Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Speak the Speech, I Pray You

If you're a Shakespeare fan, and you've got an MP3 player, then run don't walk to Speak the Speech, who are doing free, downloadable audio performances of Shakespeare's plays. Right now they've got The Tempest (woohoo!), Twelfth Night, As You Like It, and Henry IV Part 1. The next shows will be Julius Caesar and Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Eh? What crazy order are they going in??

Seriously. Free audio performances of Shakespeare are actually few and far between. Lots of places will do the sonnets, or assorted soliloquoys, but if you really want an entire play in MP3 format you used to have to go find yourself a copy of Arkangel or something, and that runs well into the hundreds of dollars.

I've just started in on the Tempest. I like it. It's a performance, not just a reading, so you've got background music and sound effects. It's a little like old time radio drama.

While you're at it, don't forget about Shakespearecast, who are going through a production of Romeo and Juliet. Right now they're on Act III Scene 4. Unlike Speak the Speech, which offers up the full play at once, ShakespeareCast is doing it podcast style where you download portions are they become available. Your choice!

The Bookcast : The Shakespeare Wars

Ok, download this interview with Ron Rosenbaum right now.  I haven't read "The Shakespeare Wars", but even listening to the man speak makes my face hurt because I'm smiling from ear to ear and nodding my head up and down furiously at my computer speakers.  From his personal explanation that seeing Peter Brooks(?) production of Midsummer's "changed his life....made him into a Shakespearian, like a secret society...people who are forever forlorned, forever seeking an experience to equal it," to his simply exquisite description of the two endings of King Lear, and how a simple reference to a feather is what makes the play truly Shakespearean.  Even without seeing the entire play, somehow he manages to convey something that in just one line could still bring tears to your eyes.

I am deeply and truly fascinated.  Go now.  Listen.


Romeo and Juliet ... as a Disney(*) Cartoon!

(*) sort of

I've said before, many times, that I think The Tempest is ripe for Disney picking.  Little girl living with her Dad (note no mother figure?) on an island with her playmates, a sprite name Ariel (have to change that to avoid Mermaid confusion) and the mischievous sea monster Caliban.  Enter Prince Ferdinand, with whom she falls madly in love.  Throw in a couple of bad guys Stephano and Trinculo, in league with Caliban, who are easily dispatched, a few other bumbling cast of characters to round it out.  Little girl learns that she's actually a princess (or close enough, she's whatever she is when she's the daughter of the Duke of Milan) and everybody sails home for a wedding and a happy ending.  Perfect.

Until I get that, be sure to check out Sealed with a Kiss, a new animation by former Disney guy Phil Nibbelink (Fox and the Hound, Black Cauldron...).  He's done his own thing here, a 2D Flash animation with hand drawn art that depicts Romeo and Juliet as...seals.  Get it? 

The big downside is that it's a highly limited release, strictly in a few California theatres.  If you're in the neighborhood, though, go see it and tell us how it is!  This is the sort of thing that the second it appears on video, I'm getting it for my kids.  Disney should do more Shakespeare.  Yes, yes, I know it's not Disney doing it, but I'm sure he'll keep the flavor and style that we all know and love.

More Animated Shakespeare...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Shakespeare Prequels!

Dinosaur Comics has got a great idea for a new series of books --

Shakespeare Prequels!  I love it.


"It'll be Hamlet, only he's happy and well-adjusted, walking around saying 'I certainly hope my father doesn't get murdered!' and then Ophelia says 'Thats right, baby!  I, incidentally, plan to remain sane." and then there's IRONY!  Shakespeare fans love irony!


Don't we just, though? :)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Elizabethan Food

Elizabethan.org has several pages up on what "we" eat.  I'm going to assume that "we" means "people of Elizabethan society" given the context. The information is quite extensive, including information on how things were measured, when and what meals were eaten, and so on.

Over at a site called Seat of Mars you can actually buy Elizabethan food for yourself.  I may have to try that.  "Mixed sweet spiced nuts" sounds good.

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Pericles, or, Hey! The King is having sex with his daughter!

For those of you that have wondered what "Pericles, Prince of Tyre" is all about, check out Heaneyland's hysterical recap:


PERICLES: Hello, king. I'd like to marry your daughter.

ANTIOCHUS: Well, first you have to answer this riddle. Answer incorrectly, and you die:
My first is in Paris, my second in France,
The rest is...whatever, I'm having sex with my daughter.

