Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I Don't Even Know What "Inspired By" Means Anymore

I like when they say a movie is inspired by a true story. That's kind of silly. "Hey, Mitch, did you hear that story about that lady who drove her car into the lake with her kids and they all drowned?" "Yeah, I did, and you know what - that inspires me to write a movie about a gorilla!" - Mitch Hedberg
I'm reminded of that joke whenever I see a list like this Top Ten Novels Inspired By Shakespeare. What will their criteria be, I wonder? Are we talking about modern retellings, or prequel stories, or alternate timelines or what?

Having read the list, I have no idea.

Four of them take their title directly from a Shakespeare play.  How much each novel then does with Shakespeare varies wildly - Aldous Huxley has his Shakespeare-quoting savage, for example, but does Somerset Maugham's Cakes and Ale have anything to do with Twelfth Night other than the title and apparently a bit of hedonism?

One tells the story of the "real" Richard III and attempts to separate it from Shakespeare's version.

One (Thousand Acres) is something of a "half retelling" of King Lear, which keeps almost identically to the premise (an old father, before retiring, divides up his land between his three daughters) but then takes a sharp left turn into whole new territory.

I think that for all of those we can at least say the author had some conscious connection to Shakespeare, even if it was just "I like that quote, I'm going to use it as the title of my book."

But The Talented Mr. Ripley? Really? A story about a guy that wants something the other guy has, so he kills him and takes his place, then starts killing other people to keep the secret.  That makes it Macbeth? Do we have any reason to think that the author intended the comparison, or are we just guessing?

I don't know what to do with Moby Dick. I don't know enough about Melville. Did he deliberately write it to parallel a Shakespearean tragedy, as several essays I googled claim?

Shakespeare saves lives. Find out how.

RIP Bob Hoskins

I'd be willing to bet that when you show a picture of Bob Hoskins around, most people think Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Hook or maybe even Super Mario Brothers.  But he also knocked Iago out of the park back in 1981, before any of that kid stuff.

Bob Hoskins has died at the age of 71, from pneumonia.  Perhaps Mr. Hoskins and the recently departed Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who also had a shot at Iago, can compare notes with the Master himself.

Flights of angels, Mr. Hoskins.

This year,Shakespeare is Universal is looking to prove that Shakespeare makes life better by donating money to support cancer research. Last year's shirt was a big success and we're looking forward to shattering our previous goal, all in the name of charity. Please take a moment, visit the site and see if I can't convince you to show the world your love for Shakespeare and support a great cause. Not for you? Fair enough - but that's what those Share buttons are for! Don't leave without telling your friends and family. Surely you know somebody that would love one of our limited edition shirts. Available this year in multiple styles including long sleeve, v-neck and women's styles. Multiple colors available!

Tales of a Fourth Grade Shakespeare (Part 2)

So with the monologues done I asked whether the kids wanted to get up and act with each other, and of course got a rousing response.

A student had asked what Shakespeare's funniest play was, because it sounded like all he wrote was death and tragedy. So we talked for a bit about Midsummer, and I learned that maybe six kids in the class were part of the Midsummer that I did last year.

So I pulled out as our first scene the opening of Midsummer.  I asked for a volunteer for Hermia, and a boy's hand shot up.  "Really?" I asked, "You want to play the girl?"  He assured me that he did, and I let him. I explained that this was excellent, because in Shakespeare's time all the girl roles would have been played by boys anyway.

I got a Theseus, Lysander and Demetrius (we were doing an edited scene with no Helena or Egeus) and I broke it down for them, standing behind the line with my hand over respective heads.  "YOU are Lysander.  YOU are in love with HERMIA over here." Laughter because it's both boys.  "YOU are DEMETRIUS, and YOU also love HERMIA."  More laughter. "Hermia's father has decided that he wants her to marry Demetrius, but she loves Lysander.  So they've come to YOU, THESEUS, who's the law around these parts.  You get to decide stuff like this, and if you think any heads need to come off, then *eek* off come some heads."  While they are performing I notice the teacher leans over and whispers something to Hermia, who starts speaking in a squeaky high voice, which gets more laughter from the audience. I immediately grab for my Complete Works with the thought of showing them some of Bottom's scenes.  But then I decide against it, that I simply do not have the time to change gears like that.  Another case of *I* know what it would sound like in *my* head, but that doesn't mean it'll translate to reality.

They enjoy this scene, but there's not a lot of action to it. This is just the warm up.  I tell them,  "I think it's time to get out the swords." :)

I'd had no interaction with the teacher at all before coming up with this lesson plan, so I had no idea what she'd say about swords of any kind.  So I went to the local hardware store and picked up some lengths of this foam pipe insulation stuff, cut it in half, then wrapped some duct tape around one end as a handle.  Sure it was pretty floppy for a sword, but it gave them something to brandish and I knew that nobody was going to take it in the eye.

I bring out Gertrude's bedchamber scene.  One death to start.  I ask who wants to be Queen, and get a volunteer. I ask for a Polonius, saying "You get to die." Lot of volunteers. I ask for a Hamlet saying, "You get to kill Polonius."  I actually offer Hamlet here as a prize, letting the teacher pick the student she feels has earned it.

I explain the scene in terms appropriate for this age group and attention span.  "Hamlet's dad died.  Worse, his mom married his uncle."  <beat, as that sinks in>  "Yeah, that's all kinds of messed up. Hamlet's the prince, and everybody knows, the king dies, the prince becomes king, right? Not so fast, Hamlet. Hamlet's away at college, so he comes back to collect his crown and guess what? Mom's already remarried. Worse, she's remarried her husband's brother.  Yes, ewww is appropriate here. So Hamlet and Claudius, that's his name, Claudius, they do not get along at all. In fact, there was just a show at the castle and Hamlet completely ruined it, totally upset Claudius, he stormed out all mad.  So now Gertrude, the queen, your Hamlet's mom, and your job is to smack some sense into your son. You're still his mother, and you still expect him to listen to you.  Now you, Polonius, you know that Hamlet's been acting a little crazy lately" (ASIDE TO AUDIENCE: "He has no idea!") "and he's come to the Queen's room to protect her in case Hamlet does anything strange" (ASIDE TO AUDIENCE: "It's not going to end well for him!") "Meanwhile Hamlet, you just don't really care about any of these people. You're mad at your mom because she married that guy, and you're mad at Polonius because he works for that guy, and you're just in general having a bad day so you don't really care about what your mom has to say to you.  Ready?  And....action!"

Best scene yet. The chosen Hamlet is the first kid to actually attempt to act.  It's funny, I've written into the stage directions that Gertrude starts sitting, stands up to yell at Hamlet, and then he forces her back down. Hamlet gives her a shove on the shoulder and she flings herself to the ground, I love it. From the ground she yells "Will thou murder me?" Polonius yells "help, help!" and gets run through with a piece of foam pipe insulation.  Great stuff.

For fun we do that scene again with a different set of kids. I encourage them, now that they've seen it, to play it differently. Most importantly to play it big and bold.  When you're angry, be angry like you want to kill somebody. And when you die, give it a minute.  Work the stage.  Most people in Shakespeare who died get a few lines before they go, so work with it.

Well my new Polonius takes that to heart, bursting forth from behind the arras and staggering out into the middle of the classroom before keeling over. This causes the student that he has landed on to start kicking him.  "Don't kick dead Polonius," I tell him. But this then gives me an opportunity to talk about exactly how Hamlet defiled Polonius' body. They all agree that this is both gross and also not nice, and I can see that they start to get a clue about what Hamlet's all about as I tell them, "Well, that's kind of the whole point. Hamlet starts out as the good guy, but as the play goes on and the stuff that happens around him it gets darker and darker and he gets crazier and crazier and starts killing people."

