Friday, January 29, 2016

Shakespeare Dreams (A Continuing Series)

Sometimes, I dream in Shakespeare.  I love when that happens.

Last night I dreamed that I was writing a version of The Tempest as poem. I'm not sure the official term for it when you tell a story like that (I'm thinking of Longfellow's stuff)? A narrative style, where you walk through the plot one stanza at a time.  

All I can remember vividly is thinking I would have to rhyme "child" with "isle" before realizing that I could get fancy and rhyme "child and" with "island." It had the standard A/B/A/B rhyme scheme, nothing fancy.

Wish I could remember more of it. The dream part was about their departure from the island, and turning the kingdom over to Caliban before they left. I definitely remember part of the dream being about hoping I had an auto-save feature so that I would not lose my work.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

What If ... Romeo and Juliet Was Told in Flashback?

Imagine a production of Romeo and Juliet that opens in the tomb, with both dead. Cue prologue.

One of the most common questions asked about Romeo and Juliet is why Shakespeare gives away the ending ("A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life") in the first lines. It is the very definition of a spoiler, and it is baked right into the script.

Today on the way to work I was thinking about other stories that open up three quarters of the way through. We're in the middle of a wedding, or the good guy is being chased by a horde of bad guys, and we have just a moment to wonder, "How'd we get here?" before the scene changes, some sort of "Six months prior..." card appears on screen, and we start the real story. There's a stake in the ground now. Instead of sitting back and thinking, "I wonder what's going to happen?" you're left thinking, "I wonder how we're going to get from here to there?"

That's exactly what Shakespeare does. Granted, the modern version usually opens with the good guy in significant peril but, you know, not actually dead yet. Still, though, the point stands. You immediately open with a "Wait, what? How does that happen exactly?" moment where you find yourself thrown into the end of the story, and then suddenly the scene changes and you get to see the story from the beginning.

Don't forget Paris!  Fine, you know this is Romeo and Juliet, you hear "pair of star-crossed lovers" and see a young man and women entwined in death, you get that.  But who the heck is the random dude on the floor? What's his story?

Oo! I just thought of something even better. Instead of opening to the scene of them already dead, open to Romeo still alive and holding the poison. Or, I suppose, Juliet holding the dagger.  Play it on alternate nights. Really build up the suspense.  I mean, you know in your head that they both die. But with tricks like this you still have to spend the play wondering if just maybe?

Monday, January 11, 2016

So, This Is What That Feels Like

A funny thing happened on the way to the weekend.

Reddit user JAugustus posted this Venn diagram of his own creation to /r/shakespeare with the caption, "Let The Arguing Begin":

I'm way more interested in supporting and circulating original Shakespeare content (especially visually appealing content such as this) than I am about arguing his individual choices, so I put the image up on my Facebook and Twitter pages.

And then this happened.

I've never had a post go viral before, so it's been fascinating to watch.  You just never really know what's going to resonate and what won't.  The reddit group didn't really like the image and wanted to spend more time debating the actual tagging choices.  The creator of the graphic (who I have kept in the loop, I did not steal his work) was honestly surprised at the reaction it's gotten. In the meantime it's been shared 8000 times, over a million people had the potential to see it, and I picked up almost 2000 Facebook followers.

And that's only Facebook. I put it out on Twitter as well and got dozens of RTs and hundreds of new followers. Nice numbers, but it still pales in comparison to the Facebook numbers.

I'm having fun digging into the data to try and get a clue why sometimes things go viral. On Twitter in particular you can see who RT'd you, and how many followers they have.  So I see numbers in the hundreds, hundreds, hundreds, boom, somebody with 23,000 followers RTs it.  Aha!  Then somebody with 11k.  And so on.  There's an exponential element at work in things like this. It can get passed around a group of people and never really hit, until somebody comes along who literally has 100x the reach, and then it really starts to open up. It's only a matter of time before somebody with 10x *their* followers sees it. Like the old saying goes, "...then they told 1000 friends, and they told 1000 friends, and so on, and so on...."

I hope all my new followers enjoy what we've got to offer!  Hello there! Welcome!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

We'll Call It The Imogen Rule

I'm not sure how I feel about The Globe's decision to rename Cymbeline to Imogen, because in the words of director Emma Rice, "Imogen speaks three times more lines than Cymbeline so it really is her story."

Ok, let's go with that. Here's how the rest of the plays shake up based on the Imogen Rule:

Hamlet gets to keep his play (well, duh). So do Richard III, Lear, Macbeth and Titus. Shame - would have been fun to name the play Lady Macbeth.

Sorry Othello, but I think we've all secretly wanted the play to be called Iago anyway.

Julius Caesar is now Brutus, much to the delight of high school students everywhere who never really understood why it wasn't called that in the first place.

Ok, let's take a vote, do you pick Antony or Cleopatra? Because under the new rules it can't be both.  Ready?   ... Antony wins.  See, I would have said Cleopatra.

Same deal for the younger said... Romeo or Juliet?  Romeo.  See, again, I would have thought Juliet.

Henry IV Part 2 is now Falstaff, and this pleases the ghost of Orson Welles.

The Tempest is now Prospero, and I'm totally ok with that.

Ok, last one and then I have to go do useful things.

King John shall henceforth be known as?   Bastard.

(* I got all my character line counts here, if you want to expand the list.)

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The Desert Island Test

I've seen this question posed a variety of times in a variety of different sources, but I don't think I've ever asked it.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what books would you take with you?

It reminds me of a short story The Bet by Anton Chekhov, about a man who goes into voluntary solitary confinement for fifteen years, who does nothing but read. At least he has the advantage of a regular supply of books as he works through them. In the desert island test you're basically saying what books will you read over and over again.

You know what I'm going to ask, then, right?

If you're on the "Shakespeare was meant to be performed, not read" side of the fence, is Shakespeare on your desert island list?  Why?

For the record, a Complete Works has always been at the top of my list whenever I've pondered this question. The only debate to me is which form it should take -- a First Folio, so I can appreciate the original?  Or a deeply footnoted academic version so I bring with me not just Shakespeare's text, but a few centuries of scholarship on the subject?