Thursday, April 28, 2011

So Does Anybody Want To Talk About The Chinese Guy?

I didn't really blog about this last week because it's little more than a "news of the weird" story, but you probably heard about it. There's a Chinese author who is apparently going to have plastic surgery to look like William Shakespeare. The folks at Reduced Shakespeare beat me to the obvious "Yes but what portrait?!" joke so I'll give them credit :)

What do you think? I suppose people have done crazier things for their art. Interesting that it's a writer of words choosing to resculpt himself. Bit of a medium switch for him.

I suppose it beats Botoxing your face into an expressionless mask, like many folks do. Ladies. Seriously. If you raise your eyebrows and your forehead doesn't move, you've done too much.

Shakespeare On The Brain (Again)

For many of us this may be just one of those things that's so obvious because we're living it, but the neuroscientists are at it again and tell us that reading Shakespeare gives your brain a special little buzz that might actually make you smarter.

I say again because we were on the scene back in 2006 when the first major entry in this genre, Shakespeare Thinking, was released. Of course back then I was just getting started and didn't get too much discussion going, so maybe we can change that now.

The general idea makes sense. Language has pattern, and structure. Your brain gets into a sort of auto-pilot, knowing without knowing what is coming next. So when sideways everything Shakespeare twists, up your neurons sit and notice take. Do it badly, of course, as I've done quickly here :), and like Master Yoda do you sound.

I'll admit I don't fully grok what the new research is all about - it all looks about the same to me as it did 5 years ago. But everybody's talking about it this week (probably not a coincidence that it's Shakespeare's birthday week and we all need content), so I'm open to opening up the discussion again.

My Shakespeare Birthday

So, it's my birthday (let's hope that, unlike our patron saint, it doesn't eventually bookend my celebrated life :)). Loyal readers may know that my kids like for me to have a "Shakespeare birthday", and the meaning of that has changed over the years. My 3yr old used to use the word to mean "thing Daddy likes" so she would inform me that for my Shakespeare birthday she would get me a Shakespeare flower. Love it.

This year the two girls made me Shakespeare cards. Check it out! I love them.

(Click for larger images)

The first one is a computer that says "Shakespeare geek" on it. Or possibly an iPod. She likes to draw computers. Even my 4yr old (soon to be 5!) will draw them on paper at school, then cut them out and walk around like he's got work to do on the laptop.

The second one, if you can't quite make it out, is "Shaksbear". That's not intended to be a bear, that's just the way she spelled it when left on her own. He's even got the lack of hair on top, and the curly bits down at his shoulders. Not bad! I have no idea what model she used, but I'm putting this one up against the Cobbe Portrait and taking it on the road.

My wife told me to make sure I keep these. I informed her that they were heading straight for the web site to be immortalized :).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Voice

So there's a new singing competition show on tv called The Voice. Did you watch? The concept is interesting to me for a very specific reason - the judges listen to the singers with their backs turned, and only after agreeing to have them "on their team" (whatever that means) does the judge's chair swing around so they can match a face to the voice.

It's an amusing gimmick for the most part, until the shows says "Now you play along at home" and proceeds to do the next singer without ever actually showing her face to us. So all we get to hear is her voice, and only when a judge picks her do we get to see her face.

I loved that. I think they should do that with all of them. You just don't have the opportunity in real life to divorce your senses like that. You can tell yourself all day long that looks don't matter, but you can't ever prove that until you take looks away.

So, then, what's this got to do with Shakespeare? We've talked before about Shakespeare as audio book, or as radio drama. The idea that people used to go "hear" a play, rather than see it. How it's all about the verse, and the delivery. So, is it? Ask yourself, honestly, when a character walks on stage in your favorite play and the first thing that you get to do is see him (or her) rather than hear her (or him), do you immediately match the visual to the character and think "Nope, he doesn't look like an Iago to me."

I'd like to think that I don't (though, I won't contradict myself from above - I'll admit that I'd never know for sure without an experiment). Iago walks on stage and I just think, "Ok, that's my Iago. Let's see what he brings to the text."

I wonder what sort of experiment we could do to test the idea. A singer might get 3 minutes of song for you to get a sampling of her voice, but an actor can't very well perform an entire scene without you seeing him. Or can he? How about a mask? Even with a mask, though, you still get a great deal of info about physical characteristics (depending, I suppose, on the extent of the costume).

Here's a question for the directors in the audience, while we're on the subject - would you ever audition people like this? Blind, so that your entire perception of them is on the quality of their delivery? If not, why not?

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Royal Wedding

So, apparently there is an event happening this week that has the entire world buzzing - other than my birthday. :) I speak of course about the Royal Wedding, which has had my wife glued to the television every time they mention the latest detail about whether the oddsmakers have William actually crying during references to his mother, or just getting a bit misty.

Anyway, it seems like we could find a Shakespeare spin on the subject. Correct me if I'm wrong in this, but Shakespeare never actually put a wedding on stage, right? That's what my research told me when I was working on my book. It being a sacrament and all, it would have been pretty blasphemous for him to portray the actual ceremony on stage and look as if he was making light of a solemn event.

He did, however, talk *about* weddings. Many times. Much Ado About Nothing has that great "Ok, now let's all go get married once the play is over" scene. Taming of the Shrew has its "Did you hear how Petruchio wrecked the wedding?!" third-person account. There's Romeo and Juliet's quickie. And of course, A Midsummer Night's Dream has the greatest wedding reception ever.

