Monday, December 29, 2014

The 2014 Year In Shakespeare

Happy Holidays, everyone!

As 2014 draws to a close I thought it would be fun to do something different and look at all the exciting adventures we've had in the wonderful world of Shakespeare.

We'll kick it off in February with my continuing efforts to bring Shakespeare into school as early as possible, when I visited my daughter's fourth grade classroom.

We also had this brief news story about the authentication of two new Shakespeare portraits. In hindsight I think perhaps I got a little over excited, as the story was never mentioned again and probably should have gone into the crackpot bucket.

In March, riding high on the success of my fourth grade visit, I nearly threw in the towel when I attempted the same feat in my son's second grade class.  It did not go as expected.  But there's a reason why I titled the post Ok, Worth It.

April as always brought us Shakespeare Day, this year being one of those special round numbers as we celebrated 450 years since his birth. I posted almost 30 times that day as is my tradition, so instead of linking them all I'll point you to where it all started and when our revels ended (for the day).

But wait! April wasn't done yet as I was brought back for an encore performance for the fourth grade, a story so big I had to post it Henry IV style  -- part 1 and part 2.

And what was the rest of Shakespeare world doing while I was corrupting young minds?  Well we might very well have found Shakespeare's dictionary.

All The World's A Stage

I got to see a whole bunch of Shakespeare this year, which was awesome.

In February you can see my reaction to learning that Teller (of Penn and Teller fame) would be producing his version of The Tempest.  Well in June I got to see it (front row!) and it was everything I expected.

Every August I head into Boston to see Shakespeare on the Common.  This year? Twelfth Night.

Even more!  The stars aligned this year and I was able to take my kids to see my beloved local group Rebel Shakespeare perform As You Like It. It's great to see professionals perform Shakespeare. It's even more special to see kids and teens perform Shakespeare, not because their teacher made them, but because they get it and this is what they want to do.

Flights of Angels Sing Thee To Thy Rest

Alas, no year end review is complete without a moment of silence for those we've lost. RIP Mickey Rooney, who brought us Puck many decades ago. Seriously, the man was credited with acting roles over 10 decades. It's hard to believe we were ever going to lose him.

We also lost two Iagos - Bob Hoskins and Philip Seymour Hoffman. As I wrote at the time of Mr. Hoskins passing, perhaps they can compare notes with the Master now.

Finally, an event that I can say has honestly still devastated me, was the passing of Robin Williams. At the time I posted a number of his Shakespeare links on Twitter, and honestly I wanted to do a tribute post at the time, but I couldn't. It was too much to bear.  Instead I'll leave his memory on a high note, from the Apple commercial voiceover he did at the beginning of the year.  What will your verse be?

<fade to black, commercial break>

A Year of Discoveries

It was back in 2012 that Richard III's skeleton was found in a parking lot, but this year we finally got DNA confirmation that it is in fact him - along with some surprises!

This brings us pretty much up to date, except....let me see, I could swear there was another story that snuck in there right at the end.... oh, yeah.




I think it's fascinating to have another copy, and I'm quite sure that we'll be poring over it for years to come, micro-cataloguing every mark and scratch on it. What intrigues me more, though, is the idea that this can still happen.  I'm going to borrow a quote from Men in Black  here:
Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.
Five years ago, Richard III's remains were lost to the ages. Now we're debating his DNA records. As 2014 began we all knew that there were 232 surviving First Folios. Now there are 233. We may even have an entirely new work, a dictionary Shakespeare may have used.

As Stanley Wells said in a recent Newsweek article, "There’s lots and lots of unexamined legal records rotting away in the national archives; it is just possible something will one day turn up."

I can't wait.

Happy New Year, Shakespeare geeks!

Newsweek on Shakespeare Authorship

Normally I would let an article like this one just quietly float past, without comment. But I found it so laugh out loud ridiculous that I can't resist comment.

Apparently a group of Shakespeare deniers (I don't particularly care to name them and give them any sort of Google juice) put up £40,000 to debate Stanley Wells' Shakespeare Birthplace Trust on the usual, and of course Wells told the buggers to go pound sand, that he's tired of rehashing the same old arguments.

The fun part comes at the end, where their leader gives us a perfect example of why it is impossible to argue logically with them:

“As Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.’ We’ve got to the fight bit.”
First of all, yes, he really did compare his cause to Gandhi, so there's that.  The more amusing bit to me, however, is that the entire article is about the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's refusal to debate the topic.  So no, Mr. Anonymous, you've not got to the fight bit. You're barely at the ridicule bit, honestly. Most of us would prefer to keep ignoring you.

Thank you, though, for the demonstration in how to ignore facts when they're right in front of you and only state what supports your case.  Ironic, innit?

Friday, December 05, 2014

Peter Pan Live Had Shakespeare In It?

I know I'm a day late but my family tends to record things and watch them when it's a better time for the kids.

Last night was NBC's big #PeterPanLive event, as you may have noticed. I did not expect to blog about it.

But then this happened.  Wendy and the boys have gone with Peter to Neverland, where she is to play the role of mother and tell them the ends of all the stories.  And then...

Lost Boy #1:  Tell us the ending of Cinderella!
Wendy: Well, the glass slipper fit, and Cinderella and the Prince lived happily ever after.
All:  Hurray!
Lost Boy #2:  Tell us the ending of Sleeping Beauty!
Wendy:  The prince kisses her, and she wakes up and they all live happily ever after.
All:  Hurray!
Lost Boy #3:  Tell us the ending to Hamlet!
Wendy:  <blank stare>  Umm....well.....Hamlet dies, and the king dies, and the queen dies and Ophelia dies, and Laertes dies....
All: ...
Wendy: ....but everybody who's left lives happily ever after.
All:  Hurray!
I honestly have no idea if that's a new scene or if that is in J.M. Barrie's original in any form.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Whoa, Wait .. Is Disney Doing Midsummer Night's Dream?!

[Hat tip to Will Sutton of I Love Shakespeare for this one!]

The thought of a mass market animated Shakespeare has compelled me for years. I followed every story I could find while waiting for Gnomeo and Juliet to see the light of day (seriously - here's a 2006 post, and here's 2011 post when it finally came out). I've also been saying for years, you'll note, that I think they should do The Tempest.

But I'll take Midsummer, too!

It appears that Strange Magic will hit theaters January 23! Created by Lucasfilm (which was started by George Lucas and now owned by Disney), produced by Touchstone (who I believe did Gnomeo?) and directed by a Pixar veteran, the story is "inspired by" A Midsummer Night's Dream so we'll have to see what that might mean. The clip below has more, although I'm worried about the "battle over a powerful potion."

IMDB gives us no clue about characters, listing all the celebrity credits as just "(Voice)".

We'll be watching this one closely! I'm quite sure I'm just getting my hopes up about the amount of Shakespeare content that might make it into the final product, but I don't care.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

King Lear and Sydney's Arcadia?

I received a request this evening from Hikari, who is studying at university in I assume Japan (from his .jp email address). Hikari asks:

I'm going to write an essay about King Lear's sub-plot and its source Sydney's "Arcadia"(the story of the Paphlagonian King). But I couldn't find secondary sources for my essay yet. Do you know any sources about it?
I had to go do my research to even understand the question, but I've never been shy to admit when I have no idea. The story of the Paphlagonian King refers to the Edmund/Edgar/Gloucester plot of Lear, which drew on Sydney's Arcadia as a source.

Some quick googling brought me here:

For the sub-plot of King Lear, Shakespeare relied upon a story from Arcadia, the epic romance by Sidney, published in 1590. We can see by examining Shakespeare's wonderful attention to the characters of Edgar and Gloucester, how much Sidney's tale of the king of Paphlagonia and his two sons sparked the Bard's own imagination.
I'm not quite sure what Hikari is looking for in his quest for "secondary sources". Does anybody else have some better sites to link?

