Thursday, September 29, 2011

What Does Hamlet Symbolize?

Sometimes when I'm looking for content, I troll for homework questions. Today, I got this one: What does Hamlet symbolize?

I find questions like that odd. And, really, unanswerable.  I think Shakespeare wrote primarily to entertain.  I think that his stuff entertains more than the other guy because his stuff really digs in and gets at what it means to be a human, and he puts that out there on the stage. I don't think Hamlet symbolizes indecision or consequences or thought versus action, I think that Shakespeare tells the story of what happens to a man who embodies those characteristics.

Does that make sense?  When I hear "symbolize" I think, "The author wants me to discover a deeper meaning here, something that I must interpret for myself because he's not going to come out and tell me."  I can't imagine the groundlings doing their English homework and debating the symbolism.

Am I way off base?  Maybe the English teachers in the crowd can chime in.  What is the expected answer for a question like that?  Do we really think it's what Shakespeare meant from the beginning, or are we really just asking for an answer that is mutually agreed upon by later generations? 

15 Greatest Shakespearean Excuses for All Occasions

Late for work? Forgot to pass in your assignment?  Blew off plans you had with friends?  Now and as always, Shakespeare's got you covered...

Shakespearean Excuses for All Occasions

  • Flying back to Elsinore for my dad's funeral, and my mom's wedding. Don't ask. Back in a few days.
  • Going to live in the forest dressed as a boy for a little while. Back when evil Duke Frederick has a ridiculously unlikely change of heart.
  • Got married last night! Didn't tell my parents. Will explain everything when Romeo gets here.
  • My Dogberry ate my homework.
  • Had to disguise myself as a boy, it's compl...what do you mean Rosalind already used that excuse?
  • I am so exhausted, I have gotten like zero sleep since my husband and I killed the king the other day.
  • Got in huge fight with my dad. Moving to France.  Getting married! Everything's gonna work out ok. 
  • Shipwrecked on the way back from my cousin's wedding. Enslaved by evil wizard. Totally met someone, though, so it's all good.
  • Had to flee assassins that got my dad. Will return to Scotland in a few generations to reclaim the crown.
  • Need to go give a speech at Caesar's funeral. Blah blah, good man, will be missed... these things always go the same way.
  • Off to England! It's whole big accidentally-killed-my-girlfriends-father-thought-he-was-the-king thing. Long story.
  • Listen, so, I meet this girl at a party, right? Long story short, I kill her cousin, now I'm banished.
  • Weird rumor going around that I'm out to kill my father. Only one thing to do, go live in a hovel and pretend to be insane.
  • Spent the night in jail because the lady I work for didn't like the color of my socks. I know, right?
  • Bit of a disagreement with my husband. My friend's got this plan where I go into hiding for 16 years, convince him I'm a statue, and then yell "Boo!". I think it sounds hysterical.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Top Seven Shakespeare Halloween Costumes

[ From the archives. Originally posted Oct 26, 2010 - way too late last year to actually use any of the ideas, so I'm recycling the post for this year! ]

Twelfth Night

You're a girl? Dress up like a boy. You're a boy? Dress up like a girl dressing up like a boy. Twelfth Night's main character spends the whole play in costume. We discovered, a few months back, that she's not even called by her real name until the very end of the play!

Julius Caesar

Why just be any ghost, when you can be Great Caesar's Ghost(*)? Don't skimp on the knife wounds, or the blood. Lots and lots of blood. Or if you really want to wear a toga and don't want to get blood all over it, dip your arms in the red stuff up to your elbows, then go as Brutus.

(*) Bonus points if you can actually convince somebody to dress up like J Jonah Jameson from the Spiderman movies, and then spend the night pointing at you and shouting that.


I knew Hamlet would make a good costume when my 4yr old spotted the idea on one of his cartoon shows. After random channel flipping he comes running into my office to tell me "Daddy, somebody on tv is dressed like Shakespeare!" Along comes the 6 and 8yr olds to tell me "Well, not Shakespeare - he's dressed like Hamlet. He's holding a skull and talking to it." Of course you could also go with Ophelia, although taking a quick jump in the pool before going out trick or treating might cause you to catch your death (ha!). Then again why not go as Hamlet's father's ghost? I'll leave it up to reader imagination to depict how exactly you'd walk around wearing your beaver up.

The Tempest

A witch (although, granted, she doesn't really make much of an appearance), a wizard, a sea monster, an airy spirit. Plenty of opportunity here to take a traditional Halloween costume and really run with it. If you want to get really creative, grab a partner and dress up as Stefano and Trinculo. I always described them as pirates to my kids, although "court jester" is probably more accurate.

