Baseball season has started, and my son is still young enough to be in that "kind of competitive, but we all still just want the kids to have a good time" age group. What this means is that no matter what happens during the game, for every play, whether your team is up or not, there is always a chorus of:
"Good hit, Brendan!"
"Great play, Michael!"
"Excellent running, Jay!"
"Way to field the cut off throw, Henry!"
And every time I desperately want to yell, "Well roared, lion! Well shone, moon!"
But I don't think anybody would get it.
Thursday, April 28, 2016
Baseball season has started, and my son is still young enough to be in that "kind of competitive, but we all still just want the kids to have a good time" age group. What this means is that no matter what happens during the game, for every play, whether your team is up or not, there is always a chorus of:
My kids were in a Shakespeare mood at dinner last night (yay!) and wanted to discuss the "best" of the plays. But, I quickly learned, their definition of that word was different than mine when I said, "Favorite? The Tempest. Best? King Lear." My oldest looked at me and asked, "Why is it different?"
I have very specific and personal reasons why I consider The Tempest my favorite of the plays. It is the first one that I explained to my children, thus introducing them to Shakespeare and (hopefully) changing their lives because of it. If that play did not exist, everything would be different.
But I acknowledge that this doesn't make it the best. I consider King Lear to be the best, because my criteria lies primarily in how much and how well the play "holds a mirror up to nature" and reflects what it means to be human. When I stop to think about it I feel like I waited half my life to understand King Lear, and only now do I feel like I've reached the base of the mountain and that I could spend the rest of my life still trying to understand it. I say that with awe, not frustration. My son (my youngest) asked me to explain it to him, and I told him that I would not. I told him that it is a story so sad that when he was younger and I explained it to him, that not only did he cry for the characters, but the strength of his emotional reaction made me cry while telling it. Sitting in a nice restaurant is not the time for a replay of that scene. (But astute readers can go searching in the blog history, because I did write about it!)
Neither being my favorite nor what I consider the best necessarily correlates with the most well known or most often produced play. I think that Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet has to take that honor. Both have their iconic scene (the balcony, or the skull), where whenever you see it, you immediately think Shakespeare. Both have their iconic line (Wherefore art thou, Romeo? / To be or not to be) although I think Hamlet gets the edge there. Can any other play rank on that criteria? I think maybe Macbeth might be a distant third for the witches around a cauldron, but while many people recognize "Double double toil and trouble," it tends to make you think halloween, rather than Shakespeare.
How about you? What do you think is the "best" play (whatever your personal criteria might be)? The most popular? Your favorite? Do they overlap? I noticed that mine don't. :)
at 1:40 PM
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
This is a surprise! "Opening Night", which looks to be opening in early May (opposite Captain America? It's doomed...) tells a story we've heard before : drama teacher with a heart of gold has to deal with teachers who don't understand him and administration who keeps cutting his budget, and the only way to save everybody's eternal souls is to put on a killer Shakespeare production. Or some variation thereof. Check it out:
For a change of pace, this one apparently also includes Shakespeare. That's different.
I don't recognize any of the cast, except for Anthony "RENT" Rapp. I wonder if he'll sing?
I can't tell from the trailer if this is going to be Get Over It or Noises Off or Hamlet 2, but regardless I'll almost certainly end up figuring out a way to see it. I don't expect it to get a wide cinema release, but maybe it'll be streaming?
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
And I mean that literally. My daughter is about to start studying the play in school (she's been doing sonnets and Shakespeare bio for the last week or two). I've tried to sit down with her and look at the original text. It's difficult.
I'm not talking about the prologue. I think that's pretty self explanatory. I mean this part:
Gregory, o' my word, we'll not carry coals.
No, for then we should be colliers.
I mean, an we be in choler, we'll draw.
Ay, while you live, draw your neck out o' the collar.
I strike quickly, being moved.
But thou art not quickly moved to strike.
Somebody please explain to me how you open a play with the "carry coals" / "colliers" wordplay and make it interesting and entertaining to a bunch of 13yr olds, instead it being about as interesting as Shay's Rebellion, the French and Indian War or any other number of "Trust me, you have to learn this because I said so" lessons they're so used to?
Shortly we can get into it a bit and have fun with the "I do bite my thumb at you" scene, and the action picks up. I'm specifically asking about the above bit. Without simply just skipping it, or otherwise giving it ye olde "modern translation", how do you explain why it's there?
Well, this is amusing. I just googled "collier carry coals" because I wanted to get some idea of the working definition fresh in memory -- and my own post is the first thing that came up! I honestly had forgotten about that post (written in 2008!) but it's nice to see that I'm consistent. When explaining it to my daughter off the top of my head, I explained it now like I was apparently doing back then - this is Elizabethan "I don't take crap from anybody" bragging to get the play started, with associated puns and wordplay to make banter out of it.
I tried to show my daughter the Zeffirelli version of the play, but it actually doesn't start on the text. So then we went with the Luhrman version, which is closer to the text, but basically starts at "I will bite my thumb."
So I'm curious how we're dealing with this in the real world. Teachers, you out there? Do we skip it?
(I'm reminded of the schoolteacher friend of mine who once told me she skips Queen Mab, but that's a whole different sacrilege...)
at 1:00 PM
Happened to hear something on NPR last night that is probably one of those, "Oh sure, everybody knows that" things, but I'm pretty sure we've never actually discussed it here on the blog.
Desdemona, early in the play, talking about a daughter's obligation to her father:
My noble father,
I do perceive here a divided duty:
To you I am bound for life and education;
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you; you are the lord of duty;
I am hitherto your daughter: but here's my husband,
And so much duty as my mother show'd
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord.