Friday, November 07, 2014

The Divine Miss Macbeth

The other day we learned that Cyndi Lauper is really into Shakespeare. Today in another one of Reddit's famous AMA's, Bette Midler went ahead and dropped some Shakespeare into the conversation without needing an invitation:

Lady Midler as Lady Macbeth?

I don't know, what do people think? I'm trying to think of her most memorable roles, and I keep coming up with comedy. Could she handle one of the great tragedies? Or do we see her more in a comic role? What I don't see her in is any sort of supporting role. Whatever she does, it seems that she's got to be front and center.

Stop Teasing Me, Middle School

My daughter, I may have mentioned, is in middle school. At the beginning of the school year my wife copied down all the relevant events from the school calendar to our personal calendar. I noticed that next weekend it says, "Fall play : Shakespeare."

What's this now?

I hit the school web site for details.  I've mentioned in the past that my town has an excellent Shakespeare program at the high school, and is part of an invitation-only festival in Lennox, Mass every year.  So if they say they're doing Shakespeare I'm not going to miss it. But alas, this is the middle school not the high school and all the calendar still says is, "Fall Play : Shakespeare".

I tackle my daughter the next morning.  "Ummm, hello?  Fall play Shakespeare? Why do I not know about this?"

"I told you about it," she says.  Liar!

"Pretty sure you didn't," I say.

"Romeo and Juliet? Remember?"

Then I remember. Back at the beginning of the year she told me that the eighth graders are doing something called "Romeo and Juliet Together and Alive At Last".

"Ohhhhh!" I say, "That's annoying. That's not Shakespeare."

So as not to miss out on any Shakespeare, however, I go googling for it. Turns out that Bardfilm beat me to it, and reviewed the story (the novel version, at least) on his blog.

I did get to read some of the script, and I agree with his assessment - the characters are eighth graders dealing with eighth grade issues, but they talk like second graders. I don't plan on going to see the play. I hope that this is not "Shakespeare prep" for the kids before they get to high school.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Dancing With The Shakespeare

I'm not sure how many of you watch ABC's Dancing With the Stars, either because you're in another country and have no idea what it is or because you just got sick of them playing fast and loose with the word "star" about 10 seasons ago.

But!  This week was "Dynamic Duo" week, and somebody (Val and Janel) did Romeo and Juliet. I always pay closer attention when there's a chance that somebody's gotten some Shakespeare into other random stuff.

Unfortunately there's not a whole lot of Shakespeare to be found, once you get past the name. Check it out (they did get a perfect score for the performance):

On second thought, let's look a little closer.

I'm not quite sure what they were going for here, but when I first saw it I thought, "Are they in her bedroom looking out the window?"  As in, "It was the nightingale, and not the lark?"

But here's what sealed it for me. I can only hope that he was going for what I think he was going for:

Romeo's reaction to discovering Juliet's dead body? I love it.  (By the way, you may notice that he's literally holding her up across his knees. Nice trick!)

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Girls Just Wanna Have Shakespeare

Let's talk about Cyndi Lauper, who my younger audience will know from her show Kinky Boots (Tony Award winning show, I believe), and my audience who is more my age will know her from her domination of the pop charts back in the 80's with Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Time After Time, True Colors and many others.

Today Cyndi Lauper did one of Reddit's famous AMA's, short for "Ask Me Anything". It's always interesting to see how these go. Typically with a celebrity there's no point in asking a question as yours will almost never float high enough to be seen, but it's fun to come in after and read the various summaries to see what you learn.

Check it out:

Cyndi Lauper's Reddit AMA (click to enlarge)
Wait, what? Did Cyndi Lauper just drop in an entirely out of context Shakespeare reference? Her biggest regret (well, one of) was "not doing SNL (Saturday Night Live) with all the wrestlers, because she always wanted to see them do Shakespeare with her."  (Brief bit of context for the confused, Ms. Lauper was the centerpiece in the 1980's of what became known as the Rock n Wrestling Connection due to her friendship with real life WWF manager Captain Lou Albano, RIP).

Where'd this Shakespeare interest come from?  To the Google!

An excerpt from her memoir (which I have not read), where she appears to be talking about an old boyfriend:
Cyndi Lauper : A Memoir (click to enlarge)

This is unfortunately the only reference I can find. It's obvious that she's got theatrical experience/interest/connections, look at her success with Kinky Boots. But now I'm curious about her background in Shakespeare! She must have some signficant interest in the subject for it to jump right to the top of her "big regrets" list like that.

Other snippets from the book include a note that her mother, "...wanted to be a Bohemian. She went to museums and read about Chinese architecture and yogis and Shakespeare."

Alas I can't find any information that suggests she's got formal schooling in Shakespeare, or that she may have ever acted in any of the works.  Neat idea, though. I know very little about Kinky Boots, but I hear it was very well received, so I'm left to wonder how much classic theatre practice went into its development.

Let's Talk About Globe on Demand

Everybody and their Uncle Pandarus is reporting on the Globe bringing their plays online for rental or purchase.  As a fan? I love the idea. As a technology geek I think it's a good first step, and for a number of reasons I hope they make some changes.

If you haven't seen the player yet, it's proprietary. Instead of teaming up with any of the plethora of other services available, the Globe is using their own. You register with them, pay them your money, and watch your videos on their player. This goes against what I see as the most common trends in this industry. As a consumer I want:

1) An "all you can consume" subscription option. You tell me you put 50 plays online and want to charge me $6.50 to rent each one, I can't help thinking "It's going to cost me over $300 if I expect to watch all of these." But tell me that for $99 I can have a year long access to watch the plays whenever I want?  Much better deal, and also far more likely to get more money out of me because I may have high hopes about watching all of them, but let's be realistic, I'm not doing that. Not only are many not available in my region, many are in foreign languages.  So if I end up watching less than about 15 of them, the $99 deal still puts the Globe ahead.

2) I want to watch on my television, not my computer. This is standard now. Between my Roku box and my Chromecast, anything that's worth watching is worth watching on the big screen. I'm relatively certain they don't have a Roku channel, but I'm honestly not sure if it works with Chromecast. It might.

3) If I choose to buy/own a video, do I get a DRM-free, downloadable version? I'm not going to try it to find out, but that's what I'd want. I want a file that I'll copy over to my home video system, where I'll be able to play it on my television (see point #2). I get the funny feeling that buying the video from the Globe means you still get to log back into the Globe site, check out your account, and watch your videos from there.

Has anybody plonked down some money yet and taken this one for a spin? What do you think? What did you rent?

Monday, November 03, 2014

Where You From?

I was looking at my site recently and while I noticed that the lion's share of my traffic comes from the US, expectedly, but according to Google there's 117 different locations where my readers have come from.

So I'm curious.  Where you from? What's the Shakespeare scene like over there?

Collier Shakespeare

On Halloween I asked for research into which edition added a stage direction for Hamlet to put down Yorick's skull.  Bardfilm tells me it was added in the Collier edition, but then disappeared before I could ask for more info on Collier.  So, I had to go look for myself.

Interesting!  From the Wikipedia page:
Collier used these opportunities to effect a series of literary fabrications. Over the next several years he claimed to find a number of new documents relating to Shakespeare's life and business. After New Facts, New Particulars and Further Particulars respecting Shakespeare had appeared and passed muster, Collier produced (1852) the famous Perkins Folio, a copy of the Second Folio (1632), so called from a name written on the title-page. In this book were numerous manuscript emendations of Shakespeare, said by Collier to be from the hand of "an old corrector." He published these corrections as Notes and Emendations to the Text of Shakespeare (1852) and boldly incorporated them in his next edition (1853) of Shakespeare.
More information here.  Did this guy just forge his sources? If there's such controversy over his edition why would the Moby edition, which is based on the 1864 Globe edition (thanks JM), have this line?