Titus Andronicus

How can you not have fun dressing up like Titus? Put on a chef's hat and bloody apron, carry a cleaver and a big stew pot. Throw a prop head in it, maybe a prop hand while you're at it. Shakespeare's goriest tragedy is often compared to a modern slasher movie, so why not just go completely over the top with it? Bring along your daughter. Don't let her talk.


Ghosts make plenty of appearances in Shakespeare's work, The Tempest and Midsummer are both loaded with magical goings on ... but really, is there any play scarier than Macbeth? Dress up like a weird sister, dress up like Banquo's ghost. Or maybe a sleepwalking Lady Macbeth, covered in blood? For the really inside reference, go as Macduff - carry around Macbeth's head.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Fairies are timeless, in more ways than one. If you need a couple's idea, why not Titania and Oberon? I love the idea of an entire family dressing up as Midsummer, with the kids playing the roles of Cobweb, Mustardseed and the others. Or go in a completely different direction and make an ass of yourself, literally.

Have I forgotten any? You can always throw on your monk's outfit and go as Friar Laurence (carry around a pickaxe, crowbar or some other tomb-opening implement for extra credit), or really grab any random "Elizabethan" or "Renaissance" costume from the local store and say that you're the lead in As You Like It, Much Ado, or any of the other romantic comedies. What else? Who's got the creative ideas?

BONUS!  Halloween 2011, I went as Yorick! Complete with Hamlet borne upon my back.

Purrchance to Dream

It's not everybody's cup of tea, I'm sure, but that's not stopping these folks from trying to produce a legit, bound, complete set of Shakespeare's works, in LOLspeak.

I don't know if it'll succeed, and it seems to really push the boundaries of what Kickstarter is for.  More than half the budget is for editing ($100 each for 38 works) and the rest is admittedly for "Kickstarter's percentage, as well as the rewards."  So if you contribute, a significant portion of the proceeds will go to nothing more than supporting the project being on KS in the first place.  I don't think that's really what it's meant for.

I Think We Already Invented This

So check out this article on a new "glimpse into digital humanities", the Mobile Shakespeare Scripts project:

Their project, “Mobile Shakespeare Scripts” (or “MyShx”), offers actors and directors a mobile app for customizing scripts to include commentary, production history, or other digital enhancements. MyShx will initially be produced for iPads, and it will be used for the first time in the production of one of American Shakespeare Theater’s 2012-2013 shows.

In March of this year, when the iPad 2 came out, I wrote about how you could use an iPad to revolutionize digital Shakespeare.

But even more closely, go check out this discussion on Shakespeare in the public domain, from June 2011.  In particular note Ed's comment (#3) about creating his own textbooks for the kids, with ample room to do all their own note taking right in the margins and such, and the conversation that follows. I suggest that this is custom made for a software solution, and Alexi offers up the suggestion to make it so that directors could use it to cut their own scripts.

Of course, they're well-funded PhDs, and we're just a bunch of enthusiasts hanging out on a blog.  What do we know.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Maybe Hermione could play, I dunno, Hermione?

Emma Watson, who'll forever be known as Hermione to Harry Potter, wants to do some Shakespeare. She cites a desire to tackle Juliet, or Ophelia.  A little bold, wouldn't you say?  Wouldn't it be cool to start her out in A Winter's Tale?   "Starring Hermione as ... Paulina." (You thought maybe I was going to say Perdita? ;))  In fairness, I take her quote to mean something more like "It would be a dream to tackle Juliet or Ophelia" and not "Yeah, I think that if I were to do Shakespeare, I'd have to be Juliet or Ophelia." I'd think for a young woman that's a young man diving right in with Hamlet.

This story reminds me of a really random bit of trivia.  Harry Dean Stanton stars in Stephen King's The Green Mile  which also features a character named Dean Stanton.  Dean Stanton is played by Barry Pepper.  Harry Dean Stanton plays a character named Toot-toot.

10 Authorship Answers

Regardless of your position on the Authorship question, sometimes it's fun to learn new things.  I had no idea that there were at least 10 candidates for authorship.  Oxford's on there, of course. Bacon and Marlowe, Mary Sidney and Emilia Bassano.  But I heard some new names as well - Roger Manners?  Who's that? 

It'd be funny to research 9 of these 10 to the point where you could defend them in a debate, and then just attack the bejesus out of the Oxfordians from all directions until they cry. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Geeklet Shakespeare Mashup

Apparently my 9yr old had some sort of free time at art class the other day and was flipping through a stencil book.  She found (and recognized!) stencils for a scroll: (click for the larger image)

So she remembered the names of 8 Shakespeare plays off the top of her head?  Not too bad, Geeklet.  Of course, she then informed me that she "didn't do every single one, like Henry the First, Henry the Second..." Bonus points for working in "Globe Theatre" as well!

