Wednesday, December 23, 2015
I mentioned recently that I've been taking steps to decorate my life with Shakespeare. By that I mean, not just keeping all my fun stuff piled in a corner at home, but having stuff about me that will allow strangers to strike up a conversation.
I know I posted this on Twitter, but can't remember if I updated you all with an image of what my computer looks like now:
(Yes, that is my daughter's Barbie hanging out next to it.) Two people have already asked whether I could have made the Hamlet work so that he was contemplating the Apple, but I think it's too big to make that effect work. Instead I positioned him to look like he'd just taken a chunk out of the Apple. The real question is whether my ironic Lion King imagery comes through? :)
So this is the computer I carry around with me at the new office. Today after a meeting, one of my coworkers who I have not really had a conversation with asked me if I was a fan of Shakespeare, which of course struck up the usual conversation.
Did I ever tell you my rule about asking me Shakespeare questions? I always tell new people, once you get me talking about Shakespeare, seriously, don't feel bad about just walking away. Because I will not stop.
In the span of the next maybe 3 minutes we covered Commonwealth Shakespeare in the Park, Twelfth Night, Lear, how they handled the nude scene (he asked), how they handled the storm, The Tempest, why it is first in the folio but pretty much the last thing he wrote and how depending on which angle you take it tells you entirely different things about the play and the playwright (which, by the way, I might have to make a blog post about because I never really considered that before), Anne Hathaway (both the actress and Shakespeare's wife), and Penn and Teller.
At this point the poor guy is sitting back down at his desk but I'm walking distance from him so I keep circling back to add something I just thought of. After doing that two or three times I finally force myself to shut up because he probably doesn't care about half the stuff I'm telling him at this point.
In other words it was awesome and I would do that a dozen times a day if people approached me :).
at 2:48 PM
It's not that I snoop for my Christmas presents, my family just doesn't appreciate how generally overly aware I am of my surroundings. If you say something, or you leave something laying around, chances are I'm going to notice it and connect some dots.
I like taking my kids through Newbury Comics. It's a weird kind of, "Well yeah if I literally had money to burn, there's a bunch of stuff I'd buy here" shop. I believe the word "kitschy" could apply to much of it. The kind of stuff you decorate your desk with at work.
One of the popular things you see there now, and really in lots of stores, is those "Pop" figurines? They're kind of like bobble heads, although I don't think they bobble. And they've clearly been licensed to everyone under the sun. Why oh why doesn't their marketing department understand public domain? Because every time I see them I look for a Shakespeare, and there simply isn't one.
So when my girls mentioned needing to go to Newbury Comics to shop for something, I didn't really connect the dots. We found ourselves at a different mall that had a different, independent comic shop and one of my girls said, "We have to go in there!" but when I tried to follow she said, "Not you, Daddy! Mommy, come with us." Again, I have no idea at this point. I know that there is no Shakespeare stuff in that store, though I've told them in the past generic things like, "Oh I like all this kind of stuff" so I'm sure they're running with that theme.
They leave the store with bags and command me not to look. My middle daughter then begins quizzing me on which Star Wars movie is my favorite, and how I feel about the Clone Wars. When I tell her exactly how I feel about the prequels and she turns to my wife and says, "Mommy, oh no!" I figure out that I must be getting some sort of Star Wars prequel merchandise from her, and don't think about it again.
Except for the fact that my wife hides my presents in the same general place that we hide the kids' presents. So that evening I stumble across.... a blank Pop figure. I didn't even know they made such a thing. I have no idea for sure if this is supposed to be for me or not, but I've got a hunch. Are they going to try to make me a Shakespeare pop figure from scratch?
Yes, that is exactly what they're doing. Being kids, not very sneaky kids at that, they left him half finished on the desk downstairs in my office (/ their playroom) which confirmed my suspicions. Right now he looks like something out of the Walking Dead, but whoever is making it really did nail the ruff/collar around his neck so it's obvious who he is, if you're looking for it.
I can't wait to see how the finished product turns out! I'll be sure to post pictures.
at 11:42 AM
Ok I'm totally blowing some family surprises here but I'm pretty sure my son doesn't read my blog.
Recently my son, who is only 9, participated in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's "Shakescraft" competition where participants were asked to build a presentation of New Place in the videogame Minecraft. Well on any given day I can't pry my son off of Minecraft, so this seemed like a no brainer. A contest? With educational content? That happens to be Shakespeare? Deal.
