Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What's Your Favorite Sonnet?

I've asked on Twitter, I've asked on Facebook (* so if you've answered there no need to answer again :)) so now I'm asking here for people that only read the blog:

What's your favorite sonnet?  The catch : you can't answer 18, 29, 116 or 130. 
Everybody and their mother has been inundated with those particular sonnets over the years.  What I'm looking for is the next group, the ones that the Shakespeare geeks love that, with a little more exposure, we can get the rest of the world to acknowledge.

So, hit me.  Other than those famous four, what's your favorite sonnet, and why?  To make the results the most objective, try to come up with your answer before you look at the comments, otherwise you'll never be able to tell if your vote was swayed.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Theme Song Shakespeare : All (But Him) In The Family

Ok, I've been busy.  But Bardfilm's been doing double duty, manning both his own blog as well as queuing up the quirky stuff for my return.  May I happily present you the Return of Theme Song Shakespeare?

All (but Him) in the Family

My name is Brabantio.
Where’d my Desdemona go?
She eloped with O-thell-o.
This is that play.
I’ll allow no buts or ifs—
Nor those crazy handkerchiefs.
Senate, we could use a man
Like Cassius as Ensign.
But Othello sure was great—
Did some service to the state—
Now he’s certain of his fate:
This is that play.
(For those youngsters that need a hint, click ........ here. )

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Shakespeare App Idea

My list of projects is already so long that it's not terribly useful for me to keep adding ideas to it.  So every now and then I'll just post them, and maybe somebody else runs with it.

Shakespeare Meme Generator

  1. Get a collection of Shakespeare quotes.  Easy peasy.  Could be romantic, motivational, funny - your choice.
  2. Get a collection of Shakespeare-related images.  Harder by definition, but not impossible.  Screen shots from well known movies?  Flickr tags?  Couple different ideas.
  3. Combine random quote with random image to make a new shareable/pinnable thing.
  4. Show it to the user.  Offer user options of generating a new one, or sharing/pinning/tweeting this one.
  5. Keep track of how popular each one is.  Set up a link to a gallery to reinforce browsing through them (thus making them even more popular).
Could work as a web app or a native app (although it's a little light for a native app).  Almost certain that similar "put a piece of text on a desired image" sites exist, though I don't have a pointer to one.  The work would be in creating the database of quotes and images.

UPDATE Something like this, but not this.  This is "Here's a database of images, put whatever text you want on it."  If anything I'm thinking of more the opposite - it's the words that are important, and it's really a matter of taste what image you use.

King Lear, for Kids

I think you all know how I feel about that.  I have, on the fly, retold the tale of King Lear to my 5year old son - at his request.  I will never forget this moment:

Well, her father the king was not happy with this answer at all. He got so mad that he said she would not have any share of the kingdom, and he banished her. 
...at this point a choked little voice asks me, "But did he still love her?" And I am caught so by surprise that I don't quite know what to do with myself. My little guy has been hanging on every word, and he's an emphathetic little bugger. 
"Oh, he absolutely still loved her," I told him, "He was just really really mad because he thought she was saying that she didn't love him. He didn't understand her answer. Are you sad?" 
He nods, unable to get any words out. 
I squeeze him a bit tighter and remind him that this story has a happy ending, remember? "We're going to find out that she loved him most of all."
The fact that I know that that's only half true?  That she did love him most of all, but that the story doesn't have a happy ending?  I'm lucky I didn't get choked up like he did trying to pretend like it all works out.

I have always believed that you can expose children to elements of Shakespeare, literally, from birth.  Go ahead and name their stuffed animals Romeo and Juliet, or Beatrice and Benedick.  Throw around random quotes when you can.  Bring up plot points.  It will be a long long time before they "get" Shakespeare in an academic sense.  It'll also be a long long time before they understand physics and gravity and parabolic arcs, but that doesn't mean they can't learn how to catch a ball.

Stop! Parent Teacher Time

It's that time of year again, where we get to sit down with our children's teachers and have them tell what a joy they are to have in class, how everything is fine, how we're raising little geniuses.

Well, except the boy.  The boy's a terror.