She also found a curtained theatre stage (which, truthfully, I'm not sure I would have recognized if I'd seen it in a book).  This is what she provided: (again, click for larger)

That is Hamlet, performing the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquoy....while holding Yorick's skull.  Apparently as part of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.

I love it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Allen Ginsberg, on Shakespeare

When I first saw this link go by I immediately thought "Allen Ginsberg on Shakespeare? So, what, like F___ Shakespeare?" :)

I am glad I clicked.  I don't really know what this blog is or where the content came from, but it appears to be a transcription of Ginsberg giving some sort of lesson on The Tempest, and in particular the underlying Buddhist ideas. I'm trying to process it now.

One thought he leads with, which I think is a stretch but maybe I'm wrong - he starts with the idea that Caliban is in fact Prospero's kid? Is that reflected in the text?  He then uses the treachery of Caliban to show a karmic circle for Prospero. But I'm not sure how much he's reading in to that.

The Long-Awaited(?) ShakespeareGeek Newsletter

So.  Every article I read about having a successful web presence of any meaningful size always starts with, "Have a newsletter. Collect email addresses."

I've never done that. It is a glaring omission in my strategy. There's many reasons for that, but most end up in that vicious cycle of "Unless I specifically plan to sell you something, I can't incur the cost of paying for such a service."

Well, today after stumbling across a free (we'll see about that) option, I figure let's try an experiment.  If you're interested in what a Shakespeare Geek newsletter might be all about, please come over to the blog and sign up.  I don't really know what the newsletter will involve, I'll be honest. It'll depend on how many people sign up.

Over at the top of the left-hand column you should see a new "Follow Shakespeare Geek by Email" widget, where you can enter your email address (and then confirm by clicking on a welcome email).  If for some reason that widget is not working or you don't see it, please click here to go directly to the subscribe page.  Thanks!

I'm relying on you folks to let me know the demand for this feature.  If I see a bunch of people sign up right off the bat, I'll know it's something you've been wanting.  If I have to beg and kick and scream, well, everything will balance out - I won't go killing myself to deliver content via that channel.  It's up to you.

So You Don't Have To See "Anonymous"

Still torn on whether to sit through Anonymous or ignore it?  I think I've found the middle ground - check out People Being Stupid About Shakespeare...or Someone Else, the most in depth review/rebuttal of the movie I've yet seen.  The author goes through the major points of the movie (the movie, not the Oxfordian theory in general), and then questions some of the more glaringly creative omissions and additions:

...Dekker, Jonson, and a guy with a gut representing, as the IMDB informs me, Thomas Nashe. And Christopher Marlowe. In 1598. Marlowe makes fun of Dekker for the failure of Shoemaker’s Holiday and claims preeminence among historical playwrights. Which is funny, since Marlowe hadn’t written a history play in five years at that point, largely because he was murdered in 1593. And Dekker’s play wasn’t written until 1599 (a fact recorded in that famous and fraudulent monument to government conspiracy otherwise known as Henslowe’s Diary). But Marlowe’s ghost probably knows that and is just messing with Dekker’s head. Nashe also kind of hangs around for the rest of the film, even after his death in 1601...
I know it's a movie, and I know that the director certainly took many liberties.  I think the important question will be what Oxfordians do with the story.  It's not like we lovers of Shakespeare saw Shakespeare in Love and ran off to tell all of our friends, "Yes! It was *just* like that! Go see this movie and you'll know everything about Shakespeare's life!"

So the million dollar question is whether the Oxfordians will do that. Or will they take each piece that *does* support their case and say, "Yes, that bit is true," while simultaneously disowning the flat out provably incorrect bits with "Of course he changed some stuff, it's just a movie."

(* I also notice that my pal Bardfilm was the first to comment on this post, so he clearly beat me to the punch on this one. )

Monday, September 19, 2011

Viral Shakespeare

So, a funny thing happened last week.  Five days ago, on the little used Reddit forum for Shakespeare, I first spotted this post about "Things We Owe Shakespeare".  It is a picture of someone's notebook scribblings of a bunch of now-cliches that originally came from Shakespeare.

At the time (you can see my comment on the post), I wrote that it was neat primarily for the artistic value, but I would have liked it if the font was different for each quote, instead of looking obviously like one person wrote it all.

I didn't give it another thought.  We see these "Stuff Shakespeare said first" lists multiple times a day.