So he submits his entry, and we wait. The prize, by the way, is an iPad Air along with some Shakespeare merchandise from the store like a Shakespeare teddy bear. Of course, he spends the month hoping he's going to win an iPad Air and trying to decide what he'll do with it since he already has an iPad.
We have to wait forever for the results, but right around Thanksgiving we find out that no, he did not win, so I put my plan into action and order a teddy bear to be sent directly to him. As Christmas approaches and packages start showing up every day I tell my wife, "Be on the lookout for one addressed to the boy from England." I explain the story, about how she has to be the one to find it because if I tell him he got something from England he's going to see right through the story. Also, when he finally opens it she should make sure to grab any sort of receipt in the box that would indicate that his dad paid for it.
Meanwhile, and I did not plan this timing, Christmas shopping season has begun. We encourage our kids to pick out gifts of their own for their siblings, grandparents, and yes mom and dad as well. Traditionally this has been just going down to the local $5 store since they'd insist on spending their own money, but this year as they've gotten older we let them exercise more variety in where they got the gifts. That also made it chaos, because instead of one big shopping run where everybody gets something (albeit something junky :)), this year was multiple trips and multiple times asking, "Ok, now, does everybody have a present for everybody?"
Going into this week, my son informs me that he does not have presents for his grandparents, or me. Well, the grandparents are easy, because every year we make mugs and mouse pads with the kids' pictures on them. But me?
You see where this is going, right? I wasn't sure of what was about to happen, but I had a pretty good idea.
I'm driving home from work yesterday, and we'd planned to take the kids out for a final run to the mall for last minute shopping. I call my wife to update her on when I'll be home, and she is in the car with the kids on speakerphone. "Daddy I got you a present!" my son calls out.
Yup. It makes sense, really, because he was never about "I hope I win *something*", he was only about the iPad. A random Shakespeare bear wasn't going to put him over the moon. I don't care, I'm his dad, if there was any chance at all that seeing a "consolation" prize was going to make him feel a little bit better for having made the effort, I was going to take it. But combining that with him being in the "I don't know what to get Daddy for Christmas" situation, the results were a foregone conclusion.
So now I have to play dumb. "Huh?" I ask, pretending not to hear him on the speakerphone.
"I GOT YOUR PRESENT," he yells again.
"How can you have gotten me a present we didn't go shopping yet?" I play along.
You know that thing kids do when they have a long story to tell, so they pause every few words and make it a question like they're constantly checking to see if you're still with them? He tells me, "This package came? From England? And it said for participation? But I didn't want it, so I'm giving it to you for Christmas!"
Well that's just adorable, but my wife and I are both driving cars so I tell him I don't understand what he's saying and can it wait until we get home. I like that my wife came through on the "Oh this must be a participation prize" thing, since clearly it did not say participation anywhere on it. I notice at one point in the conversation he said something about feeling guilty, and I'm honestly not sure whether he means feeling guilty that he does not want to prize, or that he would feel guilty keeping a Shakespeare bear for himself. I think it's probably the latter.
I get home, walk through the door where the kids are having dinner, and he explains again, "Ok, Daddy, listen. This package came today, from England, and it was for participation. It had a big PARTICIPATION sign with it." The embellishment is amusing, because of course it didn't say that.
"Wait wait wait," I said, "Participation for what? What are we talking about? Oh wait is this from the Shakespeare Minecraft people? That's cool that you got something, though, isn't it? You don't want to keep it for yourself?"
"I like that I got something, but you like Shakespeare more than me," he says.
To which he oldest sister pipes up, "Ya think?"
And my middle darling offers, "Daddy *loves* Shakespeare."
So I know what I'm getting for Christmas :)
at 8:30 AM
Thursday, December 17, 2015
Is it too much to hope that just one of them is any good?
I knew about Shonda Rhimes getting into the act with Still Star-Crossed, based on a young adult novel that picks up where Romeo and Juliet left off. The Prince has decided to unite the families by force, and orders Benvolio to marry Rosaline.
ABC is putting a Muslim spin on their version with Indivisible, where a New Yorker develops a friendship with her (his?) Muslim neighbor, and then all proverbial hell breaks loose when their kids fall in love. I wonder if this one is going to have some sort of ancient grudge? If the parents are friends, does that fundamentally change the original story?
Lastly we have Fox's Latino version, set against a music backdrop in Los Angeles. The rumors say it's hoping to jump on the Empire bandwagon, but from the description is sounds an awful lot like the 1996 Romeo+Juliet Luhrman / DiCaprio version.
