Thursday, February 26, 2015

First Folios for Every State!

Folger announced today the 52 exact locations that will be receiving a visit from the First Folio this spring as part of their celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

Here's my thoughts, in pretty much the order they occurred:

"Boston...Boston...come on, Boston.....DAMNIT!  Amherst." <reads Garland Scott's explanation> "Oh, ok, I guess that makes sense."

"Portland, Maine, eh? Interesting, I've got a vacation weekend planned in Portland for April 10-11, I wonder if the timing will work out?" I don't think so, I don't think this is happening until later in the year. But I do plan to check!

"There's 52 entries in this list, WHO GETS TWO? WHO THE F%^&*( GETS TWO?  Oh...D.C. and Puerto Rico count.  Fine, I guess."

Seriously for a minute there I felt like the kid at the birthday party monitoring the cake slices to make sure nobody gets more than anybody else.

UPDATE : Looking back I see that this is a list for 2016, so (a) my Portland plans this April will definitely not be at the right time, and (b) I've got a whole year to plan a separate trip!

Then again I once got to do this (also thanks to Garland :)), so everything else is just gravy at this point.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Edit for Length, Not for Antisemitism

Making the rounds today is Mark Rylance's visit to see the newly discovered First Folio, and what he said while he was there:
The former artistic director of the Globe Theatre in London, who is starring in the BBC’s Wolf Hall, said: “I don’t think there’s pressure [to remove] the bawdy jokes. He’s bawdier a lot more times than people realise. 
“The pressures I feel are more for times where he will say something very antisemitic,” he said.

Seriously, why do we single out antisemitism but leave in all the racism and sexism and every other -ism of which Shakespeare is guilty?

How about Claudio's great head-smacking moment in Much Ado About Nothing? Forced into marrying a woman he's never seen and asked if he's ready to go through with it, he replies thusly:
Good morrow, prince; good morrow, Claudio:
We here attend you. Are you yet determined
To-day to marry with my brother's daughter?

I'll hold my mind, were she an Ethiope.
In case you missed it, Claudio basically gave "I won't say anything, even if she's black" as a worst-possible-case scenario.

Or should we talk about what Roderigo and Iago say about Othello?  Calling him "thick lips" is about the least offensive thing I can think of as an example.

Maybe we should tackle sexism next? Pretty sure that would just kill the entire "courtship" between Petruchio and Kate.  It could be a one woman show called Untamed Shrew.

The more I think of it the less I can get my head around what Rylance said. How do you even take the antisemitism out of Merchant of Venice? At least I'm assuming that's the play to which he is referring. Isn't it kind of the whole point? If you take out the antisemitic bits, the famous "If you prick us do we not bleed" speech is reduced to, "Actually, you know, people have been very nice to me. I've got no complaints." If you remove the fundamentally antisemitic premise that Shylock is the bad guy *because* he is the jew, then why is he the bad guy?

You don't solve a problem by saying "Let's not talk about it. Let's pretend it doesn't exist." It would seem like much better conversation can come from presenting it as Shakespeare wrote it and then discussing what it means.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Don't trust the internet to do your homework, kids.

I found myself on today, poking around the Shakespeare questions.  The answers make you want to punch somebody. Let's look at the question, "How did Rosencrantz and Guildenstern die?"  Here's the answer that 3 people marked as useful:

Claudius sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to go back to England with Hamlet. Before the three of them leave Claudius sends a letter to England telling them to kill Hamlet once he steps on to their soil. The letter is to be delivered by Rosencratnz and Guildenstern, the both of them do not know what the letter says and are merely following the king's orders. It's important to note that Rosencratnz and Guildenstern are Hamlet's good friends and would not have delivered the letter if they had known it was in fact Hamlet's death sentence. Hamlet finds this letter and is convinced that Rosencratnz and Guildenstern were on Claudius' side and wanted him dead as well. In an act of madness Hamlet destroys the letter and rewrites a new one demanding that Rosencratnz and Guildenstern be killed when they step foot in England-no questions asked. He then seals the letter with a seal his father left him. 
Important things to look it and question would be : why is has the seal on him at all times and the sudden burst of irrational revenge towards two of his best friends.
Oy vey iz mir, where to begin?  They get the first part right, about the letter to England.  Then it takes a left turn:
It's important to note that Rosencratnz and Guildenstern are Hamlet's good friends and would not have delivered the letter if they had known it was in fact Hamlet's death sentence. 
Absolutely incorrect. R&G may have at one point been friends of Hamlet, but are now in the employ of the king. Hamlet knows this. He even at one point calls them, "my two schoolfellows, whom I will trust as I will adders fang'd."