But then the funny thing happened - it "went viral", as the marketers like to say.  I started seeing links to it a dozen times a day, including from such mega-traffic generators as NPR.  The original poster even said that she (I think?) was getting over 10k hits a day on the thing, and was surprised at it.  She even acknowledges that some of the sayings aren't original to Shakespeare (dating back to the Bible), and that she spelled some things wrong.

So, then, why did it "go viral"?  That's the mystery about this stuff.  Here you've got the Shakespeare bloggers who do this stuff on a regular basis and hope beyond hope to score such a win.  And then a random writer with no particular connection to Shakespeare (her tumblr appears to be a wide variety of found and created images) happens upon a gold mine.

Here's my thoughts, and believe me if I knew anything about this stuff I'd be a rich man:

  • Artwork.  This post was not a bullet list of things Shakespeare wrote, it was a hand sketch.  It has a certain artistic quality to it (as I noted way back when I first saw it) in the way that they're all jammed in at odd angles.  People like pictures.
  • Originality.  This is not a picture of a poster that somebody saw.  This is the original artist saying, "I made this."  People appreciate that, and are more likely to share/like it. 
  • Needle in a haystack syndrome.  If somebody posts a funny Shakespeare list every day, then the people that frequent that site will implicitly alter their standard of expectation about the content on that site, and no individual list will jump to the top.  Make sense?  I don't know if it's true, but it feels right.  Think about it like this (what with the Emmy's having just been on television last night) : the television show Modern Family is, by current standards, very good.  Every time.  I've never had somebody forward me a clip of any individual episode with a note "OMG U have to see this soo funny!!11!"  But in any water cooler conversation somebody can say, "Hey have you seen that show Modern Family?" and most of the people in the conversation will say, "OMG I love that show!"

    In this case we have the opposite. Go look at the original poster's account, and see how many entries there are that did *not* go viral.
  • Audience.  Some audiences, I think, are more attuned to the sharing concept.  I don't know for certain but I expect that the audience for the site in question is more of a younger, possibly teen audience.  I think that stuff can spread like wildfire through that crowd. It's not that us older folks (ahem) are less likely to share the good stuff - it's that we just have fundamentally different networks.  The average teenager's social network is some substantial multiplier larger than mine.  Plus, the people on that network are more actively online, and therefore more likely to see stuff.  If I post or share something, half of my relatively small social network may not even log in for a couple of days.  Compare that to the younger crowd who are online almost constantly and the minute it gets shared, they see it and forward it along as well.
Like I said, I don't have any secrets to this, otherwise I'd have a following 100x the size I do :).  I do think that this was an interesting event in the world of viral Shakespeare, and I hope that I've been able to learn something from it that I can use in my strategy going forward.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Look At All The Shakespeare Movies!

I'm normally on top of the new Shakespeare movies coming out, but this article about "rebooted Shakespeare" hints at a few I didn't know about:

  • Anonymous. Enough said.
  • Coriolanus.  Yup.
  • Al Pacino's King LearHeard about it, didn't know it was still going forward.
  • How about another Richard III (courtesy of Mr. Pacino ), entitled Pell Mell and set in the 1960's?
  • Maybe Romeo and Juliet retold (what, again?) this time about a Jewish family versus an Italian family. Jews and Italians have an ancient grudge I didn't know about?
  • Then there's Rosaline, which we've mentioned.
  • Or Hamlet told from Ophelia's point of view?  Insert joke here about that movie only being half as long as Hamlet, and getting really confusing at the end ;).
(Anybody needs me I'll be off teaching Bardfilm's classes, because I'm apparently already doing half his job anyway so I might as well do the other half!  :)  I kid, KJ.

Is It For Everybody?

Beware, this is more a philosophical question than a Shakespeare one, but the subjects overlap.

I've worked for two educational startups, both that deal with getting kids into college.

One boss had the vision that *every* kid should potentially go to college, and the fact that they don't is attributable to a failed system (on many fronts - the student's as well as the system's).

The other boss, disagrees, and makes the case that for some people, college is simply not the right path, and sometimes even seen as a negative.  It's been mentioned more than once that up here in Massachusetts, "We don't ask if you went to college, we ask where you went to college." But it's a big world, and there are plenty of places in the US where "went to college" is a bad thing in the "you think you better than me?" sort of way.

I'm not really sure where I fall on that spectrum, and that's not really what I want to argue.

What I want to do is apply that same spectrum to the question of Shakespeare.  Is Shakespeare for everybody?  If someone doesn't "get" Shakespeare, is that just the result of a system that failed to properly explain it?  Or should we just accept the fact that some folks are not meant for Shakespeare, and nothing we can do will change that?