We end on the fight scene from Romeo and Juliet, which gives me a chance to put swords in the hands of four kids at once (Benvolio, Mercutio, Tybalt, Romeo).  Again I explain the context, how Romeo is only one who knows that he has joined the houses and doesn't want to fight, and how Tybalt and Mercutio see that as him being a coward and so on.  The best part came when I got to choreograph (for lack of a better word) the fight itself.  "Mercutio, Tybalt, fight!  Have at it!" They start whacking at each other with foam swords.  "Benvolio!  Romeo!  Try to break it up!  Beat down their swords!" Enter more foam, whacking at foam.  "Now, Romeo, get right in Mercutio's way!  Hold him back, get in the way of his sword!"  Romeo does so. "Tybalt!  You're the bad guy, take your cheap shot! Mercutio's arms are held, stick him with your sword!" Cute moment as they all pause and look at me as if to say, "But that's dirty fighting, his sword's not up."  "That's the whole point, you're the bad guy, take your cheap shot!  Now, away in triumph!"  For Tybalt's part he actually did strut away in triumph, gotta love that.

I switch out my cast (since we are running out of time and some kids have not been up yet) and let the scene continue. "Romeo, it's your fault your best friend is dead. You tried to be the peacekeeper and it didn't work. Here comes the guy that killed Mercutio, what are you gonna do about it?" My new Romeo ends Tybalt pretty quickly, and Benvolio urges him to flee.

That's all the time I had, so I had to leave Julius Caesar and Henry V behind. Which I think was the right move, because I am well aware that I am still setting the bar very high at this age (and the kind of time frame we're talking about). With no rehearsals, prep time or do-overs, it's a lot to ask to give an nine year old Antony's speech at Caesar's funeral. He'll be lucky to read through it. I would have loved to give a lesson in how the crowd gets manipulated, but I expect they only would have gotten it from what I said, not from the text.  Same with Henry V.  I get shivers down my spine every time I hear that speech, but I'm well aware that the kids almost certainly will not. At least, not yet.

My goal as always has been to introduce the material and to take the scary edge off.  These kids, at nine or ten years old, have now gotten more Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Midsummer, Taming of the Shrew and even a little Coriolanus. That's more than most of their fellow students will have by the time they get to high school. If any of them develop an appreciation for the material that makes them want to go experience more?  Mission accomplished.

This year,Shakespeare is Universal is looking to prove that Shakespeare makes life better by donating money to support cancer research. Last year's shirt was a big success and we're looking forward to shattering our previous goal, all in the name of charity. Please take a moment, visit the site and see if I can't convince you to show the world your love for Shakespeare and support a great cause. Not for you? Fair enough - but that's what those Share buttons are for! Don't leave without telling your friends and family. Surely you know somebody that would love one of our limited edition shirts. Available this year in multiple styles including long sleeve, v-neck and women's styles. Multiple colors available!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tales of a Fourth Grade Shakespeare (Part 1)

So this time I got to return to the fourth grade for a rare "Part 2" lecture on Shakespeare.  I first visited my daughter's class back in February, and they were by far the best grade level I've yet dealt with. Just the right combination of academics, attention span and politeness. Too young and it's too hard for them to understand the material and/or pay attention when other kids are reading.  Too old and it's harder to keep their attention, they want to show how cool they are by ignoring the speaker.

What to do now that I've run through my usual array of props and biographical stories?  Performance!

I brought with me a selection of monologues (Midsummer, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Coriolanus, Hamlet, etc...) but more importantly some scenes to act (opening of Midsummer, Gertrude's bedchamber, Romeo/Tybalt/Mercutio fight, Brutus/Antony speak at Caesar's funeral, etc...) and some props -- my Yorick skull (of course), but also some homemade swords I made from foam pipe insulation.

So, the kids remember me and are happy to dig back into Shakespeare. I'm pleasantly surprised by the reaction I get.  They are embarking on a school play (not Shakespeare) and the whole reason I'm here is to encourage them to get up out of their seats and practice reading a script in front of an audience.

I take volunteers.  We start with the opening to Romeo and Juliet, since I figure they'll all recognize it (and they do). Of course, after the student reads it, I ask who understands it and nobody does.  They get that there's two families that don't like each other and that a boy and girl fall in love, but they could just as easily be getting that from their knowledge of the play. So I read it again to them, explaining that this is a gigantic spoiler, that right here in the first lines of the play Shakespeare has already told us that they're going to die. They find that quite curious.

Then I let somebody try Hamlet's Yorick speech.  I set the stage for when and why this speech occurs, but it's obvious that at this age they're going to be more impressed with "The gravedigger is getting rid of the old bones to make room for new ones" than any sort of existential crisis poor Yorick is going through.  So I let the next student start the speech, but then I stop him and break out the skull for him to talk to.

Again, at the end, nobody really *gets* it.  I ask if they recognize anything. I read "borne me on his back a thousand times" and ask if anybody knows what that means. I tell them that there's pretty good odds that some of them have done this recently.  One kid ventures, "piggy back rides?" and I tell him, "EXACTLY!" and go on to talk about growing up prince and having your own personal clown to play with.

I let one of the girls try Kate's speech from the end of Taming of the Shrew. Again, the fun for me is in setting up the scene.  "Ok, you're Kate, and you're a shrew.  Know what a shrew is? Not a very nice girl. All the boys don't want to have anything to do with her, which is fine with her because she doesn't want anything to do with them either! But her father is trying to marry her off, and she's having none of it. Every boy that he brings into the house, she throws things at him until he runs away. Until along comes this new guy, Petruchio, who says he loves a challenge and marries her anyway. Because that's how it worked back them, you as the girl didn't get to say who you wanted to marry. If your dad says you're marrying this guy, well, you married that guy.  The whole play is about these two fighting over who is going to back down first.  But at the very end a funny thing happens. They're at a wedding, and there's three husbands hanging out at a table comparing who has the best wife. So the first husband tells a servant, 'Go tell my wife to come here, I need her.' Servant leaves, comes back, says 'Your wife says what do you need?' and the whole wedding says OOOOOO!!!!!!  So the second husband says I'll show you how its done, tells the servant, 'Go in the other room and tell my wife I order her to come.'  Servant leaves, comes back, says 'Your wife says that if you need her you should go to the other room where she is.' Wedding is all OOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!  Finally Petruchio, who married Kate the shrew, says to the servant, 'Go and ask my wife to please come here.' Servant leaves, and in comes Kate, dragging the other two wives with her by the ear.  This is the speech that she gives them on how a wife is supposed to act."

She delivers the monologue and I tell them a little bit about the ending, using the expression "she's got him wrapped around her little finger" until I discover that they don't know what that means. Oh, well.

At this point the teacher fires up the projector to share a video I brought. I'd come with Coriolanus' "Common cry of curs" speech, but I thought it would be fun to show a video of this speech being performed, and then let them have a go at it.  (I also brought Henry V, but this one was shorter so I started here). Funny thing, though, is that I tried to grab Ralph Fiennes' version (since I own that one on DVD), but late last night I realize that I'd actually downloaded Tom Hiddleston's version!