I have a couple of things I'd like to accomplish in this post. First, can we come up with the definitive list of when Shakespeare did the "talk around the wedding" thing, as described above? I'm looking specifically for opportunities where it's implied that a wedding takes place, either offstage or immediately after the play. It's the ones that happen during the play that are the most interesting, as they really call attention to the whole question of why Shakespeare never showed weddings. How should we count The Tempest?

Second, how would you add some Shakespeare to William and Kate's wedding? I've been keeping an eye out, and so far I've seen no Shakespeare references at all in any of the public material (i.e. the invitations, speeches and so on). There may yet be some, who knows. But if you were one of the wedding planners, how might you sneak some Shakespeare into the mix?

( Seriously, I'm hoping that somebody associated with this media event manages to make a Shakespeare reference, because the minute that happens a few million people are going to start googling for Shakespeare wedding quotes and yours truly is sitting on the front page for several variations of that search :). Fingers crossed! )

So, How Was Your Weekend?

Another Shakespeare Day come and gone, and as unfortunately prophesied, I did pretty much nothing. I was online in a read-only capacity for the most part, and I did mark a bunch of stories that I'll be posting throughout the next few days. This is just me checking in to see how everybody's weekend went? I realize it was Easter as well, of course, so hopefully everybody who celebrates that particular holiday had a good one!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Birthdays, Including Shakespeare's

So, my son's birthday is coming up - May 4. As such, he's begun a countdown. Every day we get questions like "Whose birthday is next?" and "How many days til my birthday?"

Driving home from a mini-vacation yesterday I got to engage in this priceless little conversation:

B: "Is my birthday is next?"

Me: "Well, Daddy's is next, then yours. I suppose that Shakespeare's birthday is technically next."

B: "Are you going to Shakespeare's birthday party?"

Me: "You know, I almost did. We were thinking about going to Washington D.C for vacation, and if we were down there then yes, we would go to Shakespeare's birthday party. They have a big building there that is all about Shakespeare, and they would have a party."

B: "Will any bad guys be invited to Shakespeare's birthday party?"

Me: "Bad guys? I don't think that he'd want any bad guys at his party."

B: "You know, like Macbeth...?"

Me: "No, I don't think that Macbeth will be going to Shakespeare's birthday party. Would you like Macbeth to come to your birthday party?"

B: "No." *beat* "I would invite Hamlet to my birthday party."

He has promised me that next year he wants a Shakespeare birthday party, because party themes are oh-so-crucial when you are this age. My middle daughter has at times listed off the next 5 themes for her birthday parties. I keep telling him that none of his friends would understand a Shakespeare party, but who knows, we'll see if he still thinks of it next year. My problem is that I'm well aware that they do this sort of thing because I think it will make me happy, but no matter how cute that is, I would not steal my kids' birthday party just for a little more Shakespeare.


Shakespeare Movies On The Radio

You heard me right!

This weekend marks what may have been Shakespeare’s 447th birthday, and Classical 105.9 FM WQXR – the #1 classical music station in the country – is celebrating with MOVIES ON THE RADIO. Shakespeare's dramas have been adapted to film many times, and an impressive range of composers have contributed to those movies.

This Saturday at 9pm, WQXR host David Garland will present a selection of Shakespearean film scores in honor of the great Bard of Avon.

Featured pieces include:

·         Romeo and Juliet by Nina Rota

·         King Lear by Dimitri Shostakovich

·         Much Ado About Nothing by Patrick Doyle

·         Kiss Me Kate (based on "The Taming of the Shrew") by Cole Porter

·         …and more.

Tune in at 105.9 FM or to join host David Garland for “Shakespeare at the Movies.” For full program details, visit

I'm not a big classical music guy myself, but surely there are folks reading that would enjoy this. Once upon a time I would have worried about radio reception, so it's nice to see that they'll be streaming it over the net as well.

Shakespeare's Birthday Eve

Just a sad reminder that with Shakespeare Day coming on a weekend this year, not to mention the Easter holiday weekend, I will be away from the computer and busy with family obligations and thus have no celebrations planned. I am relying on all of you, my dedicated Geeks, to carry the torch and spread the good words. If you get a chance, please send me links and stories and I'll try to post a recap when I can. I almost certainly can't send anybody any traffic during the big day, but it'd be nice to have a summary of all the good stuff that went on while I was off collecting colored eggs.

Happy Shakespeare's Day Eve, Everyone!

Much Ado About .. Facebook?

So, there's a group performing Much Ado About Nothing on Facebook next week. I'm not quite sure what this means, although I am sure that I do not have time to follow 30 fictional characters and then watch the proceedings go by on my Wall. Still, though, it's a curious idea. Is this really a performance of the play, or is this another one of those "walk through the story with a modern twist" things that last year's mediocre Such Tweet Sorrow gave us when they promised Romeo and Juliet on Twitter?

Took a brief look at the chatter going on pre-show, and it appears to mostly be the latter. This stuff may appeal to a generation younger than mine who live and breathe Facebook status updates, but I'm just not feeling it.

Shakespeare in Space (in other words, Thor : The Movie)

What happens when you put an Oscar-nominated Shakespearean in charge of the next movie in the Marvel comics franchise? Apparently you get a pretty awesome movie.

We all know the name Kenneth Branagh, whether you love him for his Hamlet, his Henry or even his Much Ado or Othello. But comic book movies? That's a switch. And, it seems, a good one.

“He has said there are elements in it that are like The Tempest or Twelfth Night,” he said. “Thor is certainly not a typical Kenneth Branagh film — but you can see how he has brought his experience to bear.

“All the inhabitants of Asgard, the fantasy land in the film, speak with clipped drama school accents which Branagh has obviously coached them in.