Note that I am not talking about those who spend significant effort researching the topic and then come up with a stance on why they don't *like* it.  That's like someone who goes to college, finds nothing there, and quits.  I'm talking about the ones that never even get that far - the ones who are unable (unwilling?) to see any value in the subject for themselves, and thus put no effort into pursuing it.


English Teachers Wanted

This past spring I launched a new effort, My honest hope for this Q&A style site is to corner the market on *correct* and *useful* answers to legitimate Shakespeare questions.  I'd been hanging out on Yahoo! Answers, Mahalo, WikiAnswers and others, and quite frankly the quality of both the questions and answers was often so poor (and at times downright incorrect) it made me sad.

My first big mistake was launching it in June, right at the end of the school year.  It peaked for a week or two, and then promptly fell off the face of the earth as everybody took off for summer and stopped asking Shakespeare questions.  Well, it's fall now, school's back, and I'd like to breathe some life into the project.

Here's the thing, though. Every time I bring it up, people think that it is a "Do your homework for you so you don't have to" site.  I try to explain to the nay-sayers that "Oh no, dear friends, you misunderstand - any kid who comes by looking for a short and sweet answer to his question is far more likely to get a lengthier earful than if he'd just listened to his teacher in the first place."  I was even accused of insulting teachers at one point by apparently suggesting that I was having to clean up their messes because they're not good at their jobs.

Still, I can deal with that.  Yesterday, though, I got into a conversation with a teacher who brought up something I hadn't considered - lazy student plagiarize.  They cut and they paste.  So here I am thinking that my essay-length answers to their questions (rather than providing overly simplified answers like, "Yes, Mercutio is the Prince's relative") is a good service, but what's going to happen is that kids will come by and simply copy and paste our answers into their homework. That's not cool.

I can think of a few ways around that, by mucking with the ability to cut and paste text from the site.  But that's on me, as the technical guy behind it. I'll work on that.

This gets me to my subject line, though. I want to build a resource that English teachers don't roll their eyes at.  On the contrary I want to build something that they'd actually recommend, if a student has questions that they can't (or don't have the time/energy/resources to) answer. So, I'm asking.  If you are a teacher of Shakespeare (even if you only do one unit amid a variety of other subjects), please take a moment to browse through ShakespeareAnswers and give me your honest opinion. If you knew your students were going to hit the google and end up there, what would you like to see that might make you think "Oh, ok, that's not just another one of those do-your-homework-for-you sites?"  I'll do my best to oblige.

My mission isn't to help kids pass tests. My mission is to always present Shakespeare in a way that makes it entertaining and accessible, in the hopes that even the lazy ones who come by looking to cut and paste some homework leave with a better understanding of what it's all about.  And, who knows, maybe even a little appreciation.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ralph Fiennes, on, Ralph Fiennes

Ever since I was old enough to understand what a movie director does, I've been curious about those situations where someone both stars in and directs his own movie.  So, basically, he's the boss of whether he did a good job? How can you do that?

Ralph Fiennes, star of the upcoming Coriolanus (coming December 2012, by the way), gives me some insight into this problem.  He says that, as director, he thought that his own performance at times was horrible.
"'Oh, that's horrible,'" was how he recalled his initial reaction to his performance. Fortunately, he said his editor "managed to stick it together" into something he's proud of.
Fiennes said he had to be ruthless on his work as an actor to keep the film moving, and he came close to regretting his decision to star in the film.

"I've been indulged by directors who allowed me an extra take but I had to deny myself," he says during interviews at the Toronto International Film Festival. "It was hard."
I honestly don't know much about Ralph Fiennes - other than the English Patient and Lord Voldemort, I had to go visit IMDB to see what else I might know him from. This article, though, makes me like him.  He's not shy about being a first time director, giving plenty of credit to the editor above for managing to stick everything together.  Later in the article, on the subject of Vanessa Redgrave as Volumnia, he says simply that he knew to "shoot her well, and get out of the way."

I am very curious to see how this movie does. Coriolanus always struck me as a more political, and therefore boring, play.  Wait, hear me out!  You may love the political stuff, and can make a strong argument that those are the best plays. I'm just looking out at the world at large and wondering what your average audience is looking for.  Love, romance, tragedy, sword fights, comedy?  You have to admit, hardly anybody experiences Coriolanus unless they go out and hunt it down - and even rabid Shakespeare geeks rarely put it in their top 10.

But! We live in some serious politically-charged times. People love their war movies. So, who knows? Maybe I'm not giving people enough credit?  Only the box office knows for sure ...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Directing Your Mind's Eye

The message remains loud and clear, as I work my way through Richard III for the first time, that I should see a performance.  Shakespeare was meant to be seen, not read, as the old saying goes.

