Thursday, June 25, 2015

How Could I Forget The Bacon Story?

So the other day I'm in my daughter's classroom for a return visit to teach Shakespeare. I want to show them my Blank Verse but we're having trouble with the WiFi, so while the teacher works on it I ask if there are any questions.

My daughter - MY daughter - asks me to tell about that lady who thought that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare.  So I start by disowning her :), then begrudgingly tell the story of Delia and Francis Bacon.

That's the only question we get to, though, as my game comes up.  It's basically Mad Libs where you fill in the blanks with nouns, adjectives, and such ... only the end result comes from Shakespeare.  So I'm walking around the room asking for words, the teacher's typing, the kids are supplying the craziness.  "Ok, I need a noun!" I'd say.

"Pig!"

"Great, pig it is.  Now an adjective?"

"Fat!"

"Ok, pig, fat, makes sense. Next...another adjective."

"Chubby!"

"Really?  Ok, chubby it is.  Pig, fat, chubby, I think I see a pattern.  How about a ... noun?"

"Bacon!"

<pause for laughter>  "I think you're proving my point!  Pig, fat, chubby, ba....wait, did you say bacon because of pig or because of that story I told about Delia and Francis Bacon?"

"<shrug> I just like bacon," says the kid in the back row who'd offered it as a suggestion.

Other kids in the back row nod.  "It's true," they say, "He answers bacon for everything."

Here's the kicker.  Turns out that my daughter has a crush on that kid.  So I'm pretty confident that she asked me to tell the Delia Bacon story specifically because that kid would find it cool.  Nicely played!

Using Shakespeare To Sentence The Boston Bomber

All we're hearing about in the news is how he apologized to his victims, but the more interesting story today is how the judge quoted Shakespeare when sentencing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death.

Want to take any guesses? I thought maybe something about the quality of mercy, but apparently the judge was not in that kind of mood.

"The evil that men do lives after them," he said, "The good is oft interred with their bones. So it will be for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev." 
"Whenever your name is mentioned, what will be remembered is the evil you have done. No one will remember that your teachers were fond of you. No one will mention that your friends found you funny and fun to be with. No one will say you were a talented athlete or that you displayed compassion in being a Best Buddy or that you showed more respect to your women friends than your male peers did. 
"What will be remembered is that you murdered and maimed innocent people and that you did it willfully and intentionally. You did it on purpose."
Harsh. I approve.

He later went on to quote Iago, but from Verdi's opera rather than the original Shakespeare text, when he spoke of those who believe in a cruel god.  I can't find the actual quote, does anybody know it?
"Surely someone who believes that God smiles on and rewards the deliberate killing and maiming of innocents believes in a cruel God," the judge said. "That is not, it cannot be, the God of Islam. Anyone who has been led to believe otherwise has been maliciously and willfully deceived."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Happy 10th Anniversary To Us!

On June 8, 2005, Shakespeare Geek was born.

10 years.  Wow. That's older than my youngest child.  If you look closely, you can actually see them grow up before our very eyes. My son saw his first show (The Tempest) when he was still in his stroller. You can find the sonnet I wrote to my daughter on her first birthday, or the time I taught them to sing Sonnet 18 almost before my littlest could speak. (* Alas the actual audio file is no longer available online.)

What a long, strange trip it's been. I remember how and why I got started, too.  I was listening to Howard Stern on the radio, and Robin was doing the news.  She made a Shakespeare reference. I got it, but then I thought, "You know, when I get to work there's nobody that I can tell that story to, because I don't think anybody I know would get it."

So I got online and started looking for forums that talked about Shakespeare. But this is a tricky subject for me, because I didn't want to talk about performing the plays, nor did I want to talk about studying them academically. I more or less wanted to talk about things like pop culture references, like hearing a Shakespeare reference on the Howard Stern show.

So I made one.  The original name, if anybody remembers, was actually "Such Shakespeare Stuff." I started it as a category on my family blog (long since gone), but eventually transitioned it over. Somewhere along the line somebody called me a real Shakespeare geek and the name stuck because I liked the idea that I'd spent my life as a computer nerd type person so geek just naturally seemed to fit.

As you can see by my earliest posts I was really just combing the net for Shakespeare stuff and posting anything I could get my hands on.  There wasn't much discussion, because there wasn't much readership.  I thought, when I started it, that maybe I would begin to build an audience of people who didn't know much about Shakespeare, but wanted to learn more.  That, after all, was typically how my real life conversations went.  Anytime Shakespeare came up (usually because I brought him up), I was the only one in the conversation with any knowledge of the subject. So I did most of the talking and others just kind of listened and hopefully learned.

Oh, then there was the one day that Google quoted me.  They had just put Shakespeare's work online and kicked it off by quoting me.  Note the name of the blog at the time. :)

Then a funny thing happened.  Actual Shakespeare scholars started showing up, who wanted to talk about Shakespeare in a less formal setting.  People like Catkins and Bardfilm, David Blixt and JM and Cass Morris and Alan Farrar (RIP), all of whom knew way, way more about Shakespeare than I did. There were times when I immediately switched over to impostor syndrome and thought, "What am I doing? How can I host this, when everybody that is reading what I'm writing actually knows more about this than I do?"

But my honored guests didn't seem to mind. On the contrary we would often stumble across topics that hadn't been studied before, like a bowling reference in Sonnet 20 or our debate over whether Francisco saw the ghost.  And I realized that in my own small way I was contributing to something of value to the conversation, because I was asking the questions and hosting the place to discuss the answers. We had created a place precisely where people with no knowledge of Shakespeare who wanted to learn could interact with people who had the knowledge and were excited to share it. All I had to do was sit back and facilitate the discussion.

One day a coworker came up to me, a coworker who'd never spoken to me previously, and said, "I thought of you this morning."  Which was cool, because she was a very attractive coworker :).  "I was watching a movie and they said something about Shakespeare, and I thought hey, I should tell Duane about this."  And that's exactly why I do this.

We made merchandise, and one day I even saw one of my t-shirts in the wild.

We created jokes, and one day I saw somebody get up on stage and deliver one of my jokes before a performance.

My family and I toured the Folger vault, and I got so close to the most beautiful book in the world I could have eaten it.

I wrote a book.

I wrote an app.

I regularly teach Shakespeare at the local elementary school, and have done so since my children were 7 years old.

Today as I said goodbye to my group of fifth graders (since I'm unlikely to get the opportunity to teach them at the middle school, believe me I've already asked), I left them with the four words that have become the mission statement for this blog.  Shakespeare makes life better.  I've been doing it now for ten years. That sounds like one of those questions you hear in a presidential debate.  "Ask yourself, is my life better now than it was ten years ago?"  Absofrickinlutely.

I can't begin to recap 10 years in one blog post, even though I'd like to try.  Thank you so much to all my readers, my contributors, and most importantly, to steal a line from my Rebel friends...

Thank you, Shakespeare!