I would have thought the authenticity of this edition would have been seriously called into question just by looking at the first scene of Romeo and Juliet, anyway:

Gregory, o' my word, we'll not carry coals. 
No, for then we should be colliers. 
That would be awesome. 
This is what I'm sayin, right? Colliers are the coolest. 
I hear you.  Ain't nothing wrong with being a collier. Colliers rule. 
You know who doesn't rule, though? Montagues.

Paterson Joseph, Shakespeare Mastermind

Personally I don't know who this gentleman is, I had to go look him up on IMDB. Seems he's done mostly work on UK rather than US features. Fair enough.  He popped up in my newsfeed this morning for a Shakespeare mention, and here's what he had to say:

Mastermind specialist subject
Shakespeare. When I watch Pointless and there are any Shakespeare questions I nearly always get them all, and I feel like I’d probably know more about Shakespeare than I do about anything else, as a sort of general knowledge thing. So yeah, it would be Shakespeare, but I’d have to read all 36 plays again.
Anybody else notice something odd right at the end, there?  36? I hear 37 most often, and sometimes 38, but I can't remember the last time I heard 36. When somebody says that, which play are they not counting? Henry VIII?

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Hamlet, Put Down the Skull.

So I saw somebody carrying a skull as part of her Halloween costume, and of course I had to come up with some jokes about Yorick, being quite chap-fallen, could not enjoy the Reese's Pieces he did love so very much.  So of course I had to pull up Hamlet's speech to get my quotes right.  I go to the MIT (Moby) version, because it's the easiest to search:

And I thought, "Wait... there's a stage direction that tells him to put down the skull? That seems oddly specific for a play that rarely states stage directions beyond who enters, exits and dies."

So I go look it up in the First Folio, as you folks have taught me to do:

Nope! Not there. I'm not surprised, I get that various editions get conflated over the years.  But the thing is, I checked two quartos as well as Second and Third Folio, and I can't find it in any of those, either.

Anybody know when this got added?  And possibly the more interesting question, why? Was there an edition where somebody went in and really got specific about such things, for some reason? Maybe David Garrick kept forgetting to put down Yorick and would end up carrying him through the rest of the scene until a director got the idea to write it into the script :)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Rosencrantz and Ethernet

As a lifelong computer geek, and a student of the history of my industry, I am disappointed in myself that I've never heard this story.  Credit to Walter Isaacson's Innovators for setting me straight.

Once upon a time (1989 to be precise), the inventors of the internet got together and threw a party. I'm not talking about Al Gore and the other talking heads of what the modern generation knows about the net, I'm talking about the academic, government and military minds working under the covers to build the protocols that went into allowing the net to exist in the first place.

You know what these guys did when they partied? They read poetry. Because once upon a time, the smartest people in the world thought that they were creating technology in order to help them pursue the humanities. I think I would have liked these guys.

Anyway, Vint Cerf (who went on to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005) got up a read a poem.  What he read, was this:

         Vint Cerf
All the world's a net!  And all the data in it merely packets
come to store-and-forward in the queues a while and then are
heard no more.  'Tis a network waiting to be switched!

To switch or not to switch?  That is the question.  Whether
'tis wiser in the net to suffer the store and forward of
stochastic networks or to raise up circuits against a sea
of packets and, by dedication, serve them.

To net, to switch.  To switch, perchance to slip!
Aye, there's the rub.  For in that choice of switch,
what loops may lurk, when we have shuffled through
this Banyan net?  Puzzles the will, initiates symposia,
stirs endless debate and gives rise to uncontrolled
flights of poetry beyond recompense!

You probably have to be a computer geek to get most of that, but when I heard it come through my headphones I knew I had to post it!

Dreaming in Shakespeare

The following post contains insights into my subconscious that could be considered TMI.  You have been warned.

I love it when I dream in Shakespeare, if even a little bit. The annoying thing about my dreams, though - and this goes way way back to when I was a kid - I can't *do* anything. Whenever a situation arises that would normally have me thinking, "Yup, I got this" something equivalent to that "running through molasses while being chased" feeling kicks in and I can't accomplish what I thought I could. When I was in high school I studied karate for a long time, but whenever karate came up in a dream and I thought "Ok I'm going to crush this with my best side kick" I'd end up moving in slow motion and glancing my target. You know that feeling? The same thing happens with reading and writing. I can pick up a book in my dream where I know the book, but when I try to read it my brain goes all "nope, you have no memory of these pages". It's not that they are blank, or blurry, it's that I literally am conscious of thinking, "Why am I unable to read this book?"

I'm not sure where we were.  It was a job interview, or a contest of some sort. There was me and another guy, and somebody who was clearly a host/announcer of some sort that made me think maybe this was a game show. But we were back stage, competing for who got to go on.  The category was Shakespeare, and I remember thinking "I got this", thinking that there'd be some sort of identify the play or where the quote came from question coming next.

The question was, in that garbled sort of dream speak where you only get bits and pieces, "In the following quote,  "...and the hey and the ho and the holly" what mistake needs to be corrected? Is it a) there is a word missing, b) the H's need to be capitalized or c) the quote is correct."

Yikes. I recognize the quote, it's the song from As You Like It, but of course this being a dream it never goes easy for me and I don't have to identify it, I have to remember it perfectly? And yes, he really did read a quote out loud and then ask about capitalized words. This no doubt comes from helping my elementary school children with their homework and seeing how often a word is marked wrong because they should have used a capital letter, and didn't.

My dream self goes for capital letters, B.  Why, I can't exactly remember. It's wrong of course, but technically they're all wrong.

The actual quote is, "then heigh-ho, the holly." Depending on who you ask, apparently, it's also pronounced "hi" rather than "hey". I'm not sure which is correct, I just know that the dwarf song from the Snow White movie is officially called "Heigh-ho" even though they clearly sing "hi".

By the way, I know why it was that quote, too.  Check out this snippet of IM conversation with Bardfilm from ... 10 days ago:

10:29:06 AM ShakespeareGeek:  WTH is this madness?  Shakespeare's christmas poem?
10:30:40 AM ShakespeareGeek: so they just helped themselves to a song from as you like it? i don't understand this/
10:33:43 AM bardfilm: Hang on . . .
10:34:04 AM bardfilm: Oh—the holly?
10:34:10 AM ShakespeareGeek: yeah
10:34:19 AM ShakespeareGeek: never really heard it just snipped out and appropriated as a christmas song before
10:34:23 AM bardfilm: Let’s see . . . Arden edition . . . 
10:35:39 AM bardfilm: “The evergreen holly was venerated and bought o have some connection with the word ‘holy.’  Cf. the carol, ‘The Holly and the Ivy.’”

So apparently my subconscious chews on stuff for around 10 days before it pops back up again in my dreams.

That's it. Had to share this brief glimpse into my psyche.  Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Alternate Forms for Sonnet 18

Adam Bertocci, who brought us Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, just blew my mind. He didn't just write half a dozen alternate versions of Shakespeare's most famous sonnet, he wrote 22 of them.

Can you even *name* 22 different styles of poetry? I couldn't.

Haiku version? Check.   Limerick? Of course. Petrarchan and Spenserian variations on the form? No problem.

How about one written in Abecedarian? That's when you write your words in a____ b___ c___ sequence, and yes you include Q, X and Z, and stop at Z.

Or what about Pilish?  That's a three letter word followed by a one letter word, then four, then one, then five... following the digits of pi (3.1415...)

Now realize that I've only named 6 of them. He wrote 22. Enjoy.  Very impressive, Adam!

Bad Reasons to Read Shakespeare

If you had to read that headline twice, don't worry, so did I. I appreciate the acknowledgement that there are already so many reasons to read Shakespeare, but I had no idea that some of the reasons themselves might be bad.

The article first cites the whole "Shakespeare's unusual word choice and structure makes your brain work harder" argument that came up a few years ago as the first of the bad reasons.  You want to know why it's a bad reason?  Here, let me quote the article for you:

There are easier and quicker ways, I’m sure, to boost your neural activity if that’s what you really want to do.
I love the "I'm sure" thrown into it.  Is this your graduate thesis?  They love it when that expression comes up.  "Well no, I don't actually have any evidence to support my case, but you know, I'm sure there is some." Cite counter evidence or GTFO, as they say in the forums.