PERICLES: Uh...how about if I answer that tomorrow?

ANTIOCHUS: Oh, sure, think about it as long as you like.

PERICLES: (aside) I suspect he's having sex with his daughter. I probably shouldn't say anything about it. Maybe I'll just go back home to Tyre. (he exits)


I also love the fact that he belongs to a Shakespeare reading group that is going through every single play, reading them aloud.  Nice.  Which I could find the time to do such a thing!


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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hamlet "Tag Cloud"


A "tag cloud" is an attempt at visual representation of word frequency. The bigger the word, the more often it appears.  So, what words are the most common in Hamlet?

Most of them are obvious - the names of characters, and stuff like "Enter" or "Have" (Haue).  It's interesting after you get past them, though, to look at the next ones:  father.  heaven.  soule. 

Pretty neat.  I'd like to see this done for all the plays.  I remember hearing something in high school about the number of times "dark" and its synonyms are used in Macbeth.


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Friday, October 20, 2006

Shakespeare versus Hemingway

At my previous employer, I had a great deal in common with the QA guy.  He was a Hemingway geek.  Ran sites about Hemingway.  Had that dream project of creating the next great text on Hemingway's works.  Naturally we got along well and often has discussions about Shakespeare and Hemingway.  Most of the time, though, they were of the "Here's what's great about my favorite author..." variation, without much crossover.  (At least Shakespeare's works are public domain, whereas Hemingway's copyrights are still very much aggressively defended.)

I've changed jobs recently . Much to my surprise I find myself in conversation with a coworker who claims Shakespeare and Hemingway to both be favorites of hers, both of whom she has studied in depth.  Fascinated, I point out my history with the Shakespeare/Hemingway connection.

"Well, they did both have very similar styles," she says.

"Eh?" I say, maybe too loudly.  "Shakespeare is all about the interaction between characters.  Everything's in the dialogue.  Maybe I read the wrong bits of Hemingway, but isn't he the one that's famous for writing for 50 pages about a guy going fishing?  Or sitting alone in a restaurant having dinner?"

"That's true," she says, laughing.  "Very often there's only one character at a time.  When you're reading those, though, you need to look not just at the words Hemingway used, but the ones he didn't.  Especially foreign language.  When does he choose to switch to a foreign language, and why?"  She goes on to tell me that this is what fascinates her about people in general - listening to how different people communicate the same circumstances, and what words people choose to use (or not).

At that point we got back to work.

So I'm still left with the question:  Hemingway and Shakespeare, similar styles or not?  I think I get what she was saying about word choice and communication.  But she's referring to the author's choice of words to communicate with the reader/audience.  Which is fine, and correct in both cases - after all, "Hamlet says" is really "Shakespeare wrote that the character of Hamlet would say..."

Part of the problem for me is that I read the plays like reality.  I just assume that these characters exist.  I don't play the "What did Shakespeare mean here?" game, I don't look for political jobs or secret Catholic messages.  I just see humans interacting with each other.  So when I read Hemingway I tend to see the exact opposite - almost everything I've read of Hemingway's is centered around one person who might be communicating with the world around him, or with his own innermost thoughts, but there certainly aren't any other people on the page with him.

(When I was in the second grade, which I guess would have made me about ... 7 years old? I had to be in the hospital for a little while.  An aunt of mine who knew that I liked to read brought me some books.  One of them was "The Old Man and the Sea".  Not knowing anything about Hemingway, I read it.  Can't say I necessarily *got* it (it's about a guy that catches a fish and then loses it before he gets home, right?), but I can say that I was reading Hemingway when I was in the second grade :)).

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Virtual Shakespeare World

I've never been a big fan of what's known as "massively multiplayer online roleplaying games" (MMORPG).  They're big virtual worlds where you pay a monthly subscription fee to don an avatar and cruise the world of your choice, often populated with the usual dragons and other bad guys, but not always.

Well, what if somebody made one all about Shakespeare?  Edward Castronova has been granted $240,000 from the MacArthur Foundation to produce "Arden: The World of Shakespeare", built entirely around the plays of the Bard.

Ok, can I just say that I would *so* be there?  They used to call Everquest (one of the original MMORPGs) "Evercrack" because of it's addictive nature.  They ain't seen nothing yet!

"Honey, you coming to dinner?"

"Damnit, you distracted me, now Laertes ran away.  I'll be down when I kill him."

Unfortunately it clearly says that this is an "academic" project, which might well mean that it never makes the store shelves. 