Let me ask the directors in the audience a question. You're given a play to direct that you've never seen, read, or experienced before. What do you do? Do you immediately go off and find somebody else's directorial vision of the play, watch that, and then say "Oh, ok, that's how that's supposed to go?"

Or would that completely mess with your ability to develop your own vision for the story? Sure, there's research that can be done - but if you're a completely empty vessel, isn't there a very real danger of filling yourself up too much with other people's ideas and not leaving enough room for your own?

See where I'm going with this?

If all you want to do with a Shakespeare play is to say, "Well, I've seen it, I know what it's about. Check that one off the old bucket list," then sure, go do that.

Thing is, I wouldn't really be here doing stuff like this web site if that's all I wanted.  I want to be so intimately familiar with the plays that I have my own movie running in my head. I want my own opinions, that I can answer by quoting the text - not by saying "I like how Richard Burton did it."

I'm pretty sure I've said it before, but I'll say it again - when you see Shakespeare, you're seeing one interpretation of what it could be.  When you read it, you're opening up the possibility of all of them.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How Should We Deal With Anonymous?

We all know that it's coming - Anonymous, the "Shakespeare didn't write his plays" movie. I'm getting inundated by articles and events both pro and con, on a daily basis.

I'm torn about what to do.  On the one hand, as one of the bigger places where we talk about events in the Shakespeare-related community I feel somewhat obliged to do something more than ignore it.

However, I also think that we're making it a bigger deal than it needs to be.  I saw somebody the other day saying that this movie is poised to significantly alter people's perceptions of Shakespeare's authorship for generations to come.  Are you kidding me? It's just a movie, by a guy known primarily for disaster flicks.  I am expecting people to care as much about the authorship question after this movie as they do before it - some people will have an opinion, which will not change, and some people will continue to not care.  I feel pretty safe in thinking that if somebody was actually convinced to believe the Oxford theory based solely on this movie? That any Stratfordian would not find that a difficult debate to win.  Shakespeare in Love came out, what, 10+ years ago? And I've yet to meet someone who thinks that Shakespeare's life was anything like that.

So, I'm putting it open to discussion. Do you want to hear about every (well, most) bit of goings-on regarding this event? Do you think we should be making a more active effort to shoot it down before it catches on, like the folks at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust are doing with their "60 Minutes" project?  I fear that if we actually take up the trolls on this one, we'll have to spend all of our time dealing with questions of whether Shakespeare was a gay atheist, too.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Best of "Shakespearean First Drafts"

I got into work this morning to a note from Bardfilm that he'd started a new game on Twitter that he called, "Shakespearean First Drafts".  As has become our new policy, here's a best-of post for posterity:

"We are all made of dream stuff."

"Hey look, it's Juliet up in the balcony. Hi, Juliet!"

"Brutus is a cool dude.  All these dudes, are cool dudes."

"For aught that ever I could read, / The course of true love never was a walk i' th' park."

"Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio. Crummy clown, bad material."

"Wanted: 1 horse. 10 bucks. Willing to negotiate. Call Rick ASAP."

"Anyone got a horse? Cause I really need one, like right now."

Claudius: How is't the clouds still hang on you? Hamlet: You suck! You're not my real dad!

"Holy crap, it's Yorick! Yorick died? When the frick did that happen?"

"And you, also, are among these conspirators? Oh, Brutus. Really?"

"My mistress' eyes are almost like the sun. Something like? Nearly like? Partly?"

"By the tickling of my nose, something evil this way blows."

"To be or not - I'm kinda leaning one way, but I'm a bit on the fence, you know?"

"Two loves I have, of comfort and despair, / And darned if I know what to do with either one."

"The game's a toe!"

"Darn it, Goneril just said what I was gonna say."

"There's something a bit off in the state of Denmark."

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Somebody's Doing Virtual Shakespeare Monkeys (Again)

I almost missed it, but looks like the idea of writing computer code to simulate the "infinite monkeys typing Shakespeare" thing has come around again.

As a programmer, I know what it's like to have free time and to do stuff like this (well, I used to :)).  So we won't debate the uselessness, or the apparent misunderstanding between "infinite" and "millions and millions."  You can have all the millions you want, it's still not infinite.

Instead I'll just point out that it's been done before. The source link is long dead, but my blog post back in 2005 should serve as proof that the idea is far from a new one.

When is somebody going to try the Schroedinger's Cat experiment, and give the monkeys a rest?

Tempest Puppets

This story about a rock music Tempest puppet show sounded very interesting, and then I spotted the caption on the first picture: "We have no respect for the play." Uh oh.