“He’s definitely about character, which is the quintessential trait you have to have to understand the Marvel characters,” he said. “It’s not just big hammers and capes and things like that. It’s about what makes the character tick.”

Personally I've never been a big fan of the Thor comic - I don't even really fully understand the backstory. I mean, is he a super hero or a god? My daughter studied mythology in school and whenever she connected Thor the god with Thor the superhero she was all, "Oh come on, Daddy, he's a *god*, how can he not be the most powerful one of them all??" I always liked the interpretation that he's a somewhat less-than-sane mortal who just thinks that he's Thor. Given that Anthony Hopkins plays Odin in the movie, I don't think that's the interpretation they're going with.

What do you think? Will a heavy dose of character development improve the latest comic movie offering? Or will an emphasis on character over action kill it for the summer blockbuster fans? How much Shakespeare do you think Branagh really brought to it?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thou Canst Not Say I Did It!

I'm sure I've posted about this before, but sometimes it's fun to dust off the old stuff. How many of you find yourself responding to random daily events in Shakespeare quotes? I'll often spring the title quote on my wife when accused of something.

"And whose empty Diet Coke can is this sitting on the table?"

"Shake not thy gory locks at me, woman! Thou canst not say I did it!"

My kids have grown up with this, of course. They know to just roll their eyes and move on. Although I still think that morning last month where the milk was expiring on March 15 and I bid them beware the Ides of Milk is still one of my greatest puns to date. :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Should You Read The Complete Works?

This question has come up in the past, and I've often seen it appear on people's bucket lists: read the complete works of William Shakespeare.

I open up for discussion the question of whether this is a worthy goal. Keep in mind that, at least in this particular instance, I am not talking about a life long goal of experiencing every play, or otherwise diving deep. I'm talking about getting yourself a Complete Works, starting on page one, and then reading cover to cover and calling it done. Saying you did it, in other words. A checkbox on ye olde bucket list.

Although my answer has probably changed over the years, right now the answer is "No. Don't do this."

I've done it. I can answer in the affirmative if the question ever comes up. Now ask me my opinions on Measure for Measure or All's Well That Ends Well and I'll ask, "Which one was that again?" and struggle to remember even the barest of the plot. I've not seen them, either on video or live. I didn't study them in school. So my retention for most of them is just terrible. Probably because there was no reason to retain it.

I've known people who set it as a goal to *see* all of the plays. Depending on where you're at and what resources are available to you, this is a project that could take a great deal of time, travel and money. But for each play you'll have the memories to go with it - how you got there, what the circumstances were, what sort of troupe it was, etc... - and those things will help lock it in your memory. I've seen The Tempest 3 times, and I can tell you vivid memories from every show.

Ask yourself why you want to do it - whether it's for the accomplishment of saying you did it, or if it's out of a true desire to experience every bit of Shakespeare that you can. Because if it's the latter, well, you're not even scratching the surface if you just read the book and call it done.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Overlapping Scenes (Or, Who Knocks That Long?)

Watching a bit of Patrick Stewart's Macbeth yesterday, I was reminded of something I don't like about the Porter's scene. Whoever is at the door knocks *10* times. That's an awful lot of knocking. If you were at somebody's front door, you'd almost certainly give up before knocking 10 times. I realize that this is a castle, not a house, and that someone is surely home and just needs to wake up. That doesn't change the fact that the amount of knocking is jarring to me, it takes me away from the scene and makes me think "Somebody answer the damn door!"

Here's what came to me, though. The Macbeths hear 4 knocks before exiting, and then the porter hears 6. But what if the first knock that the Macbeths hear is really the same first knock that that the porter hears? They are almost certainly in two different parts of the castle, after all. See what I'm saying? What if these two scenes actually take place simultaneously? It's a common enough trick and you've probably seen it in any number of novels: one chapter shows you that a situation has changed unexpectedly, and then the next chapter, written from a different character's perspective, goes back in time a little bit and shows you how that character caused the change in whatever situation.

How might such a technique play out on stage? Could you even attempt to put both the Macbeths and the porter on stage at the same time, or would they step on each other's lines? If you don't, though, how do you explain that this is not a sequential series of events, but a simultaneous one?

Friday, April 15, 2011

My Son, Channeling Neil Gaiman

So, when your kids are in pre-school you get lots of things sent home with them that they made for you. Sometimes it's finger painting, sometimes it's something glued to something else. Sometimes it's just a cut up piece of paper that your young darling decided looked pretty, and he wanted to keep.

I got this.

Shakespeare was talking to Puck so he would know when Hamlet was born.

Now of course my 5yr old son did not write that - he dictated it to the teacher. Whether or not he did the purple decorations, I have no idea. (For those who may not be able to see the image, it is block lettering in what appears to be colored pencil the words "SHAKESPEARE WAS TALKING TO PUCK SO HE WOULD KNOW WHEN HAMLET WAS BORN.")

I expect that this comes directly from his latest request of telling Shakespeare stories at night. But personally I think it's very Neil Gaiman, very Sandman. It occurs to me, as I go hunting through the archives, that while I've read Gaiman's Sandman books (at least the Shakespeare bits ;)) I never blogged about it. Will have to fix that. But, either way, I definitely get the vision of Shakespeare the playwright wandering through the forest, speaking with mischievous sprite Puck, while Puck feeds Shakespeare all his best ideas.

I love that I've created a world in my child's brain in which Shakespeare, Puck and Hamlet can all live simultaneously.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


If anybody ever corners me and asks for a Shakespeare trivia question I will say, "Who is Corambis?"

The answer is that this is the name Polonius is called by, in the Bad Quarto of Hamlet.