The article is loaded with good stuff about how the game, which will be based on Richard III to start, will work.  For instance, you'll have a "play book" and one of the treasures of the game will be various Shakespearean texts:

"If you collect the 'To be or not be' speech and then take it to a lore master or to a skilled bard, he can then apply the magic to your broad sword or you (could) utilize the magic in a battle situation to give you this massive (advantage)," Castronova explained. "So there (will be) this intensive competition to get the best speeches of Shakespeare in your play book.

What can I say?  Want it.  I'm actually going to write to the guy directly this evening and see if I can get some inside scoop, maybe get my name on the beta list.

And don't think I didn't miss the coincidence that "Arden" shows up again this week (see earlier Arden of Faversham story).


I present Lego Hamlet

Always interesting to see what YouTube will turn up.  Have some Lego Hamlet:

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Animated disembodied head doing Hamlet? Ok.

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This might be one of the weirdest things I've ever seen.  It's some sort of computer graphics test, so the author chose to do a recitation of To Be or Not To Be (from the credits it appears to be Brannagh's version, actually).  So behold, a head on a pedestal doing Shakespeare.




Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"Strange Brew"...as based on Hamlet??

Ok, my friend Rob points me to this theory that the movie Strange Brew is based on Hamlet.  You know, the movie with Bob and Doug McKenzie in it.  Hamlet.  I am saying all those words together, even if your brain refuses to read those sentences.

Check it out, it's actually more than a theory.  I find it hard to believe that everything takes place at "Elsinore Brewery" and that the "owner" is killed by brother "Claude" being all just a big coincidence.


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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Oooooo, pretty. Somebody buy me this. :)

Anybody besides me want a Shakespeare Portrait made up entirely of the script from Hamlet?  I'm just geeky enough to find that very cool.  Maybe it's because I'm from the days of making ASCII art on your printer.


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Arden of Faversham: ???

Ok, somebody tell me how come I'd never even heard of Arden of Faversham, one of the "missing plays" of Shakespeare?  I'm familiar with Cardenio, Love's Labour's Won and Sir Thomas More, but Arden of Faversham is a new one on me.  Apparently it's about the 1551 murder of Thomas Arden, mayor of Faversham, by his wife. 


Anyway, a bunch of scientists claim to have proven once and for all that Shakespeare wrote it.  Using "computational stylistics" they've essentially created a fingerprint for Shakespeare's style, and they say that the play matches with a high enough accuracy to state that it was written by the same man.

Of course, nobody's mentioning this idea that if you don't believe Shakespeare wrote *any* of the plays, then this doesn't really prove anything :).  What they're really saying is that "Whoever wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare also most likely wrote this one."

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Juliet Club

I may have heard of the Juliet Club before.  Something about answering letters written to Juliet about love and romance advice.  Apparently there's a contest for the best one.

Neat site, especially if you're a Juliet fan.  They even offer a CD full of everything you could possibly want to know about Juliet.


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Friday, October 13, 2006

Iambic Pentameter, Explained

I've done this topic before, but Sonnet Writers has a nice article up that explains iambic pentameter graphically, putting the emphasized syllables in bold.  Some of it is a little borderline to me, obviously coming from the "sonnet writer" camp and not the Shakespeare camp, like where he says "Sonnet 30 follows iambic pentameter very nicely."  Oh?  In which sonnet does he not do that, exactly?  And "there appear to be some exceptions" to the 5 (he says 10) iambs per line rule, although there are "logical reasons for these."   Maybe he just said that wrong -- they *appear* to be exceptions, but they're not, and here's why.

Other than that, though, he breaks it right down to the individual syllable, explaining when some words run into others ("many a", 3 syllables,  becomes more like "man ya", 2 syllables) or the other way around, where "be-moan-ed" is 3 syllables but "van-ish'd" is 2.


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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Tragedy of The Broccoli : Why "It's Good For You" never works

Even though I've never been a teacher of Shakespeare, I'm often pondering the whole "Why learn Shakespeare?" question, as if I might stumble across the answer.  After all, I took the classes in high school just like everybody else, and claimed to hate them just like everybody else.  But then I got to college and had to pick a humanities project, and found myself strangely drawn back to Shakespeare.  When a chance came to work with an educational videogame company and pick my project, I chose Shakespeare.  Before I knew it I was becoming quite the Shakespeare geek.