It is a valid question to ask how they would have felt about Hamlet's upcoming execution if they knew the contents of the letter, but it is pure conjecture to state that they would not have delivered it. There's nothing in R&G's actions or words to suggest that they would go against Claudius' orders.
Hamlet finds this letter and is convinced that Rosencratnz and Guildenstern were on Claudius' side and wanted him dead as well.
Nope again. After opening the letter he never even mentions R&G. In fact it is Horatio who brings them up.
In an act of madness Hamlet destroys the letter and rewrites a new one demanding that Rosencratnz and Guildenstern be killed when they step foot in England-no questions asked.
Unless you consider the entire play one big fit of madness, I don't know where they get this stuff. In secret he forged a royal document, maintaining the original mission for the voyage. Remember that when he's doing this he doesn't realize he's going to have a chance to escape, he thinks he's going to be standing right next to them when the king of England opens the letter.

Important things to look it and question would be : why is has the seal on him at all times and the sudden burst of irrational revenge towards two of his best friends.

That he has the royal seal is just a plot contrivance of Shakespeare's, and not even a particularly unusual one. What's more interesting as an "important thing to question" is the sudden burst of irrational revenge toward two of his best friends. I'm not sure how many words in that sentence I can find to disagree with. Best friends? Nope, we've covered that. Sudden burst? Again, not hardly. They were on a sea voyage. He had plenty of time to think about it. Irrational? Changing the purpose of the mission and then planning to go through with the mission, that's irrational?  Irrational would be stabbing them in their sleep. Revenge? It's not revenge, it's self preservation. The entire purpose of this transaction is not Hamlet saying "Aha, at last I found a chance to kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern!"  It's anything but. When Horatio awkwardly asks, "So, you just sent them off to their deaths, then, right?" Hamlet's only reaction is, "They are not near my conscience."

It's stuff like this that reminds me why I started Shakespeare Answers and Not By Shakespeare.

Monday, February 09, 2015

I did it all for the Shakespeare cookie

I don't think I ever blogged about this Shakespeare cookie cutter before Christmas, but I definitely put it on my Facebook page.  Well, my mom knew exactly what she getting me this year!

Here's the cutter itself, both sides:

It makes a very detailed cut.

To give you an idea how big it is, I was getting about 5 cookies per baking sheet. The white stuff is actually powdered sugar that I'd used to coat the rolling pin (a trick I found on Alton Brown's recipe).

Finished product! Stuck in a snowstorm like we are there's no real frosting supplies in the house, but that didn't stop the kids from devouring him as is. I had to rescue this one just to get a picture!

One of the most amusing parts of the experience (to me), was debating which portrait the cookie is based on. My wife swore that it looks just like "the one that everybody knows" (which would be the Droeshout, from the First Folio), but I contended that no, the mustache gives this one away as the Flowers portrait.  They had no idea what I was talking about so I had a great time bringing up different portrait images and watching them hold a cookie up to my phone and compare mustaches.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Speaking of Shakspeare movie projects...

Also on my radar this week is a not-yet-funded project to film Love's Labour's Lost.  This one will be set at a boarding school:

Ferdinand, the Head Boy of Navarre Academy, leads three of his comrades in making a chastity vow in order to focus on their studies. However, with the arrival of four new girls at their school, including the Princess of Aquitane and her sultry friend Rosaline, the boys can’t help but quickly fall for each of their new classmates. Meanwhile, their eccentric Spanish teacher, Don Armado, falls for Jaquenetta, the sexy school nurse, but is caught in a love triangle with Costard, the janitor.
I like it so far because it sounds like they can actually keep fairly close to character and plot. It's always a bit disappointing when a modern adaptation finds itself at odds with the script and has to just toss potentially crucial elements of the original out the window.