I have no idea if all or any of these will see the light of day. At least they're all backed by one of the major networks. I'm pretty sure that the CW tried some sort of Romeo and Juliet thing (a science fiction thing, maybe?) that I never even saw. I have no idea if it ever even came out.
What do you think, do we want a series based on Shakespeare? I suppose we should give credit to Sons of Anarchy here, which was always understood to be a version of Hamlet. Never watched it, but I hear it was quite good.
at 7:33 PM
How long have we been waiting for this movie? I first wrote about it (when it was rumored that Natalie Portman would play Lady Macbeth) in April 2013, two and a half years ago. Was it worth the wait?
I think it's difficult to review movie versions of Shakespeare plays, because there's the inevitable clash of expectations between what the viewer wants to see, and the story the director wants to tell. When we go see a staged Shakespeare, we pretty much always get the story we expected, with the only real room for interpretation coming in the characters, rather than the action. Moviemakers seem far more likely to say "Ok, I'm going to take the Shakespeare story up to this point, but then I'm going to do my own thing."
This version is definitely one of those. While watching there were at least three instances where I made this face:
(* Yes I know precisely the context for that original image, that's why it's funny ;)
I don't really want to give spoilers, but let me put it this way - this Macbeth likes to kill people in front of other people. It's not just that there are witnesses, either. At one point he makes it a public spectacle. Yeah. The film clearly goes right for the "Macbeth is crazy and everybody knows it, but he's also the king now so what are ya gonna do?" vibe pretty much immediately. I suppose it's a way to go, but it was certainly different from what I'm used to seeing.
I'm not a fan of the directorial style, either, which has got a lot of 300 going for it, if you remember that movie. When a sword hits a body, expect to switch to slow motion so you can watch the blood fly. Then switch back to fast forward to get the audience nauseous. I could actually live with the nauseating camera work, especially during the battle scenes, because isn't chaos kind of the point? I don't really go to movies to say, "Oh, cool, look what the director chose to do there." It's like special effects - the best choices are the ones that make you forget you're watching a movie at all, rather than reminding you of it.
Speaking quickly about special effects - there are none. In this movie about witches and ghosts, there are no sudden apparitions, appearances or disappearances. The witches just kind of wander in, say their thing, then wander out. Which is a way to go, I suppose, but then we cut to Macbeth running down a hill saying, "DID YOU SEE WHERE THEY WENT? THEY JUST VANISHED!" Really? You lost them that fast? It was almost a weird throwback to what you might see on stage where the actors really do have to exit the old fashioned way. Only ... have you seen Teller's Macbeth? I've seen witches disappear on stage. It's pretty cool.
There's also no ghosts to speak of. I mean, they're there, but they're just played by the exact same actors with no change in physical appearance. Again, it's an interesting way to go - I guess it's supposed to reinforce the idea that, to Macbeth, they're real? But for a movie that's ok with all the slow motion / fast forward / blood spattery things, it just felt lazy to me that they didn't do *something* with the idea. Are we supposed to be seeing the world as Macbeth sees it? Or seeing Macbeth as the world sees him? I don't think you can have both at the same time.
Ok, let's get to some good stuff, because there is some.
There's children everywhere. You've probably read in other reviews that the movie opens (as do many interpretations) with the funeral for the Macbeths' child. We then switch over to a scene that I thought was something right out of Henry V as Macbeth and his battle-hardened warriors (who have been so made up with injury that they look like orcs out of a Lord of the Rings movie, by the way) come to meet the reinforcements that Duncan has sent them ... and they're all pretty much children. So Macbeth and the others prepare the new soldiers for battle, teaching them how to properly prepare their weapons, painting their faces with war paint, and you and Macbeth know full well that most of these kids are about to die really badly. This bookends nicely at the end of the movie when Macbeth sees the progression of ghosts - the same children that he took into battle at the beginning.
But that's not all. We see Banquo with Fleance (obviously), but we also see Macduff with his children on several occasions. There's even one scene where Macbeth wanders through camp and stops to interact with some children playing. Maybe it was a bit heavy handed, but I liked it.
Now let's talk about the Macbeths. They've been called one of the greatest couples in all of Shakespeare's works. Just watching the two of them can be fascinating, and we can let all the other weirdness with changing the plot slide.
It took about two sentences for me to think, "Ok, Lady Macbeth is nuts." Seriously. I don't have the original text memorized to the point where I know how much was cut, she goes from zero to sixty in a single scene:
Macbeth: "Honey, I'm home from battle. The king's coming to dinner."I'm being a bit facetious there obviously, but only a bit. The pacing feels like it's been sped up, and it works. Everything in the first half moves very quickly, and Lady M is the driving force. They don't cut Macbeth's uncertainty, or his wife's "Are you a man?" speech.