My question to you is, where does this name come from? If the Bad Quarto is supposed to be the one made up from the memories of actors who'd performed the play, how does one get Corambis from Polonius? It's not even close. I note for comparison that Laertes is spelled Leartes - that makes sense. Likewise with Ofelia or even Gilderstone for Guildenstern. But this Corambis thing is out in left field.

Anybody know the history? Reason to believe that Polonius was in fact called by another name by Shakespeare himself at some point?

By the way, found text of the Bad Quarto over at Project Gutenberg. Who knew?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ok, Who Needs Money? [Admin]

Disclaimer : The following is a program being run by my day job. Sorry if it looks like an advertisement, I'm trying to avoid that. is giving away $24,000 in college scholarship(*) money beginning April 26.

I do not work for StudentAdvisor, let's get that out of the way. We are both owned by the same parent company (and by that I mean my day job, not Shakespeare Geek). So I do try to help out by spreading the word where I can, especially when I think it's of value to my readers.

SA (as we like to call them) is running an all-nighter where they're awarding $1,000/hour for 24 hours for the best written college reviews:

Don't forget that quality counts. The StudentAdvisor team will only pick the best reviews, so don't be shy! Be funny, be passionate, be insightful, or be inspiring! Whether you loved or hated your college you have the floor to tell future students the kind of stuff they can't find out from the school brochure. So what are you waiting for? Go write that review!

I'm told that helpful and honest are the most important qualities they look for in a review - but that doesn't mean that you can't get creative and sneak in a Shakespeare reference or two, or even just go all out and write a review in iambic pentameter. Since the folks running the show are literally so close we could throw things at each other, I'm sure that any Shakey references will not go unnoticed :).

Disclaimer again : I have no hand in choosing the winners, whether you mention Shakespeare or not.

(*) You don't have to be a currently enrolled college student, or have college-aged kids, to enter. It is clearly a very college-oriented contest (hence scholarships) but really the only requirement to enter and win is that you write a quality review of your college.

So stop reading and go check it out! Even if you don't win, you can still provide some valuable wisdom for others who are trying to decide whether to go to your particular school. If you check out Worcester Polytech, you'll see my review already there :).

Hamlet's Letter to Mom

Enter a Messenger

How now! what news?


Letters, my lord, from Hamlet:
This to your majesty; this to the queen.


From Hamlet! who brought them?


Sailors, my lord, they say; I saw them not:
They were given me by Claudio; he received them
Of him that brought them.


Laertes, you shall hear them. Leave us.

Exit Messenger

So I was reading Hamlet Act 4 today and noticed something. The messenger brings letters, clearly stated one for the king and one for Gertrude. Claudius then reads about Hamlet's return, he discusses the plan with Laertes, and then Gertrude arrrives to tell of Ophelia's death.

Does Gertrude ever get her letter? What's in it, do you think? Is any mention made of it again?

Shakespeare Stamps

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Royal Shakespeare Company, a new set of Shakespeare stamps is being produced that showcases iconic images from their performances.

First up is David Tennant's Hamlet, which will surely get all the love - but personally I'd like to see the 1976 Ian McKellen stamp from Romeo & Juliet, which they seem to have banished to airmail.

Anybody know if a list has been published that shows all of them? Ideally, with pictures? The linked article contains only a picture of the Tennant stamp.

UPDATED: I originally thought that this was a set of 50 stamps, that is apparently not correct. More details to follow.

UPDATED AGAIN : Look what I got! Thanks to Andrew Boyers from RoyalMailStamps for the goods!  Which is your favorite? I think I love them all.  I love the Lear quote, it goes great with the pose. And look at the hair on Sir Ian!

Want them for yourself?

Click for full size

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sir Ian Being ... Zen?

I have no idea what I just watched. Sir Ian McKellen, reciting Sonnet 20, on a tv show called "Andy Warhol's 15 Minutes" from MTV circa 1987 while a band called The Fleshtones jams out in the background.

Suicide in Shakespeare

How about a book on the subject of suicide in Shakespeare? On that subject alone, how many suicides can you name? I saw it and figured Brutus, Cassius, Othello, Romeo and Juliet...then had to think about it. Ophelia, maybe?

The book focuses on patterns of suicide present in six Shakespearean tragedies: "Hamlet," "Macbeth," "King Lear," "Timon of Athens," "Othello" and "Julius Caesar."

No mention of R&J. Interesting. What about Lear? Is he going to talk about what happens strictly in the last scene? I can't honestly remember whether Regan poisons Goneril and then kills herself, or it's the other way around. And are we to take Kent's "My master calls me, I must not say no" as his impending suicide? That's how I've always assumed it.

The inclusion of Hamlet makes me assume that he's speaking of Ophelia, although I think her state of mind would make any conclusions about suicide somewhat questionable.

What of Macbeth? Does it ever clearly say that Lady M kills herself? I'm looking at the MIT version of the text right now and it goes straight from "The queen my lord is dead" right into to-morrow and to-morrow, with no real explanation in between.

How Do Shakespeareans Do It?

As I walk around the building at lunch (8 laps, 2 miles) I notice bumper stickers. I see one that says, "Eventers do it 3 ways in 3 days." I think, given the context of other stickers, that this is some sort of horse / show-jumping thing. But it makes me realize that there's an audience that will get that, no matter how esoteric.

So I'm surprised to google "Shakespeareans do it..." and get no good bumper sticker answers.

No, the point of this post is not to collect ideas and then run off to start a bumper sticker business ;). Though if any good ones come up and there's interest I could always change my mind!

Feel free to substitute in Hamlet, Macbeth, or other nouns besides "Shakespeareans" to keep it interesting.

