Thursday, September 30, 2010

Songs Inspired by Shakespeare

It's a topic we speak of often, and everybody seems to love it, but nobody to my knowledge has ever made a definitive list of "songs inspired by Shakespeare" because, quite frankly, how do you define that? Do you need lyrics from the text? Character names? Plots?

365 Days of Shakespeare doesn't attempt to answer these questions, she just offers her top 10. I link because there's a couple in there I'd not heard of!

No Rufus Wainwright in the mix, by the way, but that may go back to "how are you defining this". Putting an entire sonnet to music isn't really the same thing as rewriting a Romeo and Juliet story. I have both the Dire Straits and Indigo Girls' versions of Romeo and Juliet in my playlist, and she's right, the Indigo Girls version is much better.

Gielgud, In Spite of His Othello?

Stanley Wells was asked who, in his opinion, were The Ten Greatest Actors. I like how right off the bat he dismisses Burbage, not because he wasn't any good but because frankly we simply have no evidence. He starts with David Garrick, for which there is plenty.

My title comes directly from Wells' blog, because I have no idea what it means. Did Gielgud do a famously lousy Othello, or something?

The rest of our favorites - McKellen, Dench, Jacobi, Branagh, Scofield... all make the list. Who, in Wells' opinion, is the greatest? He does say, but I won't steal their thunder. You have to look for it though, because he drops an understated "for me he is the greatest" in the middle of the article and you'll skim right by it if you're in a hurry.

Are You Angry?

Disclaimer: Yes, JM, this post is inspired by you ;). But I hope that's not a bad thing, and I hope what I'm about to say opens up some conversation. I am going with an idea, here, not trying to paint you into a corner and most certainly not trying to put words in your mouth. Fair enough?

I think that everybody here would like Shakespeare to have a larger presence in the world around us. What exactly that means will probably be different for everybody, but I hope that this is at least a fair statement. If there was more Shakespeare in the world, we'd be happier. True?

So, then, are you angry that we don't have that? The current state of education, the movies, the pop culture references, the badly misquoted lines that become cliches ... do those things bug the living daylights out of you, to the point where you can't be happy until you live in a world where they're fixed? What standard do you hope to achieve? Are we aiming to recreate Shakespeare's world, or to integrate what he gave us into our own? What's the difference between integrating and diluting?

For me, personally, I don't get angry about it. Sometimes I get disappointed, sure. And I do throw a minor tantrum when people use "wherefore" to mean "where", but only people who should know better. If a coworker pulled that nonsense I would correct the mistake, gently. If somebody puts up a television commercial where Juliet says "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?" and Romeo says "I'm over here, yo!" then yes, I'll get a little more upset about that because they should at least have some level of quality assurance.

But in general I'm happy to see Shakespeare in the world wherever I see him, and encourage more. Bring up Shakespeare around me and you will have to walk away, because I won't stop talking. Seriously. I'm ok with that. I will go see Gnomeo and Juliet, and I will tell all my friends to go see it. Maybe here on the blog I'll pick it apart, but I'd much rather see a bunch of my children's friends all go to see it, than to keep it from them because of the aforementioned wherefore/why problem.

Very important to note, though, is that I'm not in the business. I don't do Shakespeare for a living, and I think that could easily be the key difference. I don't have to write grants to get my Shakespeare projects funded, only to see them turned down so the money can go toward other, lesser projects. I'm not out of a job if my kids' school cuts the budget for the arts. As a parent I'd do what I could to complain, sure. But I'd also have the option of taking them to more theatre on my own, at least. I wouldn't have to worry about where my next paycheck is coming from.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Happy Tenth Anniversary, Kerry!

Ten years ago tomorrow, September 30, I won the game. I asked, she said yes, and now I get to be the happiest geek in the world because I get to say stuff like "That thou didst know how many fathom deep I am in love!" to a real person, in real life, and really mean it. People wonder why I love Shakespeare and wish that everyone else did? Because Shakespeare knew, man. If you can feel it, Shakespeare can give you the words to express it. A heaven on earth I have won by wooing her.

Last year I introduced Kerry to the site and we showered her in quotes. This year I went a little mushier, and wrote her a sonnet. I was going to include it here, but I've taken it out. It's a gift to her, and if she wants it shared then that will be her choice.

A Shakespeare Stimulus?

Whenever politicians talk about education, at least here in the US, they focus on Math and Science. We're falling behind on math and science, we need innovation in math and science.

What if they said Shakespeare instead? Or, more generally we'll say, "The Classics". I'd say Literature in general, but I'm not really interested at the moment in promoting new literature, I want to talk about improving the standing of existing literature.

Imagine a world, hypothetical though it may be, where the president announces a couple hundred billion dollars to be allocated toward advancement of Education in Literature. I've grown up to be president, and I want to live in a country where any four year old who knows the plot to Cinderella also knows the plot to Midsummer, and every parent could answer questions about it.

The actual numbers don't matter, just assume that there'll be enough that programs could be implemented on a national scale. Ignore the politics of "it would never pass", "it would take longer than my lifetime", "all the money would be wasted" and so on. We all know the unfortunate reality. These thought experiments are supposed to be fun :).

How would spend it? What would the title of your grant request be? Would you spend it on elementary education, or high school? Would you fund more new theatres? If you suddenly got a green light to focus on making people appreciate and understand Shakespeare more, how would you break it down?

I'll start with an easy one : seed money for people who make movie versions of Shakespeare's works. We already have all the superhero, horror, sequels and animated 3D movies we need, why not a sudden surge of Shakespeare films? While it's true that this would not do wonders toward advancing actual education of Shakespeare (i would expect most of the projects to be more "mass market" than academic), but it would get the brand recognition out there and get people more appreciative of the body of work they may not even realize exists.

Dungeons and Shakespeare? Shakespeare and Dragons?

Cool find of the day (and by find I mean, "The inventor emailed me and told me about it" :)) is Play Extempore, a combining of Shakespeare with Dungeons and Dragons.

From the Game Manual (which, right now, can't be read on OS X due to a font issue but I think that's being fixed):

To play this game you will need someone to act as the Playwright, or gamemaster, and at least four Players. The Playwright runs the game. He chooses the genre that will be played or rolls for it (see Genres) and gives the play a title. He chooses the game’s setting or rolls for it (see Setting), performs the non-playing characters (NPCs—see Minor Characters), and sets the storyline according to the genre being played. He can also act as a Chorus to move the action forward in time or geographically.

The idea is to stage an improvised 5 act play. Players get character sheets just like in a D&D campaign.

I immediately sent this to an old friend who is both an active D&D player, as well as a working actor. His response (via IM):

"This is hysterical! I love it. random monologues! And duels and battle of wits! Fun."

Looks like a work in progress (a teaching tool, recently released for free and looking for feedback). So if you've got a handful of Shakespeare geeks that you hang out with, take it for a spin. Or maybe a roll? Let us know how it goes!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The IMDB Shakespeare Quote Game

I'm always looking for new angles on our favorite topic. Today while hunting around for new Shakespeare movies (I did not find any, I think we're all caught up), I did find out that I can search the Internet Movie Database's list of quotes from movies that contain the word Shakespeare.

This is fascinating to me, because it's not quotes from Shakespeare movies, and it's not people in movies quoting Shakespeare plays. It's people in movies who used the word Shakespeare. In whatever context they needed.

So sometimes you get, "Shakespeare said blah blah blah."

Other times you'll get, "What are you, frickin Shakespeare over here?"

Sometimes you'll get very large quotes, or very large paragraphs about the subject. It's always different.

And that's what fascinates me. Here in one shot is a way to cut across dozens of movies that you may have never seen, pull out a single reference, and then work backwards.

So there's the game. Flip through the quotes a bit. Find a quote from a movie that you've never seen, that makes you say "Ok, now I want to see this movie to understand where this quote came from." Maybe because it's just a weird enough quote that you have no idea, or maybe it's because the quote sounded so good that you can't wait to see it the way it was intended.

Although it won't make me run out and get the entire season on DVD, I can't resist pasting this quote:

Full House (1987 TV Series)

Episode: Michelle Rides Again: Part 2 (1995)Duane here is a Shakespeare freak. Aren't you, my little Hamlet-and-cheese?Duane, you're into Shakespeare?

:) Yes, Yes I am. Had they only said "geek" it would have been that much more awesome.

Old News? Shakespeare Reading Lists

Ok, who new that Google News actually allows you to search "news" from up to 20 years ago? I just had to type in Shakespeare and start poking around.