You know what I'm going to put it up against, right? Cordelia, early in the play, talking about a daughter's obligation to her father:
Good my lord,I'd never noticed how nearly identical those two speeches are. (As the NPR host noted, Othello productions are often so focused on the Iago/Othello relationship that Desdemona comes across as a "nothing" character, and I think I've typically felt the same way. And only now that I write it do I realize the irony in putting a "nothing" character up against Cordelia :))
You have begot me, bred me, loved me: I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honour you.
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty:
Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all.
I actually think that Desdemona scores a stronger point with "I'm only doing the exact same thing that Mom did when she married you."
|Maggie Smith as Desdemona to Sir Laurence Olivier's Othello|
Have I missed anybody?
Sunday, April 24, 2016
Ok, so, fine, somebody managed to make a list of Shakespeare adaptations I've never seen. We get back into the comfort zone with this list of Teen Shakespeare Adaptations, supposedly "ranked", which really just means the arbitrary personal opinion of whoever made the list, based on which ones they've actually seen rather than just spotted a YouTube trailer.
All the standards are here - 10 Things I Hate About You, She's The Man, Get Over It, etc... They include Romeo+Juliet which always makes me on my soapbox about, "What did you mean by adaptation? Because some of these are original text and some of them are just storyline similar."
Who knew that Nicholas Cage's 1983 "Valley Girl" was a Shakespeare adaptation? I remember staying up late to watch that one on Cinemax back when cable television was new. Now I may have to go back and watch it again since I never made the connection. The wikipedia page tells me there's at least some similarly beyond the "star-crossed lovers" bit, as Cage's "R"andy meets "Julie" when he crashes a party at her house. Does that mean that "T"ommy is supposed to be the Tybalt character? Because somebody may need to read the play again, as he's Juliet's cousin, not her boyfriend.
Oh, and I also recall there being a reasonable amount of gratuitous nudity, which I now realize must have been an homage to Zeffirelli's 1968 version.
at 11:30 AM
It's rare that we see a list of "Shakespeare Stuff You Didn't Know" and we don't already actually know most of it. So I was pleasantly surprised to find this list of Shakespeare Adaptations You Haven't Seen and, honestly, I haven't seen any of them. I've *heard* of several of them - Ran being the most obvious example - but I can't say I've ever watched that one through from start to finish, only seen clips.
But then again I'm not the one who runs a "Shakespeare and film microblog". Luckily, I know who does.
Putting you on the spot here Bardfilm! How many have you seen?
at 9:30 AM
Saturday, April 23, 2016
Can I just say how excited I am at how many people have finally started calling it Shakespeare Day, rather than having to split between Shakespeare's Birthday and The Anniversary of Shakespeare's Death? I've been saying that for years. Nice that it's finally starting to catch on!
at 10:02 PM
So, how was your day?
Looks like we wrap it up with 32 posts today, which I'm pretty sure is a new record. It's a little weird, especially on a weekend, because depending on the time of day there's simply not enough exposure per post before they go flying by. I can see my statistics and I see a couple of dozen hits on any individual post. When you look at that in aggregate that's not bad, I've got thousands of hits on the day. But I'm quite sure that some stories get lost in the shuffle. I'm going to try to "re-blog" some of them over the coming days when people have more time to browse and enjoy them.
With that I'm going to wrap it up for the day and we'll see everybody again next time. I'm in the mood to wrap up the same way the Olympics did a few years back, with some Caliban...
at 9:42 PM
Yeah yeah yeah, Shakespeare invented a bunch of words.
No, wait, he's just the first documented use of those words.
No, wait, he was the first to use certain words in certain parts of speech.
Here's another variation to add to the discussion : words that meant something entirely different to Shakespeare when he used them.
My favorite example is "bedroom." Hey, did you know Shakespeare invented the word bedroom?
"No, actually. What Shakespeare meant by bedroom wasn't the room where you keep the bed. What he meant was actual room *in* the bed, like elbow room. Lysander says it to Hermia."
"Oh, and by the way, did you know Shakespeare invented the word elbow?"
at 9:29 PM
My birthday is next week, so it often falls that I get to see my family and celebrate my birthday on Shakespeare's. My mother doesn't always understand everything that goes on in my life, but she knows two things for certain. One is that I "do computers" - or at least, that's what she's told all of her friends since I was about ten years old. The second is that I'm "into Shakespeare."
So, since it's hard to just stumble across random but interesting computer things, she always tries to make it a point to find me something Shakespearey to add to my collection. Check out this year's treasure!
Shakespeare insults have always been easy pickings, since there's so many of them. That's always the first thing to look for - are we talking about actual quotes from the plays, or something out of an "insult generator" that only sounds Shakespearean?
Here we've got a tiny (maybe 3" high?) little edition of the former, with a single quote per page. Perfect for keeping on one's desk at work for random flipping through and hurling at one's coworkers. I have insult mug and once made an insult generator app, but I did not yet have this little guy.
at 9:18 PM
I've seen most of these "weird" Shakespeare productions ... except one. You know that Forbidden Planet is going to be on the list, and Klingon Hamlet (though I did not realize video productions exist). But Popeye doing Romeo and Juliet is a new one on me! I probably saw this as a kid forty years ago and never thought about it again. I'm pretty sure, though, that in the 10+ years I've been doing the blog, this hasn't come up:
For something of more historical value, don't miss the 1909 silent Midsummer Night's Dream they've included. I've got other posts up today looking at films of that era, so it was cool to see another one come up over here as well. Seems like they always had budget for costumes!
at 8:00 PM
My kids are on school vacation this week and yesterday (April 22) we took the day off and went in town to do Boston things like go on a Duck Tour and have lunch in the North End (complete with cannoli from Mike's Pastry). \
During the duck tour we passed by the Boston Public Library and I was reminded that they have quite a Shakespeare collection (which I have visited). I had a fleeting moment to think that we should walk over when the tour is over and see if we can't see it again, but the timing didn't work, we were parked too far away, blah blah blah. I also had no idea if it's normally open to the public.
