Monday, February 29, 2016

Does Scanning Bones Count As Disturbing Them?

There's been talk for years about excavating Shakespeare's grave, and of course that's never going to happen, but plan B has always been to scan the ground and see what's under there because we just can't leave well enough alone.  Apparently it's finally been done, and we have to wait to learn the results.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand I want to know everything.  But on the other, I mean, the man's dead, what right do we have to go checking him out in his final resting place? Why exactly is taking a quick peek any better than breaking out the shovels?  I prefer the Schrodinger's Cat interpretation of Shakespeare's curse:

Good friend, for Jesus' sake forebeare,
To digg the dust enclosed heare;
Bleste be the man that spares thes stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.
Forget the literal dig and move nonsense, since certainly those were the only methods of disturbance that the author (likely not Shakespeare, of course) could imagine.  Clearly the desire, as really it should be with all graves, is to leave it the hell alone.

Shakespeare's Insults : Educating Your Wit

Came in to work the other day and a coworker presented me with a book from her collection, Shakespeare's Insults : Educating Your Wit. I had to admit, I do not have this one in my collection. Bit of history, when I wanted to teach myself Android app development I actually started out with a Shakespeare insult generator.

The book is definitely for reference, rather an a "How to Insult People With Shakespeare" sort of thing. Most of the chapters are a walk through play by play (or is it play-by-play?) listing everything that could be considered an insult. Unfortunately this ends up a case of "quantity over quality" and you get quotes like, "It out-Herods Herod" in the Hamlet section. An insult? Technically, sure, yes.  Does it sound like an insult out of context? Just barely. Or "Get thee to a nunnery?"  "If thou dost marry I'll give thee this plague for thy dowry?"  Not so much insults and generally negative things.

You do what you've got to do to up the page count, I guess. I know that when I made my own statement against "love quote" collections by hand picking only those love quotes that could be used in weddings, I only managed about a 50 page ebook out of it. If a publisher told me to knock out 300 pages I'd probably do the same thing these guys did.

There's about a dozen pages dedicated to insults for particular occasions - including fat, skinny, ugly, burping, get the idea. Not really what I'd think of as "occasions" but I'm just repeating what they called it.

There's also a section in the beginning that's more about how Shakespeare's language worked in general, such as the few paragraphs on what exactly it meant to call somebody a "knave" and a "villain" and all the different variations Shakespeare used.  This part made me recall a conversation with Bardfilm over Coriolanus' use of, "boy!" at the end of the play, how significant that was and how it might be played today.

Certainly a very good reference to add to the collection. There's always opportunity to pull out some Shakespeare insults (just look at the recent Shakespeare Insult Challenge going around in the spirit of the Ice Bucket Challenge!)  It's an older book (1995) so you might get lucky and score it on the cheap if you go hunting.

What's your favorite insult?  I'm particularly fond of Kent's rant in King Lear, mostly because I saw it live last summer and laughed until I cried. Imagine taking a deep breath and trying to do this all in one go:

A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a
base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited,
hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a
lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson,
glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue;
one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a
bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but
the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar,
and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I
will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest
the least syllable of thy addition.
I love how, after all that, including taking a shot at his mother, he ends with "And I'll beat the crap out of you if you deny a word of it."

Friday, February 26, 2016

Review : Station 11

(Bear with me if you've heard this one.)

Back in college (which would be about 25 years ago, for reference) I worked at the local supermarket as the head cashier.  I was just coming to discover my love of Shakespeare so I was anxious to talk about the subject with whomever might be interested (who am I kidding, I still do that ;)).  One of the cashiers was a retired English teacher, so I asked her if she was a fan of Shakespeare. What she said to me has stuck with me all these years.  She told me, "If human civilization were to be wiped out tomorrow, and only a single book remained to represent what once was, that book should be King Lear."

Station 11 makes me wonder whether the author was checking out on aisle 4 when we had that conversation, because that's pretty much the story. We open with a production of King Lear where the lead character drops dead of a heart attack on stage.  (Why is it always Lear when that happens? I could swear I've got memory of at least three different Lear-dies-on-stage stories).  Anyway, it also just so happens that this night is the outbreak of the "Georgia flu", an epidemic that quickly decimates 99% of the world's population.

Cut quickly to twenty years in the future, when all the gasoline is gone and cars have been turned into hollowed out metal chassis pulled by horses. A caravan of traveling players roams the countryside, going from village to village performing classical music and ... you guessed it, Shakespeare. Why, in a world where people are trying to rediscover the basic skills needed to survive, are they still performing Shakespeare? Because the people want to remember the best of what it was to be human.