But enough of that rambling, back to the topic at hand.  My memories of learning Shakespeare in high school are of the "broccoli" variety.  You can guess what I'm going to say next, right?  "Trust me, it's good for you, just do it."  Bleh.  Does that ever work?  I'm pleasantly surprised to see the universe looking out for me, as Kathy Sierra over at Creating Passionate Users has an article on exactly that topic.  She's got a picture of broccoli right at the top of the article!

The way to win the battle, the article goes on to say, is to invoke optimism and hope.  Emphasize the pleasure.  "Joy is a more powerful motivator than fear," it says. 

I think the best teachers know this.  Nobody is really hoping to say "Sit down and shut up, and just read the thing so we can get out of here."  Every teacher I've spoken with goes out of their way to seek out games and quizzes and activities for the students to do, and inevitably breaks out the movie at the end of class.  They know that it should be fun.  I guess the real question is, does the fun outweigh the "you have to do it, it's good for you" weight that comes with the subject matter?   Is the real hurdle not with the subject matter at all, but with some students' instinctive rebellion against anything they're forced to do?  Do calculus teachers have the same problem?

Just some rambling thoughts on the subject so that I get them down.  Feel free to chime in while I get back to work.


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Monday, October 02, 2006

Bart Simpson as Hamlet

The Simpsons have done Shakespeare a couple of times. I'm not sure I remember this particular scene, though. Bart as Hamlet, Ralph Wiggum as Laertes.

Here's my mad face! Rrrrrrrr!

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Shakespeare the Meerkat

Ok, I've known about Shakespeare the Meerkat for awhile, but never really saw any reason to post since I don't follow the show.  For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, the Animal Planet television channel has a show called "Meerkat Manor" which is some sort of animal reality show.  They follow around like 40 meerkats and try to produce the documentary style footage up as dramatically as they can, like a mother meerkat defending the babies from predators, and so on.  One of them is named Shakespeare.  He's apparently quite popular, with more than a few blogs on the subject.


Well now there's something to post about.  Apparently season two of Meerkat Manor has started, and Shakespeare is missing.  Even the Today show picked up the story, but they don't have a link up yet.  People are very upset.  The producers are being realistic about it - they've said themselves that they just don't know what happened to him.  I think people forget that this is a show about animals tracked in the wild, so simply losing one is actually quite possible.  The producers assume that Shakespeare is dead and that they just haven't found the body.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

The 7 (Yes, 7) Noble Kinsmen

Anybody want to play a murder mystery Flash game based on Shakespeare?  BBC has one up called Seven Noble Kinsmen.  I don't have time to play it in much depth, but I did get through the long intro (which is completely non interactive, just keep hitting Next) and eventually you end up in the mansion in the classic "Reclusive and potentially evil genius has invited all of his enemies to his mansion for revenge" plot.  Somebody play it through and tell me if it's worth it :).


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Shakespeare's World : Then and Now

Want a travel agent's view of Shakespeare's World?  For a change of pace from talking about politics and religion of the day, why not look around the actual geography of the time?  This Internet WebQuest was created by a junior high school student named Hugh Peebles (at least I think he's a student, I assume he could be the teacher) and plays itself out like a game : ask the team a question ("What, in your opinion, caused a middle-class English boy to become one of the world's greatest writers?") and then turn them loose on the Internet to go research things like Holy Trinity Church, Stratford on Avon, The Globe, and so on.


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Supergun Cinema ?

I don't know what Supergun Cinema is, exactly, but I'm fascinated by these posts that keep popping up in my regular reading.  It appears to be the blog of somebody who is writing a screenplay about people writing a screenplay based on Shakespeare's works, which is in turn modelled after Shakespeare's works.  Got that? 


Apparently his previous movie was called "Macbeth 3000" so Shakespeare figures prominently in his work.   The image caption in one of the related blog posts says "Macbeth + light sabers + Batman + snow + car chases + Super Dave + an Iraqi chemical weapons plant + a pedophile + Star Trek = comedy gold..."


I'm intrigued.


Shakespeare Classes at University of Washington

This looks interesting.  University of Washington's "Educational Outreach" program is offering free courses over the net.  Interesting to us, that is, because they have two Shakespeare offerings:  Hamlet and Shakespeare's Comedies.

Haven't had time to read them in depth yet, but I've got them bookmarked.   Something like this I wish came in a PDF, I find that I'm more likely to read things like this if I can print them out all nicely formatted.  I don't like reading web pages for too long.


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