So now we've all got plenty of time to plan a trip! It's a 10 minute drive from where I work. I wonder if I could make it on my lunch hour?
at 7:15 PM
I mention in another post that my brother in law shared with me his newly acquired Shakespeare knowledge, that our beloved bard drank "contaminated water" and died 30 days later. Of all the stories I've heard, I've never heard that one. Unless he was mixing contaminated water with his alcohol.
Since this is the big anniversary of his death, it's nice that others are doing the work to recap the details are Shakespeare's death. Basically we know that he was out drinking a few days before, and carried home. Was this a normal occurrence? Plenty of people get carried home drunk and they don't die. Was Shakespeare already sick and would have been dead anyway, and the drinking thing is just a coincidence where he happens to have been seen by witnesses? We'll never really know.
I did not see the television special that my brother in law was referring to, and I wouldn't really be surprised to discover that contaminated water was generally a problem for everybody in a world of black plague. But would it have sickened and killed him almost immediately? I would assume that if it was that common to drop dead that easily from contaminated water, surely the historians of the last 400 years might have thought of that as well. And like I said, I've never heard that theory. It's far more common to hear people suggest that he had syphilis.
at 7:00 PM
A little something different for Shakespeare Day! I've had a copy of Presenting Shakespeare for a little while, but wasn't really sure the best way to review it. It's a hardcover book full of nothing but posters from Shakespeare productions. So how do you talk about it? I tried taking pictures (since I did not have any from the publisher) but that didn't work very well.
So you get a rare video review! Enjoy.
It's a very cool book to appreciate the more visual side of Shakespearean interpretation. Admittedly that's not me - I'm all about the words words words :)
The book is available at Amazon.
at 6:45 PM
My oldest had to write a sonnet for her homework. The rules set down were, in order, that it should be:
- 14 lines
- 10 syllables per line
- ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG scheme
- iambic pentameter
at 6:30 PM
Sitting on my DVD shelf is the old 1936 Romeo and Juliet starring Norma Shearer. I keep telling myself to watch it, but this the year 2016 and "watch the DVD" in this house means, "rip it on the computer, put it on the video server, and watch it at will on television." But of the four computers floating randomly around my house at any time - two modern Macbooks and two Chromebooks - none of them have a DVD drive. :(
So I was looking on YouTube for clips to post, and I discovered a channel called Sword Fights Galore! which is nothing but clips of sword fights from classic movies. Awesome!
So, check it out - 1936 Romeo and Juliet, just the sword fights:
We start with Benvolio vs. Tybalt in the "Peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues and thee" opening:
Doesn't end well for Mercutio. Enter Romeo the avenger! I love Tybalt's death scene.
at 6:00 PM
At last, a new list! Tor.com, who normally specializes in the science fiction world, caught my eye with their list of Fictional Shakespeares. Wot'zat, then? Well it starts with Shakespeare in Love and I'm thinking, "Oh, ok, this is going to be a list of adaptations where Shakespeare is a character cool." But I had no idea if it was to be movies or novels or what.
Well, all of that and more. The list contains:
- three movies (I'm counting the "miniseries" as a movie)
- three novels
- a short story
- five comics (I'm including "graphic novels" here, don't shoot me)
- five television episodes
at 5:30 PM
I love finding cool things. I have the entire works of Shakespeare in a single poster. Now how about the entire works of William Shakespeare in a single web image?
Zoom. Keep zooming.
at 5:15 PM
What did Hamlet look like in 1910? I'm not talking about the Sarah Bernhardt version (1900), although it's awesome that we have that.
No, I'm talking about this Italian production, which at first confused the heck out of me until I realized that it is just a collection of scenes, and not the whole play:
How many scenes do you recognize? I see Hamlet enter, reading. I see crazy Ophelia with her flowers. The special effects for the ghost scenes are lovely! Wonderful to get an example of how they were experimenting with the medium over a century ago. There's not even any sound, but they're making ghosts. Awesome.
The YouTube description calls this an Italian production, so I was surprised to see a card that reads "Der Wahnsinn Der Ophelia," which I'm gonna go ahead and guess is actually German. Google translate happily tells me it means, "The madness of Ophelia."
I could sit and watch this all night. They actually add a scene where Ophelia discovers the dead body of her father! How cool is that, that even without any text to work with, they're still open to the interpretation of adding new scenes?
I tried to get more details on who these people are, but would you believe that IMDB lists two different 1910 Hamlets?
at 5:00 PM
I love finding stuff like this, it really bring out my inner geek.
The people over at Wolfram, who are perhaps best known these days as the acolytes in charge of the Wolfram Alpha search and research engine, have unleashed a tool to do word analysis on Shakespeare's plays. The sample make it pretty plain - they point to the MIT version of the text, then count words, then graph words. You've seen graphs like this often, I'm sure -- how often are the words "love and death" used in Romeo and Juliet? What about darkness in Macbeth? Or blood?
The best part is that they didn't just unleash a raw textual analyzer and say have at it like we're all still college students looking for a thesis topic. They're crowd sourcing it. They ask, "Could you think of data mining analysis or visualizations to apply to Shakespeare's works?"
I bet we could! Who's got ideas?
at 4:30 PM
I had to read this article several times before it sank in.
I saw the headline "Hear Sir Ian McKellen Read The Tempest" and I thought, "Oh cool, my favorite, I'll bookmark that."