When Shakespeareans do it, everybody dies at the end.

Shakespeareans do it with boys dressed as girls dressed as boys.

Hamlet does it with a skull.

Richard III does it for a horse.

Macbeth will do it tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow.

Shakespeareans do it with their tongues in your tail.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Shakespeare Parade

Normally I find links on Reddit, and then we go discuss the original source. Sometimes, though, it's the comments on the thread that make it interesting. For your Sunday morning enjoyment, check out some of the suggestions provided when a high school girl asked for Shakespeare costume ideas so that she could march in a parade.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Can I Call You F?

By amazing coincidence I just got to hear an NPR interview with F. Murray Abraham, who is currently playing Shylock here in Boston. Did anybody else catch it?

Normally I listen to my iPod on the ride home. Today for some reason (fate!) it hid itself in my bag and I could not find it. Normally I would have sat and dug for it, but I had places to be so I just flipped on NPR instead. Lucky me!


* He's rather patronizing. Some noises were made by the setup people in the background and he stops the interview to say "We're doing a thing over here, so quiet please, thank you." Later when he references Burt Lancaster in a story he adds to the interviewer, "I don't even know if you know who that is." Total name drop.

* "Shakespeare invites you to try anything. Try your voice. Try your imagination. He can take it." I love that quote.

* He found Macbeth harder to play than even Lear. Although he doesn't elaborate terribly as to why.

* Being inside a theatre, he refers to the Scottish play. I was amused by how naturally that came to him, and was going to comment on it when I got home. Then the interviewer says, "I notice you called it the Scottish Play...can I just" and she didn't get to finish the sentence, which I would assume was going to be "say the name" before *I* was screaming at the radio "DONT YOU F%^&*ING DARE!" But he calmly informed her to wait until she got outside. Which she did. Why she felt obliged to say the name, since this interview was not about that play at all, I have no idea.

* I always thought he was Jewish. He's not.

Should be an interesting show. Apparently set on modern Wall Street (or a reasonable facsimile), with obvious connection to the modern day banking crisis.

An Age-Appropriate Juliet?

Hailee Steinfeld, who we last saw telling us about the Shakespearean dialogue in True Grit, may be playing Juliet.

What would make this project intriguing is that Steinfeld is in fact 14, making her one of the most age-appropriate Juliets you'll find. How would that change your opinion of the movie? Does everyone remember the Zeffirelli version of Romeo and Juliet with a 17yr old, topless Olivia Hussey?

I wonder how old this one will make its Romeo?

Shakespeare Association of America

I originally asked this question back in 2007 - Is the Shakespeare Association of America for me?

Well it's been almost 4 years now, and much has changed. If nothing else, I can now say that I've spent those last 4 years learning even more about Shakespeare. Plus, my audience has grown and changed, and there are many people here now that weren't here then.

So I'll ask it again (mostly because the question's come up) : Given what you, dear readers, know about me... is the SAA for me?

Anonymous Trailer

I'll just leave this here without comment.

Terminator The Second

"So, this exists," says contributor Nathan Pease via our Facebook page.

"This" being a Shakespearean re-interpretation of Terminator 2 : Judgement Day.

Wow. Do not mistake what this is. This is not taking the script and tacking a couple of thees and thines into it. What they've done (apparently) is to piece together a T2 script using actual Shakespeare lines?! Pretty daunting task.

This is a Kickstartr project. They need money. If you want to see this produced, help them reach their goal by May 1!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Shakespeare Day 2011 : Plans?

If you're new here, we like to refer to Shakespeare's birth/death day (April 23) as "Shakespeare Day" and celebrate it as something of a holiday. I point you, by way of example, to last year where I put out a dozen posts, gave away t-shirts, went to see open mic Shakespeare nights, and pretty much anything else I could get my hands on. That was a good one. :) That post is a link to the entire April 2010 archive, it's the best I can do, so you have to fish for it a bit. Here, have a link to my summary of the day's events. And here's how I spent Shakespeare Day 2009.

Unfortunately this year Shakespeare Day falls on a Saturday, which means I do not have any big online celebrations planned. There's just no way I can stay chained to my machine all day on a weekend when family obligations take center stage. I'm sure I won't let it go by unnoticed, but I do feel obliged to let my audience here know that there'll be no festivities of any significance.

There was some talk about taking the kids down to D.C. this year for April vacation, which would have meant getting to spend Shakespeare Day at the Folger itself. That would have been highly cool. But even though my boy does run around testing his pre-school teachers on their Hamlet knowledge, my wife and I decided that the kids are still a bit young to really get enough value out of a trip like that so we've put it off for another year.

What about you all? What are you doing for Shakespeare Day? I'm going to keep calling it that, and encourage you all to do so as well. It's not just Shakespeare's birthday. It is a holiday, a day for us to celebrate everything the man means to the world. Don't be shy.

Tech It Up A Notch

Ok, here's a game I thought of while daydreaming about my iPad idea.

Take a scene from Shakespeare, and then seamlessly integrate some modern bit of technology.


A Midsummer Night's Dream. Bottom has been given a donkey's head, and his frightened coworkers have scattered, leaving him onstage alone.


Why do they run away? This is knavery of them to make me afeard.

His cellphone beeps the familar triple-tone, signifying a text message. He takes the phone out of his pocket.



"O Bottom, thou art changed! what do I see on thee? Snout." What do you see? You see an asshead of your own, do you?

Another triple-tone, another message.