Later, thankfully, the quote is put into a bit better context:

"We wanted to make The Tempest quite easily understandable," continues McCarthy. "We're using Shakespeare and if we want to change it, we change it. We have no respect for it, I suppose."
This being German, the story then goes on to discuss whether puppets are inherently a children's show, and ends with a description of one particular show (not Shakespeare) that involved sadomasochistic puppets performing sex acts. Yikes.

R3 Experiment : Funny Villains

I'm not quite sure how to categorize this, but when I got to Richard saying something as over-the-top awesome as, "Simple, plain Clarence! I do love thee so, That I will shortly send thy soul to heaven," I thought "Man, I need to make a post out of that."

I'm sure that he's going to say amazing stuff like that many times in this play.  That's right up there with Aaron the Moor's "Villain, I have done thy mother."

What else ya go?  Iago's got lots of evil lines, but which ones are really his best over-the-top ones that make you laugh out loud and say "Oh my god that was awesome, I love this guy."

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

R3 Experiment : The Comedy Stylings of Richard III

So I'm tackling Richard III, as I mentioned, and blogging as I go.

Now, see, all I've ever heard about Richard III is about the villain, the monster, the deformed killer of children.  Nobody told me the man is hysterical.

I mean, seriously, is it just the Librivox audio I'm listening to, or are the opening scenes supposed to be laugh-out-loud funny?  Richard and Lady Anne give off this really dark Beatrice and Benedick vibe that I was not expecting at all.

Richard (alone) : Hmmm, I think I'll marry Lady Anne. True, true, I did kill her husband and father, but I can work around that.

Enter Lady Anne.

Richard:  Marry me!

Lady Anne: You killed my husband and my father!

Richard: Well, yes. Marry me anyway!

Lady Anne: I'll think about it.

Exit Lady Anne.

Richard (alone):  I can't believe that worked!

And that's after the whole opening with Clarence, which was equally over the top silly:

Richard (alone) : Now, see, all I need to do is slip the king a note that he has to beware of someone whose name starts with G.

Enter Clarence.

Richard:  Clarence!  Where you off to?

Clarence: The Tower!

Richard:  The Tower! Goodness, why are you being sent to the tower?

Clarence: I have no idea!  The King says it's because my name is George, can you believe it?

Richard: That's the strangest thing I've ever heard!  Well, fear not, I'm sure everything will work out.

(* See, the whole "I thought your name was Clarence?" thing that KJ mentions in his comments earlier, never bothered me. I just assumed that Clarence was his title and that George was a little used first name. ) the whole play like this?  That's some of the most ridiculously funny stuff I've seen in a while.  I'm waiting for the beheadings.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

R3 Experiment : The Plan

So I'm tackling Richard III, as I mentioned, and blogging as I go. 

One major question right out of the gate is, "What exactly does this mean? How does one approach a new play?"  It's not like I'm constrained to wandering down to the local Barnes & Noble and picking up the paperback edition.  It's safe to say that I've got access to a wider variety of resources than that ;)  Not only is there a complete works over on my bookshelf over there, I've got the works locally on my laptop and on my phone, not to mention easy googling.

"No Fear" editions that claim to do a <shudder> line by line translation of the play are not an option. If you need to ask why, I point you to 6 years of Shakespeare Geek archives. :)

However, it's also not reasonable to just jump in and read the play.  "Performed, not read!" everybody's been screaming for years.  Not to mention, in my particular situation it's just unrealistic so sit down for any amount of time with a Complete Works and all the necessary reference material, and still get a coherent first read of the story.  I see that as more the kind of thing to do after multiple reads, when I can better dig down into specific analysis.

So, performance.  Performance, performance. An argument I've always made against "Go see it!" is that this is easier said than done. You can't just snap your fingers and have a live show of every Shakespeare play, you have to take what you can get.  And right now I don't know of an R3 in my area.

Well, then, what about movies?  I will get to the movies - the McKellen, most likely, both because it is available for streaming on Netflix and also because his footnoted script is available online and I can follow along.  Once I've done that I'll probably come back around and check out the Olivier version.

Middle ground?  Audio.  I have plenty of time with my iPod (driving, yard work, etc...) which is currently filled with just podcasts and science fiction novels.  Shakespeare Teacher's recent post on the best of Shakespeare on Audio gave me the idea.  But you don't have to run out and drop the bucks for Arkangel , when Librivox is around.  For those that don't know, Librivox offers free MP3 readings of many public domain works, including of course Shakespeare.