So I put the speech in context.  I say, "Who here knows Captain America?"  Every hand shoots up.  "Ok, now imagine Captain America a few thousand years ago. Here's this super soldier standing at the front of the Roman Army, leading all the charges into battle, singlehandedly crushing every enemy.  Literally, the battle starts, he runs ahead, and by the time the rest of the army shows up, the enemy is already defeated.  That's this dude Coriolanus. Well, the politicians start thinking, what do you do with a war hero? You make him into a politician.  Only the problem is, he doesn't want to be a politician. He hates the idea. Doesn't like hanging out with regular people. He wants to be out there on the battlefield. And his political enemies know this.  The tide turns on him, and before he knows what's happening, the people that he's spent his life defending are now demanding that he be the one who is banished from the city!  This is what he has to say to them in return..."  *play*

After the speech I ask, "Did that guy look familiar at all?"

One kid's hand shoots up.  "Is that Ralph Fiennes?"  He even pronounced in "Ray".  Well, I suppose "Rayf" is probably more accurate.

I give him a double take.  "No, but nice pull! How did you guess that?  Ralph Fiennes actually did another movie version of Coriolanus, that I almost brought. But no, this is not Ralph Fiennes' version."  I'm still not sure how the kid had that name ready.  He obviously didn't know the movie, because he would have known that this is not him. But he must also have known that it existed.  Not too many people see "Ralph" and know to pronounce it.

The kids eventually figure out that it is Loki from the Avengers movie and that same kid says, "Tom Hiddle...something."

I get the feeling that I'm losing them with the monologues. The hands are still shooting up to come up to the front of the class and read something, which is good, and I have a whole bunch more to choose from ... but I realize that when one kid is reading and not really understanding what they're saying, there's 20 kids trying not to be bored.  I've tried to tell them to move around and to emote a bit, but it's not working.  They need some stage directions.

Time to bring out the swordplay.

To be continued!

And now, a break for our fundraiser.  This year, Shakespeare is Universal is looking to prove that Shakespeare makes life better by donating money to support cancer research. Last year's shirt was a big success and we're looking forward to shattering our previous goal, all in the name of charity. Please take a moment, visit the site and see if I can't convince you to show the world your love for Shakespeare and support a great cause.  Not for you? Fair enough - but that's what those Share buttons are for!  Don't leave without telling your friends and family. Surely you know somebody that would love one of our limited edition shirts.  Available this year in multiple styles including long sleeve, v-neck and women's styles. Multiple colors available!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Most Wholesome Physic: Medicine in the Age of Shakespeare

Most Wholesome Physic: Medicine in the Age of Shakespeare, 1564-1616.
An exhibition at the Library of the Royal Society of Medicine to mark the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare.

Tuesday 6 May 2014 until Saturday 26th July 2014.
Monday – Thursday: 9.00 – 21.00
Friday: 9.00 – 17.30
Saturday: 10.00 – 16.30
Admission free. Open to all.

The Library,
Royal Society of Medicine
1 Wimpole Street
London W1G 0AE

William Shakespeare was born at Stratford-upon-Avon on 23 April 1564. This exhibition of books from the Library of the Royal Society of Medicine is intended to mark the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. Almost all of the books on display were published in Shakespeare’s lifetime, and show many of the medical preoccupations of the age, liberally juxtaposed with quotations from the plays and poems. This was a great period for books published in the vernacular and therefore more accessible to a lay public, so much emphasis is given in this exhibition to works written in English, or translated into English.

Shakespeare saves lives. Find out how.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Sex Jokes Your Teacher Probably Skipped Over

Long-time contributor Alexi contributed to this story on Vox about Shakespeare Innuendoes You Should Have Been Embarrassed To Read in Class. I think it's a funny article about what could easily be an immature topic.

Regular Shakespeare readers probably know most if not all of them already - C's, U's and T's ... Juliet falling on her back instead of her face, Hamlet and Ophelia's groaning, etc...

There's one in there that's little more than Rosalind looking for 20 of Orlando's "things" which I thought was a bit of a stretch.

And then there's the usual bit about Juliet, dying, happy daggers and sheaths. I'm not sure if anybody noticed, but this week in the Shakespeare's dictionary story? There was an example given where the original owner had marked "scabbard/sheath" and written "vagina" next to it, almost confirming exactly what Juliet really meant.  Honestly when I saw that I thought it fell into the "now I know it's fake, that's too obvious to be true" camp.

The bit about dying is interesting. There's the connection between "little death" and orgasm.  Fine.  But the way I was taught, it was called that because it had to do with spilling one's life seed.  Therefore it was something that only men had to worry about.  Therefore if you catch a woman in a Shakespeare play talking about dying, she is definitely not talking about orgasm.    Thoughts, one way or the other?

UPDATE : Joe S on Twitter called me out on this, citing multiple examples of "die" used to reference female orgasm, in Shakespeare and before.  But my googling continued to suggest that up to the Victorian Era it was the assumption (myth?) that there was no such thing, and that it was not "proven" until the 1950's.

Enter Bardfilm and his academic access to the OED, where we found multiple examples of Shakespeare's usage, such as this exchange from Much Ado About Nothing:


Nay, but I know who loves him.
That would I know too: I warrant, one that knows him not.
Yes, and his ill conditions; and, in despite of
all, dies for him.
She shall be buried with her face upwards.

Now if we assume that the "bury her face upwards" line is a sex joke - and it's almost a carbon copy of the Nurse's joke to Juliet, so I think we can - then that puts the whole exchange in a bawdy light. In that context it seems almost certainly a sexual / orgasm reference.

And that's only one of many references. In fact, the OED cites that example first.  I still think it's interesting that it only ever talks about orgasm and never differentiates male/female, even though the two are pretty different.

But, still.  Today I Learned!

Shakespeare saves lives. Find out how.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Today was good, today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.

Another Shakespeare Day has just about come and gone (although I'm sure I'll be tweeting for a few more hours yet!)

Here is the complete list of blog posts on the day.  Did I break the previous record of 28?

Counting this one it should be 29.  Record achieved.  :)

This year it's not about just quantity. I've always said that the mission of the site is to prove that Shakespeare makes life better, and this year we're doing it with a couple of projects that are donating money to the American Cancer Society.

First is the Shakespeare Haiku Project. One of the most popular posts ever on Shakespeare Geek is Bardfilm's epic Complete Works of Shakespeare in Haiku. Recently I put one of my favorites, onto a wall poster and suggested that we donate 100% of the proceeds to charity. The poster, depicting the famous "Great Wave off Kanagawa" woodcut that you've no doubt seen, is available in multiple sizes and price points from postcard up to framed wall hanging.  All proceeds from the the sale of this item will go directly to the American Cancer Society.  If there is interest in seeing a whole line of products based on Bardfilm's haiku, all the proceeds from those products will be donated as well. You just have to let us know what you'd like to see.  A coffee mug? A pillow? If you're willing to buy it for charity we're willing to make it.

The second is the return of our annual, limited edition Shakespeare is Universal t-shirt.  Last year we met our goal of 100 shirts, and I had people banging on the door trying to get them after the deadline had passed.  This year we're going for 150.  The image is an original graphic by my friend Peter Phelan  depicting Shakespeare cut out into little stars and making the heavens shine so very bright. Most importantly, we will be donating 30% of the proceeds to the American Cancer Society.

I hope I kept you entertained for another Shakespeare Day, here and on Twitter. I did not hit my 5000 followers yet, but it'll happen soon I'm sure. If you're not yet following, please think about it. Some of the most spontaneous (and therefore funniest) material only ever shows up there.