Nah, not really.  They're all doing well.  But that's not what I'm hear to talk about.  I've made it my mission to, how to put it, offer up my Shakespeare services? to my kids' teachers over the years:

So here's how it went:

1) My son's first grade teacher?  I did not offer.  Having failed to climb the wall last year for second graders, and having had less than stellar luck with first graders in the past, I was not ready to volunteer to get into it again.  He's got more years in the school system.  And, just because I didn't offer now, doesn't mean I can't change my mind and offer later.   (I'll actually be his class's "Junior Achievement" speaker, which will be more about computers than Shakespeare)

2) My daughter's third grade teacher.  This is an interesting one.  Last year we were really excited to try Shakespeare in her second grade class, until I got Bowdlerized into non existence by the principal (who is not my pal).  Well this year my daughter's third grade teacher also happens to be the "head teacher", in charge of all sorts of things.  She's also a world class geek (though she won't admit it) who talks a mile a minute, assumes that whoever she is speaking with understands everything that she is saying, and gives more the feeling of being a teller than a listener, you know?  Not any of those things in a bad way, just that's the way she is.  I call it a geeky personality.  I know people like that.  I probably am people like that.

Anyway, as we are done with our whirlwind check in for our daughter and being ushered to the door, I make my pitch - "Just wanted to throw this out there, I've done it for all my kids teachers over the years.  My kids have been raised on Shakespeare.  So if there's ever any sort of unit you're doing in the classroom that might overlap with that subject, be it poetry or memorization or even English history or drama or performance, I'd be happy to help out with something like that."

Well she *loved* it.  "Yes.  Yes yes. Let's do this, let's make this happen."  No real plan for what or when exactly, but it's a start. I warned her that I'd tried a similar project last year and gotten shot down by the principal himself.  She smiled (smirked?) and suggested that there were benefits to being head teacher.  I love it.  I'm a little nervous about what her expectations might be now that I've opened this door, but when has that stopped me?
3) My fifth grade daughter.  I tried to do something with her Brownie troop last year, since they're the oldest and could most easily pick up a script and give it a shot, but that particular event didn't happen.  So, again, I make the pitch to her teacher.  And got back a totally different response?  "That's great! In the past we actually did a unit on the sonnets, and I had the kids memorize Sonnet 19."

...really?  "Sonnet 19?" I asked.  "No you didn't.  Really?  Nobody does Sonnet 19."

"Sure we did," she said.  "When in disgrace with fortune in men's eyes...?"

For a minute I confused that with 18, before remembering that it is 29.  I told her that I thought that was a great idea and would happily come in to do something like that or, as I mentioned to the other teacher, anything on biography, english history, or even drama/performance.

She asked whether she could put a link to my site up on her teacher's page for the kids, but alas I had to disclaim myself and acknowledge that since the site is not deliberately geared for that age group, that they would see some occasionally PG-style language.  I don't mind when teenagers find the site on their own (and they often do), but I can't willingly tell a teacher to tell her 10yr olds to come read this stuff.

So it looks like I might have at least two different opportunities to get back into the classroom this year! Keep your fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What Was Macbeth's Plan?

A simple question.  There might be a simple answer:

Macbeth kills Duncan.  Malcolm is the presumed next king, but Malcolm flees.  Macbeth is proclaimed king.   But!  Macbeth had no way of knowing that Malcolm would split the scene, so what exactly did Macbeth think was going to happen when he killed Duncan?  It's not like he was next in line.  Was he figuring on killing Malcolm as well?

Cosby Shakespeare

Anybody remember The Cosby Show?  While listening to my Macbeth novel on audiobook I was reminded of this scene, where Theo and his friend "Cockroach" decide to skip reading Macbeth, and just get the audio out of the library:

When that fails them (they can't understand a word) and there are no performances in the area to go see, they fall back on the Cliff Notes (ahem, "Cleland Notes") and it becomes a moralizing story about not taking the easy way out on your homework.

Claire, the mom, is just ridiculously annoying as she wanders about the house quoting Macbeth from memory, knowing that the kids won't understand it. It's like they wrote episodes of this sort solely so that the adults come throw some lines in there.  When Theo claims that he managed to squeak by on the test, she then tells him she's going to give him *another* test of her own devising?  Sorry, but I find that awful.

