraging audiences to believe that the plays are little more than the recycled story of a disgruntled aristocrat's life and times devalues the very thing that makes Shakespeare so remarkable: his imagination.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

McSweeney's Macbeth!

McSweeney's is at it again!

From the people that brought you Hamlet's Facebook Page, the Romeo and Juliet Police Blotter and Lady Macbeth on Ambien, we now have "Macbeth and Macduff arguing over semantics":

MACBETH: Wast thou ripped from a man?
MACBETH: Then thou wast of woman born, what's the problem?
MACDUFF: I think, technically, to be "born" you need to pass through the birth canal.
MACBETH: No. If you exist, then you were born.
MACDUFF: I grant you it's a bit of a gray area. 

I love these guys.

Muppet Shakespeare : Season One

I've at times wondered if Shakespeare got much of his "pop culture" status simply by nature of the fact that he is in the public domain, and thus everybody rushes to his body of work for material whenever they need some.  I used to work with a guy who was a Hemingway Geek, and one of the things we'd always debate is how my readers could, at will, cut and paste large sections of the plays, while his could not. Hemingway is still very much under an aggressively pursued copyright.

Anyway, that's a weird way of saying that as my kids go through the Muppets television show on Netflix, we keep running into Shakespeare references mixed in with a whole slew of other ancient comedy material.

In this case it was Season One, Disk 2 and Kermit the Frog was running a panel on the important questions of the day.  Miss Piggy was one of the guests on the panel.  I only had a brief moment when he said "important questions" to think, "I wonder if he'll reference Shakespeare?" when he said, and I quote, "Was William Shakespeare Bacon?"

Well you can predict what happens from there - Miss Piggy takes offense at the word "bacon" (although Kermit does clarify that he means Sir Francis), but chaos soon erupts and puns go flying all over the place.  There wasn't much Shakespeare beyond that, but I immediately told the kids "Oh I am so posting that on the blog."

In a later episode on that same disk, Harvey Korman is playing the lion tamer to a "ferocious" beast that is actually a big cuddly blue monster.  "Speak!" he shouts at the monster, and I think "He's going to quote Shakespeare, isn't he?" but no, what he says is "Well I was reading Balzac recently, and I had some thoughts ..."

Free Shakespeare In Bits : Romeo and Juliet Edition !

Shakespeare Geek, in conjunction with Shakespeare in Bits, is pleased to announce our new contest where we're giving away *10* copies of their new interactive Romeo and Juliet software (the new standard in multimedia Shakespeare) for PC or Mac!

We reviewed the product a few weeks ago. Highlights:

  • The complete, unabridged, original text, with comprehensive study notes, analysis, plot summaries, and SIB's unique in-line translation system.
  • Almost three hours of top-quality audio, brought to you courtesy of Naxos Audiobooks, with Kate Beckinsale as Juliet, Michael Sheen as Romeo, and Fiona Shaw as the Nurse.
  • Three hours of original, engaging animation, covering every word of the play.

Contest Rules

1) Become a fan of Shakespeare Geek on Facebook. (They've since changed to just calling this a "like" now.)

2) Become a fan of Shakespeare in Bits on Facebook.

3) On either wall (or both, if you like!) post something about Shakespeare. We'd like "What Shakespeare means to me" or "My best Shakespeare experience", but quite frankly the content is up to you because of step #4 ...

4) Share your story with your friends! Get your friends (and strangers, why not?) to "like" your post. So if you want to win, post something good ;)

5) At the end of the contest, we'll choose the 10 top stories that have the most "likes" to each win a free copy of Romeo and Juliet from Shakespeare in Bits. Posts will be chosen from both walls, so if you post on both you'll get two entries in the contest (though you can win only once).

6) In the event of a tie, remaining prizes will be given away by random drawing from all entries. So just posting something, even without campaigning to get it liked, gets you good odds of winning too.

7) Contest ends on midnight EST on April 22, so we can announce the winners on April 23 in honor of Shakespeare's birthday.

8) Shakespeare Geek is based in the USA while Shakespeare in Bits is based in Ireland, so we are not restricting the contest to a particular geography. The prizes will take the form of registration keys to unlock the downloadable product, which is available for both PC and Mac.  (iPad and iPhone/iTouch versions on the way.)

UPDATE April 23, 2010 : This contest has ended.  Thanks for playing!

Any questions? Get posting!  (Teachers, this software is perfect for a classroom setting so motivate your students to support your entry!)