Lady M: "Let's kill him."
Here's where it gets really interesting, though. After "it's done," Lady M seems satisfied. So when her husband tells her that Banquo has to go, she starts to worry, and keeps trying to tell him that it's over, it's done, they got what they wanted. But she realizes quickly that she's created a monster that she cannot control. She's completely helpless in the second part of the movie, and can really do no more than beg her husband to leave well enough alone, but he doesn't listen to her. The line "What's done is done" is repeated several times, to emphasize the point. She started it, she wanted it over, but she could not be the one to say when it would be over. So when she loses her mind, we understand why.
Let's talk a bit about the ending. I've always thought the end is one of the best parts. How will the "Lay on, Macduff" line play out? Is Macbeth still trying to win? Has he resigned himself to the inevitable? I've often wondered, does he truly believe he's immortal at this point? If so, that makes his "at least we'll die with harness on our back" line a little unusual. Unless you figure that he's just saying that to motivate his troops.
True to the rest of the movie, the final battle is over the top violent. There's no old fashioned "run through with a sword" move. It's all a slice here and a gash there, and you wonder when one of them is just going to fall down from blood loss. That detracts from the scene in my opinion, because as the climax of the movie the director wants to make it last, but the longer it lasts the less realistic it looks.
I won't spoil how it goes down, but I will say that I was ok with it. It's different. Didn't love it, but I get it.
Speaking of which ... there's an entirely separate ending that the director adds to this one, that Shakespeare did not write. So when you think it's done, there's still a few more minutes. Eh. Nice touch, I suppose, but I found it completely unnecessary unless we should expect Macbeth 2 next summer.
I'll end with two trivial things that drove me a little crazy. First, the porter scene is cut, but this makes sense based on how they set the play. What annoyed me is that later in the play, Lady M still has her, "There's a knocking at the gate!" line. Sure, she's crazy, she's hallucinating. But when you've made it a point to give us a setting where the whole idea of "gate" is not relevant, why leave that line in there? Maybe we can shrug and say it's supposed to be some sort of "knocking at the gates of hell" thing.
The second one is just lazy in my view. We know that Banquo's going to die and Fleance escapes, right? That's not a spoiler. Ok, here's the thing. Banquo goes down via crossbow. And Fleance runs away.
Banquo goes down via crossbow, and Fleance runs away.
That bug anybody else? Hey, assassins, you've got a long range weapon and have just demonstrated your accuracy with it. How about shooting at the fleeing enemy, instead of chasing and losing him? At least shoot and miss, to let the audience know that you didn't forget you have it. I said before that I don't like when the director reminds me I'm watching a movie, and this is one of those examples. They clearly went with the arrow so we could get a jump scare rather than a confrontation. But if you're going to establish that the bad guys have that weapon, you have to be consistent!
Ok, I'm done. As with any Shakespeare there were parts I liked, but in general I can't say I loved it. I'm glad I did not bring my wife. It's not the kind of thing that I'll show the kids when it comes out on DVD (apparently they're already taking pre-orders). Years down the road when we compare notes about Shakespearean film adaptations and people talk about the McKellen/Dench Macbeth, or Patrick Stewart's, I don't think anybody's going to be talking about this one.
at 9:20 AM
Friday, December 11, 2015
I mentioned last week in Decorating Your Life that I've got a new job, new desk new computer new office new people, and I've been paying more attention with adding some outward signs of Shakespeare.
Today I was looking at my screen saver. I don't usually bother with one, but I'm hooked up to a big monitor so you can see it from across the room. It's a brand new computer without much on it, so I defaulted to the usual floating picture slide show, using pictures from National Geographic.
Until today. Why can't I have Shakespeare images?
I have a Dropbox cloud account where I've collected all my images over the years. Cartoons, original art, screen shots from my app, various headshots of Mr. Shakespeare, and so on. The only problem with using that is that it's become a real catch-all for literally all Shakespeare-ish image content, and I have no true idea the extent of what's in there. It would be bad in a new office environment to flash up on the monitor something that could be considered offensive. Better safe than sorry!
But! I have a source of almost a thousand images, better known as the First Folio. I don't know about you, but I consider old literature to be very much like art, and I enjoy looking at HD images of book pages, especially the most beautiful book in the world. I had a bookmark button to one of the searchable sites, because I went there so often to get screenshots and things whenever I needed an original FF reference. At one point I had managed to scrape it and make myself a directory of images, but alas I do not have that directory on this new machine.