For a better episode don't miss the guest appearance by Christopher Plummer, in their Julius Caesar episode (he does not appear toward the end, and more in the second section):

I'm trying to decide if I did stuff like that in my living room, in front of my kids, whether they would find it awesome, or ridiculously embarrassing.

(* Did Christopher Plummer really say, "I have seen original manuscripts by William Shakespeare"??? )

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Courtship of Lady Macbeth

I don't really have a theory for this question, but as I listen to "Enter Three Witches" on audiobook, the idea crossed my mind.  Do you think that Lady Macbeth was, once upon a time, a nice person?  Who then turned into what we see in the play?  Or do you think that what we see is the way she's always been?

In another book I'd started and never finished, they go with the plot that she was a perfectly nice and normal woman who was forced to live at the nasty, gloomy castle Inverness by King Duncan, and this directly led to the miscarriage of her child.  In that case, the whole story plays out more like revenge against Duncan.

The same is true for Macbeth himself, I suppose, since we often speak of them as the perfect couple.  Is Macbeth just a man like any other, with his own fair share of ambition, who gets pushed over the edge by the wyrd sisters?  Or was it always eating away at him, something that would have come to pass whether the witches had anything to do with it or not?

What do you think the Macbeths' life was like 10 years before the play?

Monday, October 08, 2012

Vampire Shakespeare

It's that time of year again when those of us who don't play dress-up for a living get to break out the costumes and wander the streets as our favorite Zombie Shakespeare.  We've spoken of Shakespeare Halloween Costumes in years past (see here, here and here), and I even finally pulled the trigger and made my own Halloween costume last year, which I like to think was a success even if most of the people at the party didn't get it. :)

As we wandered the aisles of the costume shoppe, always on the lookout for something I could spin Shakespearean, I had all sorts of ideas. Great Caesar's Ghost is always a relatively easy option. Personally I still want to go as Bacon one of these years, complete with name tag that says "Hello My Name is Francis" and carrying around a book "The Complete Works Of Me". But to properly do that my wife has to agree to be Eggs (the costumes come as a set), and she ain't have that. I spotted a knight costume and thought I could maybe pull off a Richard III with apropriate use of hump. Pirate Family was high up on the list for a bit, and I already had visions of carrying around little home made Rosencrantz and Guildenstern dolls, carrying a letter between them that reads "To England".

Alas, I was outvoted - we're vampires this year. Fair enough I suppose, I got the vote last year.

So now my dilemma - how do I make vampire Shakespeare? Looking for ideas. Something that doesn't just say generic undead character (I already did zombie Yorick), but actually ties in the vampire/blood theme in some way. I've already considered seeing if my wife will put blood spots on her hands and go as Vampire Lady Macbeth. :)

Brace Yourselves, A New Authorship Movie Is Coming

Last Will. & Testament by First Folio Pictures (that's the exact spelling, with that period in the middle like that) is coming soon to On Demand and iTunes download.  Roland Emmerich and Derek Jacobi are also attached to this one, so I'm guessing from the materials that it's some sort of documentary that they shot while filming that other movie - you know, the entirely fictional one.

I don't know that I've got anything to add on the subject.  We've been over it all before.  Maybe this is some sort of "Anonymous : Behind The Scenes" special that focuses more on the supposed actual research that backs their theories.

The whole thing reminds me of the recent political debate, where the rule appears to be The last person not to be called a liar, must have been telling the truth.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis

So I saw a commercial just now for the new "Lincoln" movie by Steven Spielberg, starring Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role. I love this guy as an actor.  There are some actors that have become so iconic that you never forget, "Wow, Anthony Hopkins is really good in this!" or nudging the person next to you and saying, "See, that's why I love Ian McKellen..."   From the opening lines of There Will Be Blood, on the other hand, Mr. Day-Lewis was simply gone, replaced by an oil man for the next two hours' traffic of my television screen.

So I saw him doing Lincoln - where, again, he looks and sounds like no other role he's yet taken - and all I can think is, "We gotta get this guy to do some Shakespeare."

Some of you may know where I'm going with this. :)  What I did NOT know is that he did play in Hamlet back in 1989, and famously had a nervous breakdown on stage, claiming to see the ghost of his own dead father.  It has been theorized (I can not find confirmation) that a major plot point of the television show Slings & Arrows, where director Geoffrey Tennant has a nervous breakdown during a production of Hamlet, was inspired by this episode.