Then in the picture he's wearing a t-shirt that says "Heuristic Tempest" and I thought, "That's odd, I'd like more information about that."
Then he tweeted, "I hope you'll enjoy our new Shakespeare app."
So then I started reading again from the beginning and saw, " Sir Ian McKellen is launching a series of apps that will allow users to listen to various actors read the Bard’s plays aloud."
SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.
SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP.
TAKE ALL OF IT.
GIVE ME, QUOTH SHAKESPEARE GEEK. GIVE ME NOW.
I'm intrigued. "Based on the premise that the plays are meant to be seen" is one phrase from one article, but "The app concentrates entirely on the language and is stripped of staging, sets, costumes, make-up, etc." Curiouser and curiouser!
at 4:00 PM
Ask anybody to start naming Shakespeare's "best" villains and you're going to round up the usual suspects: Iago, Claudius, Richard III, etc...
How long until you think about Goneril and Regan? They don't even get a full credit each on this list, they're made to share. Which is weird when you think about it, because they spend much of the play fighting and ultimately kill each other. So it's not like they're working together (except in shunning their father). Does Cornwall, the guy that does the actual eye gouging, even rate? Nope. What's a guy gotta do to get some evil credit around here?
The inclusion of Angelo is interesting. It's not like they were trying to round out a list of 10 or something. It's always weird to associate comedies with true villains (though I do realize that M4M is a bit of a problem to classify). I wouldn't expect to see Don John on this list, so how does Angelo make it over, say, Cassius? Tybalt? Is there an "official" definition of villain that we're supposed to use, like how the academy separates "lead" and "supporting" actors?
at 3:30 PM
I am a Shakespeare magnet. It doesn't take long for friends, coworkers and family to learn that I am the Shakespeare guy, which in turn means that they become more receptive to Shakespeare things, and want to share them with me. I love this. Because I know that my presence in this person's life means that they are now more aware of Shakespeare, and that their lives are thus more likely to be made better because of it.
I was surprised the other day when my brother in law texted me about a Shakespeare documentary he'd seen. In the 15 years I've been married to his sister the only conversations we've ever really had are the Red Sox, Elvis, who is hosting Thanksgiving this year, and who did the other use to refinance the mortgage and were they any good?
It's always fun to see what others "learn" about Shakespeare on the fly. Often it's incomplete, or insubstantiated, or just plain wrong. Since this conversation was over text I have the actual transcript for this one:
B-I-L: I watched a special last night on Shakespeare's grave. There is a theory that his skull was stolen from his gave. Common in those days. And he died from drinking contaminated water. Quick death within 30 days. Interesting show! Also explained was his grave stone is shorter than others next to him.
Me: Nobody knows how he died, some people say it was syphilis, or a tumor. It's all theories.
No idea about the short gravestone thing. I know about the curse.
B-I-L: Hopefully you can watch special. Very interesting!
Me: Did they mention his pal Marlowe? He's an interesting story -- got stabbed in the eye during a bar fight over the tab. It's generally agreed that he was better than Shakespeare, and if he hadn't died so young, Shakespeare would never have gotten his big break.
B-I-L: I believe that is who he was drinking with when Shakespeare caught fever.
:) Well, no. Probably not him.
[ Now I'm wondering whether my "Marlowe was better than Shakespeare" comment, which I've decided to leave in unedited, is going to get me in trouble... :) ]
at 3:00 PM
It's been an odd sort of year. Once upon a time I used to post multiple times a day. My average of several years was near 2posts/day at one point. Now it's more like a few times a month. Life gets in the way. Social media has made it easier to simply like and retweet various stories quickly, instead of firing up a blog post to wrap them and send them back out into the world with my own "value add". Every day I look at my backlogs of material to write about, books to review, stuff to giveaway, and wish that I could do nothing but Shakespeare full time.
Which makes this year especially troublesome for me because, as you may have noticed, it's the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. So, as people tend to do because we like numbers with lots of zeroes in them, we've all been inundated with Shakespeare stories from every possible source and every possible angle for the last several months. Every day for months I've scanned my daily headlines, seen another project of massive scale and thought, "I wonder what I'll do?"
Well, here we are, and I've taken the Cordelia option.
I thought about making some hipster jokes about how you my faithful Shakespeare geeks have been into Shakespeare since long before everybody else jumped on the bandwagon. But that's not fair, because at the end of the day if all this hoop-de-doo makes new fans of some people, then I'm all for it. I'm not denying the latecomers.
Instead I like to think of what the Catholic priest wishes he could say to the standing room only congregation on Easter Sunday each year: "Welcome! Where've you been?"
Shakespeare makes life better. That was true yesterday, it's true today, and it will be true tomorrow and another 400 years from now.
Absolutely, celebrate the man and his works on his birthday. Just don't stop.
at 2:30 PM
Author Jean Hegland knows how to pitch a Shakespeare geek. She told me that her latest novel was "about a Shakespeare scholar struggling with dementia who is trying to come to terms with his life even as his estranged daughter (an aspiring video game designer named Miranda) is attempting to reconcile with him.
I told her that the Lear/Prospero crossover was going to get me all misty-eyed even thinking about it. The whole "video game designer" thing is just a bonus for my computer programmer life :)
I'm not going to lie, this is a difficult book to read. It opens, for heaven's sake, with a wife explaining to her husband why she has to put him in a nursing home. It opens with that. There's not going to be any "happily ever after" here when you start like that.
Look, I've always said that Shakespeare means different things to you depending on where you are in life. The entirety of human emotion is, at one point or another, played out upon Shakespeare's stage. When we say he wrote the recipe for what it means to be human, he didn't leave out any chapters.