So, there's my starting point.  It's currently Saturday afternoon, I've got the McKellen R3 in my Netflix queue, and the Librivox recording on my iPod.  I will have to back up my listening with reading, as it's obvious after just the first few minutes that some "Who is speaking now?" context is needed when doing nothing but listening.  But I can work with that.  My game plan is to listen whenever the opportunity presents, back up with reading when I get a moment, and play catchup with the movie version for a few minutes every night before bed.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Geek Interviews

So now that the school year is upon us again I'm going to bust out an idea that somebody approached me with last year. A school out in Colorado asked whether I'd be interested in using Skype to do a virtual interview with their Shakespeare class. I thought it sounded neat.

For various technical reasons that never happened (firewalls and client VPNS and other buzzy buzzwords), but that doesn't mean it's not still a good idea.

So, consider the offer out there. I want to talk to more people about our favorite subject. If you're in a position to be in charge of a group of people who might be interested in hearing that (students, I'm assuming), and this sounds like an interesting and feasible idea, then send me a note and we'll see whether we can make it happen.

Full disclosure : This is in no way going to end with me saying that I expect to be paid for this.  I just want to practice interacting with groups in more dynamic ways than "I post and you people comment." I also don't promise that, if I actually get a flood of requests, that I will be able to respond favorably to all of them :)  There's only so many hours in the day after all.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Five Other Important Shakespeare Questions

Now that the experts have been gathered at 60 Minutes With Shakespeare to answer the very important scholarly issue of Shakespearean authorship, I thought maybe we could queue up some other equally important issues for them to tackle next?

Five Questions Just As Important As Shakespeare Authorship, Seriously, No, We Really Mean It, No Sarcasm Intended At All

Is it true that Shakespeare hated Mondays?  There's no evidence to suggest that any of his plays were written on a Monday, so from that we can assume that he preferred to take long weekends.  Burden of proof rests on those who seek to prove that Shakespeare was at his most productive on that particular day, preferably between the hours of 9 and 11.

Shakespeare's favorite color was green, true or false?  Looking at his complete works we can see that green is mentioned almost 25% more frequently than his second favorite, red.  Orange is clearly his least favorite, mentioned less than 1/10th as frequently as other colors. And, since the color orange figures prominently in the national flag of Ireland, we can therefore conclude that Shakespeare was making a very early political statement about the United Kingdom.

Can you confirm or deny that Shakespeare did, in fact, once argue with his wife?  Since we have no shortage of evidence in the intervening centuries that shows that married men do indeed argue with their wives, it is only logical to assume that everything that some men do, Shakespeare must therefore have done. There is strong indication that this particular fight was about that earring in the Chandos portrait. He liked it, she thought it made him look gay.

Was Shakespeare a cross-dresser?  His plays are loaded with boys dressing up as girls dressing up as boys. Since we know his work to be mostly biographical, this is a logical assumption we can draw.  Additionally, state of the art computer-based textual analysis is currently being performed to determine whether the number of times a king is killed in the plays is a statistically significant indicator that Shakespeare, too, once killed a king.

Has anyone but me noticed that if you take all of the sonnets, dump all of the letters used into a big pile, then withdraw the letters in a certain order it spells out "Hello my name is Edward de Vere and I wrote all this poetry stuff and theatre junk"?  Granted you end up with a bunch of letters leftover, but that's an error introduced by the typesetter.

Thank you for your time.  The world must know! I have to get back to my email, Roland Emmerich has shown interest in obtaining the movie rights to this post.

60 Minutes With Shakespeare

September is now upon us and, as promised, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has released 60 Minutes With Shakespeare, which should stand up as the definitive resource for smacking down the Authorship debate once and for all.  60 questions, 60 Shakespearean scholars from around the world.  Amazing amount of work went into this.  Heck, they even got Roland Emmerich himself - the director of the movie Anonymous which seems to be the driving point behind this recent push - to answer a question.  

Having said all that, here's my thoughts. I appreciate that there are people who question authorship, and thus the Stratford position needs to be defended, especially by the people who are caretakers of history.  It just doesn't interest me, as a debate.  Of course the Stratford folks get together and answer 60 questions that "prove" Shakespeare wrote his works. But you know what? I completely believe that an Oxfordian group could get together and create this exact same site, and pull out 60 of their own experts (using that term loosely) to answer 60 questions that claim to prove that Oxford did it.  I'm not taking sides - I'm simply pointing out what appears obvious, that if you are clearly on either side, then no amount of proof that you offer can ever be seen as anything but completely biased.

Make up your own mind.  Go listen.  Pick out the questions you're most interested in, or hunt down the experts you most want to hear from.  I'm going to end up listening to all of them, I'm sure.  But if I'm going into it as secure in the knowledge that Shakespeare wrote his works as I am that the sun is going to rise in the morning, I'm just not quite sure what I'm supposed to get out of it.