Here's the first interesting article I found, showing the most popular required reading lists for high school (broken out by private, public, Catholic).

I don't think there are many surprises (Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet show up on every list), but it does remind me a bit of our Catcher in the Rye discussion from a few weeks back. What was required reading when you were in high school?

I never read Scarlet Letter, Of Mice and Men, or Gatsby. But I did read some Thomas Hardy, I don't see him on the list. And some Kafka, Hemingway and a few others.

BardBox : Shakespeare Videos

I'm surprised that we've never talked about BardBox before. It's not new, has quite a bit of content, and at least for the subcategory I've linked, every post contains an original video. Sometimes animation, sometimes actors. I'm going through them now. It's very cool.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Patrick Stewart as Macbeth - Oct 6, on PBS

I'd like to come up with a snappier title for this exciting news, but I'm going to be out of town and thus I'm rather jealous.  We all saw Patrick Stewart and David Tennant do Hamlet earlier this year (well, on television. Those of us not lucky enough to see the live version).  Now we get to do it again, this time with Stewart's Macbeth, which will be previewed on PBS October 6.

They've got a preview up:

It looks .... weird. I get a strange sort of "Sweeney Todd" vibe, and I'm not sure why.

No word yet on whether Stewart also plays the ghost of Banquo ;).   (Inside joke).  But I swear, if he shrugs when Macduff says that he was from his mother's womb untimely ripped, I'm taking him down.

Seriously, this is awesome and I will no doubt DVR it (I'll be on a cruise for my anniversary that week).  What I will miss that was so fun the first time was "live tweeting" it.  Some geeks do it for award shows, some for sports events. Shakespeare geeks? We live tweet PBS Great Performances.  I feel like Frasier Crane's brother Niles for some reason.

Anyway, set your DVR now so you don't forget!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Speaking of Actors ...

"Five Hollywood Actors That Are Excellent Stage Actors", the title read. Sounds like potential Shakespeare connection.  Let's check it out.

"Patrick Stewart!" you scream. "Patrick Stewart Patrick Stewart Patrick Stewart!"

Not on the list.  The short list is written from the author's perspective of who he personally saw on stage, and I think perhaps he was going for more of the "perhaps you didn't know...." angle.  Who doesn't know that Patrick Stewart is an excellent stage actor?

Anyway, here's the list : Liev Schreiber, Hugh Jackman, Ed Norton, Denzel Washington, and Catherine Zeta Jones. I know that that Liev Schreiber's got some Shakespeare cred, and Denzel Washington of course was in Brannagh's Much Ado movie, but how about the others?

Or for the more interesting game, tell us what role you think they'd be perfect for.  I like Ed Norton, I'm wondering how he'd do as Edmund.  Makes me think of Fight Club.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sci-Fi Shakespeare

A long, long time ago, 1950’s science fiction movies gave us Forbidden Planet, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. There’s a new Tempest coming out this year, and I notice that there’s a remake of Forbidden Planet in the works, scheduled for 2013.

But it makes me wonder (maybe this is a good question for Keith @ Bardfilm, if he’s listening), is that it? Anybody got any other true science fiction movies that have more than a passing nod at Shakespeare?

Free Book Giveaway - Hear My Soul Speak: Wedding Quotes by Shakespeare

Hi Everybody,
As you may have noticed, I wrote a book :).  It’s called Hear My Soul Speak: Wedding Quotations from Shakespeare. It’s a guidebook to quoting Shakespeare at weddings. I compiled a list of all the best quotes I could find that had positive (and sometimes humorous) thoughts on love, romance and marriage. They’re organized by how they might best be used – toasts, vows, father of the bride speech, and so on. Where necessary, they come with explanations (most notably the chapter on sonnet readings). 
It’s actually an e-book right now, that can be read on a Kindle or Apple device (although it’s easier to just say iPad, technically you can read iBooks on any of their devices). It’s also available in plain old PDF format, which can be read on any computer or laptop – and printed. I’m not trying to make a killing on it either, by the way – it costs between $5 and $8 USD, depending on which format you get.  All I’d really like to do, as far as that goes, is make enough to justify getting it printed for real.
The whole theory is that everybody goes to weddings at one point or another – either their own, or they’re a member of the wedding party, or a guest – and on such an occasion, people would like something nice and memorable, and maybe even romantic, to mark the occasion.  I really do think that most people would appreciate more Shakespeare if they simply recognized more Shakespeare. So, I’m filling a need.
Enough of that, you want to know how to get a free book! I need help getting the word out about my little project. I’ve got pretty good access to the Shakespeare fans, but the world of “people who need something to say at a wedding” is much, much larger than that. Right now my mission is to reach that second audience.
Between now and, oh, let’s say the end of Sunday September 26, 2010, I’ll send a PDF version of the book to anybody who meets the following criteria:

#1 comments on this post with a link to their own blog. Does not have to be a Shakespeare blog. Spreading the word far and wide is encouraged. Link is just so I know you have a blog and where to verify rule #2…
#2  Agrees, in good faith, to put up a blog post about the book, with a link.  Not asking you to pimp my book without reading it, you can post after you get it. Naturally you don’t have the book yet so I can’t hold you to it, hence “good faith”. But please keep this in mind if you run a baseball blog and are going to have trouble justifying wedding/Shakespeare content to your readers.
#3 I need a way to contact you, to send you the file. I’ll look on your blog for a Contact the Author link, but if you know I’m not going to find one then please followup your comment with email to mentioning the giveaway, so I have your address.
Sound like a good deal?  I’m very sensitive to appearing too spammy or self-promotional (perhaps to my own detriment?) so hopefully I’ve made my case that this is really about getting more people to know and love Shakespeare.  If you want to help spread the message, then please leave a comment and write about my book on your own blog.  If you don’t have a blog of your own (or don’t particularly want my book), maybe I can beg some Facebook sharing or Twitter retweets?  There’s more than one way to spread the good words!

Juicing in Shakespeare

I actually spotted that headline over at 365 Days of Shakespeare, where it refers to steroid use.  But when I first saw it, being a life-long pro-wrestling fan, thought of juicing in the context of "deliberately cutting yourself with a razor in order to draw real blood."

What would you do?  Imagine the stage combat director is an old pro-wrestler, and suggests to you that the scene will look more realistic if you take one for the team and drag a thin bit of razorblade across your forehead in the way that he shows you. Would you go for it? Or tell him he's nuts and call the union?

It may sound like a stupid question, but there are legions of pro-wrestlers out there who do it regularly, and how different are they really from theatre performers? They've got a live audience, they do a show every night, they have to at least attempt to tell a story that was written for them. Imagine a play where it's all fight scenes and later somebody goes back in and throws in some dialogue to tie it together.

Gnomeo Trailer!

Ok, this movie's been a long, long time coming. I first mentioned this Disney project about red versus blue garden gnomes back in April 2006!

Well it's four years later and the trailers are here!

I have to say, I'm disappointed.  This looks like it's got about as much Romeo and Juliet as Camp Rock 2 did. Inspired by? Sure.  But from the trailer it looks more like West Side Story than Shakespeare.

I hope I'm wrong, I hope I discover that the gnomes do occasionally spout actual Shakespearean dialogue. I don't expect it, of course, but it'll be a nice treat.  It's an animated Disney movie, so of course my kids will end up seeing it even without the Shakespeare connection. But it's going to be very upsetting if we've waited 4 years for nothing more than a Shakespearean storyline :(

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Halloween’s Coming …

We haven’t spoken of Halloween much, I realize.  Usually because it’s upon me too late and there’s no time to really do anything exciting (with three little ones, I rarely think about any sort of grownup costumes or parties).

With over a month to go, anybody got good Halloween ideas?  Doing anything Shakespearey?  My kids keep telling me to dress up like Shakespeare, but I’m not even sure how one would do that without going full out and getting a relatively fancy/expensive costume.  They’ve also told me to dress up like Hamlet (all black, and carry around a skull?) or Romeo (no idea how I’d pull that one off). 

My oldest daughter at one point had the idea to go as pasta (ziti, specifically), but she decided that nobody would really get it, and went with the old standby (Wonder Woman) instead.  But that makes me think how genius it would be to dress up like ….. Bacon

I don’t love that particular costume, but man, if I can keep my eye out for a better looking one?  I might just do it. I could ride on that joke for years.  Could put a little nametag on it, says “Hello! My name is Francis.”

UPDATED: Worth promoting, @Bardfilm wrote:

Boy should go as Lear; girls as Regan & Goneril. After each stop, they should "disquantity" him of his candy.