"Bless thee, Bottom! Bless thee! Thou art translated! Quince." I see their knavery: this is to make an ass of me ...
Get the idea? Instead of running back on stage to deliver one line and then exit, they keep their distance and text him. It is not "Shakespeare via text message" nor is it "rewrite Shakespeare in text-speak". It's just a way of saying, "How might this scene play out differently if everybody had had a cell phone?"

Constraints :
  1. "Integrate" implies changing some action or dialogue in some way to support the introduction of the technology. You can't just have Macduff enter checking his voice mail and then put his phone away, unless he delivers a line or otherwise moves the scene along in some way associated with that action.
  2. You can alter or reassign text to support your context (such as by giving those lines to Bottom, above).
  3. Devices can provide feedback that might be necessary for staging, such as a GPS transmitter speaking its directions instead of requiring the character to read them.
  4. You cannot create dialogue of your own. So no examples of King Duncan reading Lady Macbeth's Facebook page. The idea isn't to create a new story, the idea is to see how technology can be used to present the story Shakespeare already gave us.
Let's see how creative you can get.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Big Think : Lear, Hamlet, and Book Burning

Next Installment from Big Think includes a boatload of questions including:

* Which Shakespeare play would you save from a fire? [ Lear for me ]

* Which play would you let burn? (Maybe it's not worded exactly that way, but that's what I'm taking from it). Shrew gets no love here.

* "Are you a Hamlet or a Lear guy?" and is the difference between those two really "a young play" and "an old play"?

My Son Has A Question

I was asked today by my 4yr old son, "Who is the smartest person in Shakespeare?"

I said "Good question, I'll have to check."

Here's me checking. Who's got an idea? I'm trying to figure out which characters I would think of where smart is a defining characteristic. Does that go hand in hand with scheming, and must the answer be a villain? Or is it potentially a strategic thing, and the answer is political/military/historical?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Expect Fury!

Roland Emmerich, the Orson Welles of the disaster movie genre (or is he the Michael Bey?), has a new Oxfordian movie coming out, I'm sure we all know that by now. What I did not know how seriously he apparently takes himself. You see, he "expects fury" from us Stratfordians, who are going to turn up in droves to picket his house:

He tells Empire magazine, "I have serious doubts Shakespeare wrote his plays... I'm expecting to have people protesting outside my house. We knew there'd be so many attacks on the film, so we decided to make the film as authentic as possible."

Blink a few times, rub your eyes, and read that last sentence again. He's planning to make his movie as authentic as possible.

If that statement wasn't custom-made to draw the ire of Shakespeareans everywhere, I'll eat my hat. This press release courtesy of "We Market By Trolling Agency, Inc."

Devon Does Denmark : A Hamlet Comedy

This sounds entertaining. Imagine telling Hamlet from the perspective of the players. As a comedy.

The focus is on a ragtag band of actors from Devon, England, playing the hinterlands. They're far afield in Denmark, where they happen upon Hamlet, brooding over the murder of his father. Hamlet hires the troupe to stage a play for the king depicting a similar situation, hoping to catch the king's reaction as proof that he's the culprit.

But this is not Shakespeare's "Hamlet." Here, the title character is a vain wimp who complains about being cold and berates his bumbling guards. Other characters are hilariously altered as well: King Claudius is an imperious twit with a speech impediment. Queen Gertrude is a martini-swilling "cougar." And Ophelia is birdbrained klutz. In this version, the players overhear that Claudius plans to kill Hamlet. They scramble to thwart the plot and to save their own skins.

The article doesn't say whether they keep the bloodbath at the end, or if they change it for the sake of comedy. I'd be curious.

Big Thinking : Antony and Cleopatra and "The Obama Problem"

Ok, maybe the series that Big Think is doing has some potential. Here James Shapiro, Carol Gilligan and Kenji Yoshino is discuss "Which Shakespeare play do you think most illuminates contemporary issue and our culture?"

Ok, who guessed Antony and Cleopatra? Wouldn't have been my first choice. Not that I had a first choice, I just don't think of A&C that often.

Jim Shapiro: ...I think about how, especially Antony, deals with the disappointment others have in him. This is kind of an Obama type problem. Philo and Demetrius come out at the beginning. This **** general offloads the ****. He is not doing what—we want to follow him and lead. We need him to lead us in the way that he’s always led us by those Roman values or whatever parting line it is and he realizes he is not going to do that anymore and he has to deal with their disappointment in him and I think that’s really hard today. We live in a world in which we don’t want to disappoint our followers or our students or our political supporters and you also have to do that if you’re going to be true.

It gets better from there. Yoshino goes throws Titus Andronicus into the mix as well.

It's short, but thought provoking.

Darth Sidious as Timon of Athens?

Here's a fun story that's heavy on the geek: Ian McDiarmid is playing Timon of Athens.


Timon. Of Athens. It's a Shakespeare play.


I kid. Ian McDiarmid is better known to Star Wars geeks the world over as Emperor Palpatine , aka Darth Sidious, aka Darth Vader's boss.

My kids, the youngest being just 4yrs old, are only now beginning to appreciate the Star Wars universe as it was meant to be told - starting with episode 4, going through episode 6, and then just stopping. No animated Clone Wars series, no JarJar. A world where Darth Vader is the scariest mother walking the face of this or any other planet. My son informed me that Darth Vader was the biggest bad guy in the universe. "Oh no," I told him, "Darth Vader has a boss. The Emperor." They were very impressed by this. They have no idea who the Emperor is, because they won't see him until the third movie.

Monday, April 04, 2011


So this weekend, my wife surprised me with an early birthday present : tickets to go see HAIR, one of my favorite shows of all time. I've often told people "It's a tossup between HAIR and Hamlet," and let them work out exactly what sort of similarities they share that they could both be at the top of my list :).

