Wednesday, June 29, 2005

1) Free Tivo 2) Shakespeare Wishlist

Got Tivo yet? Did you know that you can get a Tivo box for free? You have to pay for the subscription, but if it was the cost of the box (normally over $150) that was preventing you, here's your opportunity.

What's this got to do with Shakespeare? Believe it or not, something. Once you've got Tivo you can set up a "keyword wishlist" for, I dunno, "Shakespeare" and then Tivo will just go ahead and automatically record everything that mentions that keyword in the description. It's really a great way to keep track not only of which movies are on (they're on regular cable so rarely, after all!), but also a chance to see programs you might otherwise have missed, like "Mystery Hunters" looking at the curse of the Scottish play, or an episode of Boston Public where "a student uses rap music to critique Shakespeare."

Ok....that last one I think I might want to skip.

June 29, 1613

This day in Shakespeare history, the original Globe Theatre burned down during the first performance of Henry VIII.

Found here.

Stratford Unplugged

As a Shakespeare geek, I find it cool that Shakespeare's hometown is going wireless in a big way. Not just setting up wifi hotspots around time (so bloggers like yours truly wouldn't have to wait until we get home to braindump everything in sight!), but you can actually get your hands on a dedicated PDA that will provide an interactive map of the area, pointing out all the good spots.

Highly neat! One of these days I have to get out there.

Shakespeare's Sonnets...Solved?

Well here's interesting news for a change. Author Hank Whittemore has issued a press release claiming to have the solution to the sonnets. By solution I assume that means "who they were written about."

The solution of course comes in his new book, "The Monument : 'Shake-Speare's Sonnets' by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford" which weighs in at 900 pages. What I'm trying to grasp from the press release is how the Earl of Oxford fits into the picture - does the book just start with the premise that Oxford was Shakespeare (as does "Shakespeare by Another Name", which I just wrote about yesterday)?

More information available at

P.S. Wait til you find out who the Dark Lady is!

Illustrating Shakespeare

Here's a cool link to how Shakespeare has been illustrated over the centuries (found via Interesting concept that takes the whole notion of Shakespeare's works in a very different direction. Does a particular artistic rendition represent a copy of what at one point was a live performance, like you might see in an encyclopedia these days? Or is the artist envisioning the play in his mind and depicting what he sees there?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Listen! Shakespeare By Another Name

If you're not doing the whole podcasting thing yet (you should!) you may not have heard (ha! pun intended!) of the forthcoming Shakespeare by Another Name, by Mark Anderson. This book argues that the works of Shakespeare were actually written by the Earl of Oxford.

Normally I'd consider it no big deal, as I don't usually follow any of the "who wrote the works of Shakespeare" theories. What I'm digging about it, though, and major credit to the author for thinking of this, is that he's doing audio excerpts from the book as a sort of teaser for when it is actually published. So instead of publishing a book that I would never have seen or even given a second thought if I had, he's gotten me to listen to the first 5 chapters.

How is it? He certainly makes an interesting case. He's got loads of evidence that Shakespeare's work pretty much parallels Oxford's life almost identically, right down to Oxford (or somebody he knew, I forget...) crossing paths with two people from Denmark named Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. To tell you the truth it gets so obvious the way it's presented that it makes you roll your eyes and say "Yeah, sure, if it's so obvious, why has it been a mystery for 400 years?" When I heard the first chapter I immediately thought of that old conspiracy email about "Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy, Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln!"

I think that if you're a collector of such things, this is going to be a good one. The amount of evidence really is staggering. The author's command of the plays is also outstanding, which makes for the best part of his argument -- he always backs it up with sources from the plays, which in turn expands my exposure to select bits of plays like Winter's Tale that I might not otherwise have ever noticed.

Speak of the Villain

Recently I read (I think it was in Bloom's "Invention of the Human") that Claudius does not count as one of Shakespeare's better villains, because he basically only does one bad thing (which most normal men could also be capable of), and feels guilty for it.

Sure enough I get back from vacation and has their favorite villain poll up. I think this one is skewed a bit, though, as they bill it as "favorite" villain and then in the actual poll call it "most notorious". I'm thinking that most peole just recognize Iago better than anybody else. How many casual Shakespeare readers could identify Titus Andronicus at all, much less compare Aaron the Moor against Cornwall from King Lear? Iago's the easy answer.

Claudius, by the way, is not on the list.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Tempest : What was Prospero's original plan?