[Context : I have three children, a boy and two girls.  The boy is the youngest.] Both funny and tragic, I can see that whole scene playing out in my house.  “If you want to walk with me, Brendan, you need to give me half your mini-Snickers bars.”

“Well then I’ll walk with Elizabeth!”

“Half your Snickers bars, eh? That’s a good idea, you have to give me half your Kit-Kats.”

I can just imagine my little 4yr old boy stuck in the middle with nowhere to go.  I guess I’d play the Fool? :)

Friday, September 17, 2010


Watching Glee with the kids.  For those that don’t recognize it or don’t watch, Glee is one of the most popular shows on tv right now due mostly to the tie-in to the iPod generation.  It’s the story of, well, a Glee club.  So every episode is a bunch of modern cover songs (just showed the kids the Lady Gaga episode), anchoring a terribly stereotyped high school soap opera.  (Seriously, it’s awful.  When it first came on I couldn’t finish an episode, until I realized it’s *supposed* to be bad, and then it got entertaining.  God I hope it’s supposed to be bad…?)   Anyway, every week you’ll find that whatever song the Glee kids sing rapidly climbs to the top of the iTunes download charts, raking in a dollar or so with every download.  It’s genius.

Everybody loves a good spin-off, right?  I want to take this exact same formula and make Bard, about the drama club instead of the glee club.  The show works, exactly the same way – every week a theme, a lesson for the kids to learn, and 3 or 4 anchoring “bits” from the source material that show the lesson.  Instead of Gaga week, they have, I dunno, Taming of the Shrew week.  Instead of MP3 files on iTunes, you get video clips.

Just dreaming, I know.  But I’d love such a show.  The whole gimmick is that the stereotype for Glee club is that it’s for losers, and the show will change that.  Well, show the drama geeks some love too, huh?

(*) For those that have no idea what we’re talking about, the L in the Glee logo is actually a hand making the letter, the universal symbol for “loser”.  I needed something to mimic that, and it’s the best I could come up with :).

Blu-Ray Romeo+Juliet

Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet (sometimes known as Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo+Juliet) is getting a Blu-Ray release on October 19.  Also released on this date will be the Blu-Ray version of Moulin Rouge (which, if you didn’t know, is also a Luhrmann project, only with Ewan  McGregor instead of Leo).

I’ll tell you now, if somebody comes knocking on my door offering review copies again, I’m getting a Blu-Ray player!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

SARAH : The Life of Sarah Bernhardt

When I was asked if I’d like a review copy of the Sarah Bernhardt biography, I said what some of you might have said: “Hamlet? That Sarah Bernhardt?”  Yes, that Sarah Bernhardt.  I said sure.

Of course, that’s literally *all* I know about her.  So this was going to be enlightening.

After receiving the book, all I can say is that anybody who thought writing a biography of Shakespeare was tough needs to try Sarah.  In the former case, there’s just no trustworthy information to work with because it doesn’t exist. In Sarah’s case that’s almost true - most of what we know about her came from her, and she made it all up.  So while Greenblatt’s Will in the World kept falling back on variations of “I imagine it went something like this …”, Gottlieb’s Sarah spends much of the time telling a story (typically a real doozy) and adding, parenthetically, “(then again we get this story from Sarah herself, so who knows how much of that if any is true).”

This woman was so very, very much more than her Hamlet.  I’ll admit, I started by flipping to the index and looking for how much of the book would be spent on that role, and couldn’t even find Shakespeare or Hamlet listed.  I finally found it, though, in a very large section on Sarah’s Performances.  Answer?  5 pages are dedicated to Hamlet.  Did you know that an actual video clip of her 1899 performance exists?


Sarah’s life easily fills this book, and it never gets boring (and the nearly 100 images, including her Hamlet and Macbeth, beautifully decorate the stories as they are told).  On one page you have something out of a silent movie, everyone dressed to the nines during a Sunday brunch … and on the next page you read about the granddaughter’s firsthand account about how a dispute over politics resulted, literally, in the family smashing plates over each other.  Good times.

There’s an amazing amount of information here, about an amazing woman.  It’s going to take me a long time to get through it, because I’m learning something new on every page. It would not do justice to the book to keep this post on the shelf until I’ve read it cover to cover, nor would it be fair to rush my reading to rush out the post.  So I’m being honest.  This is the first English-language biography of Sarah Bernhardt, and it is wonderfully informative as well as entertaining.  I’m glad I’ve been given the opportunity to experience it, and will never again think of her as just that woman who was famous for playing Hamlet.

Dirty Jokes in Shakespeare

[ This could turn not-safe-for-work (NSFW) pretty quickly, so beware …. ]

We’ve had Bawdy Shakespeare and Filthy Shakespeare.  Whether or not you believe that every other word out of Shakespeare’s mouth was a euphemism for naughty bits, the simple truth is that these topics have long been one of the most popular Google searches.

So, to have some fun and make it easy for the high school kids who want something to giggle at in English class, I ask : what’s your favorite Shakespeare dirty joke?

One of my favorites, I can’t even really do justice here – but I’m talking about the scene in Comedy of Errors between Dromio and Antipholus of Syracuse.  Claiming that his newly discovered wife is “spherical like a globe” and that he “could name countries in her”, they do a hysterical schtick where Antipholus asks “Where was Ireland? What about Spain? France?” until finally getting in a big finish when he asks about her Netherlands.  Here’s a link to the full script, I can’t at the moment find a better link.

I count this among favorites because, when I saw it performed, I laughed hysterically.  Malvolio’s comment in Twelfth Night about “her C’s, U’s and T’s” might be more filthy, but I don’t know that it’s as funny.  And I’ve always assumed that Hamlet was trying to be offensive, not funny, when he asked about country matters.


[ There’s an actual question for y’all at the end of this anecdote, just so you know. :) ]

Funny thing happened last night.  I brought the kids to the library, and “my fan” the children’s room lady is working.  She and I discuss Shakespeare whenever I’m in, and we worked together to bring Rebel Shakespeare to the library for two performances this summer.

Anyway, I give her my new business card to keep in the files.  She thinks my job is to be a full time Shakespeare geek (I wish!) and mentions a radio program she’d heard where a man spoke of having a 9-5 day job in the computer world, and then in the evening shopping around his book of poetry.

“Funny you should say that,” I tell her.  “I just published a book myself.”  Being a librarian she immediately puts her hands onto her little computer keyboard to look it up.  “It’s not available in print yet,” I say. “It’s an e-book.”

“It’s not available for my Kindle,” she says, half asking.

This is the first time I’ve ever met a Kindle user, and it surprises me.  But I’m prepared. “Why yes, as a matter of fact it is very much available for the Kindle!” I tell her.

She grabs a piece of paper and a pen to write down the name.  “It’s a collection of Shakespeare wedding quotes,” I tell her, not that she appears to care.

Her head pops up again.  “My son is getting married!” she beams.

Moral of the story: Talk about yourself and your projects, often.  You never know who you’ll meet.  I wrote a Shakespeare wedding book for Kindle and I met a Kindle owning, Shakespeare loving mother of the groom.


Ok, on to the question. As I mentioned, I’ve never seen  a Kindle (or a Kindle owner) in the wild.  I’m more of an Apple guy, and know several iPad owners.  But a librarian owning a Kindle? Made all the sense in the world.

So, a quick poll – how many of my regular readers have a Kindle?  And what’s the Shakespeare experience like on it?  I know that in the iPhone world we have all sorts of applications and interactive browsers to play with, but I really don’t know what a Kindle can and can’t do.  Do you carry complete works around on it?  Can you?  How’s the searching, and highlighting?  They are both battling it out for the ebook market, but I think they’re really positioned to be very different things. I’m wondering if even the best dedicated book reader can win.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why You Can’t Just Google Love Quotes

I knew when I set about collecting Shakespeare wedding quotes that it’d be tricky to set myself apart from the many “love quotes” sites on the net.  Not in terms of quality, of course – they have none. No, it’s explaining this to people that’s tricky.

Just now, for instance, while Googling for “wedding quotes from Shakespeare”, I found a site (that shall remain nameless) that claims to have a Top 100 Shakespeare Love Quotes.    Ready for a few samples?

“A young man married is a man that's marred.”

“I pray you, do not fall in love with me, For I am falser than vows made in wine”

“You cannot call it love, for at your age the heyday in the blood is tame”

“Lechery, lechery; still, wars and lechery: nothing else holds fashion.”

Great stuff, there. I’m surprised they didn’t throw in that Capulet line about our dancing days being in the past.  Try pulling one of these out during a wedding toast and see what happens.