There will come a time in everyone's life when they have to experience the closing act. Maybe it's for your parents, or your grandparents, or yourself. It's never a fun topic to think about because, as I said, we know how it ends and it's not going to be happy. But there is oh so much Shakespeare to help us through it.
That is exactly what this novel wants to do. It strikes such a personal chord that I counted half a dozen moments (at least!) that come straight out of my life. But you have to take the good with the bad. When he complains of no longer being able to organize his thoughts clearly in his head, how brilliant large scale theories come to him so frequently but yet he can't seem to pull them together coherently when he attempts to write them down, I know exactly what he means and fear that it will only get worse. When he realizes that he's forgotten the ending to King Lear it is heartbreaking as I simultaneously imagine what that must be like while I pray that I never learn.
Structurally speaking this is not the kind of book I usually read. One of the reasons that I love Shakespeare is that I believe in dialogue-driven character development. I could read an entire novel of nothing but people talking to each other, as long as I didn't lose track of the pronouns. This is a novel about the thoughts of a man alone in a nursing home, and I admit to skimming at times, waiting for a visitor to show up so people could start speaking out loud. There is a plot - we do learn about his estranged daughter and what's going on in her life, all mapped against musings of the theme of forgiveness and second chances in Shakespeare's late plays. But when you put one character who speaks in snippets of Shakespeare into a conversation with a character who actively denies them, there had better be some depth in that other character. I didn't see it. Maybe that's yet another personal chord, giving me a glimpse into a future where I don't understand what is important in my children's lives, and why what is important to me is not important to them.
That's perhaps the most compelling thing I can say about this book - not only does everything that happens map back to Shakespeare, it maps back to me. Chances are, you're going to feel the same way. Whenever people want to whine about the relevance of Shakespeare today, this is what we try to explain. Everybody gets older, everybody has regrets, everybody wishes for the chance for reconciliation and forgiveness. Shakespeare knew that. Jean Hegland knows that.
At the time of this writing I have not finished the book. I am honestly afraid of how it ends. I know that Winter's Tale and Tempest manage to pull off a happy ending, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed!
at 2:00 PM
I've got a bad feeling about this.
Apparently "gender bending" Shakespeare is going to be Emma Rice's thing. First she got us all talking about how Cymbeline should really be called Imogen, since she's got most of the lines.
Now she wants to cast Helena as Helenus, a gay man.
Helena wasn't exactly a role model for feminist ideals the way Shakespeare originally wrote her, what with that whole "use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me" thing. Now imagine just how homophobic this is going to make Demetrius look when there's a man saying it? I suppose that they could also go with a more offensive stereotype and make some sort of sadomasochistic joke about it, too, just to throw that out there.
There's also an obvious complication in that, for this to end up a happy ending, we need to decide whether this makes Demetrius gay as well? You can't play him gay from the start because then he'd have no interest in marrying Hermia. Besies, since he's the only one left under Oberon's love potion, what exactly does that imply? (For more on this, check out Were The World Mine, which deals precisely with some of these issues.)
I don't mind interesting new interpretation. I just wonder whether this lady is doing these things because she thinks they're really good ideas, or if she's just trying to see how many cages she can rattle.
Maybe next time she'll set Merchant of Venice in Nazi Germany? That'd be a hoot, huh?
at 1:30 PM
Might as well combine these stories :).
It turns out that not only can't your average teenager tell the difference between Justin Bieber and William Shakespeare, they can't tell the difference between William Shakespeare and Batman, either.
The Bieber thing is relatively new, and I find it relatively ridiculous. Everybody knows that the only person who could have written a timeless quote like, "And I was like baby, baby, baby oh!" is Edward de Vere.
The Batman thing, however, goes back to a Sporcle quiz that I think a lot of us have seen, since it's been around since 2012. What's giving that one some extra Google juice, however, is that the results of the quiz were analyzed by none other than Nate Silver's site FiveThirtyEight, because apparently they got bored analyzing US political races. If you've never heard of them, they're known for their mad statistical analysis skillz. So it's interesting that they'd turn their machinery onto something as innocuous as an old Sporcle quiz.
The coolest thing to me is that Sporcle themselves sent me the latter link. I've been playing their stuff for years, and consider their site to be something of the grandfather of viral quizzes. I asked whether they accept submissions, so maybe we'll get to generate some new Shakespeare quizzes of our own?
at 1:00 PM
Any Marlowe fans in the audience? Take note! A new fictionalized account of Kit's life is now available from Endeavor Press:
Christopher Marlowe: poet, playwright, lover, brawler, spy.
Protestant England is threatened by Catholic powers on the continent. Catholic conspirators plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, and a planned invasion of England has the backing of Rome. Absolved of allegiance to the Queen, whom the Pope has excommunicated, papists in England are persecuted and priests who minister to them are publicly tortured and executed.
Sir Francis Walsingham, chief of the Queen's secret service, maintains a spy network to monitor the activities of Catholics in England and on the continent. Many of his spies are students recruited at Cambridge, and Christopher Marlowe, known as Kit, is one of them.
Kit Marlowe's first assignment is to infiltrate a conspiracy to assassinate the Queen. He wins the trust of the conspirators and is instrumental in exposing them, then witnesses their ghastly execution at Tyburn. Determined to give up the dirty business of spying, Kit returns to Cambridge
He acquires a patron, Tom Walsingham, cousin of Sir Francis, and begins his meteoric rise as a dramatist.
Through his rising reputation as a dramatist and his connections, Kit becomes a member of circles that include such prominent figures as Sir Walter Raleigh and the so-called School of Night. One evening he meets William Shakespeare and his dark mistress.