The Tempest may end happily enough with everything working itself out, but it doesn't start that way. Fate has placed Prospero's enemies within his reach, and he promptly crashes their ship on his island. Somewhere along the line he decides that the best move is just to reveal himself and get a ride back to the mainland.

But was that his original plan? He's obviously got some pent up anger over having been exiled here in the first place. He could easily have sent the ship and all its passengers straight to the bottom of the sea, too.

Was Miranda falling for Ferdinand part of the plan? Was his daughter his motivation for getting off the island in the first place? Or did he change his whole plan around to accomodate her?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

King Lear as a graph, for your convenience

Who killed whom, and who merely betrayed whom in King Lear? Now you can see it all in one easy graph. Comes with a description of all the characters and relationships so you can follow along a little more deeply than just "Oh, green means married, ok..."

I've always thought it would be neat to have this sort of "map" for the plays. Naturally not as the only way you read the play, of course. More like a roadmap so that when you think you're lost you can refer back to it and gain some confidence that you understand what's going on.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Shakespeare vs. Britney

I found this little battle of great artists while browsing today, and thought I'd share. The premise is simple, if a bit tedious - define what is important in defining art, then pick two "great" artists (ranging from Britney Spears through Stephen King to William Shakespeare. Then state how well each of your artists attains the goals that you set. See how much work it is? That's why I've linked right to the last page which shows the scores.

Two things that would make the game more fun -- be able to add new artists, and let mob rule determine a set of defaults for each artist if you don't feel like selecting from a dozen checkboxes. There's really nothing to stop you from just selecting the best values for Shakespaere and the worst for everybody else if you wanted to, but where's the fun in that?

Monday, June 13, 2005

Cymbeline Reviewed

You don't get many opportunities to talk about Cymbeline, one of Shakespeare's later plays, so check out this summary and review for a quick synopsis.

Drop the name Cymbeline the next time your know-it-all coworker mentions Hamlet or Midsummer Night's Dream and watch the eyebrows go up.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Understanding Shakespeare : Romeo and Juliet

I'm convinced that Shakespeare's work can be downright entertaining if it can be understood. I think that the emphasis on "Memorize first, and never see the movie" really ruins it. Get the story across. Shakespeare wrote real people in real situations, and if you can point this out to the audience and hook them at that level, the language comes easily.

So in the spirit of putting my money where my mouth is, let's talk about Romeo and Juliet. For the moment just the first scene, since obviously I can't cover the whole play in one blog post.

Two men, Sampson and Gregory, enter. They're "Capulet", meaning that they are probably some servant of the house. If you want to think in West Side Story terms, imagine them as all members of the same gang. They banter back and forth, making some fairly ancient jokes that you're unlikely to get but might be able to figure out if you were to see it performed. Let's just say that by the time Sampson gets to the line about "thrusting Montague's maidens to the wall" and being cruel when he cuts off their maidenheads, you can take a pretty good guess at what he's talking about.

The real fun comes when Balthazar and Abraham, who are Montagues, wander into the picture. Now thus far Sampson and Gregory have just been full of talk. Sure they've been saying some pretty big things about what they'll do to the Montague men (before doing it to their women), but now here are two of them right in front of them. How do the Capulet men react? Sampson "bites his thumb" at them as they pass by. This isn't really the same obscene gesture now that it was then, so feel free to insert "flips his middle finger." Gets the same point across. He tries to lure the Montagues into starting something.

The next exchange I have seen played for comedy, where both sides are just big talkers, but it's also often played with some serious violence, screamed at the top of lungs. Whatever floats your boat. Either there's some major tension where you just know somebody's about to get hurt, or you come to realize that this has happened dozens of times in the past and both sides are really just acting out their parts.

The Montagues come over and ask, "Did you just bite your thumb at us?"

"I did bite my thumb, " says Sampson.

"Did you bite your thumb at us," asks Abraham again.

Sampson turns to Gregory and asks, "Is the law on my side if I say aye?" Here's the crucial moment. Both want to say that the other started it, neither wants to be the first to draw (or use) a weapon. Gregory correctly answers, "No." If you bit your thumb at him, then you started the fight. Sampson backpeddles, "I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I do bite my thumb, sir!" How snide is that response? "Nope, I was just sitting here with my middle finger up in the air. Wasn't directing at you, I just like to stick it up there and wave it around..."

Gregory steps up and asks of the Montagues, "Do you quarrel?" In other words, "Are you looking to start something?" Is Gregory here actually trying to get the Montagues to walk on by? Not really. You'll see...

"Me?" replies Abraham, "No, not me, I'm not looking at start anything." The Montagues actually come off well, here, and quite possibly would have walked away.