I love that.  I think I've got the quote wrong, as I listened on audiobook and can't easily find it again, but it captures the essence of what we've always talked about here.  Shakespeare makes life better, and it does so by holding a mirror up to our own nature.

How's the book?  Not bad.  It's certainly not the first to do the "99% of the population is wiped out" story, notably thinking of Stephen King's The Stand as a defining example of that genre.  I was a little disappointed in the author's belief that technology could be wiped out so quickly.  After twenty years,  nobody's got the electricity up and running again? In the span of less than a life time they've forgotten about how computers used to work? I don't buy it. I much prefer the stories where, when technology is forced to take a step backward, humanity gathers its forces to move it forward again.

But this isn't a technology story and doesn't claim to be (go read Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano or the aforementioned The Stand if you want that). This story is about the eternal transformative nature of literature and how it can change the world. There's a particular book that keeps coming up again and again, before the plague and after, and only once you've understood who touched the book and when does the story all fall into place.

As always with stories like this there's not enough Shakespeare for me, but what can you do. I can tell you that I was looking for the sequel before I'd even finished the first one.  Alas, there's not a sequel.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Coding > Shakespeare

Whenever I spotted a headline like "Coding is More Important Than Shakespeare," I thought, "This ought to be good." I think regular readers know me well enough at this point to know that I know both subjects quite well, and often cross them.

Here's the thing. He didn't say that coding is more important than Shakespeare (and he even returns in the comments of his original piece) to point this out.  The word Shakespeare appears just once in his original arguing, as does the word "programming".  The word "coding" is absent.

It is a massive article by internet standards and, perhaps proving his point, most of the people who read it will not have the mental ability to understand it - and I count myself among those that don't. I get his general idea that there is a set of "stuff people should learn" that is objectively more useful (and thus important) than other stuff.  He then goes into great detail with specific examples, and I'll just say that poor Malcolm Gladwell does not come out of it well.

I like Khosla's summary in the comments - "If there are 100 things you can learn, but you've only got space to teach 32 of them, how do you decide which 32?"  It's a valid question that I ask myself regularly as I watch my children progress through school, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will never again need to know half of what they're being tested on. I think we should have more focus on finance, personally.

By the logic of practicality, I think he's right. If you told me my kids' school was going to offer programming or Shakespeare, I'd vote for programming. I think my life kind of proves that point, because I am not sitting here with a Shakespeare degree and self-taught in programming, but rather vice versa. This morning I had a conversation with the CTO of my company, who I learned used to be a theatre guy.

You have your entire life to learn whatever you want, and you shouldn't ever stop. The debate isn't over what is useful or important to learn - the original piece asks specifically about majoring in liberal arts.  You learn important things every day. No one is stopping you from learning Shakespeare whenever and however you want. But our society's ability to place teachers in front of you, people who are paid to be there, in buildings that are paid to keep the lights on, and to provide you with text books and so on, for a certain period of time, is limited. We need to choose.

My daughter is in eighth grade and I believe the only Shakespeare she'll see this year is Romeo and Juliet, at the end of the year, briefly.  When she goes to high school I'm led to believe that English lit is an 11th grade class, so I assume that if she sees any Shakespeare, that's where it will be. But when it came time to ask about the curriculum I didn't say, "Why isn't there more Shakespeare?"  I said, "Why isn't there more programming?" I wished there was more Shakespeare, sure. But, like Khosla said, if I've got two questions and only opportunity to ask one, which one do I pick?

I wish we could choose Shakespeare more often.  But I understand why we typically can't. Why in the world do you think I've been exposing my kids to Shakespeare since birth? Did you really think I was going to rely on the system to provide it to them?  I consider it my job to educate my kids until a time where they can educate themselves.  The system merely provides some structure and filler for a period of time, intended to jump start them into the "real" world where, hopefully, they won't fall flat on their faces as soon as someone stops holding their hand.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Notes & Quotes, or, Look What I Got!

When I started a new job recently I wrote about "decorating my life" with Shakespeare.  This week I've got a nice new piece to add to my collection thanks to the nice folks at Michael O'Mara Books who sent me a lovely William Shakespeare themed notepad.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, thinking maybe I'd see a picture of Shakespeare on the cover and some quotes in the margins.  Not at all! There's both lined and blank pages, each of which is decorated with quotes and graphics in a variety of layouts to keep it from ever feeling boring. Every new page will bring new inspiration.

Usually I'm one for grabbing a generic yellow legal pad before running off to a meeting - and then promptly losing track of that one and starting a new one for the next meeting.  I think I'll start a new tradition and actually keep track of this one :). I look forward to filling it up and filing it away on the bookshelf before I go get another one.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Shakespeare’s Working Titles (Guest Post)

Bardfilm has done the usual amount of scholarly research for him and found this list of working titles that Shakespeare used for his plays.