But while he enjoys the friendship of some powerful figures, his quick temper, barbed tongue and fearlessly open mind earn him the enmity of others, including someone who plots his assassination.
Horses of the Night is a magisterial work of historical fiction, vividly bringing to life both this turbulent period of history and the multi-faceted life of one of Britain's most revered literary figures.Now available on Amazon!
at 12:30 PM
This is a bit of a silly topic for a post, but I'm intrigued.
Sometimes I'll cruise through the "Shakespeare" credits on IMDB to see what kind of movies are coming up. There's always a large selection of shorts and indie movies being generated but every now and then you see a star-studded one to watch, so I'll often just open up a bunch of them and scan through the credits to see what's interesting.
We've got several Hamlets, Macbeths and Love's Labour's Losts coming (odd, that last one). A Lear, a Measure for Measure, a Taming of the Shrew, a Twelfth Night and ... wait a second.
I'm looking at the credits for Measure for Measure to see if I recognize anybody. I don't. But something looks familiar. Natalie Richardson. Getting a weird sense of deja vu...
That's because she's also in the upcoming Twelfth Night.
Now I'm curious. I check her bio and I see that she's got a Macbeth to her credit as well - last year. And those three Shakespeare credits are literally the only things in her bio.
Part of a series, perhaps? Is there a production group out there that is doing all the works? Not at all, as far as I can tell. They are completely unrelated, except for this woman. This mystery woman just appeared in three back to back unrelated Shakespeare movies. How can we let that go?
I really, really want to interview this woman now. There's got to be some connection between these production. I'm dying to see what she's going to do for her fourth IMDB credit! Hey, it's a small world, maybe somebody out there even knows exactly who we're talking about?
at 12:00 PM
I was sent this video from the producer/creator/Ophelia, Emily Newhouse, and I found it amusing enough to post for Shakespeare Day.
What if Hamlet and Ophelia went to couples therapy? Yes, "You killed my dad!" / "Why can't you let that go?!" does come up.
[ Full link here, in case the player's not working properly for you. ]
I think my favorite part (which happens to be in the screenshot, I notice) is when Hamlet shifts over to puppets, and puppet Hamlet is also manning tiny puppet Ophelia and puppet Hamlet.
Of course, counseling or psychoanalyzing Shakespeare's characters has been popular fodder for ages. Who can forget Monty Python's Hamlet at the Psychiatrist?
at 11:30 AM
Watch our Marvel Universe! Gnomeo and Juliet 2 : Sherlock Gnomes is scheduled for January 2018, according to IMDB.
I had to get my head around that one. At first I thought, "Ok, it's a different literary genre that takes place in the same talking-gnome world." I could live with that. Lots of room to work.
But no - it's the same characters. They're just adding Sherlock Gnomes, played by Johnny Depp of all people?!
I'm going to put this on my list to keep an eye on, and see if I can't get some plot. If they do any kind of mashup where the "missing gnomes" are actually more Shakespeare characters, then I'm all in. But if there's literally no Shakespeare in this other than the two title characters, it's a big missed opportunity.
at 11:00 AM
I thought a story with a headline like "How Shakespeare's Works Were Nearly Lost To Us" was going to be about David Garrick, honestly. But I was wrong. We all know that the First Folio was published by Heminges and Condell seven years after Shakespeare died. But how often do we get to hear the details of how it all went down?
I'm not going to recap the story here, because I think you should go read it. Bonus points to the author who lists the official number of "known" folios as 235 because apparently he's been keeping up with the news :).
The FF is about as close to a Shakespeare Bible as we have. It is not just the text, it is "The Text". I have a copy on my bookshelf, and recently my daughter asked if I ever "use" it. No, I don't pick it up and flip through it like Asimov or Shapiro. I treat it like a work of art. Opening it for me is like a visit to the museum. When a question comes up about what Shakespeare said or Shakespeare meant, it is the first place I go. I like seeing the old typeface and non standard spelling that makes me sit and think for a minute before I understand what I'm looking at. I like that connection to history.
I've also been in the presence of Folio #1, The Most Beautiful Book In The World, estimated to be worth over $10 million.
"You look so happy!" she said. "Look how happy you look! It must be amazing to be that passionate about something that it can make you that happy."
Yes. Yes it is.
at 10:30 AM
I love a good Shakespeare By The Numbers. Everybody wants to talk about which play is longest and shortest and who has the most lines and which are the juiciest roles for women ... but there's always a gem hiding in there somewhere.
For example, did any of us appreciate that for the last fifty or so years, there's been an average of 410 productions of Shakespeare per year? In theory that would literally mean that every day of the year you could find some Shakespeare (given a fast enough airplane, I suppose :)) Makes me think I should see more plays!
So, what to do? An expectation has been set - by me, by my daughter, by her friends - that since she's grown up with this stuff, she will walk through Romeo and Juliet. Then she opens the text and is lost just like everybody else.
I knew what I had to do. I fired up the home video server and went to the 1968 Zeffirelli movie, which I'm pretty sure they're going to watch in class (some classes have already sent around a permission slip because of the infamous nude scene).
I quickly realize this isn't going to work, because they're not on the text. My daughter's got the text in her lap and fully plans to use the video as a supplement to the source material, and right from the start, this movie is writing its own text.
Well that's not going to work. Hello again, Mr. DiCaprio. I don't think I ever would have imagined using Baz Luhrmann's 1996 Romeo+Juliet to help my daughter with her homework, but here we are. Say what you want about the acting and the directing, but the thing is they actually are using the text. And I think that's important. Right within the first few minutes, during the showdown at the gas station, the whole "bite your thumb at us" scene really gets the point across. There's real tension there, like it could all explode at any moment. Which it does, by the way, as if this was a Michael Bay film.