Hear My Soul Speak: Wedding Quotations from Shakespeare contains over 100 selections from across all of Shakespeare’s works, specifically chosen for their positive thoughts on love, marriage and romance.  Available now in Kindle, iBook and PDF format.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pitch This : Kill Shakespeare

Kill Shakespeare is a popular new graphic novel that pits a number of Shakespeare’s heroes against his villains.  I’ve not yet seen a copy, but i hear it’s doing quite well.

So well, in fact, that they pitched a movie version at the Toronto International Film Festival and won the $10,000 prize!

From the article:

Shortly after their win, the two Toronto men told CBC News they came up with the idea about seven years ago, when Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill was in theatres.

Though they were kicking around ideas for a video-game project, they began discussing the Tarantino film and Del Col joked about replacing David Carradine's reclusive titular character with William Shakespeare and inserting his iconic heroes and villains as the film's key players.

I love it. I hope the prize money helps move them one step closer to making the movie version.

Shakespeare Music! The Young Scamels Debut Album


From the press release:

The Young Scamels "Tempest" continues a collaboration that has been going for almost 20 years. The album was written by Christian Frederickson, Greg King and Jason Noble (who have performed together in the Rachel's band and Shipping News). When they were offered a chance to score "The Tempest" at Actors Theatre of Louisville in 2007/2008 they jumped at the chance.

Opening with the softly layered violas of "Bring Forth a Wonder" the album shifts into the unkempt "Tempest" - finding the band resorting to hitting scuba tanks and going for a Peter Gabriel-tribute drum sound. Next is "Full Fathom Five", the first of several tracks with Shakespeare's words, using more electric guitar, keys and a dissonant vocal cloud and bruised melody. As the album progresses, the quiet "I'll Drown My Book" moves on to haunted landscapes of bells and synths, light-hearted beats, viola, vibes and guitar. The closing track, "A Contract of True Love," brings the many characters together in a final celebration, forgiveness being offered to all while strident drums, multiple voices and strings bang out an upbeat farewell message.

The album is coming out on September 21st via File 13 Records.

From Duane:  I’m listening now, and I have to say I quite like the “Full Fathom Five” single.  Nice strong female lead.  I was not crazy about “Be Not Afeard,” which ends up as more of a spoken word piece.  Some of the others are very slow, and mostly instrumental as the press release notes.  I’ve not yet been through them all.  Always fun to see what people do when putting Shakespeare’s words to music.  You can’t really explain it, you have to hear for yourself and decide if it’s your cup of tea.

Shakespeare Versus The Goblins : A Review of “Will Power”

A funny thing happened on the way to this review.  I got email from Tor books, who are known in the scifi/fantasy world.  So I thought it was a press release and didn’t really pay attention – until I noticed that Shakespeare was mentioned.  Then I realized it wasn’t a mass mailing, it was addressed directly to me at my Shakespeare Geek address. Turns out that this particular book was written by a Shakespeare professor and they thought I might like  a review copy. Sure!

Will Power is the second in a series from author A.J. Hartley, Distinguished Professor of Shakespeare at the University of North Carolina. I felt a little weird jumping into the series in the middle, but really if you think about the fantasy genre the odds are against you on that one (for any N book series, you’ve got an N-1 out of N chance of finding a book other than book 1).

This book tells the continuing story of our merry band of adventurers, including one Will Hawthorne, playwright.  You know the type – generally cowardly sort who only came along to hang out on the sidelines and partake of the treasure, and maybe some beer and wenches.  And, naturally, he’s the one who inevitably saves his stronger and braver friends when they get into trouble. 

In Will Power, it doesn’t take long before the group is mysteriously transported into a strange new land, and split up in the process.  They soon find themselves unwelcome guests right in the middle of a war between the Fair Folk and the Goblins.  But is all as it seems?  His companions Orgos and Mithos have been captured by goblins, Renthrette and Garnet have joined the Fair Folk, Lisha is lost somewhere, and something just doesn’t feel right to Hawthorne.

What happens next?  There are enough twists and turns and clever devices that I can honestly say I didn’t predict where the story would go.   The story ends on a satisfactory note while simultaneously opening up a door for the next book in the series.  This author knows how to write fantasy. :)

What about the Shakespeare, you’re asking?  Me too.  There’s a funny scene early on when Hawthorne stumbles across what he thinks is a tavern, and introduces himself by reciting something of a mini-ballad … in iambic pentameter.  Not bad.

Later, while roaming around the city of the Fair Folk, we learn that they have a library, and that library has a drama section.  Hawthorne makes a beeline for this literary oasis, breaking down doors (seriously) to get to it.  I think some of the literature geeks in the audience can appreciate what that feels like.  There may be a goblin war raging outside the city walls, but if you need me I’ll be curled up with a good book.

There are also plenty of opportunities to do the whole “act like somebody you’re not” thing for our hero.  He has to act like he knows what he’s doing half the time, after all.  But none of that is really Shakespeare.  Nobody “puts on a show.”

The press release suggests “a magical world which very closely resembles that of the Elizabethan Era,” and I’m wondering if that was a comment from the first book.  Because other than starting the book out in a tavern and making regular comments about the poor quality of the beer, I can’t really see where the Elizabethan thing comes in.  Oh, well, I take that back – the city of the Fair Folk is populated with courtiers who spend their days drenching each other in over-the-top metaphor (“My Lord, embers and smoldering leaves produce a smoke most bitter and unwholesome to the senses, yet the heat from whence it rises is but a poor and mean thing at which one might not even warm one’s hands. The heart of a furnace burns pure and hot, consuming all and leaving little there to smoke withal. So my love for Johanna, like the core of the forge, blazes with white, undying passion, while yours for Beatrice, I fear, so cool and, doused with overlong laments, smokes merely.”)  I always thought this behavior was more Victorian than Elizabethan, but I’m not a history buff.  What it reminded me of was a Monty Python version of Oscar Wilde. 

It did not go unnoticed, either, that the author drops in names like Beatrice as necessary – one of the others tells the story of a young lady enamored with a certain young shepard named Corin, as well.  Both are direct, if insubstantial, Shakespeare references.


Will Power was an entertaining fantasy book.  I may have started out assuming that it was going to fit the standard form where the ‘weakling’ in an otherwise stalwart band of adventurers eventually turns out to save the day, but in the end there was enough originality that I was impressed with how it all went down.  I would have liked more Shakespeare, but that’s not a fair measure – I always want more Shakespeare, up to the point where it *is* Shakespeare. :)  I’ll be curious to see how the third book goes, and how much Shakespeare comes into it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Flower Portrait Might Be Genuine After All

[The following comes from a press release that was sent to me directly by Professor Dr. Hildegaard Hammerschmidt-Hummel herself.]

In her book The True Face of William Shakespeare. The Poet’s Death Mask and Likenesses from Three Periods of His Life (2006) Prof. Hammerschmidt- Hummel was able to prove the authenticity of the Chandos and Flower portraits, the Davenant bust and the Darmstadt Shakespeare death mask – in close collaboration with forensics experts from the BKA, the equivalent of the CID, several medics, physicists, 3D and other specialists.

rc688DeathMaskTX7 When Dr Tarnya Cooper, a curator at the National Portrait Gallery in London, cast doubt on the authenticity of the Flower portrait, Hammerschmidt- Hummel undertook a renewed comprehensive investigation of this portrait, once again involving an array of international experts. A joint inspection of the painting in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s depository in Stratford- upon-Avon, and the analysis of the BBC film ”The Flower Portrait”, demonstrate strong powers of observation and a thorough multidisciplinary approach, which lead to new – completely unexpected – results and make for a suspenseful read.

These new results will be introduced and explained by Hammerschmidt- Hummel at the book presentation on 28 September 2010. The author will also briefly comment on the 3D recreation of the Darmstadt Shakespeare death mask in the film “Death Masks” broadcast in the UK on 13 September 2010 on HISTORY.

And the Flower Portrait of William Shakespeare is Genuine After All. Latest Investigations Again Prove its Authenticity. Translated from the German by Professor Alan Bance (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 2010)

will be presented to the public at the University of Mainz on

28 September 2010, 6:00 pm, on the campus of Johannes Gutenberg University, Building: ‘Philosophicum’, Room P 13, Jakob-Welder-Weg 18.

The speakers are:

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Mechthild Dreyer, Vice President

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Oldenstein, former Vice President

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Ulrich Breuer, Dean of FB 05 – Philosophy and Philology

Prof. Dr. Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel

Dr. Annette Holzapfel-Pschorn

Toward A More Open Open Mic Night

So I went to an Open Mic Shakespeare night this weekend, and am currently having a discussion with one of the organizers (who is aware that I’m posting this).