Misogyny in Venice (Taming of the Shrew)

Four Weddings, and Hold the Funeral (Midsummer Night’s Dream)

Ebony and Ivory (Othello)

My Big Fat Greek Misogynist (Timon of Athens)

O, Henry (Henry VIII)

Four Funerals, and Hold the Wedding (Hamlet)

Call me Iago (Othello)

Whatevs! (As You Like It)

Throw the Pervert in the Laundry Basket (Merry Wives of Windsor)

So Many Twins (Comedy of Errors)

How to Win Friends and Influence Your Father (King Lear)

Everyone Wonders When Robin Hood will Enter (King John)

Guess Who’s Being Served for Dinner (Titus Andronicus)

Absolute Power Corrupts Folks in England (Any Henry Play)
Do you have any to share?  Use the Twitter hashtag #ShakespeareanWorkingTitles to make your contribution!

Our thanks for this guest post to kj, the author of Bardfilm. Bardfilm is a blog that comments on films, plays, and other matters related to Shakespeare.


Bardfilm hadn't seen a certain strangely viral SuperBowl commercial, and then promptly cursed my name for ever showing it to him.  Which of course brought about a round of silliness.

"I shall laugh myself to death at this puppymonkeybaby-headed monster!" 
"Cry Havoc! And let slip the puppymonkeybabies of war..." 
"Use me but as your puppymonkeybaby, spurn me, strike me..." 
"Why should a puppymonkeybaby have life, and thou no breath at all?" 
"I'll teach you: think yourself a puppymonkeybaby that you have taken these tenders for true pay." 
"Marry, I cannot show it in rhyme; I have tried: I can find out no rhyme to “lady” but “puppymonkeybaby,” an innocent rhyme" 
"Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of puppymonkeybaby." 
"I had rather hear my puppymonkeybaby bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me. "

Ok, have we cracked the wind of the poor phrase by running it thus?  Do you tender me a fool yet? Got any more?

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Let Slip The Puppy of War

Got an absolutely fascinating request last week. A reader from Canada wrote:

We are about to get a new dog, a beautiful purebred baby Doberman. We want to Name her 'River", because we have a small river running through our ranch (our current 10 month old male is called 'Rancher').
This seems simple enough. Not. Purebred breeders always create a 'theme' name for each litter.  So, the way the naming works is, the name of the breeder comes first, then the full chosen name of the dog. The full name of the dog can be shortened for everyday use. Example: Our breeder's name is Braebrook's, they are naming another puppy To Be Or Not To Be, and the every-day name will be Toby. If asked what the full name is, the answer would be, Braebrook'sTo Be Or Not To Be.

With that info in mind, we've learned that the theme for River's litter is "Shakespeare". So, we are now trying to connect our everyday name (River) with Shakespeare. I've searched everywhere!!! I'm stumped.
Got that? It gets trickier, as I learned that there's a max of 30 characters, counting spaces and punctuation. "Braebrook's" takes up 11 characters, so the challenge is to come up with a Shakespeare reference that has some meaningful connection such that it could be reduced to "River" as a short, day-to-day name.

The reader had already found "Fruitful River" ( from Hamlet's "fruitful river in my eye" ) but didn't love it, and I agree - nobody's going to recognize that as Shakespeare at first glance.

My first thought turned to Ophelia, and "Willow Grows Aslant A Brook".  It's a bit of a dark reference, sure. But there's some real poetry in that scene.  That's too many letters, though, so we'd have to settle for something like 'Slanted Willow'.  I later learned that they do in fact have a recently planted willow tree near the river, so that's a contender. And yes,  in case anybody thinks the same way I do, I did write back "For the love of god don't let anybody climb it!" when they told me that.

I flip through my thesaurus and my reference material and come up with some other logical contenders.

"Good Master Brook" is a nice Merry Wives reference, but this is a girl dog so it's not a great match.

I find that I like "Let Rome in Tiber Melt", from Antony and Cleopatra. I'm even asked to provide additional context and explanation for that quote, but ultimately they're still liking Slanted Willow.

I bring in Bardfilm, who has forgotten more about this subject than I'll ever know. He mentions "What News On the Rialto" which I like (having been there myself), but Rialto really is more about the district, rather than the bridge. The river connection is a bit tenuous.

And then, just like that, it hits us. How could we have missed it?  I kicked myself when I realize that I'd forgotten the most obvious Shakespeare river reference.  I sent it off to my reader, who immediately fell in love with it as well.

Figured it out?

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Braebrook's Sweet Swan of Avon, aka River :