Picture it. I'm there manning the remote control, pausing and declaring, "Shh! This is the best part!" every other scene. I realize I sound like my son when we tell him to turn off the YouTube video he's watching for the twentieth time, but I don't care. To me they are all the "best" parts because what I really mean is, "This is something you should not miss."
This is how the afternoon went. My daughter's got the text in her lap, and periodically looks up at the screen, then flips a page to catch up to where they have skipped. She's clearly not doing that thing teachers fear where the students say "Forget this, why read it if I can watch the movie?" We're doing this voluntarily before the assignment has even begun specifically so that she can deep read the text later.
While the movie is going on, we get to what's always been my big point. Friar Laurence comes on scene, and I pause. "Something to consider," I tell her, "Is whether you think Friar Laurence is a good guy or a bad guy." Or why some people chose to interpret Mercutio as gay. Or whether Lord Capulet is a good father who has a bad moment later in the play, or if he never really meant everything he said to Paris in the early scenes. "This particular movie," I tell her, "will make choices for all of those questions. A different production would make different choices. When you read the text, you get to decide for yourself which interpretations you think are correct, for your vision of the play."
I just realized, writing this, that I also have the Norma Shearer / John Barrymore 1936 Romeo and Juliet. May have to fire that up and see how it handles the text, for comparison! Can't have her seeing just the one version and using that as her baseline for future interpretation.
We're on school vacation so it's still a few days before they actually start studying the text for real. I have no idea if the teacher is going to do what they did to me thirty years ago, working through it a line at a time and not letting any word go unanalyzed. "What do you think he means by carry coals?" "Who cares?" Maybe teaching methods have gotten a little more ... flexible, since my time? I have no idea. Whatever it ends up being, all I know is that I'll be right there with all the tools at my disposal to make sure she's got everything she needs.
I have Brick Shakespeare in my collection, but I guess I'm not really sure what I expected. Somebody tells you about a book of Lego Shakespeare and you think ... what? About the toys themselves? About a game, or a video? It's none of those things.
But this is.
For Shakespeare Day, Lego went ahead and actually animated some of the more famous scenes from Shakespeare:
I would watch Lego Shakespeare all day. Make full versions of this and play it for the kids in school. More more more.
As my oldest daughter starts "officially" learning Romeo and Juliet this month at school, it's been a fascinating adventure in seeing just how prepared she is. We own a version with gnomes, and a version with seals. Whenever the Leo DiCaprio version is on tv I tend to put it on and proclaim, "This is the best part!" and let the kids watch until my wife comes in, sees how violent it is, and suggests that it's maybe not appropriate. I've got graphic novels and pop-up Globe Theatres and finger puppets and action figures and if you've been a long time reader of the blog you know that my kids have grown up, by design, surrounded by Shakespeare.
All she needs do now is actually open up the text and read the thing, because she's never done that. Also, by design.
I am a huge, huge proponent of reading the plays. Every time the subject comes up and people rush to the "The plays were meant to be performed, not read!" side of the room I stand squarely on the opposite side to defend the value of the text. You can see a dozen or a hundred performances of Romeo and Juliet and all you'll ever have at the end of the day is someone else's interpretation. But don't get me started.
I'm aware that the text can be intimidating. It's easy to say "The Capulets and Montagues hate each other, and the play opens with a big fight scene." Then you turn the page and see
Gregory, o' my word, we'll not carry coals.
No, for then we should be colliers.
I mean, an we be in choler, we'll draw.
Ay, while you live, draw your neck out o' the collar.
I strike quickly, being moved.
But thou art not quickly moved to strike.And if you're a typical middle school student you're going to be lost already. As was my daughter. In preparation I'd given her the Spark Notes version of the play, because it's the kind of thing I happen to have lying around the house. I chose that one because it would have glossary information right there on the page. But she was already doing that thing I worry about, where every individual word became a hunt through the glossary. Trees, forest. The big picture is quickly lost.
My theory has always been that if you learn everything else about the play except the text, that the text will come easily. I think that perhaps I've been mistaken. I have expected it to come easily because it comes easily to me. I no longer remember what it's like to see the text for the first time. It's impossible to get "The play opens with a fight" from the clip above. Sure, eventually you get to "I will bite my thumb at them, which is a disgrace to them that bear it." You can start to figure out what's going on by then - but that's a dozen or so lines in. How do you tell a student "Skip that part and get to the good stuff?" How do they know which parts to fast forward?
To be continued ...
There's lots of Shakespeare coming to television it seems. I've written in the past that there's no less than three separate Romeo and Juliet adaptations in the works.
But what shall we make of Lifetime Channel's A Midsummer's Nightmare? I tagged it thinking that it'd be some zany spin on the mistaken identities and love potions, you know, the usual stuff.
Nah. Looks like a direct competitor to Grimm or Once Upon A Time in that it's going to be "horror" versions of Shakespeare plays, instead of fairy tales:
“A Midsummer’s Nightmare,” from A+E Studios, is described as an adaptation of Shakespeare plays that are turned into contemporary horror mysteries. Each season would take on a different play, starting with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski is adapting “Midsummer” as a story that finds two young lovers on a getaway in the woods who wind up in a struggle to survive as friends arrive to lure them home.This sound interesting to anybody? I suppose if you told me they're going to work in the original text I might be curious, but otherwise it sounds like it's got the potential to have about as much Shakespeare as the Lion King. I don't think I'll be setting my DVR.
at 8:30 AM
Is it that time again? Why didn't anybody tell me?
I was sorely tempted this year to practice restraint and just let Shakespeare Day come and go, and let the rest of the world climb on the bandwagon for the day. Then I could wait them all to get off tomorrow and I could get back on and enjoy the elbow room.