I mentioned to him that, from my position in the audience, it looked like a bunch of somewhat professional theatre folk putting on a show, with little room for anything that could be considered “open”.  He countered that on the contrary, all his group had done was to schedule in a couple of anchoring acts throughout the night, and everything else that I’d seen was indeed people coming in on their own, often with pieces prepared but sometimes just reading from the notes provided.

Which brought up the question of how exactly might you want an open mic night to go, if you’re the theatre company putting it on?  If you set the bar very high by having “real” (forgive the terminology, it’s not correct to say “professional” and I can’t think of a better word) actors do many of the selections then it will be entertaining for the audience, but then that’s not really open in the sense that people might have come expecting.

On the other hand if you truly just opened up the mic and had nothing but a stream of people who’d possibly never done it before, then you’d be open enough but people listening might find it the opposite of entertaining.  (Just imagine an open mic night at the comedy club, and how bad a comedian can truly be, then apply that to Shakespeare).

My worst fear isn’t people who try, and aren’t good.  My worst fear is people who *think* they are good, and aren’t.   (I’m reminded of a line from the tv show Scrubs about karaoke where one character says, “I dunno, I’m pretty particular about my karaoke.  I do these kick moves that I don’t think people really get?  And sometimes I like to wear a cape.”)

What would you do?   How do you strike the balance?  I’ve only been to two of these events, but I’m an interesting case.  I have some Shakespeare memorized, and if somebody stuck a microphone in my hand I’d give it a shot.  I’d actually be happy and excited to give it a shot.  But if you say “There’s a clipboard in the back, just sign your name” then I become glued to my seat, assuming that the list is already a mile long, signed by people who show up every Friday night to perform the same well-rehearsed bits that they do at every event.

So tell me, geeks.  Have you been to these events? Do you like them?  How did they go?  Is there room for first timers?  How could they be done better?  What’s the real goal – to give amateurs a chance at the microphone that they might not normally get, or is it to entertain the audience? What happens when the two are mutually exclusive, how do you strike the balance?

Feel free to answer any combination of the above. :)

Shakespeare Toasts

Have you never needed to give a toast and had no idea what to say? Is it better to know what’s expected of you in advance (like the best man’s  wedding toast), or one of those impromptu moments at somebody’s 50th anniversary or retirement party when people start yelling ‘Speech! Speech!’ and you realize they’re looking at you?

Here’s a few lines from Shakespeare to keep in your back pocket (figuratively, by memorizing them, or literally have them written on a card in your back pocket :)) to help you out.

Set It Up

“Shakespeare said.”  Remember those words.  It may be more accurate to say that Duke Orsino said it in Twelfth Night, but most of your audience is typically not going to get that.  Everyone in the crowd, however, is guaranteed to recognize the name Shakespeare and pay attention to what you’re about to say.

Of course you can phrase it however you like.  “As Shakespeare once said…” or “In his romantic comedy Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare wrote….”  You get the idea.  That’s just a matter of style.

Below, each quote cites the character who said it, the play, and the act/scene where it can be found, in case you want to work this information into your toast.

Openers / Ice-breakers

“Men of few words are the best men.”
   [Boy, Henry V.  Act 3, Scene 2]

“…so, I’ll keep it brief.”  Or, if you prefer the self-deprecating style, “Shakespeare said that men of few words are best men. I guess that doesn’t say much for me because I’ve got about 20 index cards of notes to get though.”

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
[Polonius, Hamlet. Act 2, Scene 2]

This line serves the same general purpose as the one above, if you like it better.  It’s the more popular quote, so your audience may recognize it.  That may make it too cliché for you, though.  Judgement call.

“Though I am not naturally honest, I am sometimes by chance.”
[Autolycus, The Winter’s Tale. Act 4, Scene 4]

On the other hand, not too many people will recognize the source of this quote.  But hopefully they get the joke – that you lie so often that when you do tell the truth, it’s probably a mistake. You can then go on to say whatever complimentary words you like and leave them wondering whether or not you meant any of it!

Best Wishes

There are plenty of ways to say “Best Wishes” in the works of Shakespeare.  Here are but a few.

“Your heart’s desires be with you.”
[Celia, As You Like It. Act 1, Scene 2]

“Lack nothing: be merry.”
[Shallow, Henry IVp2. Act 5, Scene 3]

“All days of glory, joy and happiness.”
[Lewis, King John. Act 3, Scene 4]

“Fair thought and happy hours attend you.”
[Lorenzo, Merchant of Venice. Act 3, Scene 4]

“I wish you all the joy you can wish.”
[Gratiano, Merchant of Venice. Act 3, Scene 2]

“Heaven give you many, many merry days.”
[Mistress Page, Merry Wives of Windsor. Act 5, Scene 5]

“Heaven send thee good fortune.”
[Mistress Quickly, Merry Wives of Windsor. Act 3, Scene 4]

Wrap It Up

“I drink to the general joy of the whole table.”
[Macbeth, Macbeth. Act 3, scene 4]

A toast is just a way of getting in between the guests and their drinks, so the less you talk, the better.  People also love knowing when it’s over, so they’ve got permission to get back to drinking.  Use this line as your closer, drink, and sit down.


Based on material from my new book Hear My Soul Speak : Wedding Quotations from Shakespeare, now available on Amazon Kindle and Apple iPad! The definitive guide to Shakespeare wedding quotes, toasts and readings.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Interactive Shakespeare : Possible?

This stems a bit from the Performance thread, but it’s long been a curious interest of mine.  Imagine a Star Trek world where immersive-reality experiences like the Holodeck are possible.  Or, if you don’t want to go that far, just consider any of the well regarded “first person interactive” games that are all the rage today.  A game in which you play a role, and you will interact with computer-controlled characters to tell a story.

How does Shakespeare fit into that?

I’m not the only designer to dream of a world where you could insert yourself as Hamlet among a bunch of computer-controlled Claudii and Opheliae. If you want to just act the role, as if you were part of any other stage production? Then sure, no biggie, you’re following a script.

But what if you didn’t?  What if the play was going on around you, and you inserted yourself as some random spear carrier?  And then, right in the middle of the story, you jump out and kill the king yourself?

At that point, of course, it’s not Shakespeare. But that’s what I want to discuss – how much did it lose?  If you consider the possibility of changing the story, then have you effectively said that it’s no longer Shakespeare, it’s either all or nothing?  Or is there still some value there, some very high value at that, in using Shakespeare as the foundation for what becomes a whole new story?

This is different, by the way, from any random fiction writer who decides to do some Shakespeare fan fiction.  I’m talking specifically about the immersive experience of living out a story alongside the characters of Shakespeare.  Would that be huge?  Or would it lose all essence of what Shakespeare was all about?

Title Letters : Answers (Don’t Click Until You’re Ready For Them!)

So as not to spoil the fun, I’ll post the answers here – but in the first comment, not in the main body.  So don’t click through until you’re ready to see them.

If you clicked straight into this message then you’ll probably see the comments anyway, which is why I put the spoiler warning in the title like that.  If you’re browsing the home page and this is the first post you’re seeing, don’t click for the answers yet, scroll down until you find the actual game and then give it a shot.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Game : Title Letters

I first posted about this game way back in 2005, but it’s fun to bring back old posts from time to time because my readership right now is much higher than it was then.

Ok, here's a game that I just thought up while decoding some filenames on my computer. How well do you know your Shakespeare canon? Can you tell the title of a play just by the first letters? For instance TTOHPOD is The Tragedy Of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Every word (including the/a/of...) is included. Got it? Good.

Not all the plays are listed, in case that is not obvious.

How Do You Study?

Maybe we’re not all students anymore, maybe some of us are, but there are always times in our lives when we need to study – for a test, for a job interview, for a presentation.  How do you do it?

Trevor sent me this article from the NY Times on new research in study habits, which busts some myths about different kinds of learners, finding a specific study place, and others.

Personally, I was always a lousy study.  I tended to be among the advanced students during school (up to college, at least), so I would often do much of my homework during down time at school, leaving nothing for actual home.  When it came time to study for tests, I …didn’t, really.  I was always a believer that either I had internalized the information, or I didn’t, and no amount of cramming would fix it.

Sure I crammed, I read my notes over and over while always thinking “Ok, I knew this 5 minutes ago because I just re-read it 10 minutes ago, that doesn’t really say much about whether I’ll still remember it tomorrow morning.”  And, predictably, some courses I aced (the ones I’d internalized), some I failed no matter how much I studied.