For those unfamiliar with the "60's tribal love rock musical" you may not realize that it's loaded with Shakespeare references. I thought I'd had them all:

  • An entire song called "What a piece of work is man", from Hamlet.

  • The big finale song finds the tribe singing "Eyes, look your last....arms, take your last embrace...." which are Romeo's last words to Juliet.

  • This crescendoes into "the rest is silence! the rest is silence! the rest is silence!" which is, of course, from Hamlet.

Well last night I spotted two more. Maybe I've just missed them in the past, or forgotten them. Or maybe they've been cut in other productions, who knows. But:

  • Claude (our tragic hero) breaks into "O that this too, too sullied flesh would melt...." when it seems the world is getting him down. Hamlet again.

  • After the "What a Piece of Work is Man" song, Berger, who plays something of a Mercutio in this story, just goes ahead and refers to Claude as Shakespeare directly.

That combination - a play whose second half is one long bad acid trip, intermingled with liberal Shakespeare references - continues to show the infinite variety in what Shakespeare had to say. If you come to the show with the wrong attitude, you're going to be in for an uncomfortable night. Berger takes his pants off and begins climbing over audience members within the first five minutes. Most scenes involve liberal demonstrations of simulated sex, in every conceivable combination. The entire cast famously gets naked at the end of the first act.

You could, as some people do, get offended by all that nonsense and walk out at intermission. I've seen it happen.

Or you could pay attention to the story of Claude, caught between the responsibilities of his reality, and his desire to be with his tribe of dreamers. The hippies get their draft cards. What to do? Berger burns his. Will Claude? What will happen if he doesn't?

I've known for a long time that the creators of HAIR - Gerome Ragni and James Rado - were accomplished actors, with a Shakespeare background. You have to be, you don't just toss in entire songs lifted directly from the text without some foundation in the subject.

What I learned this weekend, though, is that Ragni was actually on stage during Richard Burton's Hamlet! I immediately went hunting through the credits ( I have the film at home) to see if I could spot him. Unfortunately, according to his bio he is listed only as "attendant (uncredited). So I don't get to see him on video. Or, I may have, and just can't recognize him.

It's not everyone's cup of tea. I don't particularly love much of the second act, that whole "bad trip" sequence I think goes on too long and is too difficult to follow this far removed from the days when everybody in the audience could relate to what Claude was experiencing. But I adore the story, I adore the music, I adore how they weave Shakespeare and Hamlet throughout. Note that above I've linked the movie version, which is different in a number of ways from the play. Better, in some ways, if you ask me.

Still Dreaming: From the people who brought us Shakespeare Behind Bars

So this weekend I received an email from Hank Rogerson who, with his partner Jilann Spitzmiller, created the documentary Shakespeare Behind Bars. I'm always at a bit of a loss for words when people who do this sort of thing for a living (and, might I add, win awards for it) reach out to me. It reminds me just how far our little corner of the Shakespeare universe has grown, and just who out there is listening. It's pretty humbling, I have to say.

So, with that out of the way, let's get on to the good stuff, shall we? Rogerson and Spitzmiller have a new Shakespeare documentary in the works, and if it's anything like their first effort, we can expect great things.

Still Dreaming takes place at the Lillian Booth Actors Home just outside New York City, and follows a group of lifelong entertainers (all well into their 80's, they tell us) as they work on a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

"Four lovers? Among 80 year olds?" the short clip begins, as one of the self-described 80yr olds questions the premise.

"I think it'd be terrific!" retorts one woman, with a hint of indignation, "You never give up!"

What I think is amazing about the potential for this story is that they're not just walking into their local nursing home and sticking a script in front of a bunch of people who've never acted a day in their long lives (although that would be a story in itself, albeit a different one). These are people who have been entertainers for decades, and who aren't letting age get in the way of their ability to continue being entertainers.

"What is it like to lead a creative life, even at the end of your life?" Spitzmiller asks in voiceover. It works on a whole bunch of levels. We talk an awful lot about the universality of Shakespeare, and I think we're about to witness another demonstration of it.

I'm fascinated by the idea. I admit -- I don't ever plan to be "behind bars", nor have I ever really had anything to do with that aspect of our society (no family or friends in that situation, etc etc ....) So I could only get so close to that project. However I have relatives right now approaching their 80s, some in assisted living homes, and heck I plan to be 80 some day as well. I can only hope that there's somebody there to hand me a script.

Right now, Still Dreaming is gathering funding (hence the push for publicity, I'm quite sure. I'm not kidding myself ;)). Visit the site for your chance to contribute, and check out the perks they're offering. Guarantee yourself a copy of the DVD when it's done. For a little more, get a copy of Shakespeare Behind Bars as well. For a little more than that, get your name in the credits! And it just keeps going. Get tickets to the premiere! Meet the cast! I love this "perk" model of funding independent projects.

Go check out their video, and click around the site. Jilann in particular seems quite active in the comments. They are very enthusiastic about making this happen. Even if you've not seen Shakespeare Behind Bars you've almost certainly heard of it. This is not a gamble, and these are not amateurs. We know what they're capable of. Become a part of it.

Friday, April 01, 2011

How To (Big) Think Like Shakespeare

This series from Big Think has potential:

On each day of Shakespeare’s birth month, Big Think will examine a different way that studying Shakespeare enriches the various disciplines—from neuroscience to business to psychology and beyond. Experts contributing to this series include James Shapiro, Professor of English at Columbia University and author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare; Ben Brantley, chief theater critics of The New York Times; Robert Pinsky, U.S. Poet Laureate from 1997 to 2000; Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Thousand Acres; and Carol Gilligan, psychologist and author of In A Different Voice.