But I can't do that, who am I kidding? Shakespeare Day is on a weekend this year, and I always hate that because I like having that live connection to you all, playing hashtag games and retweeting each other and basically throwing one big Shakespeare party. Up until a couple of days ago I really didn't know what I was going to do.
Then inspiration hit me, as it often does. I started writing. I started looking for ideas, and I found them, everywhere. Each night this week after my kids have gone to bed I stay up for another hour or two (or more) knocking out post after post until I'd queued up dozens of them. Sure, some of them are going for quantity more than quality, I won't deny that. But I think there's some gems coming up. I hope you all like the final product.
With that, I'm going to go ahead and cut and paste something from past years because I think I said it the right way once and I don't want to pretend to keep plagiarizing myself:
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.
at 8:00 AM
Thursday, April 21, 2016
It's become tradition here to mourn the passing of great artists by mustering up an appropriate Shakespearean tribute. Prince is a special case, having no traditional Shakespeare credits to his name (although "When Doves Cry" does feature on the Romeo+Juliet soundtrack). But why should that stop us?
Sixteen hundred zero zero almost out of time,
Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1599!
The purple rain, it raineth every day.
Let's go crazy!
Let's put an antic disposition on!
I'd dream if I could, a courtyard,
An ocean of violets in bloom...
...but they all withered when my father died.
Give my robe, put on my raspberry beret.
I have immortal longings in me.
My kingdom for a little red corvette!
Good night, sweet Prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
at 6:47 PM
Thursday, April 07, 2016
"We start Romeo and Juliet next week!"It was the moment I've literally been waiting eight years for. Last night at dinner, my daughter informed me that her class was starting Shakespeare this week.
My children have literally been raised on Shakespeare - my oldest since she was old enough to ask me questions, my middle since before she can remember, and my youngest since before he could walk (he saw his first Tempest while still in a stroller).
August, 2007. Or this one from March 2006 where I even wrote, "My daughter is only four and it pains me that I can't share Shakespeare with her yet."
I have Shakespeare action figures in the house. My phone plays "Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day" (as sung by Pink Floyd's David Gilmour). My children start asking me questions about Shakespeare, and the journey begins. It's been around them since before they can remember, of course, but now we can actually interact on the subject. The link is just one of many, many stories I've posted over the years.
Many times I have gone into classrooms to volunteer, knowing full well that second and third graders are unlikely to understand and retain the original language. Instead, my mission has always been to break the stigma of Shakespeare as difficult and boring, something to be dreaded. I will often say to classrooms, "Even if you don't understand everything that we talked about today, one day years from now when you're in high school, a teacher is going to drop Romeo and Juliet in front of you and while some of the kids groan and roll their eyes, you're going to be the ones to say, "Ohhhhhhh! I get this!" Obviously my children will be the ones to lead by example. Their friends and schoolmates will only see me a couple of times a year (if that). My children eat sleep and breathe it.
And now that day is here. Has the mission been a success? Is my daughter going to fly through the class, bringing all kinds of passion for the subject with her to share? Will the teacher discover the junior Shakespeare geeklet she's destined to become?
Her first assignment is to write a sonnet. So I suppose that the teacher's doing some sort of crash course in all things Shakespeare before diving into the play, which is fine and probably necessary. She tells me that part of the assignment is to write an actual, good sonnet and not just count syllables, and I nod my approval at this teacher's standards. I ask what she knows about sonnets, she says something about syllables and then tells me that they literally just started today, so they haven't covered much. I ask her what a "volta" is, and tell her to get back to me when the class gets that far.
I ask whether she's at all mentioned that she was raised on Shakespeare, has known Sonnet 18 since she was five years old, and along with her siblings can count herself as the youngest person to ever see the inside of the Folger Shakespeare vault. She said, "It hasn't come up."
It turns out that she's deathly afraid of her Shakespeare teacher. He's one of those guys with a dark, sarcastic sense of humor that's very intimidating to the students. I've seen it in action, and I'm not a fan. But I've seen it only briefly, through my daughter's filter, so I may have been too hard on the guy. It's quite possible that I'd get along with him swimmingly. He's a good teacher, her grades are good. He's just not the kind of guy students feel that they can have any sort of extra conversation with.
I remind my daughter that this has been years in the making and she will be missing a tremendous opportunity if she doesn't say *something*. I fully expect that most of the other students in the room know her relationship to Shakespeare, so maybe one of them will say something. Even if he'd asked, "Is anyone already familiar with Shakespeare?" she would have had the opportunity to say any number of things, she's got a literal lifetime of relevant stories.
The best possible outcome is that she does mention it, the teacher is receptive, and I get to come in and volunteer in that class. I'm not holding out hope, though, because as the kids have gotten older the room for volunteer parents in that capacity has approached nil. In elementary school, any diversion from the norm is seen as interesting and entertaining for the students, a break from the pattern, and is welcome. But as they get older it's more about "What are you teaching them, how much time are you spending on that topic, and how are you going to measure it? Ok, great, move on. Repeat." I can keep my fingers crossed - honestly, I won't be able to help it, I'll be thinking of what I'd say if given the chance - but I have to be prepared for the opposite end of the spectrum, which is that she tells him and he doesn't care, and it turns into just a regular series of lessons like with geometry where the teacher says one thing, then my daughter comes home and I explain all the good and interesting stuff that the teacher has chosen to gloss over.
I will report back regularly. Brace yourselves, it's going to be a bumpy ride!
at 8:53 AM
Friday, April 01, 2016
We're trying a little something different this year. In celebration of Shakespeare's oft-underappreciated clown princes of comedy, Bardfilm and I thought we should declare today
at 8:43 AM