How about you? What can we say about study habits that might specifically apply to Shakespeare?  An old post of mine on how to memorize Shakespeare remains one of my most popular, but that’s not really all there is to it, is there? I’ve known people that can recite the words and still not tell you the plot.

I don’t know how to *teach* kids this, but I know that for me that breakthrough moment came when I was able to shatter this idea of “deciphering a series of words and translating them into something I can understand” and started seeing actual people, just like me, who were expressing what was happening to them (the famous example being Hamlet’s “thrice-baked meats did coldly furnish forth the wedding tables” joke I’ve retold many times over the years).  I’ve always said that were I to write a study guide for Hamlet I’d start it like this:  Hamlet’s dad died.  Let that sink in.  Kids have dads.  Heck, some kids might well have dads that died.  So did Hamlet.  Regardless of what he said or when he said it or who wrote it for him or why or what was going on politically at the time, the reason that it survives is because, underneath at all, Hamlet is a young man whose father died, and anybody can relate to that (or at least attempt to, which is close enough).

Ok, that was a bit of a tangent.  Somebody else go.

What Does Performance Mean, Really?

It comes up a lot.  It came up on Twitter just now.  Shakespeare is meant to be seen, not read. Which implies that it is meant to be performed, so that people can see i.

But what exactly does that mean, and how can we work with it?

On the one end there’s the class field trip, packing up a few dozen kids to head down to the local theatre and sit still for a production of it doesn’t matter what because most of them won’t pay attention long enough to remember it.

Or, there’s “see the movie.”  Stay in the classroom, maybe you have the students’ attention, maybe you don’t, but when Olivier’s Hamlet says goodbye to his mom a little bit too enthusiastically, you can pause it for a minute and explain the who Oedipus thing (thank you Mr. Corey, my 12th grade English teacher).

But can we take it another level?  A large majority of kids have iPods, or at least computer access at home (barring the edge socio-economic situations where it’s not likely). Couldn’t they download the movie and watch it at their own pace, rewinding as needed?

What about looking forward when most students are packing an iPad-like tablet device? I like to imagine a world where the student has a player that shows everything they might want – the text, the footnotes, a modern translation, as well as multiple performance interpretations of each scene.  Want to study the final scene of Lear?  Great, drill down right on that.  See Olivier do it, and then James Earl Jones, and then Ian McKellan. Read the notes.  Form your own opinions.

You just can’t do that stuff by simply going out and seeing the show just to say you saw it.  Sure, “live” theatre brings something different than a film does, but that’s a bigger question that really has nothing to do with Shakespeare but does have everything to do with the realities of time management in a busy world. 

I don’t think it’s as easy as “see rather than read.”  I think that a combination of both is the only real option, and technology is getting us closer to it.

What Plays Should Students Read?

When I was in high school I read, if I remember correctly: Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew, Richard II and the Henry plays (not VIII). I’m trying to remember, but I think that was about it. I know no Lear, or Tempest, or R3.  Certainly not Coriolanus or Titus, and I’m having a hard time remembering whether we read any other comedies.

So my question is this : Assuming we’re talking about “high school” age, and by that I mean 14-18ish, what plays do you think should be taught as part of the curriculum?

This could turn into a whole discussion about curriculum overhaul, which is fine, but not really what I’m going for.  What I’m really wondering is, if you assume “A typical student will, as part of their standard English education, be exposed to Shakespeare”, what plays do you think should be included?   Do you think there are any common choices we can (or should) stop teaching?

Hear My Soul Speak Is Now Available!

I am happy to announce that my first Shakespeare book, Hear My Soul Speak : Wedding Quotations from Shakespeare is now available!


I’ve been playing with this idea for awhile, ever since I heard sonnet 116 recited at one too many weddings.  “Isn’t Shakespeare’s work just absolutely loaded with material that would be cool for a wedding?” I thought.  “Is it that people keep repeating the same old stuff because it’s what they know? What if they have a reference book to the rest of the good stuff?”

So I asked a friend of mine, who happens to be in the wedding planning business (she’s a florist, actually), “If I could put in your hands a book that represented all the good Shakespeare material that’s relevant to weddings – stuff for vows, toasts, father of the bride speeches, but also just decorative stuff that could be used on the invitations and thank you notes and such, would you be able to get it into the hands of people who are planning their wedding? Do you think it would be of value?”  The answer was a resounding, “Yes, absolutely!” and so a book was born.

What this first version represents is a hand-chosen list of well over 100 quotes from across all the sonnets and plays (and even some Venus and Adonis thrown in for good measure), organized by where they might be most useful.  The groom is going to say something different to the bride during their vows than the best man is going to say during his toast, you see. 

Where necessary, the quotes are explained in their original context.  This is particularly true for the selected sonnets.  It was very important to me that if I expect people to quote Shakespeare, that they actually have some clue what they’re talking about and are not just reading words they barely understand.  To that end there’s also a chapter on tips for memorizing and reciting Shakespeare. 

Lastly, quotes are grouped by play (or other source) so the reader can learn a bit about Shakespeare’s works along the way.  If all your favorite quotes are coming from a certain play, maybe you want to go seek out that play and learn more?

The book is now available in the Apple iBookstore, on other ePub-compatible devices, and downloadable PDF for those without an e-reader device.  (I do not believe in DRM, so the PDF is freely printable. It’s not one of those that’s got so many locks built in you don’t enjoy reading it. Please don’t pirate. :) )

Although I’m taking a bit of a break to catch my breath, I do hope to have a printed edition available sometime in the future.  The amount of effort I put into that project is directly related to how much interest I can drum up in this one, though, so help me spread the word! Going to any weddings, soon?  Buy the book.  Give it to the wedding party.  Help get more Shakespeare in everybody’s life. 

If you’d like to link to me, for the moment I ask that you link to this post instead of directly to the landing page.  It’s little more than a placeholder at the moment (though that will change very soon). 

Thanks for all the help that everyone’s provided over the past few months!

P.S. I’ve got enough material collected that there’s also potential for a volume 2 that focuses on music, wedding customs, flowers, and all that other good stuff.  Who knows?

iPad Shakespeare in Bits Giveaway : Winners!

Well, remind me not to run a contest over the long Labor Day Weekend again, will ya?  I’ve got 3 codes to give away and 4 people entered (not counting the couple I was forced to deny because they came in late). 

What that does go to show is that you should always enter these things, you never know how good your odds are going to be.

Could I get readers CSG, Kathryn Anderson and KLK to email me, and I’ll send along your promo codes! Please note that these are strictly controlled by Apple (not the software author), and they do have an activation expiration.  That is, they need to be collected and used within the next week or so or they will cease to exist.  Once you activate the software it is yours to keep, but the code itself does have a time limit.

Congratulations to my winners!  Andrea, as a consolation prize I’m able to offer a code for the PC version of the software if you’d like it.  I feel bad that I basically had to pick one person not to win.  I did try to argue for more codes, but like I said, they are controlled by Apple, not the developer, and their hands are tied.  If you’d like a free copy of the PC version, please email me as well.

Thanks for playing, everybody! And for the rest of you, get off your butts next time, huh?  The only way places will keep giving me stuff to giveaway is if it generates interest in the product!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Last Chance for Free iPad Shakespeare!

Where my iPad people at?

Shakespeare in Bits has a very cool Romeo and Juliet browser for the iPad where you get to watch a little animated movie of each scene, side by side with the play text, modern translations, character sketches…pretty much everything you need to study the play.  By bringing the iPad into it, these folks are really leading the way in what educational computing is going to mean very soon.  Right there in your lap you can get the play explained to you in whatever way works best for you.

AND, they’re giving away three free copies!  Hurry up and enter, contest ends at 12pm EST tonight!

Back To School Ideas?

Well, it’s school time again.  My 8 and 6yr old daughters went off this morning, their 4yr old brother heads off to preschool next week.

I am hoping that we’ll have some students (of whatever age) stop by to talk about Shakespeare, even if it’s just to get help with their homework.  Sometimes our discussions end up with a fairly high barrier to entry, like you’ve got to be an experienced Shakespeare geek before you can play, and I want to make sure random visitors know that this is not the case.

I think that we should spend some more time on the basics – plot summaries, character sketches, that sort of thing.  I suppose I can do whatever I want, it’s my site :), but I want to put up content that will appeal to a wide audience.