That's about it for me. Please take a moment to visit our two charitable links, and consider a purchase/donation.  Then like and share them with your friends and family! Let's prove that Shakespeare can make a lot of lives better this year.

Happy Birthday, and Thank You Shakespeare!

Shakespeare Books for Children, You Say?

Here's a list that's right up my alley -Top 10 Shakespeare Books for Children. My first thought is, "I wonder how many of them I have?"  My second is, "I wonder how many are "filler" that shouldn't on this list?"

Charles and Mary Lamb make an appearance, of course. I never liked these, and I'm probably in the minority. Not only is the writing really dated, but the stories are painfully abridged. Their version of The Tempest completely cuts out the entire Trinculo/Stephano subplot.  Go ahead, search for their names, they're not in there.

Usborne's Illustrated Shakespeare got the most play (ha!) in my house, mostly because it's been around the longest and has pictures. My daughter picked it up on more than one occasion by herself to read the stories.

I want to like the Shakespeare Can Be Fun series, which retell the stories entirely in a series of rhyming couplets, illustrated by children's drawings. But they are an insane chore to work through! You have no idea how hard it is to read rhyming couplets until you try to read an entire play that way. I take these to my kids' classrooms to read and the kids get up and go see what else is available. True story.

Marcia Williams' books are our most recent find, and are excellent on all levels. If anything they're packed a little too densely, translating each page into a series of comic-book panels with commentary from the audience running down the margins.  You want to read it all but it's hard to tell *how* to read it all.

Definitely some new ideas on the list, and some books I don't have yet.

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

The Complete Works of Shakspere

The other day my family took a little vacation to the Newport Mansions, a neighborhood of Gilded Age mansions owned by families like the Vanderbilts. Everything we saw was all mid-to-late 1800's and basically looked like sets from Downton Abbey.

Of course I spent all my time looking for Shakespeare references.

At one point I did see a book open on a table that said something about the lamentable death of King Edward the something.  I leaned so far over the rope to read more that an alarm went off ;).  But I don't believe I was looking at anything Shakespearean.

What I did see, in one of the libraries, was a set of volumes entitled "The Complete Works of Shakspere".  Note the spelling. I even called the kids over to spot it.

I wonder if I was looking at this 1850 edition?

What frustrates me is I came back to the computer and started googling for references to either Vanderbilt Shakespeare, or gilded age Shakespeare.  What I found in the case of the former was little more than stories from Vanderbilt University's Shakespeare program, and nothing about the families potential early interest in our favorite playwright.

When I googled the latter I discovered the novel of the same name by Mr. Mark Twain, and I think I learned that Shakespeare is actually where we get the term in the first place? That I did not know.  I knew about laughing at gilded butterflies and gilding the lilly but I guess I never made the connection that the entire expression to gild something all comes from Shakespeare.

What was the state of American Shakespeare in the late 1800's, anybody know? We know about President Lincoln's interest, and the Booth family.  I guess I just assumed that somewhere in one of those mansions in all the stories about all the parties they threw, somebody would have mention something Shakespearean, someplace.

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Share Shakespeare!

I'm also happy to announce that version 2.1 of ShakeShare : Shareable Shakespeare, our iOS app, is now available!  This is a huge update, adding over 500 quotes to the database and two dozen new background images.

What's your favorite quote/image combo that you've discovered so far?  Post them here!

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Please Don't Kill Shakespeare

Noticed that there's a new comic store in the town where I work, right next to where we sometimes get lunch. So I walked in one day and asked, "Got any Shakespeare?"  You know, like ya do. I'm actually on the lookout for a bobblehead, I don't have one of those yet.

He comes out with the entire set of Kill Shakespeare Volume 3: The Tide of Blood.

I originally mentioned Kill Shakespeare back in 2010 when I first heard about it but never put up a review because, quite honestly, I didn't like it. It has nothing to do with Shakespeare. It's not a version or interpretation of any Shakespeare story that you know. It takes the names and presumed mannerisms of Shakespeare's characters (Hamlet is moody, Lady Macbeth is violent ...) and writes a whole new story, using some weird bastardization of what's supposed to sound like Shakespearean English.

But, still, the guy did go dig it up for me in the back room, it is a complete set, and I don't want to walk out of there with nothing so I buy it and give it another try.

Nope, still don't like it.

Let's see - Juliet has dumped Romeo for Hamlet. Othello is in this for some reason although I can't figure out what, because he doesn't do anything. Lady Macbeth is a bad guy, as always. Prospero is the big bad guy in this one, trying to steal control of the universe from Shakespeare himself. We learn this from Miranda, who has escaped the island where her father has given her to Caliban to be repeatedly raped and impregnated.

Yup, go ahead and read that a few times.  She's a cutter now. You know, to let the poison out. Still with me?

Here's some sample dialogue:

"That is why you must stay. So that thou can end the tragedy of Hamlet."

"I did not expect such help from thee, Prospero. You have my thanks."

"I used to like thee, Prospero. Thou remind'st me of me. Gods, I must have been such a pretentious bore."

Is it me or are they just randomly throwing in "thee" and "thou" whenever they think it will sound more Shakespearean? They do realize that those had actual meaning, right?

I think that this comic is mostly appreciate by fans of comics who want to talk about the story entirely as a comic (rather than as anything to do with Shakespeare) and the visuals (what do they call it, the coloring? the inking? I have no idea). I wonder if any actual Shakespeare Geeks are reading this and enjoying it. I sure didn't. Every time I see them in the news - a board game? a stage play? - I think "Do people think this has anything to do with Shakespeare?"

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

"Watch, Don't Read" Does Shakespeare A Disservice

Once again I tripped into a conversation where somebody said, "What Shakespeare should I read next?" and somebody said, "Why read them when you can watch them?" Two different people responded that way, actually.

Here's the problem. The original person didn't say "I know nothing about Shakespeare so I thought I'd start by reading them," or anything of the sort to indicate that he was brand new at this game. On the contrary, what he'd said was, "I've already read Hamlet and Henry V and would like to try a comedy next, got any suggestions?" So we've got someone who has made it pretty clear that his desire is to read the plays. And yet still the answer is, "Why read when you can watch?"

I get it. I understand that your best introduction to Shakespeare is to see it performed. I am not arguing against that. When somebody comes up to me and says, "I know nothing about Shakespeare, which play should I read first?" I will be on the same bandwagon that says, "Go see a live show or rent a movie, but please don't try to read the text first."

Let's think that through, though. Let's say that I convince my coworker to go see Timon of Athens, a play that she's never even heard of, let alone seen.

You really think she's going to get it? You think she's going to follow plot and character and understand what they're all saying and appreciate why I recommended it to her in the first place? Or do you think she's going to miss 90% of what happens and be completely lost, other than for a few key "Ok he clearly is angry at that guy" moments that you could get entirely from the body language?

"But wait!" you say, turning to the front of the Playbill, "Here's the play summary, and cast of characters.  This gives the audience an overview of the story to read before the performance starts."

Great. So what you've just told us is, "Don't read the actual Shakespeare, but do read the TL;DR version."

Really? Is this some sort of Bizarro-world high school English class where the student tries to read the original and the teacher say "nonono, here, read the cliff notes!"

I don't think we can have it both ways. I don't think that you can walk into most Shakespeare plays cold.  I also don't think that the one-page summary in front of the Playbill is going to give you a sense of understanding anything but character and plot.  I think more highly of my audience, especially those that actually come looking to read the works.  Surely there's room for a middle ground we can point these folks that is not too over their heads to start, but does not insult them by dumbing it down until all the life is crushed from it?