Second is the "easier and quicker ways" argument. I have no doubt that there are.  Not everybody evaluates their educational path by asking "What's the quickest and easiest way for me to get there?"

The second bad reason is that reading great literature makes us more empathetic, compassionate, better people. At least, so says the 2013 paper she references.  But ha!  That paper is obviously ridiculous because there's counter evidence ... published in 1963.  Methinks the time-traveller doth protest too much.

Let me rephrase the second half of the article:  "This dude Copernicus says that the sun is the center of the universe, but I mean duh, come on, really, Ptolemy already proved that the Earth is the center of the universe, like, a thousand years ago."

I'm all for scientific research, and if somebody publishes something that says one thing, it's the job of those reading it to try and debunk it. I just don't think this article does a good job.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Predictions for Julie Taymor's Dream?

It looks like Julie Taymor has completed filming her upcoming A Midsummer Night's Dream. I wasn't a big fan of her Tempest and I've only seen pieces of her Titus, so I guess I'm not really into her directorial style.  But! I'm a big fan of Shakespeare on film so I'm always interested in new versions that will get some amount of distribution.

There's not a lot of content in the article about what she plans, except for one thing.  A bed. She says that's the "essential image" of this play.

My question is, what do you think she's going to do with it? Is a bed supposed to work with the whole "dream" thing, or is it symbolic of some of the more sexual elements of the play?

I'm pretty sure this is just a filmed version of a stage production she directed. Has anyone seen that one?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

This Story Shall The Good Man Teach His Son ( A Geeklet in the Morning Story)

I haven't done one of these in awhile. Bear with me as I tell the whole thing, it's worth it.

My oldest, in middle school, gets up first to catch the bus. So she's having breakfast and my wife says, "Who wants to take the garbage out?"

I suggest that perhaps Sarah might like to do it.

My daughter's name is not Sarah. Neither of them get my joke. Sigh.

I fire up YouTube and begin playing Shel Silverstein's classic Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout, would not take the garbage out. The only hint of recognition I get is when my daughter complains to my wife, "I'm trying to get out the door for the bus and daddy's at the computer spicing hams."

So off she goes, and soon the younger two come down for their breakfast. Because of the timing they have a much lower key breakfast, longer time to hang out and do silly things. So soon my Shel Silverstein playlist turns into Alan Sherman, which turns into Dr. Demento, and soon we're listing to "Please Mr. Custer".

I'm loving this, because the first record album (that's right, I said record album) I ever ordered on my own, with my own money, from a tv commercial no less, was "Goofy Gold" that had all this great novelty stuff on it.

Anyway, my kids have no idea who General Custer is, so I explain.  In short, "He took his men out to fight the indians but when he got there, there was like a thousand times more indians than he thought there was, and they all got killed. This song is a joke about the night before the battle and how his soldiers don't want to go."

My son, who is eight, asks if we can see the Shakespeare one about the Americans.  I've got no idea what he's talking about, but he's asking about Shakespeare and I'm not about to let that opportunity go to waste.  He tells me, "The one where the guys have to go into battle but the other guys have more guys than they do and they think they're gonna lose but they win."

Oh!  He's talking about Henry V St. Crispin's Day Speech. Happy to oblige!  Where he got Americans I have no idea, I'm assuming he uses "English" and "American" interchangeably. He's also actually remembered enough about this scene that a description of Custer's Last Stand has him making the connection. I like it.

After the video he asks for the details of how much they were outnumbered and we google it.  He asks me if it would be possible for one army to just have one guy, and still win.

I paused, not believing my luck, and told him, "Actually that's a different play. That's called Coriolanus."

So we start watching Tom Hiddleston's Coriolanus. Actually I just fast forward to the scene before Corioli and explain, "He's trying to get them riled up to storm into the city, but they're all afraid to follow him, so he says forget you guys and goes all by himself. By the way, does he look familiar?"  I'm figuring that he might recognize Loki from the Avengers movie.

"Is that Adam Levine?"  From Maroon 5?  No, but great guess! :)

Tom is gone so I continue my summary, "Now all the soldiers think that they're safe, they think that their leader is pretty much dead at this point, they can't believe he was so stupid that he just walked into the enemy's city all by himself.  Some of the general's friends come in who think that maybe they should go after him and try to save him before he gets killed. Now watch."

Enter Tom, looking like Walking Dead.  I've not seen this before, I had no idea he was covered in so much blood.  "See? He comes back and tell them ok you bunch of sissies, now I softened them up for you, *now* do you want to follow me?"

Eventually we have to walk to school, where I continue trying to explain Coriolanus to them. How awesome is it going to be months from now when some other random thing occurs and my eight year old references a Shakespearean tragedy that most adults don't even know exists?


Friday, September 19, 2014

What Happened to Demetrius' Far-Off Mountains?

A mystery!

For reasons that I'll be able to go into at a later date, I'm eyeballs deep in some Shakespearean word origin research.  Currently looking into "far-off," and while my initial sources pointed to Henry VI Part 2, I double checked OED and found them pointing to Midsummer Night's Dream. So I always go back and see why I might have missed a reference.  I'm not counting the fact that OED Second Edition seems to date MSND at 1590, by the way, which is apparently odd - everybody else has it 1595-96.

Anyway, OED cites this line from Demetrius (IV.i):

"These things seem small and undistinguishable,
like far-off mountains turned into clouds."
Here's the thing.  That line is not in Open Source Shakespeare, which is where I've been checking all my references.

So I go back to my old source, the MIT version, which is really just the public domain Moby version.  Nope, not there either!

Ok, fine.  To the First Folio!

And there it is!

 So, what the heck?

Both Open Source and MIT have the same version where Demetrius' line just drops off at "undistinguishable," complete with the comma.

I did not realize that Open Source is, in fact, based on Moby as well. It's certainly better than the MIT version with the markup, search and structure it provides, but it looks like all the errors have been carried over as well. That's a shame.

I also guess this means I can't use Open Source Shakespeare as my primary research source. That's a bit of a bummer.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Attention to Detail in "Shakespeare in Love"

I have in my hand the published screenplay for Shakespeare in Love.  My mom finds these things for me at her weekend yard sales - if it says Shakespeare on it she grabs it first and asks questions later :).

So I'm reading random pages and I notice in one particular scene that James Hemmings has a line.  "Hmmm," I think, "Hemmings of Hemmings  (Heminges) and Condell? The First Folio guys? I thought that was John.."


It was John. And I can't find any references to him having a brother James.  But!  That got me thinking, isn't there a list of the names of principal actors in the First Folio?  Yes, yes there is.

Check out the cast for Shakespeare in Love.  I'm pretty sure that most of these guys didn't get any lines, but I love that they still got to play actual historic figures.  (Richard Burbage and Henry Condell actually appear as well, I couldn't get them all on the page!)

Now check out the names of the principal actors, right from the FF.  How many can you spot?

Ironically for him, Ned Alleyn is not on that list :)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Would You Call Demetrius A Villain?

Just something I was thinking about.  At the end of Midsummer Night's Dream, Demetrius is the only one still under the effects of Oberon's love potion, and everybody seems ok with it. I'm thinking, is that because we're supposed to think of him as the villain?  That he somehow got what was coming to him and that everything worked out for the good guys, so screw him?  Got a little bit of a Shylock feel to it, really.  The light version.

Monday, September 15, 2014

As You Like It, by Rebel Shakespeare

I love it when I get to talk about Rebel Shakespeare. For almost 25 years Keri Ellis Cahill has been teaching generations of children of all ages how to understand, love and appreciate Shakespeare. The first time I wandered out to their home on Winter Island (Salem, Massachusetts) and heard kids shouting "Thank you, Shakespeare!" into the universe, so loud it echoed back at them, I was hooked.