I'm a bit curious to see how it goes, because quite honestly this introduction is .... well, boring. I'm not really fond of using expressions like "interdisciplinary examination" and "social cohesion" in my own discussions of Shakespeare, so I can only hope that once they actually start talking about our favorite subject, they're a bit more approachable when they do it.

Now Gods, Stand Up For ... Me?

So, apparently I'm an actor now.

I think I've mentioned in the past, but David, the HR guy at my new office is an actor himself, and one of the senior people at a local group. In the time I've been here I know that they've done stuff like One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Fool's Gold and Annie. He's admitted that he's got no Shakespeare in him, never done it. Never had the opportunity.

Until now, it seems. He tells me a couple weeks ago that one of their donors said he'd drop a huge chunk of cash on them, if they'd do some Shakespeare. Specifically, on Shakespeare's birthday. Even more specifically, King Frickin' Lear. Why someone would want to pay good money to require a bunch of actors who admittedly know nothing about Shakespeare to tackle Mt. Everest I have no idea, but fools and their money, you know how the expression goes.

"You're screwed," I told David.

"Want to help? he asked.

"Ummm....ahhhh.....errrrrrr......" I said. I'm great when I'm behind the keyboard and I've got Google and my other friends at my side. But am I really foolish enough to try this stuff for real? Other than some play-writing in college - where my job was entirely to sit behind the word processor and turn in a script - I've got no real connection to the theatre at all. I've said that many times.

"Absolutely!" I told him. Apparently I was just that foolish. He knows full well that I'm not an actor. He just wants me to sit with him and the director during a few rehearsals and such, and ask some questions. I at this point have no idea what those questions will be, but I'm assuming it'll be a lot of "explain what's happening right now so the actors know what they're doing" sort of stuff.

So I get introduced to everyone, and sit in on a rehearsal. They weren't terrible. They were all (well, most of them) giving it their best shot. Nobody had anything memorized at this point but I could tell that they were at least trying to find the verse while still trying to act it and not just fall into the rhythm of students reciting it for their homework. A couple of times an actor pauses to ask exactly what's going on with his character at a particular point, and they all turn to me for the "translation". That's fun, I enjoy that. Every now and then Derek, the director, leans over to me and says things like, "Goneril should be nastier here, don't you think?" and I give my two cents.

Poor Fool had a tough time of it. He's trying to be too funny, even though he completely doesn't get most of the lines (he lets us know that the whole "seven stars because they are not eight" joke is completely stupid). Here my own weakness at this stuff begins to show, and I do a pretty terrible job of trying to get him through it. Fool's got some fairly deep stuff to say, and I don't know how to make it sound convincing.

The real problem turned out to be Edmund, this guy named Ken. Dude is just lost. He's saying the words but you can tell it's not really connecting in the brain. "He's not getting this, is he?" Derek whispers to me.

"Not really, no," I whisper back.

He then cuts the scene short and tells Ken to listen to me while I show him how to do it. This is the whole "stand up for bastards" speech so I start in on Edmund's motivation and such, but then director is all "Nonono, we've been over him how to connect what you're saying to what Edmund is saying."

So I give it my best shot. After all this is just reciting a speech, I can do that. I start in with the "Thou, nature, art my goddess..." and the actors up on stage start yelling "We can't hear you!" and my friend Dave starts nudging me to go up on the stage. I'm not sure how many times in my life I'll have to decide between reciting Shakespeare and throwing up on my shoes, but this time I went with the Shakespeare. I went up on stage and started in again. "Now we can't hear you!" Dave shouts from their seats in the audience. Once more I launch into it, projecting as best I can. I have been on stage before, to give technical presentations. So I do know at least a little something about how to project my voice. But all at once like this, with a script? Never!

I actually get through it and wrap it up on the best "Now, gods, stand up for bastards!" line I can muster. There's an exclamation point there in my copy, I honestly have no idea if that's always there or what, but I figure it's a sign to end with a bang, not a whimper.

They actually applauded! I can only assume that it was out of encouragement and not talent, I'm not fooling anybody. I turned seventeen shades of red and sit back down.

I don't really remember all the details for the rest of the night, because I spent it all going over that scene in my brain again and again, tearing it apart by each syllable, pondering how I might have done it differently. Now that it's over, I want to do it again!

That was a few weeks ago. I go to more rehearsals, and much of it is the same. I get more confident that people are actually paying attention to my opinion, and I'm less reluctant to launch into a soliloquy every now and then, although the opportunities become few and far between as the actors are picking it up very, very fast.

I get into work this morning and Dave finds me almost immediately, asks me to come to his office. "So," he says, "You want to be an actor."

"Not really," I say, "No."

"Yes," he says, "You do. We all can tell."

I do little but blush and shrug. I guess I kinda do?

"Here's the thing," he says, "I've been talking with Derek and he's not happy with Ken at all. We love Ken, he's done great for us with other shows, but he's just not picking up the Shakespeare thing like everybody else is. And he even told us when we asked him, he doesn't want to do it."

"You're not gonna say what I think you're gonna say, are you?" I ask, turning beet red to ghost white I'm quite sure.

"Want to play Edmund?"


Seriously. I've heard the term, I've used the term, but I think this might well be the time my mouth would not move to form words. Weird feeling.

"Let me rephrase that," he says, "I know you *want* to. But will you?"

I swallow a few times and finally manage to get my voice back. "Can I play Fool?" I ask.

I don't think he was expecting that. "Why would you want to play Fool?"

"Because it's April Fool's Day, of course."