Here's what I've got in mind...

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Fassbender's PTSD Macbeth

Later this year (more on that in a bit) we'll get to see a new Macbeth film starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as the titular characters. We've discussed the potential over the last few months, but now we're getting to hear from the actors themselves on set.

“He's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It makes total sense, when you think about it. Justin set the seed of the idea in my head,” Fassbender said. “This trauma is something we know about. In World War I they called it battle fatigue, and it was probably more horrific in Macbeth's days, when they were killing with their bare hands, and driving a blade through bodies. He's having these hallucinations, and he needs to return to the violence to find some sort of clarity, or peace.”
I suppose? I think that interpretation takes away from play and forces it to take place on the battlefield. I don't think it's limited to that. I think that ambition comes in many forms.

Also of note in the article is that UK audiences won't get the movie until early 2015 and it's unclear when US audiences will see it. That's a bummer, I thought it was coming out this year.

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

What Did The Tempest Look Like in 1908?

I love that this Tempest opens with Prospero being lowered down into the boat with a young Miranda. How often do you see that? This clip from 1908 is absolutely fascinating to me. Explosions! Special effects!

Shakespeare Meteors

"These exhalations whizzing in the air/ Give so much light that I might read by them."
The Lyrid Meteor Shower peaks right on top of Shakespeare's Birthday, and Kevin Lollar was nice enough to walk us through some of Shakespeare's meteor references, such as the above quote from Julius Caesar. After all, if the Chinese documented them in 673 BC, why couldn't Richard II offer some comment?

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Only Looney Lovers Left Alive

Tom Hiddleston is one of those actors who shows up in my news feeds quite frequently, because his name is basically synonymous with Shakespeare.  In a good way - not in the Gwynneth "award-winning Shakespeare in Love actress" Paltrow kind of way.

So I knew about his new vampire movie Only Lover's Left Alive, directed by Jim Jarmusch. I paid a little more attention when I noticed that Christopher Marlowe is a character.  But, still, Marlowe's no Shakespeare.

Image courtesy reddit user cmunk13
Then I learned that director is rabid anti-Stratfordian. Turns out he's more of a Marlovian, which in my book puts him a little bit higher than the Oxfordians because at least Marlowe had some playwriting talent.  (Although I take that back, he goes on to say that Oxford was "probably more likely" and that he only uses Marlowe as his example because he thinks Marlowe's death was a conspiracy as well.)

Jarmusch seems an odd duck. I had to go look to see if I'd ever watched any of his movies. I've heard of many of them, but never seen any. What put him back in the camp of "ignore" for me was the way he name checks the other "famous" people who were also Shakespeare deniers, like some sort of talking points memo regurgitated by Fox News:
I’m not alone. I’m with Mark Twain and Henry and William James and Sigmund Freud and Orson Welles, Emerson — a lot of people don’t buy the Shakespeare thing.
They truly thought they scored a coup getting Orson Welles on their side. The problem is that the evidence, what little there is, is complete nonsense. So I know the guy hasn't put any thought into it, he's just parroting back the same old stuff, just like what's his name did with Anonymous.
What I'm deeply curious about is whether he and Tom Hiddleston had any serious discussion on the topic, or if they just did the "agree to disagree" thing, or what.  That would be the real interesting interview.

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Take Me Out To The Shakespeare....

Move over Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Elton John.

Shakespeare is coming to Boston's historic Fenway Park.

As a general rule, any "special events" at Fenway tend to sell out almost instantaneously, but then again it's almost always a superstar rock concert (see above). So unclear yet whether I'll be able to score tickets. But you know I'll be standing in virtual line!

Speaking of Red Sox and Shakespeare, it seems as good a time as any to remind everybody what happened last year...

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Conducting Shakespeare

"Choose Your Own Adventure" Shakespeare is not new.  But what if you hooked up the audience to actual emotional sensors that tracked how they were responding, and then "conducted" the performance behind the scenes so they didn't know how they were affecting the outcome?

Such is the experiment of Conducting Shakespeare, where several audience members will be connected to devices to measure their brain-waves, heart rate and so forth. The director/conductor, Dr. Alexis Kirke, will use the information in real time to splice together a sort of medley of Shakespeare scenes to create something that would, in theory, be different for every audience.

I love the idea, and would want to play along. I do have two thoughts on the subject.

First, it says that "4 out of 100" audience members will be connected up to the sensors, which I'm sure is a technology/budgetary consideration, and that's fine. But that means that those 4 people are going to get a better show than the other 96, who might be on the opposite end of the scale when it comes to what they're looking at.

Second, you may not like what you think you like. Funny coincidence, the mrs. and I were watching an episode of Grey's Anatomy recently where they're doing this story arc about brain research. They connected some regular characters up to a machine that would monitor brain/emotional activity, then showed them pictures.  "Want to see the pleasure center?" asks the neural surgeon.  "Show her the picture of the kitten."  Up comes the picture of the kitten, and all the anger zones fire in the brain.  "What, you don't like cats?" he asks.  "Hate 'em," she replies.

That's what I'm imagining in a performance like this.  Your subject may have come in thinking "Woo! Hamlet! Greatest work of literature in the English language!" but in reality his brain is saying "Snore. I don't understand a word of this.  This needs more twins, mistaken identity and girls dressed up as boys."

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Shakespeare Musicals?

From opera to Disney, people have been putting Shakespeare to music for a very long time.

When I saw an article titled The 10 best Shakespeare-inspired pieces of music – in pictures I was assuming that they meant songs. Albums.  Individual short pieces.  Wasn't sure where the pictures part came in.

Now I know! They're talking about full-length musicals of all sorts - Broadway, opera, film - that feature Shakespeare's work.  Sure they included Lion King, but there's also several operas and classical pieces.

Like many of these lists I find it amusing how they struggle to fill their quota and get more liberal in the interpretation of their premise.  For instance ... the soundtrack to Olivier's Henry V makes the list. Just about every other entry on the list involves taking the actual words of Shakespeare (or their modern interpretation) and setting them to music.  Not this one, this one is the background music playing while Shakespeare goes about its business in the foreground.  But still...."Shakespeare inspired" it is.

Don't miss the ridiculously random Elvis Costello cameo!

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

A Middle School Shakespeare Festival Right In My Backyard

North Attleboro, MA si maybe 30-40 minutes from my house. Wondering how this escaped me for so long!

North Attleboro Middle School students turned the tragedy of "Macbeth" into something fun for the school's annual Shakespeare Festival. 
Eighth-graders used William Shakespeare's famous play as the foundation for projects ranging from board games to children's books.
[Link] It was the "board games and children's books" that caught my attention. I would love it if my kids got to partake in something like this!

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Macbeth Fun Facts

Like all great lists of Shakespeare trivia, most of the regular Shakespeare Geek readers are already going to know all of these Macbeth Fun Facts. Like the fact that James I was a fan of witches. Or that Macbeth was a real person.

But ...

3. In Shakespeare’s day, females were prohibited from acting in plays and were always portrayed by young men. During “Macbeth’s” initial run, a rumor was circulating that the boy playing Lady MacBeth had died and Shakespeare himself took his place.
Really? Been doing this for eight years or so at this point, and that one snuck by me until now. If Macbeth was written in 1606 that would have made Shakespeare ... 42? Far, far too old to play one of the boy's roles.

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Who Wants A Peek At My Next Book Project?

I've been teasing it for weeks, and now those that are still feigning interest can get one step closer!

Download a sample chapter from my new project Now You Know Shakespeare!