Unfortunately the Rebels are over an hour away from me, which makes it difficult to see their shows. That is, until I made arrangements with my local library to bring the Rebels to us!  Ever since, I've looked forward to when the stars align and my family vacation schedule is free that particular week in the middle of summer when the show comes to town. You know that scene in Hamlet when the players roll into town?  It's a little like that.  I haven't used them to exact any vengeance plots, however.  Yet.

This year the show is As You Like It. Our forest, it appears, will be a plethora of coat racks.  Interesting. At first I think that they've come upon these props this very day at the library, but later when I go see the show outside and they're still using them I realize that this was part of the plan all along. Our "trees" are arranged between scenes accordingly - when somebody needs to come bursting through them they are bunched together, when characters are supposed to walk among them they are made more sparse, and a couple of times they were lined up like a wall behind the action so we could focus on the characters and not the scenery.

Something fascinating about the staging of this production is that the entire cast was on stage at all times.  Not center stage, but in chairs circling the room so that the audience could plainly see them at all times. When they needed to enter they stood and entered, when they needed to exit they sat back down. They paid attention to the action, laughed at the jokes, and in no way tried to hide their actions from the audience.

Then an amazing thing happened. During the first major break in the scenery, when everybody has explained their reasons for running into the forest and now we're going to switch the action to primarily inside the forest? The entire cast got up and started to sing. Trunks were opened, costumes appeared, and everyone started changing right there on stage, singing all the while. Doubled actors were plainly shown to be doubled actors. Clothes, clothes, everywhere clothes, hung upon the coat racks as if leaves, suddenly transporting us to a deeper part of the forest.  And then just like that? They sit back down, the scene resumes, and we are in the middle of Arden Forest.

I LOVED IT. I loved it so much that I assumed there had to be a name for it, and sought out my research assistant Bardfilm to confirm my suspicions.  "Definitely sounds Brechtian," he wrote, "Epic theatre."


The purpose of this technique was to make the audience feel detached from the action of the play, so they do not become immersed in the fictional reality of the stage or become overly empathetic of the character. Flooding the theater with bright lights (not just the stage), having actors play multiple characters, having actors also rearrange the set in full view of the audience and "breaking the fourth wall" by speaking to the audience...
They didn't go for the full "breaking the fourth wall" effect of speaking to the audience, but many of the other elements were clearly there.

The show itself is quite good, and my kids enjoy it. I thought the staging of the Orlando/Charles fight was particularly innovative, as the entire cast gathered around to watch, shouting, "Charles! Charles! Charles!" Only...their shouts echoed what was happening.  So when Charles threw Orlando it was "CHARLES!!!" but when Orlando threw Charles it was, "Charles?!"  Hard to explain without seeing it, but imagine several minutes of wrestling action punctuated nothing but the Charles chant, and it still worked. At least once I'm pretty sure I heard Rosalind squeak "Orlando!" but she did it so quietly I may have been mistaken.

How about the cast? I wish I had names to give to all the players, but I don't think they print programs. Celia was my favorite, and had to be one of the more experienced Rebels given how confident she was on stage. Even when she was not speaking her occasional shrieks at the action (as in the above wrestling match) made her an unforgettable presence.

Rosalind, rather than playing the giddy giggling school girl I've seen in the past, played it more as a shy tomboy type, which made her transition to Ganymede all the more believable. She already had short hair, so a quick switch from dress to pants and suspenders was all it took. I think I might have preferred a hat, since absolutely nothing was done to disguise her face, but that's just me. It was hard not to think "That's a girl dressed in boy's clothes" but that goes back to the epic theatre thing above, too. Yeah, it is. We know that, just go with it.

Funny story #1 goes here. My girls (10 and 12) saw the show with me at the library, but later that week we took in another outside production one town over, and brought my son who is 8. We came in at the middle, guaranteeing that he would be pretty lost, but I did my best to catch him up.  But, here's the thing.  Silvius in this production was played by a girl (who did a great job, from moping around all sad and forlorn at the beginning to beaming happily once Phoebe had no choice but to marry her. Seriously, you could almost see the "Woohoo!" thought bubble appear over her head, it was adorable).

So, Silvius is on stage with Phoebe and Rosalind/Ganymede and I'm trying to explain this to my son.  "Ok, you see that girl in the green shirt?" (Silvius) I ask.

"Yes," he says.

"She's pretending to be a boy, named Silvius. And Silvius is in love with that girl standing next to him, who is Phoebe."

"Ok, got it," he tells me, "What about that other girl?" (Rosalind)

"Ok, that girl is pretending to be a boy but she's actually a girl."

"Right, I know that, the girl in the green shirt. I mean the other girl in the red shirt."

I realize quickly that this is not going to go well.

"The girl in the green shirt is really in real life a girl but for this show she is pretending to be a boy and everybody knows that she is a boy, ok? So he is in love with the girl in the middle (Phoebe), who is really a girl and is playing a girl. But the girl in the red shirt, who is really a girl in real life is also playing a girl in this play, and the girl in the play is pretending to be a boy. But the girl in the middle is in love with the girl in the red shirt because she thinks she's a boy but the girl in the red shirt know that she can't be in love with her so she is trying to convince the girl in the middle to be in love with the girl in the green shirt who really is a boy."

"I don't get it."

"Yeah, I didn't think you would. Never mind."

Who else.... how could I forget Jaques? He had an interesting character going on, a little something that made me think "carnival barker," mostly because of the hat. He also led all of the songs which were used to transition the scenes. If he'd broken out in "We've got big trouble right here in River City..." it wouldn't have been out of character at all.

Funny story #2?  Before the show I noticed that the play poster described As You Like It as, "The source of many of Shakespeare's most famous quotes, such as 'All the world's a stage...'"  I notice two of the actors (who turn out to be Touchstone and Orlando, though I didn't know that at the time) reading the poster so I ask, "Some of? Can you name another one?" They think about it and can't decide on any other famous AYLI quotes.  "Isn't, 'I do desire that we may be better strangers' from this one?" I ask.

They think about it and decide that no, that's not from this play.  I don't have a text handy but I say I'm pretty sure it is, in the banter between Orlando and Jaques at the river.  Touchstone tells the other actor, "That's your line!  Kind of."

It makes sense in context, because they cut that scene. Bummed me out, because I quite love that scene. They didn't cut it completely, they just edited it down greatly.  "I do not like her name" / "There was no thought of you when she was christened" was still in there, but nothing about better strangers.  Oh well.

Jaques redeemed himself however when Orlando burst into Duke Senior's dinner party demanding, "Forbear and eat no more!" and Jaques replied exactly as you would expect, "I have eat none yet!" as if this raving lunatic that's just jumped out of the trees gets exactly the same attitude he gives to everyone else around him. I laughed out loud.

I wish I could call out every actor by name and sing their praises. I hope they love performing this stuff as much as I love sitting in the audience and experiencing it. I hope that they understand and appreciate how important it is that they are a part of this, and how different their lives will be because of it.  Lots of kids will shoot a bow and arrow during their summer camp, or paddle a kayak, or make friendship bracelets. You're performing Shakespeare. If you can do Shakespeare, you can do anything. I only wish every kid in America got the chance that you've gotten.  Maybe some day.

Keep doing what you're doing, Keri.  Well done, Rebels.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

And The Most Influential Book For The Facebook Generation Is....

Harry Potter.

So says this Facebook research project that asked users to list, in their Facebook status, "10 books that have stayed with you in some way."

First of all I think we need to get our terms straight. The Mashable article I'm linking to says "influential" books.  The request was "books that have stayed with you." That's not even remotely the same thing. I can sing you the rubber ducky song from Sesame Street but I'm not sure how much you could say it influenced my life. Likewise you are influenced by many different events in your life, without being able to recall them explicitly upon request.  Memorable and influential are not the same thing.