From what I understand, Daniel Day-Lewis has never performed a live stage role again.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Theme Song Shakespeare : The Scottish MacHillbillies

Theme Song Shakespeare: The Scottish MacHillbillies

By Amy Helmes and Kim Askew from Romancing the Tome

(Macbeth sung to the theme song of “The Beverly Hillbillies”)
Come and listen to the story of a Scottish dude named Mac,
He was praised by King Duncan, who always had his back.
But he got a funny feeling he’d be elbow-deep in gore
when three witches told him he was destined for much more…
(King, that is…Dunsinane and everything.)
He told his bitchy wife and she figured out a plot
(later to bemoan that bloody spot wouldn’t come out.)
Macbeth was on a roll and had Banquo soon killed off
So Macduff and his buddies said, “Yo — enough’s enough!”
More predictions from the witches left Macbeth without a care
(Well except for seeing ghosts and flying daggers in the air)
“No man born of woman” could defeat him, so, it’s cool,
and unless the trees were movin’, Macbeth would always rule.
(Oppress, that is…baby-killin’ and massacres)
Using branches cut off from old Birnam Wood
Macduff’s crew disguised themselves best as they could
When Macbeth saw the forest moving out of the blue
He knew the hags’ predictions were all comin’ true.
At last he met up with his foe face-to-face,
Thinking his opponent could never take his place
“No man born of woman” was his last deception
‘cause Macduff had been born by Caesarian section!
Ya don’t come back now, Macbeth, y’ hear?

Choose Your Own Shakespeare

Does everybody remember "Choose your own adventure" books?  You'd come to a cliffhanger page that asks, "If you try to climb down into the ravine, turn to page 17 ... If you think you can jump, turn to page 23..."   It was only a matter of time before you found every combination through the book, quickly spotting places where the lines converged (so that whether you went 15->17->25->26 or you went 15->23->24->25->26 you found yourself in the same spot).  But, still, a great example of how you can put some interactivity into a book.

The digital age gets to finally kick this up a notch with projects like Coliloquoy, which tracks the actual statistics of how people go through your book and reports those number back to the author.
Unfortunately the statistics provided for example don't make a great case as to the usefulness - showing that in a coin-flip decision point, 52% of people pick one answer while 47% pick the other.  Depending on the size of your audience, that's barely statistically significant.  What they need to do is look at post-read analysis and say things like "Of the people who took the A->B->D...." path, only 12% went back to read it again, but users who took the A->B->Q->C... path go back and re-read 50% of the time."  Maybe at the end (I'm not sure if they already do this), have some sort of quick "How did you like the book?" question so you can judge your results.  After all, you can go back and read the book because you loved it, or because you hated it. So counting re-reads doesn't tell you all you need to know.

Anyway, what's this got to do with Shakespeare?

Well, Choose Your Own Shakespeare exists in live form (link via Bardblog).  This looks to be a structured improv sort of thing -- instead of yelling out an idea, you get a choice of a couple of ideas, and the most votes wins.  Probably a lot easier on the actors :).

But I'd rather talk about the text.  Imagine that you want to tell your favorite Shakespeare story.  How would you go about turning it into a choose your own adventure?  What sort of choices does Hamlet have to make, and how would they take the story in a different direction?  Could you make a bigger statement about the nature of tragedy such that all paths through the story still end up back at the same final act?

This has almost certainly been done, I just can't find any texts to point at.

What if you made such a story in this new Coliloquoy format, where we could get back statistics on how people chose to read the story?  I wonder where people would focus their attention, which scenes they'd skip and which they'd revisit?

Personally I'd like to see a path through the story that involves Hamlet dealing with Ophelia in a different way.  I understand it, I just find it one of the most unforgiving things that Hamlet does.

In my younger days (when I had more time for such things), these are the kinds of projects I'd daydream about.  A publishing engine that allowed me to craft endless paths through a story.  I'm not talking about a bunch of coinflip choices that ultimately do little but add a couple dozen pages to the story and leave only a few endings, but really exploring the universe by looking at every major decision point and asking "What if it went the other way?"  It's near impossible to do justice when you're talking about Shakespeare as your source, because as soon as you go off text everybody knows it and can not truly take an unbiased trip through your story.  But it doesn't hurt to dream.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Theme Song Shakespeare : Welcome Back, Daughter!