From the Coming Soon page:
The problem as I see it is that there are thousands of books that will teach you about Shakespeare, but they all assume that you either know everything, or nothing. Either you’re researching your PhD thesis on Merry Wives of Windsor, or you just want to pass your Hamlet test next week. What about everyone in between? What about the average educated adult who would like to read up on Shakespeare to fill in the gaps she missed in school? 
I’d like to do something about that. I’m starting a new book series I’m calling Now You Know Shakespeare that aims squarely at this audience, and makes no claims otherwise. I’ve met too many adults that want to come back to Shakespeare, but don’t know where to start and are afraid to jump in somewhere between the shallow and deep ends. I recently spoke with an elementary school teacher who was excited about a production of The Tempest coming to Boston, and asked me to recommend something she could read that could bring her up to speed on the play so she wasn’t going in cold. What could I say? She wasn’t a kid, or a dummy, or “the masses” or “middle school” or any of the other audiences I get when I google the expression “Shakespeare for” and see how Google autocompletes it for me. She needed more than the one-page summary she was going to get in the Playbill, but she wasn’t going to sit down to 400 pages of footnotes about the play, either. 
They say that if you see a need you should fill that need. Well, I see a need and I’m going to try my best to fill it.
If you'd like to get an early look at what I'm talking about, follow the link and sign up to download your free sample. I apologize for the "coming soon" nature of the site, but it was very important for me to get this link up for Shakespeare Day and as you're probably noticing I had about 25 other balls in the air approaching the big day.  This is a preview of what's to come, and I'm not going to release the final product until the quality is where it should be.  But I'm excited for everybody to see it!

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

What Room Did William Shakespeare Write Hamlet In? A Tour Of Kronborg Castle

I've seen many references to Kronborg Castle in Denmark as the inspiration for Hamlet. The usual questions about - if Shakespeare visited Denmark, how could he have had a specific location in mind? Didn't he just make it up?

This article walks through the play and the castle like some sort of detective story, looking for the details that prove Shakespeare must have meant this particular castle. Will Kempe, for instance, played here before he became one of Shakespeare's best men. Could Will have told...ummm...Will about the castle?

I love the walk through the castle.  "Here could be the platform where they stood to watch the custom more honoured in the breach than the observance....and here's a spot where Hamlet could have hidden and looked down to watch Claudius at prayer...." and so on.  Sounds like great fun!

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

The Return of Fourth Grade Shakespeare

Earlier this year I spoke about Shakespeare to my daughter's fourth grade (9yr old) class, and I have to say that it was the best experience I've yet had. Just the right combination of attention span, interest level, and academic proficiency (i.e. they could read and pay attention :)). I heard that after I left and they went to their library hour, kids were looking for Shakespeare books.

I'm happy to report that I'm doing it again!

Every year this particular fourth grade classroom performs a play, based on a book that they read that year. The script, I believe, is written by the teacher. When I told her that I had more material that involved getting the kids up out of the seats and performing some Shakespeare, she suggested that maybe we could use it as an in-class exercise to help kids get over their shyness about speaking in public.

Happy to do it! Next week for the first time I'm going straight into a class that already knows me, already knows my subject, and has already heard most of my canned material. I get a blank slate!  I'm thinking about bringing kids up to act out Gertrude's bedroom scene from Hamlet or something similarly exciting.  Mostly for the yelling and the stabbing. Get their interest right away. No monologuing.

I've also got a project I worked up for my son's class and never got to use, where each kid gets a line from Henry V's "band of brothers" speech. First, though, I show them Kenneth Branagh performing the speech, to see why it's a big deal.  Then I tell them to do it like that, and let them have at it.  No idea how that'll work, but it's sure a great place to work on projecting from your diaphragm.

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Dunsinane : A Sequel to Macbeth (Kind of)

I love the potential for Shakespeare sequels and prequels. Once upon a time we played the "write a sequel" game, I highly suggest checking that out for Alexi's genius crossover idea that blends a Merchant of Venice sequel into an Othello prequel.  There's also Hamlet 2, which is a bit of a joke but does have an actual plot in there somewhere, and I'm pretty sure there's a legit sequel called "Fortinbras" or "Horatio" (I think the latter) that has Horatio haunted by the ghosts of everybody that died in the first one.

Coming from a different angle we have Dunsinane, something of a parallel universe sequel to Macbeth.
Scottish playwright David Greig wanted to address the historical elements of Shakespeare's play from the Scottish angle. Lady Macbeth (aka Gruach) lives - as does her son.

Sounds a lot more interesting than Hamlet 2!  Maybe not as funny, though. I wonder if it'll have a time machine.  Or sexy Jesus

OK, I Honestly Didn't Know Most Of These

Any list of "Things You Didn't Know About Shakespeare" usually comes up lacking, but I have to admit that I learned several new things this time. That is, assuming that these are all true and not apocryphal.

Sure, we all knew that Shakespeare had twins, one of whom died. And the story with the starlings, although I still believe that one is fake.  Not that he released the starlings, that's true - but that it had anything to do with Shakespeare. I find no proof of that, and I've looked.

But did I know that Hitler designed a Shakespeare play? Or that the first amateur performance was in 1623? Or that Mozart tried his hand at The Tempest? All news to me!  A very interesting list indeed.

Are There No Great Roles for Women in Shakespeare?

In 2010 Christopher Plummer announced that The Tempest would be his farewell to Shakespeare, because he had reached an age where there were literally no more parts left for him to play.

Are we going to lose Helen Mirren as well? She's played Cleopatra and Lady M, but at 67 years old what else should she play?  She did get that chance to play a female Prospero in Julie Taymor's movie.

It's a good question. The men of course have Lear, Prospero, Polonius, Falstaff, Gloucester... the list goes on. Although, granted, if you start a list with "Lear" it's going to drop off pretty quickly.

How about Volumnia? That seems an obvious choice. Any others?

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Giveaway! Win A Set of Bard's Cards

Susan does the Shakespeare, Sam does the drawings. Together they produce Bard's Cards, a line of greeting cards decorated with our favorite quotes from Shakespeare.

AND, for Shakespeare's Birthday they're giving some away!  Just head over to the site and follow the rules.  It's one of those dealies where the more you share it the more you have a chance to win.

Good luck!  But I'm telling you right now Susan, if you sneak in any Not By Shakespeare on my geeks, you're going to hear about it!  I'd better not see any "When I saw you I fell in love and you smiled because you knew" or any of that other silliness!

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Did Branagh Steal Judi Dench's Much Ado Idea?

via reddit user Does_Requests_Badly
Dame Judi claims he did. I can't tell how tongue-in-cheek we're supposed to take this, but the legendary actress says that not only did Branagh not like being directed by her, but he "stole all my ideas for the film." I'm sure it's all in good fun.

What bugs me is that the article does not go into detail about exactly what sort of ideas. Are we talking about the idea to shoot it in a home? Or individual notes on character portrayals? That is what I'd like to read about! Remember when Patrick Stewart was going around telling everybody how Ian McKellen taught him how to do Macbeth?  I love that kind of stuff.

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Geeklet Overload

My oldest daughter has gone a bit Shakespeare insane lately, and I'm ok with it.

1) She's currently writing a time-travelling young adult novel that features the characters from Midsummer Night's Dream coming to life (out of the imagination of Mr. William Shakespeare) and growing up as regular everyday high school kids with no knowledge of their "true" selves until they're called upon to save Shakespeare's daughter Susannah.