Second, I think I'd like to see this data broken out by age groups. The younger you are, the less time books have had to stay with you. Someone in their fifties or sixties stating that Catcher in the Rye (#9, 1951) stayed with them tells me something different than a thirty year old telling me that for her it was Hunger Games (#8, 2010). Or vice versa, which would be even more interesting.

Maybe someday, someone will try to assassinate the president and he'll be found with a well-worn copy of The Fault In Our Stars (#42, 2012) in his back pocket, but today is not that day. The only influence that book's had time to have is in influencing the parents of twelve year old girls across America to let them see the PG-13 movie.  (For the record my twelve year old girl has not read the book or seen the movie. I have read the book.)

It also really bugs me, by the way, that the Mashable author says "Unsurprisingly" the #1 went to Harry Potter. Is it unsurprising because you're a twenty-something who hasn't read many other books besides those, and still thinks that they are great literature? Or should that be taken more as an "it figures" commentary on the poor reading habits of the Facebook universe? I hope the latter.

To keep it relevant to this site, does anybody want to guess where Shakespeare shows up? He only shows up once, at #30, with Hamlet. I can find no other entry in the list that is older than this, however, so we'll give him special points for being memorable after four hundred years. Well, not counting the Bible and Book of Mormon. Those always show up on these lists, just out of sheer numbers.

I guess I'm trying to figure out whether there's anything to learn from this list. Does it even make sense for The Help (#48, 2009) to appear on a list next to Kerouac's On the Road (#43, 1976)? Or childhood favorite Where The Sidewalk Ends (#77, 1974) alongside Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (#78, 2009) which half the audience read for the sex and the other half read for the computer hacking bits?

Here's a theory. Let's look at how many books out of the top 100 had a movie or tv version come out in the last, oh, say ten years.  I count 27 of them.   That's actually lower than I expected, I'll admit. But I'm sure it's a pretty big contributing factor. I find it hard to believe that so many people actually read Gone With the Wind (#16) or Les Miserables (#60) and it didn't have at least something to do with the movie/stage versions.

Personally I've read about a third of these.  A number of them are on my "never got around to it but probably should" list, but I tried that once with Catcher in the Rye and it just wasn't worth it. I'd be willing to bet that many people answered with books that they had some familiarity with, and didn't necessarily limit themselves to "read it cover to cover".  If I consider all of the entries on the list where I saw the movie, or at least attempted to read the book? My number doubles.

What do you think of the list?  What surprises do you find?

So Lady Macbeth was Pontius Pilate?

Spotted this article on 5 Cliches That Mean More Than You Think and figured maybe there'd be some Shakespeare in it.  I was right, but not in the way I thought!

Cliche #2 is "I wash my hands of it," something that, the notes tell me, is known as the 'Macbeth Effect'. Really? Shakespeare gets to call dibs on ritually cleansing yourself morally as well as physically? Because I'm pretty sure that Lady M was beaten to the kitchen sink by Pontius Pilate when he sent Jesus to his fate.

I get that there's a difference in the guilt thing. Pilate washed his hands of it and that was that, he never thought of it again.  Lady M, well, we know what happened to her. But I'm questioning the assumption that everybody who says "I wash my hands of it" really means "I will try to wash my hands of it because of the moral stain I feel that will never quite go away." I think it's quite possible to wash your hands of something and never look back.

Then again, on the "think outside the box" cliche...

Study participants came up with fewer creative answers when they were literally sitting inside a cardboard box than the people who were seated next to the box.
I think that maybe this is a very silly study that I shouldn't taking so seriously.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review : "Teaching Will" by Mel Ryane

So the other day, the good people at Familius wrote and asked if I'd like a review copy of Mel Ryane's "Teaching Will : What Shakespeare and 10 Kids Gave Me that Hollywood Couldn't". A book about an actress who starts a Shakespeare Club at the local elementary school? How could I resist?

Having gone into my own children's classrooms since they were in the first grade (which would translate to maybe six years old, for my non US audience), I admit that I was looking for tips. All I ever do is a one time unit on some Shakespearean topic of the teacher's choice, I've never had the guts (nor the opportunity) to set up a full length after school program, culminating in a performance. This is exactly what the author does.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: my POV for stuff like this is always, "I'm in it for the Shakespeare." The Shakespeare bits will exert their force on me like a magnet. The more Shakespeare, the more drawn I am into the book.

Having said that, there's not much Shakespeare in this. This is primarily a book about the author's adventures in trying to teach these children how to work together to achieve something that they and most everyone else thinks is beyond their abilities. But it could just as easily have been about teaching them how to sing, or play baseball. A scene where a child finally "gets" the rhythm of iambic pentameter might as well have been the scene where the catcher finally manages to get the cut off throw to second in time to tag the runner.

Perhaps my baseball analogy isn't completely fair, however, because that makes it more about competition. You'd expect the big climax of a baseball story to be the ragtag team of misfits winning the big game. Shakespeare is not about competing with anyone or anything, except maybe your own limiting beliefs about what you can accomplish.

The big climax of this story is the performance at the end of the year. With each chapter comes a week of rehearsal, chaos and catastrophe, and I spent the entire book thinking, "She'll never pull this off." Half the time it was impossible to tell who was playing each role because half her students quit and the other half refuse to play the parts they are given. It seemed like every chapter ended with the author going home to her dinner with her husband, sipping a glass of wine and pondering why she'd gotten herself into this in the first place.

A few words on that subject. The book really tells three stories. First is the attempt to put on a Shakespeare performance (A Midsummer Nights' Dream, by the way, if that wasn't your obvious first guess). The second is the "behind the scenes" story where we learn all about the author's interactions with the kids, their own family situations, and basically all about life outside Shakespeare Club. Which kids hate each other, and why? Which parents are supportive of the idea and which are just using it as glorified daycare? It probably should not come as a surprise that this had to be a ... what's the politically correct term to use here ... ethnically diverse, lower income, dare I say "inner city" environment? Nobody ever seems to want to tell the story of upper middle income white kids? I admit to making the comparison to Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds, only with elementary school children. I hope that doesn't sound racist of me. It comes from a POV that I can't escape. When I walk into a classroom and try to teach Shakespeare to kids I will not have to deal with those issues. I respect and appreciate that somebody is doing it, hey, more power to them. But it makes the story less relevant to my own life. If I went into this book looking for tips about how to wrangle children into performing Shakespeare, too much time was spent hitting me over the head with "yes but don't forget where these kids come from and the other issues they have to deal with". That's true of every kid. Just because their stories are different doesn't mean that they don't all bring something unique to the party.

The third story is that of the author's childhood and her relationship to her own parents. I just plain didn't care for these bits. Whose story are you most interested in telling? I would have preferred more content about the actual play rehearsals. I suppose it's only now that I realize the subtitle of the book is "What Shakespeare and 10 kids gave *me*..." so perhaps that was really her goal all along? If so, I clearly missed it.

But, back to the story. I approached the end of the book, the performance was only a week away, students were still fighting and dropping out and chaos still reigned. Through the entire book I'd been saying, "This is a failure, and it will end." It did not. The show must go on, and it did. It's not a big movie scene with the whole town packed into the auditorium. On the contrary, the author goes to great lengths to let us know that some of the parents could hardly be bothered to show up at all. The performance goes exactly as expected, mistakes are made, lines forgotten, props dropped, and generally the chaos of rehearsal projects itself upon the stage, exactly like you'd expect in any other elementary school production.

"When it was over, we all cheered."

I admit with no shame that my eyes watered and my vision became blurry the instant I read that. Hell it's happening again just recalling it so I can write this. Good god, isn't that what it's all about? They're kids for heaven's sake. Of course it's not perfect. It's not about perfection, it's about accomplishment. They didn't quit. The author didn't quit. As a parent I know that feeling of cheering your brains out not for the quality of your child's performance, but for the very fact that it's your kid up on that stage, showcasing not how well they did it, but that they did it at all. That's something to cheer indeed.