Sampson makes what is ultimately the losing move when he says, "I'm just saying that if you want to start something, I'm standing right here. I serve as good a man as you."

Abraham has him now. "No better?"

Sampson thought he was saying the proper thing in defending the honor of his house, and Abraham has trapped him. If he says "Better", in other words yes, I think that my master Capulet is better than your master Montague, then the fight is on - and Sampson will have started it. But if he says no, Montague is not better than Capulet, then he dishonors his house.

Gregory saves him when he spots some more Capulets coming. "Say better!" he says, knowing that the odds are in their favor. See, I told you that Gregory wasn't trying to avoid the fight. He was just waiting for it to be an unfair fight.

Sampson needs no more prompting. "Yes, better!" he says, and the fight is on.

Enter more representatives from both sides, Benvolio of the Montagues (sort of), and Tybalt of the Capulets. That's a mismatch. Benvolio is the peacemaker, trying to beat down the swords of both sides. Tybalt, on the other hand, sees the fight as a great opportunity and tries to help his side win it. Tybalt, as we quickly learn, is pretty single minded in his hatred of the Montagues. "What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee: Have at thee, coward!" Those are some pretty strong words given that he just walked in on this argument 3 seconds ago.

Anyway, the fight does not go on long as now the crowds are beginning to gather and the heads of both houses come running out to see what's going on. The Prince provides the law and order here, and gives us our major plot point -- if he catches anybody from either side fighting in the streets again, then they're dead men. ("If ever you disturb our streets again, our lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.") Don't forget this, it's going to become a major problem for our hero Romeo right around Act III, Scene i.

So that's my version of the first scene. It's actually quite entertaining when you see it performed. I highly recommend checking out one of the movies to see it for yourself. The Zeffirelli version is considered the classic, but I say if the Leonardo DiCaprio version is more what floats your boat (lots of screaming in this one, and guns), then go for it and don't pay any attention to the critics.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Virtual Monkey Shakespeare?

If you've got a moment be sure to check out the Shakespeare Monkey Simulator. What the...? Ever heard the expression about an infinite number of monkeys banging away at typewriters eventually typing the works of Shakespeare? There ya go. People contribute their computing power to simulate some monkeys and see how close they come. Apparently the record is about 24 letters from Henry IV, part 2.

Update: My friend Rob appears to be getting 26 letters on a regular basis. He's got 2 machines each running 10 versions of the simulator. Somebody needs some work to do! :)

Salem State gives us the Shakespeare "Willies"

Now here's what I'm talking about. Salem State college up here in Massachusetts is doing a whole selection of "Shakespeare-esque" plays this summer. Both pro- and anti- bard, the idea is to show people that this stuff is interesting and very very accessible once you get over your hangups that you have to be Harvard born and bred to even speak of it. The theme for the series is "Give Me the Willies".

Plays on the schedule include:

  • Return to The Forbidden Planet, a takeoff on the 1950's movie which was based on The Tempest. "If you still don't understand it," says Peter Zachari, "Wait two minutes because they're gonna sing about it."
  • I Hate Hamlet, where the ghost of John Barrymore gives advice to a struggling actor.
  • The Taming of The Shrew. The actual, original play. Good deal. I like the idea of having this last. Build people to it.

So if you're in this neck of the woods and looking for something Shakespearey, but maybe a little lighter than Cymbeline that you can bring a friend to, check it out!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Thou odiferous rude-growing harpy!

The Shakespeare Insult Generator is good for a quick laugh. I wonder if they'd consider an RSS feed? That's the sort of thing I'd rather drop into the footer of a page like a fortune program / quote of the day, instead of a page that I'd feel the need to go visit regularly. RSS feeds are the wave of the future, people! Get with it!

Shakespeare ala Wikipedia

If you haven't yet visited the Wikipedia page for Shakespeare, I highly recommend it. It's not like you're going to find any new information that you couldn't find anyplace else. But here it might be better organized than anywhere else. Who knew about the "questionable" plays? I knew about the existence of Cardenio, which is more "lost" than "questionable", and The Two Noble Kinsmen, which I got into an argument with my neighbor about (I lost, arguing "I have several copies of the complete works and there ain't no Noble Kinsmen in it!") I'm talking about plays like Edward III or Sir Thomas More, two plays which scholars think might have been collaborated on by Shakespeare.

Of course the entry itself is link-heavy enough to keep you interested in pretty much any direction you wish to go. Elizabethan history? Shakespeare contemporaries? The actual text of the plays? All there.