2) She brought home a *shudder* Modern English translation of Midsummer from school.  I held it up with two fingers like a bit of rotten banana peel and demanded to know who'd brought such a thing into my house.  She told me that she had so many questions she didn't want to keep pestering me.  I said, "Yeah but I have like 5 versions of this play over on the bookshelf you could have used one of those."

3) She has taken to quizzing both her fellow students and teachers alike on Shakespeare. What is she asking them?  "What's the name of the witch in The Tempest?" and "What's Lady Macbeth's real name?" I suggested that maybe she should let them crawl before she asks them to sprint. We toned it down to "What's the name of the girl Romeo likes before he meets Juliet?" and "Is Mercutio a Montague or a Capulet?"  and yes that second one is a trick question.

4) She found out that in 8th grade they read Romeo and Juliet.  She's in 6th grade now.  She's already anticipating just how well she's going to do in that class!

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

This Year, Shakespeare's Going To Make Some Lives Better

Shakespeare is Universal #2

I'm happy to announce our Second Annual, Limited Edition "Shakespeare Is Universal" t-shirt.  Did you get your hands on one of last years? Are all your friends crazy jealous? Now's the chance for you to feed that green-eyed monster.  This year's design features an original casting of Shakespeare's portrait into a constellation of stars, decorated along the edges with all your favorite Shakespeare quotes about those very same stars.  A special thanks to my friend Peter Phelan for all his hard work in making the design!

And now for the really good stuff!

It's long been the mission of Shakespeare Geek to prove that Shakespeare makes life better, and this year I've decided to back that up. Once we make our goal this year, part of the proceeds from this sale  are going directly to support cancer research.

Help us make the direct connection between Shakespeare's words, and real change in people's lives.  Buy this year's shirt, then make all your friends buy it too. Then buy some for your family.

This year Shakespeare, and you, are going to make some lives better.

Teller's Tempest - I'll Be In The Front Row!

via reddit user roanoan
Quick history lesson:

Here's my reaction in 2007 when I learned that Teller, of Penn & Teller fame, was going to direct Macbeth.

Here's my review of that production in 2010.

Here's my reaction earlier this year when I learned that Teller's next play would be my personal favorite, The Tempest.

I've got tickets!  Front row, even!  Can't wait.

Until then, here's a review of the show as it currently plays in Vegas. I only read the beginning because I don't want any spoilers. I hope it's good!

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Shakespeare Haiku for Charity

One of the most popular posts we've ever had here in Shakespeare Geek was Bardfilm's translation of the Complete Works in Haiku.

Recently we came up with an idea.  I took my favorite, The Tempest (gee, ya think?), and made this poster:

It's available in many sizes, from barely an index card all the way up to framed wall art.

Here's the gimmick.  Whatever profits we get from sales of any haiku merchandise is going to cancer research.  If the mission of this web site is to prove that Shakespeare makes life better, then let's put some money behind that and make a direct connection between Shakespeare's words, his fans, and doing some real good in the world.

Right now I've just got the one item up because I want to see what people think of this idea. I'm happy to make more.  If you like the idea but don't love that quote or that poster or whatever, just leave a note and tell us what you'd like to see instead.  Pick a haiku, pick a product, we'll hook you up!  Everybody wins.

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Highway To The Shakespeare Zone

Once upon a time I didn't even have a domain. All I had was a free blog at Anybody remember that one?  Anybody been around that long?

Over the years I've grown my little corner of the Shakespeare world just a little bit. In fact, there've been times when I had so many domains I didn't know what do with them.  I thought this year would be a good year to get them all under one roof.

With that may I present. ....  The Shakespeare Zone.  Here you'll find pointers to all (most?) of my Shakespeare properties, including:

  • The Shakespeare Geek Blog, which is still the center of my universe
  • Shakespeare Answers, my Q&A site 
  • Not By Shakespeare where we set the record straight about who said what
  • Shakespeare Geek on Facebook
  • Shakespeare Geek on Twitter
  • Shake Shareable, my quote-sharing iOS app
  • Original Shakespeare Merchandise
I also threw in a link to Shakespeare on Google News to keep it balanced :) and because that's where I get many of my shareable stories.  The whole blog/Twitter/Facebook thing gets very overlappy, but not 100%.  There are many things that go around Facebook and Twitter that are just too small or spontaneous to make it to the blog.  If you're not following there, especially on Twitter, I really hope I can convince you!

What it doesn't have yet is a link to my Amazon page.  I had something I wanted to put there first.  Is that foreshadowing?  Hmmm...

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Happy Shakespeare Day! Let's Do This

I don't work full time on Shakespeare things.

I may never get to Stratford.

I do not have the time or the budget to see the kinds of shows that some people have the privilege to see.

Thanks reddit user kdoubleyou14!

On the other hand, my children sing me sonnets. Friends and coworkers spot Shakespeare references in the wild and pay attention to them for (and because of) me. Shakespeare is a very big, important part of my life.  I celebrate his name and his work in my regular daily life.  But today is special. Today is damned near a religious holiday in my little universe.

For the past several years I have celebrated Shakespeare Day with a posting marathon. In 2009 I made 9 posts. In 2010, 11 posts. In 2011 Shakespeare Day fell on a weekend and I could not sit behind my computer, but in 2012 I came back with a vengeance and posted 25 times.  And last year? 28.

Every year is an adventure. Last year we had our Shakespeare is Universal campaign.  Before that, I got to visit the Folger and see the most beautiful book in the world.

What will this year bring?

Those who have been following over the years (and for that I thank you for your loyalty) you may have noticed a certain tradition.  I like tradition.  It's a quote that comes from Ben Jonson, to the memory of his (and our) beloved.  I've been looking forward to posting it here for days.  It's a simple line from a larger work, but I don't know, to me it feels like more. It's more of an incantation, a plea for the Master to return to us if just for a single day. I say it over and over again in my mind, and I imagine myself as Prospero on his island, opening one particular grave, waking one particular sleeper and letting him forth, by my most humble art. Thank you, Shakespeare, and Happy Birthday.

Here we go, and I'll see you on the other side.  I therefore will begin.

Soul of the age!
The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage!
My Shakespeare, RISE!

This year's Shakespeare posting marathon is sponsored by "Shakespeare is Universal." Help us prove that Shakespeare makes life better. Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Draw Shakespeare!

Can you draw? I'm looking for images of Shakespeare celebrating his birthday, to decorate some posts during the big day tomorrow.

Just upload someplace and email me a link!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Ok, Could This "Shakespeare's Dictionary" Find Be For Real?

Just last week, "World Daily News" published a story about Cardenio that got forwarded all over the place.

So naturally I'm skeptical when I see Shakespeare's Dictionary Found come up just a few days later.

Only this time it's Forbes and New York Magazine (among others) writing about it. In great detail. Corroborating each other's stories.  Could this be real?

It seems that a book came up for sale on eBay about 6 years ago.  A copy of John Baret's Alvaerie to be precise, riddled with handwritten annotations.

Which are now believed to have been made by William Shakespeare.

I'm intrigued.  They've got a whole website up at Shakespeare's Beehive detailing their find.

What do you think?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Twitter 5000

Hi Everyone!

As you all know, Shakespeare Day is coming. My favorite holiday!  I spent the day tweeting and blogging, and try to have as many special events planned as I can.

I've noticed that I've got 4943 followers on Twitter, which is awfully close to that nice round 5000 number. If you've enjoyed the Shakespeare Geek blog over the years and you're not yet a follower on Twitter, is there something I can do to convince you?  Everything that gets blogged gets tweeted - but not everything that gets tweeted gets blogged! There are many spontaneous games that we play, links that are RT'd, etc etc etc that you never get to see if you're only hanging out on the blog.