A little something from Bill at Shakespeare Teacher!  Thanks Bill!

Welcome Back, Daughter

(King Lear, to the tune of "Welcome Back, Kotter")
Welcome back,
Your love was one time in doubt.
Welcome back,
To that same old place where I kicked you out.
Well your sisters have changed since you hung around,
And my kingdom is lost, though I still am crowned.
Who'd have thought they'd kill you (Who'd have thought they'd kill you.)
Here within this milieu (Here within this milieu.)
Yeah, I think you're still alive, 'cause my senses took a dive, welcome back,
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

Anybody can play!  Send along your theme song mashups!

Directors! What Do You Cut, And Why?

I know I've got a bunch of directors in the audience.  Here's a question I've never asked before, and I have no frame of reference for answering:

What's the single largest piece of text you've cut from a production, and why did you pick it?
I'm specifically curious about how big a passage can get, while still being something that a director will say "Nope!  Don't need that!"  Excising 50 lines throughout the play is very different than getting rid of a single speech of 50 lines, I'd assume.

Giving lines to another character doesn't count.  This is about bits where you made the choice to leave some stuff on the floor.

Good Guy Friar Laurence

Once again Reddit's bringing the interesting conversation, this time on an old Romeo and Juliet question:

Do you think that Friar Laurence is a criminal or a hero?
Somewhere along the line, someone (was it you, David Blixt?) told me that Friar Laurence is a really bad guy who used two stupid lovestruck kids as pawns in his scheme to be the hero who ends the feud. When I go look in the text, however, all I really find is that one line of his where he tells Romeo "For this alliance may so happy prove, To turn your households' rancour to pure love."

Where do you stand on Friar Laurence?  Is he to be completely forgiven?  A character who tried to do the right thing, for all the right reasons, and it just didn't work out?  Or does he share in the blame for bringing it all down upon their heads? After all, what would have happened had he not married Romeo and Juliet?  Romeo had already shown that he was pretty fickle in the love department.  Nobody was dead at this point, nobody banished.  Would they both have just gotten over it?  Romeo's impulsiveness could have been cut off at the pass real quick if Friar Laurence hadn't enabled it.

What's the Funniest Tragedy?

We've often discussed the fact that Romeo and Juliet, right up until Mercutio's death, is a romantic comedy that suddenly goes very very badly.  Even the darkest plays have at least a couple of jokes thrown in (or do they?)  So let's talk about that.  Among all the plays that are not supposed to be comedy, which one do you think is the funniest?

There's multiple ways to look at this:

* Laughs where Shakespeare put them, and expected them.
* Laughs where a modern director found an opportunity to get a laugh.
* Laughs where the audience laughed, and probably wasn't supposed to.

So let me rephrase it this way - which play do you think provides enough potential for the audience to walk away thinking, "Wow, I never expected to laugh that hard!"

I've seen a fair share of laughs in Othello, and Macbeth.  I didn't laugh at Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus, but when I saw a production in Boston Common the lead character was so over the top snarky in his attitude toward everybody that I couldn't help myself (although I also wanted to punch him).  I'll be very surprised if King Lear makes this list.  Somebody remind me if there's any funny bits in that one at all?

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Theme Song Shakespeare : Prospero's Island

My turn! I can play too! Theme Song Shakespeare continues!

Just sit right back and you'll hear a play,
A play about a fateful trip
That started from the port of Milan
Aboard a tiny ship.
There sat the sorceror Prospero,
His daughter at his side.
His enemies sent them out to sea
And left them there to die (left them there to die....)
The weather started getting rough,
The tiny ship was tossed,
If not for the loyalty of Gonzalo
His books would all be lost, his magic would be lost.
Now Prospero made his home on this uncharted magic isle
With Ariel,
And Caliban,
Who made his move, now he's a slave.
They're all alone -
But not so fast, what's that ship out there?
Here comes King Alonso.
So this is the tale of Propero,
Setting traps for his enemies.
He'll almost have revenge at last
Until his daughter begs mercy.
Miranda and now Ferdinand
(Who, come on now, she just met!)
Will make her dad at last accept
That now they want to wed.
Hey wait don't forget about Caliban,
He's hatched another plan.
Now Stefano plans to run the show
With Prospero's books in hand.
So have no fear it all works out,
No tragedy, no one dies.
There's guaranteed a happy ending
Here on Prospero's Isle!