"Hamlet's on my nuts!"

Ok, I'm not telling where that line shows up, I'll just say that the book is not over at the performance of Midsummer, and when I got to this part I laughed so hard I cried all over again. I'm glad I excused myself from the room to finish the book, otherwise my friends and family would have thought I'd gone mad.

I get that this was not a handbook in how to teach Shakespeare to elementary school children (though I would have liked that very much). It took me most of the book to accept that. As I said at the beginning, the Shakespeare content is a magnet to me. Every scene or line that snuck its way into the text made me want more, and it was difficult not getting that. I think that Ms. Ryane's story is an excellent one, very well told, and I'm very glad that it had a happy ending. I just wonder how important Shakespeare is to that story.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review : The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth

When Bardfilm showed me his early review copy of The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth I was all, "Awwww!  Want."

Then Ian wrote and asked if I wanted a copy as well and I was all, "Yay!"

This ... can we call it a graphic novel? Tells the story of animals in the zoo putting on a performance of Macbeth.  Not only do you see the audience, the audience interacts with the show in a series of inset panels, commenting on the action and making various puns and other jokes. This has been done before (Marcia Williams' books come to mind) but I like it even more here, because it doesn't overpower the story. The audience gets a single panel at most, in context with the rest of the flow of dialogue. You don't feel as if one story is talking over the other.

This is a very kid safe version of the story. Macbeth, a lion, does not kill people - he eats them (apparently whole, as they keep talking to him from inside his belly). There is no blood, there's ketchup (and lots of it). Lady Macbeth, forced to do her husband's laundry, cannot seem to get the ketchup stains out and this drives her a bit crazy.  As people begin to notice Macbeth's increasing waistline, they start asking questions and he starts overeating.   The best part is that somehow Lendler manages to give us a happy ending, while staying pretty true to the original story (including a nice twist on the "not borne of woman" thing).

The best praise I can offer comes from my son, who is 8. Right now we are going through a tough time getting him to read. He sees it as a chore, and no matter what we put before him, he'll kick and scream and go through the same routine even though he knows it never gets him anywhere. It's worse than pulling teeth.

Well, when this book showed up I brought it to him and said, "You and I need to read this book. This is a big deal, because the man who wrote this book knows that I have kids, and that my kids like Shakespeare, and he thought we might like to read his book and write a review of it so other people can decide if they might like it."  At first, without opening the book, he gave me the same eye roll and drooped shoulders I've become so familiar with.  But I persisted, and said that we should sit down and read Act 1 together, which we did.

The next day, before I went off to work, I told my son, "Don't feel as if you have to wait for me, you know. I know that story. You can go ahead and read it without me." Fast forward to later that night when I returned?  He tells me, "I finished the Macbeth book, Daddy. I like books like that, get more of those." Not completely ready to trust that it had been that easy, I asked him to tell me the story. He told me of how Macbeth's friend "Banksy" talked to much and got eaten, and how Macbeth's wife had to do so much of his laundry to get the ketchup stains out that she used up all the soap in the castle, and how "Detective" Macduff eventually solved the mystery ... but I'm not going to spoil the story for anybody. :)

Ian tells me that Romeo and Juliet is already planned, and I can't wait. This one may not score highly on the classic Shakespeare scale, but I'm ok with that. I'd rather have a book like this that has my kids asking for more, than a more advanced book that I feel like they're only reading to keep me happy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Does Rosalind Woo Herself?

"Self-wooing, my liege, is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting."
The local teen group is performing As You Like It at our local library today, so I've been brushing up on the story. Since it's so common to make the Robin Hood connection with Duke Senior (going off to live in the safety of the forest, away from his enemies, enjoying life with his friends, etc..) I was wondering whether a comparison existed with another classic story, Cyrano De Bergerac.

For those not familiar with the story, Cyrano loves Roxanne but cannot bring himself to tell her his true feelings. She loves Christian, but Christian has no skill at poetry and is afraid to woo her, so Cyrano literally hides in the shadows and feeds Christian romantic things to say to her, effectively wooing Roxanne for himself, in Christian's name.

How does this compare to As You Like It?  Let's look.  Rosalind is dressed up as the boy Ganymede when she runs into Orlando. Orlando acknowledges that he loves the lady Rosalind, but does not have the kind of poetry to woo her. Rosalind, as Ganymede, tells him what to say to get the girl.

It's got some similarities -- Cyrano hiding in the bushes is very much like Rosalind hiding under the disguise of Ganymede.  "But!" Bardfilm points out, "Cyrano's intent was never to teach Christian how to woo Roxanne, but to win her himself."

This is true. But still, are they all that different? Rosalind has this idea of her dream man, and knows exactly what he will say and do to woo her.  Orlando is basically the mannequin in this story going through the motions of turning Rosalind's dreams into reality. She plays both the role of Cyrano and Roxanne, and Orlando is literally the middle man. She can't marry herself. She needs a man. So she turns Orlando into the man that she wants, without him ever realizing it.

I don't know, maybe it's a silly idea, but sometimes those are fun too.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Shakespearean Ice Bucket Challenges

Weeks ago, maybe you saw a few of your friends dumping buckets of ice water over their heads on Facebook. Then sports figures, politicians, and celebrities. I even saw Kermit the Frog do one, which I thought was hysterical -- "Being an amphibian, dumping an ice cold bucket of water over my head could very likely put me into a dormant state where my heart my actually stop."

Of course it's all to spread the message to Stop ALS, so it's all for a good cause.

Your Favorite Shakespeareans Tackle the Ice Bucket Challenge

Let's start with Nathan Fillion, who gets modern day credit for being a Shakespearean thanks to his portrayal of Dogberry in Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing .

He calls out Tom Hiddleston, who took up the challenge:

He in turn nominates Benedict Cumberbatch and Helena Bonham Carter. Mr. Cumberbatch is about to tackle Hamlet, while Ms. Bonham-Carter has a number of credits, including Ophelia to Mel Gibson's 1990 Hamlet.  (He also nominated Luke Evans. Now, I don't know who that is, but I'll come back to it in a minute.  Trust me.)

So here's Mr. Cumberbatch making the best faces, doing it naked:

And now Ms. Bonham Carter, who doesn't even get out her speech before the dude behind her can't wait any longer.

But why should all these youngsters have the fun?  Sir Ian himself also played the game after being nominated by ... Luke Evans.  See how everything is deeply intertwingled?

I don't know who nominated Dame Judi Dench, but I love that she still looks and sounds like a queen even when getting doused:

Alas, Sir Patrick Stewart does not want to play. Or, rather, he opts to write a big check and instead puts his ice where it belongs, in his glass.  That would be funnier if I didn't have such a huge list of his contemporaries playing along.

Finally, there's this guy, even though he forgot his line. Consider yourselves challenged.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Look! A Shakespeare Smiley!

I was flipped through the First Folio today (ya know, like ya do) because I'd become intrigued over the spelling of people's names.  I noticed for the first time that the web navigator I work with had a page labelled "Names of the Actors" deep near the end, next to Antony and Cleopatra, and I got excited.  Ooo!  Is that a list of which actors played which roles?

Nope, alas, it is just what we now see referred to as the "Dramatis Personae", the list of characters in the play.  In this case it's actually at the end of the previous play, Othello. Not really "names of actors", I feel ripped off.

But then I noticed this:

What the heck is that sequence of symbols under the heading? Looks like two smilies (or emoticons if you kids are calling it that these days) facing opposite directions. But what of the stars in the middle? It's not even three in a row, two of them are super scripted. Looks a little bit like a skull face.

I'm going to call it Othello and Desdemona, kept apart by the demonic Iago.

Who's got a better interpretation? Does this kind of sequence appear elsewhere? I checked a few pages and did not see it.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Twelfth Night, Eleventh Year ... and First Gay Sir Andrew?

Once again it's time for Commonwealth Shakespeare on Boston Common! This makes my eleventh year attending, and this year Twelfth Night is the show.