If you are already a follower (and, thank you for that) how about introducing me to some of your friends? Share a few stories around. Let me know what you like, I'll do more of that.

Can't wait for Shakespeare Day!  Let's make a 5000 Follower announcement one of my posts!


Friday, April 11, 2014

The 2048 Faces of Shakespeare Game

First there was Angry Birds, then there was Flappy Bird.  Then came 2048. If you've managed to escape the latest internet addiction, consider yourself lucky!  The game is a very innovative spin on a combination of "slide puzzles" and match game.  Every time you match a tile, it changes to a new tile. Keep going until you hit the top tile.  Easy? Try it.

It didn't take long for somebody to realize that this game has nothing to do with numbers and everythig to do with having a custom set of images representing the tiles.  Thus, "Make your own 2048 game" was born.

Thus was "The 2048 Faces of Shakespeare" born as well!

I had to get creative to come up with enough images of Shakespeare to fill the requirement :).  See if you can find them all!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Now That's A Silly Question

Jaguar's latest television commercial asks, "Will you watch a 2.5 minute car commercial to hear Tom Hiddleston recite Shakespeare?"

What a silly question.

Does anybody recognize who the actor is in the first Shakespeare part?

What's Up With Gonzalo?

My deep dive into The Tempest continues.

I always thought of Prospero's friend Gonzalo in some sort of Polonius-esque "advisor to the king" role.  He's supposedly friendly to Prospero, yet he's in charge of the plot to kick Prospero out:

By Providence divine.
Some food we had and some fresh water that
A noble Neapolitan, Gonzalo,
Out of his charity, being then appointed
Master of this design
, did give us, with
Rich garments, linens, stuffs and necessaries,
Which since have steaded much; so, of his gentleness,
Knowing I loved my books, he furnish'd me
From mine own library with volumes that
I prize above my dukedom.
So, he apparently didn't like the idea of stranding a father and his daughter out on the open sea without food, water and supplies ... but it's not like he actually attempted to stop the plan.

Next we see Gonzalo returning from Alonso's daughter's wedding, so at the very least he's still friendly with the king, if not actually in his service.

We don't get much insight into Gonzalo's inner  monologue (* except for one line, see below), so it's difficult to tell how much deeper he goes than just the "talkative, ignorant old fool" he's made out to be.

I'm thinking maybe it's a case where he's always been friendly with Alonso, and has helped the king out on occasion. So one day this guy Antonio shows up from Milan with a plot to get rid of his brother the duke. Alonso isn't a fan of Prospero, and sees this as an opportunity to gain an alliance (in the "you'll owe me a favor" sense of the word) in Antonio/Milan. Gonzalo has no real feelings for Prospero one way or the other, and doesn't feel strongly enough to go against Alonso, so he lets it happen but uses what influence he can to ease his conscience and keep it from being a death sentence.

(*) One of my favorite "minor character moments" comes from Gonzalo. He's asleep. Antonio and Sebastian, unbeknownst to him, are plotting to kill both him and Alonso. Ariel wakes him, and his first words are not "huh?" or "why did I fall asleep?" or "Why are you holding that sword over my head?"  His first words are, "Now, good angels/Preserve the king." I love that. Not really sure who he's talking to, and he's probably too old and frail to do it himself, but it's still the first thing he thinks of. That's the kind of guy you want watching your back.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

RIP Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney holds an honor that not many actors will ever accomplish. Having started his career in 1926 and worked his entire life, until his passing in 2014 at the age of 93, he worked in *10* different decades. That's insane. He started working when he was 6 years old and never stopped.

Cruising through page after page of his IMDB profile I noticed that he did the voice for both "Year Without a Santa Claus" as well as "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town."  Seems about right! He actually voiced or played Santa it looks like 6 different times.

But this blog isn't about Santa Claus, or Rankin and Bass. How about some Mickey as Huck Finn, doing Shakespeare?

I'll leave you with his very fitting final words from A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest, Mr. Rooney. Thanks for the memories.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

More Tempest Questions! Prospero's Magic Powers

I love when I research a play, I get to ask all these questions that fall into the "no clear answer" category and we get to discuss them. Here's my latest:

When, exactly, does Prospero gain his magical powers?

Are we to assume that he was actively studying magic before he was banished? Or that he was merely studying nature, etc... in general, and that only by the coincidence of landing on the magical island to his powers come to exist?

Here's my dilemma:

If we assume that he was already trying to become a mage, then it's a little weird that he just happens to land on an island populated by sprites (and once ruled by a witch) that magnifies his powers.

But if we assume that it was mostly the island that did all the magical heavy lifting, that seems like it would take a major edge off of all his "retirement" speeches and drowning his books and burying his staff. As if, by taking those things with him, he could have brought his magic back to Milan?

Bardfilm suggests the interpretation that leaving behind his books has more to do with "and now paying attention to being Duke like I should have done in the first place," but what about the staff? Prospero numerous times refers to his staff as an instrument of his powers. Breaking his staff clearly seems to indicate his voluntary choice to terminate his power.

What does everybody else think?

I Wish I'd Thought Of That. Seriously.

When I saw a press release go by that appeared to be somebody selling a card game based on the "Shakespeare Insult Kit" my first thought was, "Really? Everybody does know that that's freely available on the net in like a hundred different forms, right? Apps and everything?"

Everybody knows how the game works, right? You get three columns of words that Shakespeare supposedly used, and you combine a random word from each column to produce a new insult like, "Thou loggerheaded knotty-pated scullian!" or "Thou goatish elf-skinned bum-bailey!"

I had to check it out. If nothing else I wanted to see how one would win such a game.

But it's not a game, it's a book! A very clever book. I wish I could get Amazon to show a picture from the inside (you can see that here), but the book is in 3 vertical sections representing the original columns, and you turn to random pages "flip book" style to create your insult. Each word even comes with its definition, which is a nice touch. Although it appears like the definition is on the back of each card, and I think maybe it should be  on the back of the preceding card so that when your word is on the right, the definition is on the left. Otherwise you have to flip back and forth.

It's a cute idea, a neat spin on an existing source of amusement, and probably a fun gift for Shakespeare fans. Wish I'd thought of it!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Announcing ... Kill Oxford!

In a blatant effort to strike while the "Kill Shakespeare" iron is hot, Bardfilm and I have teamed up to offer you what you know you're all waiting for...

KJDM Productions Proudly Presents... KILL OXFORD!

In this fast paced Elizabethan era side-scrolling platform shooter, you play the role of William Shakespeare, the greatest writer the world has ever known. Coming at you are wave after wave of pretenders to your throne - Bacon, Barnard, Blount...Manners, Marlowe, Middleton....the list goes on and on! Will the onslaught ever end!?

Race through the events of Shakespeare's life in real time, wracking up coin as you churn out plays that are seen again and again and again. As the neverending stream of imposters come at you hurling their mediocre verse, slash at them with your mighty quill and blot their lines by the thousand!  Beat the bonus round, collect Heminges and Condell along the way, and gain the power of the Folio Shield.

Make it past Queen Elizabeth and Henry Wriosthesley and brace yourself for the Big Boss, Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford!

Unless you've reached June 1604, in which case Oxford is already dead and you win.  You continue to write plays and enjoy success for the rest of your days.

Coming to iOS and Android devices April 1, 2014!