Did Hamlet Lie?

Over on the Shakespeare section of Reddit, a question came up that I'd never seen before:

Is Hamlet really telling the truth about what happened on the ship?
The submitter's argument is basically that the story is too unbelievable.  Why would the pirate take Hamlet prisoner, and then taxi him back home?  Why would Rosencrantz and Guildenstern just sit back and let that happen, having been charged to get Hamlet to England?

The general consensus is that no, Hamlet's not lying, and there's enough evidence to prove that (both in the text and historically).

It's fun to grab at a random angle like this every now and then, and re-examine bits of the play you might previously have been skimming over.  During the conversation I wondered, "Once they lost Hamlet, why did R&G bother continuing on to England, anyway?"  But then I remembered, their mission was to deliver that letter (which ended up being their execution order). They never knew that Hamlet was the primary reason for their trip.  It does make you wonder what they were thinking when they watched a pirate ship sail away with the prince, though.  "Oooooo!  Claudius is gonna be *pissed*!"

Don't miss the later posts in the thread that focus on Shakespeare's use of exposition, and just how big a deal it would be to have a character lie while doing that.  I personally like digging through the text, but that's mostly because at any given time I can find and search texts, whereas the historical stuff?  I never know if there's some book I've missed that completely negates everything I think I've just learned.

Theme Song Shakespeare : Golden Danes

Knock, knock!

  Who's there?

Bardfilm doing real work!

  Bardfilm doing real work who?

You're right, that really doesn't sound like him, does it? Here's another theme song mashup to knock "Gangnam Style" out of your brain...

Setting the scene . . . Hamlet lies, dying in a pool of his own poisoned blood.  Horatio approaches . . . the music swells . . . and  
[Hamlet sings] 
Thank you for being a friend.
Grappled you to my soul--now and then.
Hor-a-tio, you’re a pal and a confidant.
And if you threw a fencing match
Invited both the king and the queen
You might think
They'd put some poison in your drink,
But the cup was meant for me.
[Horatio interrupts] 
Thank you for being a friend.
Travelled to Wittenberg and back again.
Funeral-baked meats furnished forth a meal or two. 
And if you saw a ghostie
That scared you into taking revenge--
Or if you say,
“Let's do a play-within-the-play,”
I would saw the air and say,
"Thank you for being a friend."
    "The rest is silence"
"Thank you for being a friend."
    "Horatio, I die now."
"Thank you for being a friend."
    "May flights of angels . . ."
 ". . . thank you for being a friend."

I can't get enough of these.  I've got one of my own queued up but I can't seem to find the time to finish it off, Bardfilm keeps knocking these out so fast!  If you want to join the fun, send in your theme song mashups!

Monday, October 01, 2012

Theme Song Shakespeare : A Kingdom For A Horse, Of Course

One day, Bardfilm's boss is going to learn where I live, fly here and punch me out.  Because his best Shakespeare professor has real day job work to do, and I do things like plant "ear memes" into his brain on a Friday afternoon guaranteeing that no real work gets done for the next few days.

But we benefit!   Here's only a portion of what Bardfilm left on my doorstop this morning...

[The youngsters in the audience are directed here, in case they don't recognize the tune.  Now get off our lawn, ya whipper snappers, we're trying to sing along ;)]

Hello, I’m Richard the Third.
My kingdom for a horse, of course.
And no one can talk to me of remorse
Unless, of course, I get no horse and I end up being dead.
I have no remorse for Anne, of course,
though I caused her death (instead of divorce).
I'm always on a steady course--until I end up dead.
Richmond yakkity yaks a streak and wastes my Bosworth Field.
But Richard, in winters of discontent, will never, never yield!
So go check the source (Sir Thomas Morse)
And you'll see my crown on a bush of gorse.
You want a kingdom for a horse?
Well, listen to this.
Whoops! I guess I'm dead.