They do need some help - at the time of this writing they're at less than $5000 of their $25,000 goal.
Check it out!

The Merry Maids of Madness

Well now, this looks interesting.  I'm often sent Kickstarter links for projects that are just getting off the ground, and will take months to see the light of day (if ever). So it was a pleasure to find a new and unusual project that's already funded and well on it's way to being complete.

The Merry Maids of Madness is, "a feature length comedy set in a mental ward starring the women of Shakespeare." Ok, so far I'm interested. Haven't seen that before.

It's got an IMDB page, although there's not much on it other than a cast list (interesting that Kate only merits a minor cast mention). But! Many of these project start out life as stage shows and if you're not lucky enough to be local to them, you'll never get to see them. The fact that they're now in post-production means there's at least a shot that we'll all be able to get a look at the video soon.

Intrigued, I clicked on some of the cast's past work...

...don't do that.  I'm going to pretend I didn't see any of that, and that this project is going to be good.
Here, go read the Kickstarter page for Merry Maids. It looks like more effort went into that than went into Pizza Girl Massacre.

Break a leg, ladies!.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Stop repeating the Shakespeare starlings story. It's not true.

Surely you've heard the story of how the starling was introduced to America? Legend has it that a certain Mr. Eugene Schieffelin of New York was both an avid ornithologist and lover of Shakespeare. So much so, in fact, that he got it into his head to introduce into America all the birds mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. In 1890 he introduced with the starling, which is now considered an invasive species and quite a problem.  (He'd actually been introducing a number of other birds since 1860, but most of them did not survive the new environment and are rarely mentioned when telling the story).
The Bard's Bird
The problem is that the story is completely false. Never happened. I have been looking for proof for years, and failed in my mission.  I can readily put my hands on the man's obituary, for Heaven's sake, and it does not mention Shakespeare. Starlings yes, Shakespeare no. He did release the starlings. There's just no reason to believe Shakespeare had anything to do with his decision.

I'm well aware, though, that my failure to find proof doesn't prove anything. I'm not a professional academic, or a researcher. So I turned to those who are.

Reddit has a group called "Ask Historians" which holds for itself a very high degree of proof. Not only do you need to cite sources for everything you state, sometimes people will call into question the validity of your sources. It's great. I've always considered it a "read only" group, because I never thought I could offer anything that would stand up to the rigors of their cross examination.

So I asked them about Shakespeare and the starlings. In that thread you'll find plenty of reading material on the subject of Mr. Schieffelin, starlings, and Shakespeare. If you think to question their research, feel free to jump in. They'll defend it. It's what they do. Nobody there is offering unsubstantiated opinions.

Guess what? They couldn't find any proof either. The one commenter who offered the most research even said, "I never thought to question the story" but quickly discovered that the story must surely be a post-mortem fabrication because the only time Shakespeare's name is ever mentioned with Schieffelin is long after his death, even when starlings play a prominent role in the story.

I'm convinced. The burden of proof has shifted. I have numerous documents from the man's lifetime that never mention him having any obsession with Shakespeare, or that this was his purpose in releasing the starlings. Is it still possible? Technically yes. You'll notice in the comments of that thread (at the time of this writing), that there was a tenuous connection between an 1889 essay on the "Extinction of Shakespeare" that in theory could have been read by Mr. Schieffelin and given him the idea. But why then did no one, including Mr. Schieffelin, ever write it down?

Until someone finds a document from Mr. Schieffelin's lifetime, preferably with some direct connection to him, it is our belief that the starling story is false and people should stop telling it.