Unlike last year's fiasco (part 1, part 2) there's not much of a story in getting to the show this year. In fact it worked out quite well as we had plans to visit some friends of my wife who live in the same town as my parents.  Visit friends, drop kids off at my parents for a sleepover, and we head into Boston!  It rained during the day, but pretty much cleared up by show time.

This year we forego our usual takeout picnic from the local Chinese place and instead opt for "Earl's Sandwiches" (or perhaps the more obvious Earl of Sandwich) that is located right on the Common.  While waiting in line I start talking to another woman about past shows that have been rained out, and I speak of my curse at having missed the 2005 Hamlet.  "Oh," she says, "That one was excellent!"

Son of a ...!! Every year!  I have yet to meet someone who says, "I missed that one too."

Ok, on with the show. Context - I've never seen a production of Twelfth Night. I've read the play, read books about the play, seen portions of a movie version, but never a live production.  With that in mind...

We open with the shipwreck, which I quite like. Sebastian and Viola hanging out together on "the ship", which is really just the upper balcony-type area, surrounded by white billowy sails covering the entire back wall.  Instrumental music, the sound of waves.  As the storm begins our two come out to the main stage, surrounded by sailors, and life jackets are passed around. A sort of dance begins as the "sails" slide down and cover the stage, rising and falling around them, eventually sweeping them up and carrying them in separate directions.   So far so good!

While the remnants of the shipwreck are still on stage, Duke Orsino appears above (where Sebastian and Viola began) for "If music be the food of love..."  Interesting enough.  Then we cut back to Viola and the Captain.

Now, Viola's just survived a shipwreck. Her brother is missing. She has no idea where she is. I'd think she'd be at least a little ... timid?  Confused? I guess I expected something out of her little more than a whisper, but what I got was "WHAT COUNTRY FRIENDS IS THIS! WHAT SHOULD I DO IN ILLYRIA!" like her hearing aid battery had died. Yeow.  Maybe that was the sound guy's issue, or maybe she was trying too hard to project over what was still the noise of the crowd settling down. Unfortunately it set the tone for me that I did not like this Viola. She was ... abrasive? I always thought of her as a lost child, dependent on whatever the Captain tells her.  This Viola was in fact so confident in everything she said that, during intermission, I heard the person in front of us ask his friends, "Yes, but at the beginning, they clearly know each other, yes? The man says where they are and who rules and she says that her family knows them."

Excuse me while I jump around a bit. I'm always more interested in talking about characters than plot, and I don't always get them in the order they appeared.

Sir Toby just goes for the "drunk all the time" thing. This is disappointing in a number of ways. He enters slurring most of his lines...but then during the scene he says everything clearly. Which is it?  He also resorts to fart jokes, which I don't think was particularly necessary. Cheap laugh.

Image via @commshakes on Twitter
Speaking of cheap laughs, let's talk about Sir Andrew. As I said, I've never seen the play. I guess I always imagined something of a Falstaff-lite drunken old fat knight just lounging around and having things brought to him?  What I got was every old gay stereotype you've ever seen, and then some. Our very skinny Andrew, with a blonde mohawk, enters in his bright pink suit (with some sort of flowered shirt underneath) and proceeded to prance and lisp his way through it all. Really? Talk about cheap laughs, these were cheap bordering on offensive.  It's still funny to have the gay guy kick up his heels in a little happy dance every now and then? Or to disguise himself with a headscarf and big alien sunglasses so he looks like Jackie Kennedy?

When I got home at 11pm that night I immediately pinged Bardfilm to ask, "Is Sir Andrew often played gay?"

"No," he said, confused, "The opposite is probably more likely."

I don't know what the director was thinking, truly.  If you didn't know that Sir Andrew is supposed to be courting Olivia, you would have had no clue. It was far easier to believe that Toby was going through a bit of a midlife crisis and had invited his boy toy over for the weekend.

For everything that bugged me about Toby and Andrew, I quite liked Feste. He was precisely what I expected, going with a sort of "hobo" version of the clown with a raggedy-looking suit and hat, bells on his ankles, sometimes entering banging his own drum. He delivered his lines clearly, and they made sense.  The way he just kept showing up, and occasionally being called upon to sing, he was almost like a narrator/chorus, just drifting through the story.

Of course, everybody wants to know about Malvolio. He was played by Fred Sullivan, Jr. who I take the time to name because I love this guy as the company clown. He's our Will Kempe. I've seen him play Bottom, Jaques, Parolles... I only wish I could see him play Dogberry I expect he'd knock it out of the park.

But, again, expectations are a funny thing. I always thought of Malvolio as a sort of gangling type, tall and skinny and all limbs, with a snooty voice that immediately makes you go to words like "hifalutin". Fred's not that. Fred's a big dude, so we get this guy who looks like he can be scary when he wants to.  When Viola/Cesario refers to him as Olivia's giant, it makes perfect sense. If he wants to pick her/him up and toss him/her out the front door, she/he's going flying.

Alas, his humor this year is in the screaming. Later when Toby and crew are having a drunken time and Malvolio breaks it up, he screams everything like he's going to blow a blood vessel and drop dead on the spot.

It's as if "over the top" is the slogan for this production, because everything is 10x what it probably could have been. Don't just be drunk, be fall down slurring your words drunk. Don't just laugh, cackle long and loud like you can't breathe. Don't just be upset, be red faced spitting your words gonna have a heart attack upset.

The theme continues when Malvolio finds the letter. I admit, this scene is hysterical. But again, in that over the top way. Every two seconds, Toby and the Scooby Doo bunch are trying to "hide" on stage but never stop laughing so loud that my wife turns to me and says, "He's really not supposed to hear them?" And of course the reading of the letter takes 10x longer than it probably should.  The whole "M,O,A,I" sequence just goes on and on as he tries to work it out.  "Mooohhhhhaaahhhheeeeeee...... moooooohigh...... mmmmmaaaahhh...... mumumumomomommeeemeeemymymy...moo! Moomoo! mama! Miami!"  The final "EVERY ONE OF THESE LETTERS ARE IN MY NAME!" is funny thanks to Shakespeare's material, not the delivery.

Fred comes back around, though, once he's in the "dark room" (which in this case is a tiny cage that he can't even stand up in, with both a blindfold and a hood).  Now he's just a miserable sot who doesn't understand what's going on around him, trying to explain that there's been a misunderstanding, he is not out of his mind. I honestly would have to go double check the script to find the details, but if you told me that Feste takes pity on him and reveals the whole joke, I'd believe it. That's a compliment to both Feste's role as well as Malvolio's, as they turn so quickly from giggling idiots to "Wow, look what we did to this fellow human being."

What of Olivia? I've always imagined a younger play, where Duke Orsino is this old rich guy who just wants to be in love and be married, and Olivia is young and not ready to be tied down to a guy like that. All the more reason why she falls so quickly for Cesario, who is closer to her own age and personality. What I got was an Olivia who looked and acted like she'd already been divorced and was now a cougar on the prowl.

And the rest?  I realize, when I watch through my wife's eyes, that this play suffers from too many minor characters. You've got characters like Curio and Valentine who are around early enough that the new audience is left to wonder, "Who are they, are they important?" but they're really not. Meanwhile Fabian, who is important, just kind of shows up several scenes in and you're left to wonder "Now who's that guy?"

They did what they could to keep Sebastian and Antonio fresh in the audience's mind, but there's not much to work with. When they finally show up for the important plot points to move forward, you have to take a second and say "Wait, now, who's that guy again?"

All in all, I'm pretty disappointed. After Two Gents last year, I heard they were doing Twelfth Night and found myself telling everyone, "Now, see, this is going to be a good one." I think the material is strong. Lots of quotes that people will recognize, lots of opportunities to be funny. What we got, from the fart jokes to the gay stereotypes, seemed like it didn't have enough faith either in the audience or the material.