So, I’m casting for ideas.  If you’re a student (and by that I mean high school, college, or what have you), what would you like to talk about?  If you’re already a Shakespearean of whatever flavor, what do you think we should spend some time talking about?  I’d like to strike a balance between content that is useful and welcoming to folks who are hesitant to dive into Shakespeare, without boring those that would much rather dig deeply into the trickier questions.

Friday, September 03, 2010

I Say We Shall Have No More Bard!

Earlier today, Stanley Wells wrote on Twitter:

Also I never ever refer to Shakespeare as ‘the bard’. So don’t let me see any of you doing so either.

This set off quite the tweetstorm from his followers, many of whom (myself included) chimed in with admissions of guilt.

I plead innocent on the grounds of technological limitation, though!  I’m only talking about times when I use the word bard in a typed form, such as web sites that won’t let me use “ShakespeareGeek”.   Or, of course, if there’s a pun to be made.  I can never resist a good pun.

Spoken, though? I honestly don’t think I ever refer to Shakespeare as anything but Shakespeare when speaking of him.


Free Will : Open Mic Shakespeare

FREE WILL Face PosterLook what just fell into my lap! 

Open Mic Shakespeare

The Burren

Somerville, MA

September 11, 2010




I did this (well, attended) once, a couple of Shakespeare’s Birthdays ago.  Not this event, specifically, but an Open Shakespeare Mic Night.  A great time!

If you’re in the neighborhood, come check it out.  If my social director (i.e. wife) tells me we’re free and can swing a babysitter I’ll almost certainly be there.

If you can’t be there, feel free to answer this question: Given the opportunity to do an open mic Shakespeare performance, what would you perform?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Android Shakespeare Suggestions?

Hi Gang,
This question just came up on Twitter.  I’ve got an iPhone, not an Android-based phone, so I can’t say much about what’s available for those devices.
Anybody out there know what the Shakespeare situation is for Droid-style phones?  I would hope that somebody’s done a Complete Works browser, but even that I’m not so sure about.
Who can help us out here?

UPDATE APRIL 2, 2012 Funny how things change!  Now not only do I have an Android phone, but my first app "Insults for Shakespeare Geeks" is now available in the Google Play Store!

[Contest] IPad Owners! Got Shakespeare?

Earlier this year we were pleased to give away some copies of Shakespeare In Bits’ interactive Romeo and Juliet application, that time for the PC.
They then turned around and cranked out an iPad edition, which has been going very well for them (Apple has chosen to feature them multiple times).  To mark the Back to School season we’re offering 3 promotional codes for those who want to give it a try!
* This is specifically for the iPad version.  Don’t enter if you don’t have one, or know someone who you’ll be giving the code to.
* Contest runs between now and Tuesday, September 7.  I pick that day because my kids go back to school on Wednesday.
* Leave a comment on this post answering this question: What play would you like to see get the interactive iPad treatment next?
* I will need a way to contact you if you win, but I don’t expect people to include their email addresses in posts, so I’ll publicly post the chosen winners when the time comes.  It’s up to you to come back and look for your name.

Got that?  As always, blah blah blah, I have to write in here that I reserve the write to modify or extend the rules, or otherwise scrap this contest and start over, if any unforeseen circumstances would compromise the integrity and fairness for everybody involved.  Fair enough? I haven’t had to do that yet, though, but I always worry that I’ll leave a loophole that makes it possible for somebody to cheat.
Ok, go!

UPDATE Wednesday, September 8 :  I see new entries coming in, but I'm sorry, I have to abide by the rules that I set up - contest is over as of the end of day Tuesday. Winners will be announced as soon as I can connect up with the guy supplying me the prizes :).

Flipping Black and White

Here’s another one of our thought exercises, let’s see if it goes anywhere.

The issue of racism is an interesting one in Othello. People think that it’s going to be a racist play, what with it’s black hero and all. But really, other than some fairly blatant racist commentary in the beginning it’s not really about race at all, si it? We’re not led to believe that Othello killed his wife because he’s a black guy.

Now, here’s my spin.  Imagine if Othello was white … and Iago is the black guy.  Keep everything else, plot wise, as identical as you can.  Naturally a bunch of the early, cruder commentary directed at Othello would have to be altered.  But the story could remain much the same.

Except that now, Iago’s a black guy who was passed over for promotion, by a white guy, for a white guy.  How does that change him as a character? Is he still a villain?

I know that Patrick Stewart was involved in a completely race-reversed Othello where he played a white Othello to an otherwise all black cast.  That tells a different story.  I’m wondering what would happen if race played a role in the development of the villain, rather than the hero.

Wicked Shakespeare

If you’ve not yet read it, seen it, or heard people talk about it, Wicked is what happens when somebody takes a well-known story (The Wizard of Oz) with a nasty villain (The Wicked Witch of the West), and retells the story from the villain’s point of view.  In the process the villain ends up the sympathetic character.  She wasn’t born wicked, she was just born different. It’s what the rest of the world does to her that makes her the way she ends up.

Which Shakespeare play would be most ripe for this treatment?  Which villain could you make the star of his (or her) own show, and in the process make her (or him) come out looking like the sympathetic character? 

Congratulations, Shakespeare Teacher!

Looks like I’m not the only one working on a book – Bill over at Shakespeare Teacher has announced the publication of Literary Education and Digital Learning: Methods and Technologies for Humanities Studies, where he’s a contributing author!  Congratulations, Bill!

Stealing from Bill’s summary of his own work:

So I developed and implemented a unit to teach Macbeth to a fifth-grade class in the South Bronx, using process-based dramatic activities, a stage production of the play performed for their school, and a web-based study guide to apply what they had learned. The idea was to use collaborative projects to get the kids to work together to make collective sense of the play.

Sounds awesome, actually.  To not only teach Shakespeare, but develop your own teaching methods for doing it?  And then write up and publish your results?

For more details, visit the original post – make sure he gets the traffic and any affiliate clicks from people looking to check out the book.  I don’t want to steal any of his thunder, I just want to make sure more people hear it.

The Play That I Will Never Stop Seeing Is …

…again, you tell me.

This post is a deliberate complement to yesterday’s post about plays that don’t get enough credit.

So now, answer me this:

No matter how many different productions are made available, whether on stage, in the park or on film, whether by children, amateurs or the Royal Shakespeare Company, I will always try to see …. ?

Pick one.  It’s too easy to say “They’re all good, so, all of them.”  Don’t do that.  I plan on doing something with this information, so humor me. (If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of blogging its to clearly define your question so people don’t just ignore it and write about whatever interpretation of their question they prefer :)).

I’ll start with The Tempest. It’s primarily for personal reasons, as I’m sure longtime readers know (it’s the first play I taught my children).  But it answers my opening question. I’ve seen it performed in the middle of a strip mall, I’ve seen it performed in the park by professionals, I’ve seen it done with puppets. When Julie Taymor’s movie comes out I will see it, I’m just not sure whether I’ll take the kids until I know how much sex and violence she put into the thing.  If a local group had done it this summer, I would have gone.

I can’t lie and say Hamlet – I haven’t sat through Ethan Hawke’s version, though I’ve had plenty of opportunity.  And King Lear isn’t only Mt. Everest to play, it’s a challenge in its own right to watch repeatedly. I sat through McKellan’s version but skipped to the good parts of the James Earl Jones’.  Both those break my rule.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Shakespeare in Tennessee

Letter to the editor after “The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged” comes to Tennessee.

I bet you already know where this is, perhaps unfairly, going?

Some may wonder if I was just shielding young, innocent ears. No, had my wife and I been alone that night, we too would have walked out. And we weren’t the only ones. The couple we met in the parking garage elevator had a college-aged child and a college graduate with them, and all four were amazed at the total lack of decency. But then once again, I did get to teach my children the difference between what is decent and what is utterly crude.

In fairness to Tennessee I point readers back to this January 2010 article on a similar topic.  This time, however, Will O’Hare – Education Director for the Classic Theatre Project – came to his group’s defense.

What The Charles Dickens?

As I sit here with my kids watching the original 1966 Batman movie, a character mentions Charles Dickens.  This makes me wonder whether there will be any Shakespeare references, which makes me remember that Shakespeare is credited with first use of the term “what the dickens.”

Then it dawns on me … is there a connection there?  What came first, the family or the expression?

The House of Names website tells me that Dickens as a family name dates back to Norman origins from 1066.

I have to admit, I’m curious.  That would suggest that Dickens as a surname was plenty common during the time Shakespeare wrote “I can not tell what the dickens his name is” (Merry Wives, by the way).

So, what’s the joke?