EDIT : We all know that "authority" to Google means people link to you. If you've got a permanent Shakespeare site of any sort (i.e. not just Twitter) and would like to see this story debunked once and for all, please consider linking this post. This will help drive it up in Google's rankings so people googling for "Shakespeare starlings" will find the truth. Thanks!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Foreshadowing in Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night opens with Duke Orsino's now famous line, "If music be the food of love, play on..."

In Act 1 Scene 2, when Viola decides to dress as a boy to enter into Orsino's service, she tells the Captain that she will be of value to the Duke because, "I can sing and speak to him in many sorts of music."

Have I just always missed the glaring significance of that line? Am I the one in the audience that's not immediately saying, "Oooooo!  I bet they end up together!!!!"

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Review : Strange Magic

When I first heard that Lucasfilm's new animated effort was "inspired by Midsummer Night's Dream" I wanted to be excited. I really did. I wasn't exactly holding my breath, however.

Good thing. Whoever started throwing around Shakespeare's name in the marketing for Strange Magic seems to have had about a high school student's knowledge of the subject, at best.  A C student.

The way I explained "inspired by Shakespeare" to my kids went a little something like this:

There are basically three different ways that a movie can use Shakespeare. I'm not talking about actual movie versions of Shakespeare plays, I mean original movies that say they've got something to do with Shakespeare. First are the movies that come right out and talk about Shakespeare and use his words. Like Gnomeo and Juliet. Then there's movies that don't use any of his words, but try to tell a modern version of one of his stories.  (10 Things I Hate About You is the classic example here, though my kids don't know that movie.) Then there's movies that just take a single idea that came from Shakespeare and throw the rest away, thinking that just because they've got a boy and a girl whose parents don't like each other they can call it Romeo and Juliet, or just because a king gets killed by his evil brother you can call it Hamlet with lions.
Strange Magic sits firmly in this final group.  There's a love potion and there's fairies, therefore we can claim it's got something to do with Shakespeare. No humans.  No war between a king and queen of the fairies. There's an "imp" who I guess we'll call Puck who runs around throwing the potion on people for fun, but entirely minor characters in a single montage, that has nothing to do with the story. There is no parallel at all for Helena/Hermia/Demetrius/Lysander that I could figure out.

In fact, as I also pointed out to my kids, this story has more in common with a completely different Shakespeare story, and I bet the creators didn't even realize it.  The king of the fairies has two daughters - Marianne and Dawn.  Marianne, for reasons that are obvious in the first two minutes, has sworn off love for good. Dawn, the younger sister, is boy crazy. The king basically won't let Dawn get married until Marianne does.

Ok, show of hands, sound familiar to anybody?  That's right, it's Taming of the Shrew.

But, again, that's as far as it goes. The actual story is all over the place, and honestly a pretty shameful product from a name like Lucasfilm. More than once I felt it was the kind of thing that seemed like it was written in about a half a day, and felt like one of my middle daughter's straight-to-video Barbie movies.  There's a good forest and a scary dark forest, and along the border between the two is the only place that the primroses grow.  And primroses are used to make love potion, of course. But only the Sugar Plum Fairy can make love potion. But the evil Bog King, ruler of the dark forest, has captured her and ordered that all the primroses be cut down (the latter, by the way, is a plot point that has absolutely zero bearing on the plot as the hero finds a primrose petal as soon as he goes looking for one). So of course the meek little best friend of the younger sister, who is secretly in love with her, gets convinced by the other bad guy, who wants to marry the older sister in order to raise an army (something else that's never really explained), that he (the shy one) should go get a love potion, and then it all just gets weird.

Oh, and it's a musical. Of cover songs.  Like a big Glee episode. When someone gets hit with the love potion they apparently just start singing "Sugar pie, honey bunch" over and over again.

Skip this one. I can't really find anything worth recommending. It looks nice, I'll give it that. But even that is weird, as none of the characters have that "I wish I could get that in a stuffed animal or action figure" appeal. The fairies look so human that every time they sprout wings you think "Where did THOSE come from?" and the goblins are so shapeless and generic that there's even a joke in the script that they can't tell their own gender apart.