Why should that stop me?
The site in question is SCETI. The interface is made to jump right to the work you want to look at, but if you look under the covers a bit you discover that the pages are sequentially numbered (even though the images are not).
Again, why should that stop me? This is my thing. This is what I do all day anyway. Heck, it's practically like work experience. Keeping the skills sharp.
So I wrote a little scraper to hit that site and pull down 10 random images, which I then use as my screen saver (and, while I'm at it, desktop wallpaper). There's 900+ pages, but you don't want to be a bad web neighbor and kill people's bandwidth. Every time I run the script it'll just go grab me 10 more images. It's not like I need them all. I was just looking for decorations.
at 2:27 PM
Tuesday, December 08, 2015
Upstart Crow is set in 1592, at the beginning of Shakespeare's extraordinary career, and suggests where he might have got his ideas from.
Also announced in the cast today are Paula Wilcox as Will's mum; Liza Tarbuck as his wife Anne Hathaway; and Mark Heap as Sir Robert Greene, Will's nemesis.
It also features some familiar names from the comedy circuit including Rob Rouse as Shakespeare's servant Bottom, The Herbert creator Spencer Jones as a thespian, and Gemma Whelan, who also plays Asha Greyly in Game of Thrones, as the writer's friend Kate.I don't know any of those names. At all. But I'm always excited about the potential of original Shakespeare content with Shakespeare as an actual character. Shakespeare in Love was pretty good, after all!
Harry Enfield joins Shakespeare comedy
at 8:30 PM
Here's a question that's on my mind lately, now that I've got a new office and all kinds of new people to meet. How do you decorate your life with Shakespeare? What I mean is, if somebody meets you for the first time, or comes into your space, what about you says Shakespeare?
I don't have much, surprisingly. Downstairs I've got some nice framed One Page posters. Upstairs on a little wall shelf I've got a small bust of Shakespeare. People who snoop around a bit will be sure to find my collection of action figures, wind-up toys and finger puppets. And then there's the books. I've deliberately limited myself to one shelf on the bookcase upstairs, so I pick carefully and showcase only my favorite editions.
I christened my new office with one of my action figures, but then bought myself a present to really set the tone properly. Now I want to decorate my company computer, so a couple of these are already on the way from Amazon.
...you know, when I list it like that I suppose I do have more than a little. I was going to say, "That's all in my home/work, I don't carry stuff around with me." But then there's the Shakespeare air freshener in my car. :)
How about you? How can strangers tell you're a Shakespeare geek as soon as they see you?
at 1:30 PM
Recently I started a new job. The last time I had a new job, the place was small enough at the next company meeting new hires were encouraged to stand up and be introduced and talk a little about themselves. Naturally, at the time, I talked about Shakespeare.
So I prepared myself for something similar here. Only, it's a bigger company. Call it maybe 50-100 people? I wasn't sure if they still do such things. They are still small enough that the CEO calls together everybody for a quarterly update meeting, so who knew. I imagined saying something about Shakespeare (since it came up in my interviews), and then anticipated what I would do if somebody asked me my opinion on authorship? Because, and I don't know about you, but I've found that it's often one of the first questions people ask (it's a tie with "What's your favorite play?")
I thought of all kinds of snappy answers. Then I thought, "You will have just met these people, and you have no idea who you'll offend. For all you know there might actually be Oxfordians working here." I decided that my answer would be, "I'd rather discuss politics or religion." And I'm completely serious about that.
At this particular time, however, nobody has asked. There is no "stand up and be introduced" moment, because they're simply hiring people too fast. Which is fine. It's more fun to meet people individually over time, anyway.
But it brings up an interesting question. Have you ever met an Oxfordian (or other Shakespeare denier) in person? How'd it go? We all know that thing we do on the Internet where distance and anonymity make us bold, but honestly and truly if you found yourself in a situation where you were going to see a person on a regular basis (such as a new coworker), and discovered that this person has a deep and fundamental disagreement about something so important to you, what would you do? I wonder.
at 11:00 AM
Friday, December 04, 2015
Many of the geeks out there have heard the old story about Richard Burbage (playing Richard III at the time) arranging a late night encounter with a female fan, only to have Shakespeare get there first and deliver the famous line, "William the Conqueror came before Richard III!"
at 10:00 AM
Thursday, December 03, 2015
I first heard the term "virtual reality" 30 years ago and oh mama look how far it's come. I've got not one but two sweet looks into the future of Shakespeare performance for you, my geeks.
at 10:00 AM