Friday, April 09, 2010

Coriolanus : The Movie … The Blog

Ok, I seem to have seriously dropped the ball on this one.  We’ve known about Ralph Fiennes doing a Coriolanus movie for some time.  What I didn’t know is that 30 Ninjas has a blog up detailing the day-to-day progression of the movie?!

The site itself is a bit nightmarish on the eyes, and I can’t even find a subscribe link to get it in my daily feeds, but it certainly looks chock full of content!

Coriolanus was never really my thing, but maybe that’s because it’s been so ignored.  Maybe a movie will change my mind?  I just wish they had a treatment like this for when Julie Taymor was doing her Tempest, I would have been all over that.

UPDATE: Found the link to subscribe.

C-SPAN Shakespeare [Video]

[ Found via ]

I haven’t fully explored this yet, but the C-Span video archives are now open to the public and somebody’s beaten me to the “search for Shakespeare” button :).

Definitely play around with the search features, as there are many of them.  I found that limiting to “academic topics” helps, and sort by least recent instead of most if you want to see some of the more historic stuff (like an interview with Harold Bloom).  Also included are things like mock trials (Hamlet for the murder of Polonius), which are probably where I’ll head first as I’ve often heard about those, but never watched/read one.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Review : Hamlet The Video Game

Ok, remember a few weeks ago when we spoke of Hamlet, the Indie Game?  At the time I thought it was new, but a little searching shows me that I’d seen it coming back in Sept 2009!

Anyway, I’m happy to announce the Hamlet is now available from Alawar Games.  They were nice enough to send me a copy for review, and while I’ve not yet finished it, I think I can at least give people a taste of what to expect.

opheliaAs far as Shakespeare content goes, hardcore geeks will likely be disappointed.  The connection to Hamlet seems to be in name only, as the plot line quickly reveals : Polonius wants his daughter Ophelia to marry Claudius, and Hamlet must save her.  Only problem is that you in your time travelling spaceship have crash landed onto poor Hamlet, and now you must rescue Ophelia.  From her dad.  So that she doesn’t have to marry…Hamlet’s dad?

Exactly.  As I play each level I’m looking for Shakespeare jokes (as the password to Polonius’ lair I guessed “Corambis” :)), but I’m not finding too many.   At this point, unlesclaudiuss something suddenly changes in later levels (maybe a jealous Gertrude will make an appearance?), this could just be a generic “save the princess from the bad guys” story.  But I’ll take such a game with Shakespeare characters over one without, anyway.   Though I’ve not met them yet I can see from the materials that a number of other characters make guest appearances.

The game itself is a logic puzzle where to move past each screen (each portion of the story) you must find the things that are  clickable, and how to click them in the right order to unlock whatever needs unlocking.  Sometimes this is easy (the bird drops the seed, the rain makes the seed grow into a vine to be climbed…) while other times it is quite difficult (“Ok, guess the password now.”)  There are hints for each level including what your character thinks (this is very important, always check this), clues hidden on the page itself, and another hint that you will earn if it takes you too long to solve the level.

I’m currently stuck on a puzzle that is all about the hand eye coordination, and it is a little frustrating.  I usually work off of a Thinkpad stationed on my lap, using the touchpad instead of a mouse.  In this particular puzzle I have to hit several small targets very quickly, and I’m not doing so well at it. 

The implemention of the game is very good.  It offers both full screen and windowed modes, and is nice enough in windowed mode to do things like turn off the sound and the timer when you are not playing.  Excellent.  The sound and graphics are very good, not blow-you-away like a 3D shooter would, but very consistent for the world view they’re trying to create.  Quite a large world it is, too.  Sometimes you’re outside, sometimes underwater, sometimes on a …spaceship?  You’ll interact with other characters, too, so don’t worry about this being a quiet little mouse clicker.  Stuff is definitely moving out from under you. Sometimes stuff is trying to shoot at you, too.

Hamlet_Screenshot_07It reminds me a little bit of Fool’s Errand, if anybody remembers that classic puzzle game.  You get a screen, you know you have to do *something* to get past that screen, and each screen is pretty much 100% different from the previous screen.  Now you’re on your own.  Unlike Fool’s Errand it is entirely linear, so if you get stuck on a level (as I am, currently) you don’t have many options other than to stick with it.

The demo lets you play for an hour, so see how far you get.  I played for more than an hour on my review copy and only got through maybe 5 levels, and I’m told there are 25 in the game.  And hey, at $9.95 for the full version it’s not a bad deal to add this one to your collection and say you’ve played  the Hamlet game.