The Play That Doesn’t Get Enough Credit Is …

…you tell me.

The Defending Timon post was pretty enlightening, actually.  I thought about doing a whole series and tackling all the, what shall we call them, less popular plays?  Pericles, Cymbeline, etc…

Instead let’s do it this way.  What play do you think doesn’t get enough credit, and why?  Plead your case.

I will be disappointed if Measure for Measure and Two Gents don’t come up.

Going Mobile

New Feature! 

For those folks who can’t live without their daily dose of Shakespeare Geek, and aren’t quite down with the “RSS feeds”, I present the Shakespeare Geek Mobile Edition.  It’s a simple stripped down version of the most recent headlines, with story summaries. Bookmark this one on your smartphone and you’ll be able to check for new stories quickly without waiting for all those sidebar widgets to load.  Clicking on a story headline will take you back to the regular full-size side for the rest of the content (which is why I’m not doing an “automatically redirect mobile devices to the mobile site” trick). 


Radio Drama Indeed!

While listening to my podcasts over lunch, somebody mentioned the word "radio”.  It’s an interesting time for that word.  How long will radio as we know it continue to function, in a world of downloading and streaming content?  Already you can see that many radio station DJs have been removed, replaced by automated playlists.

My parents are from the generation where you were lucky (and rich) if you had a television.  Radio was your entertainment.  My dad will still seek out and listen to the “old time radio” shows where you gathered around the radio at a specific time on a specific day to listen to content you couldn’t get anywhere else.  Content only for your ears, and your imagination.

Which brings me to my question.  It’s often said that Shakespeare’s fans would not have gone to “see” a play, as we might say today – they went to “hear” the play.  So what if Shakespeare was a radio drama?  Would it work? Imagine hearing just the first act (or maybe just some scenes) from Macbeth.  And then being told to tune in next week.  What would your imagination do with that?

There’s really two parts to this question, feel free to answer either one.  The first is could it have worked back then, just like any other radio drama?  I’m half expecting that somebody can tell me a story of when this was, in fact, tried, and what the results were.  The second half is, could it work today?  If you found out right now that tomorrow night at 8pm, a local radio station was going to start broadcasting your favorite Shakespeare play, would you make time to listen?


* You don’t get to know anything about the production that would help you visualize it in any specific way.  The entire effect is ruined if the radio show is just an audio broadcast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 1999 performance of so and so.  This has to be all about your attention span, your ears, and your imagination.

* You don’t get any recording equipment.  You can’t say “I’d Tivo it and then listen later, at my leisure, with the ability to go back and play certain parts over to analyze them.”  This being a live performance is part of the question.  You’re going to only get one shot, you’d better pay attention.

I deliberately put in rule #2 because I think that without that, even for me, the answer is fairly obvious – tape it and listen later.  It’s hard for us now to *not* think of it that way.  But that’s part of the fun.

RSC to Reopen Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Thanks to long-time reader Angela for the link!

The Royal Shakespeare Company today announces its plans to reopen the Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres on time and on budget in November 2010, following a four year redevelopment as part of the £112.8 million Transformation project designed to bring actors and audiences closer together.

The Company will reopen its doors to the Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres from 24 November 2010, inviting people in to rediscover and explore the building, which will have a brand new 1,000 seat thrust stage auditorium, 36 metre high Tower, new exhibition spaces, new places to eat and drink, including Rooftop Restaurant and Riverside Café and terrace, restored 1930s features and improved public areas including the new Weston Square. Visitors will be able to take part in a series of preview events and activities which will help test the spaces, while throughout the opening period Matilda, A Musical plays at The Courtyard Theatre.

Read more:

State Of The Blog Address

Life is what happens when you’re busy making blog posts.

Hi Geeks,

I like to do one of these every few months (though I’ve never called it this) just to play catch up a bit when it seems like I’m falling behind.  I’m pleased to see the amount of conversation that’s going on in some of the latest posts, and saddened that I’m not able to be a part of that conversation as much as I’d like.

My book is coming along nicely, first of all.  It’s content-complete and has now been to the editor twice.  Next comes formatting for publication, and going through everything that goes with that (cover design, registering copyright, getting an ISBN, getting into Amazon, all that good stuff).  Of course I’m learning this stuff on my own as I go, so it’s hard to tell from day to day when I’m going to glide over the latest obstacles and when I’m going to meet insurmountable ones.  But this thing will get done, I promise that.

Part of that release will also involve a new web site, which is at least something I do know a little bit about :).  It will not in any way replace Shakespeare Geek.  The new site will just be one of those what we call “microsites” for the whole purpose of giving the marketing traffic a place to land.  But it still needs to be functional and look pretty, and that takes time.

As that draws to a close I’m looking to ramp up on another project I’ve had on the backburner for awhile, something that requires more of my programming skills. I’ve been building up my own Shakespeare knowledge base that I plan to unleash on the world Real Soon Now. I know exactly how I want it to work, I’ve just got to plug in the social aspects.  The idea is to be a question answering site, and I want to experts who spend their time answering questions to get some recognition for their contribution, build up some cred.

I’ve also got two books on my shelf waiting to be reviewed, with a third on the way.  There’s also something supposed to be coming, not really a book, more of a toy, that I’m told I’ll actually get to giveaway.  But I have no idea when that’s going to show up.

Then of course there’s the day job.  It’s new and it’s work from home, which makes it difficult to properly judge time.  I need to make sure that I’m spending the right amount of time doing my “real” work, which tends to make the Shakespeare stuff suffer since every time I work on the Shakespeare I have to ask myself, “Did I work enough on my day job stuff?” and often the answer is, “Wellll……no, I suppose I could do more.”

Of course it doesn’t help (me, at least) that the Shakespeare blogging world seems to have taken off a bit, and for every post I make I could probably find a dozen to link from the various other blogs that have crept up on me.  Not only do I not have the cycles to properly do that justice (I don’t like to just link without having at least some comment, which implies reading and appreciating what I’m linking), but it is a bit of a downer for me to sometimes feel a bit left in the dust if I don’t keep the pace up.

Meanwhile I’ve noticed that the conversation has often been drifting into that dreaded TL;DR zone that JM loves so much :).  Mark and Ren, I know that you’re relatively new here and no offense is intended when I say this, but half the time I don’t understand at all what you’re talking about.  I’m pleased to provide the forum for you to have these discussions, because I know there are others who want to have them.  But don’t be offended when I can’t join.  I’m not a student of this stuff.  By nature of this medium I find myself more in the literary school than the theatrical one (i.e. I write about it far more than I’ll ever speak or hear about it).  So when you compare notes about directors and performance choices, I don’t have much to offer.  Don’t let that stop you, though.

School starts up over the next couple weeks, which may make the days a little bit more structured and peaceful, so perhaps things will change a bit. 

Until then, think of me as the Coffee Talk lady from Saturday Night Live (assuming people still understand what the heck that reference means, see YouTube video):

I'll give you a topic. Catcher in the Rye neither caught anything, nor was he particularly wry.  Discuss.

That was a joke, by the way.  We’ve already discussed.

All right, that’s it for me for now.  Thanks for listening and buying stuff,  keep reading and posting, and stay tuned for a couple of exciting new projects coming soon!


- Duane

Oh, I Get It Now

We’ve asked the question here before about when you “got” Shakespeare.  Liz at Blogging Shakespeare puts a more specific spin on the question when she asks what production did you see that made you “get” it?  With examples from Hamlet, Much Ado and Julius Caesar, Liz cites from her own experience.  Bonus points for acknowledging that she’s not yet seen her defining Lear, and until then, “King Lear is a story about a stupid old man who makes a stupid mistake and gets his comeuppance.

I’m not sure I have my own story to add, however. I think that this is one of those lines that divides the world of Shakespeare fandom a bit.  Some people, particularly those that are in the business, will have the desire and opportunity to seek out many productions.  More casual theatre goers, like myself, will see far less.  My wife came with me to see King Lear once.  It wasn’t a good production.  But if King Lear came around every year, it’s not like I could drag her to it every time.  But unless somebody’s paying for the privilege I can’t go off on my own and see every production that comes to town, either.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen my share.  Seen a number of Midsummers’, Tempests and Hamlets in particular.  But for the most part I switch over to movies, which I have a better shot at watching in my down time, carrying around Richard Burton or Ian McKellan on my ipod.  For those live productions that I have seen?  I can’t say that any are really “get it” moments.  I leave that for the text.  I try to learn something new from every production I see, certainly.  But I don’t think I’ve yet seen one that I’d call defining in any way.