Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Strange Love, or, Holding Lands

This paper explores how, in Shakespeare‘s sonnets (and in the plays), Shakespeare looks to legal tenure and the mechanics of common-law possession to explore the claim of erotic relation and erotic estrangement on the speaking self and its "self-possession."

I have no idea.

Kid's Lit : King of Shadows

Interesting sounding book (story?) about a kid who travels to London for a chance to act in Dream, only to wake up 400 years ago in a production directed by Shakespeare himself.

Wait...Hidden Portrait? What?

On the phone right now booking a trip to Disney...but this looks fascinating......

Is Tybalt Deaf?

Actually I'm just being silly, but I noticed this morning that Tybalt's first two lines, literally, are "What?"

Enter Tybalt


What, are thou drawn among these heartless hinds?

Turn thee, Benvolio, look upon they death.


I do but keep the peace: put up they sword,

Or manage it to part these men with me.


What, drawn, and talk of peace!  I hate the word,

As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee:

Have at thee, coward!


Reminds me of a neighborhood bully when we were growing up.  Whenever you said something that he felt like taking as insulting he'd always start with a "What?"  Far from being intimidating, it only made him seem stupid, like he was never fully able to process that he'd been insulted.  There used to be a pro-wrestler who did a whole big gimmick out of punctuating his interviews with "What?" whenever somebody else was talking.

I realize of course that it is not being used in that context.  It's actually a pretty common interjection in Shakespeare's dialogue, I count 14 times in R&J alone.   Taming of the Shrew has 22!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sesame Street Shakespeare

You know, when I found a list of YouTube clips featuring Sesame Street doing Shakespeare, I was very excited.  With 3 little kids running around my house I'm one of those adults who'll giggle hysterically every time Cookie Monster eats poor Prairie Dawn's letter of the day.  There's a surprising number of references for adults to be found in the show (I once saw Grover make a Cherry Orchard reference).

Alas, the skits just aren't that good.  Having a bunch of puppets running around adding "eth" and "ooth" to the ends of all their words does not make for a Shakespeare skit, in my booketh.

Although the Waiting For Godot one is pretty good, if only for Cookie Monster's description.

Shakespeare's Wife, by Germaine Greer

I'm not really sure what to do with this book. I know about as little as anybody re: Ann Hathaway, just the usual stuff - she was older than Shakespeare, pregnant when they got married, and that at some point he split for London. Everything else (forced to marry, must not have loved her, etc...) is all just conjecture. I certainly don't count myself among the "misogynist tradition" that Greer seems to be railing against in every chapter. It would never have occurred to me to assume that Ann must have been ugly, for example. But apparently there have been numerous Shakespeare biographers who wrote exactly that. Who knew? That's the price I pay for being at the outer rim of Shakespeare knowledge. Much of the controversy she discusses, and clearly wrote this book to address, I knew nothing about. Or I suppose, to be more accurate, I just never really gave it much thought.

Let's get the biography bits out of the way first, and then get to the good stuff. When I first heard about this book I assumed that it would be like most others, pulling together the few "facts" along with heaping helpings of "and then we can assume it went a little something like this." This book is certainly no exception, as there are far fewer facts known about Ann Hathaway than there are about Shakespeare. So Greer supplements them with lengthy expositions about life at the time, such as an entire chapter on pregnancy (this may be the only Shakespeare-related work I ever read that contains advice on massaging the perineum....) On the one hand it is fine and accurate and gives a picture of what the birth of Shakespeare's children must have been like, while on the other it tells us nothing definitive. There are no diaries or any such notes about these things, so we have to assume that Shakespeare and his family were pretty normal. It's a perfectly legitimate assumption, "normal until proven extraordinary" reasoning that still leaves you disappointed. Although you have in fact learned something (at least, I did), you don't feel like you learned something about Hathaway herself. Make sense? Just like I don't study Elizabethan and Jacobean history in general - I want to know about Shakespeare the person. I'm not satisfied to accept what life was like around him.

Now, repeat that pattern often, for all other subjects. What was their courtship like? Their wedding? Where did they live afterward? In each chapter it is the same -- present some "evidence" about what life was like by examining not just official documents, but also the writing of the time, including Shakespeare's (I particularly like how she made liberal use of Taming of the Shrew to explain how a wedding would have gone, without the implied assumption that maybe that's how Shakespeare's marriage went as well). Then, use it to destroy the "misogynist tradition", by which she almost entirely means one Mr. Stephen Greenblatt (more on that later). Then start in with the "maybe it went something like this" ideas. To be fair to the author, she does do the equivalent of a literary shoulder shrug when she does this, freely admitting that it could be one way or the other and we'll just never know.

So now let's talk about the more fun bits. Rumor has it that this whole book is actually Germaine Greer's little joke, an attack on traditional Shakespeare biography that works by painting a complimentary picture of a target that that damned misogynist tradition has so long painted as the woman who ruined Shakespeare's life. She works with the same evidence and presents her arguments using the same logic, so if anybody wants to tear her apart for it, they can't do so without admitting that what we know of Shakespeare biography as well sits on the same weak foundation.

Can we talk about Chapter 2 for a second? Let me summarize chapter 2: "Hey Shakespeare, your mom sucked."

I'm not kidding, even in the slightest. Start with the premise that "misogynist tradition" will bestow upon the mother all the qualities that the wife lacks, therefore Mary Arden must have been smart and beautiful and all these wonderful things. Greer then systematically tears her apart - she had no claim to the famous Arden name, she was spoiled rotten, she made no attempt to find wives for her children, and if she was at all a good wife, Shakespeare's dad would never have run the business into the ground and ruined his life. I can't remember now without looking back but I'm sure she threw in a couple of "Yo momma's so ugly" jokes as well, just to prove her point. The chapter ends with a laundry list of Shakespeare's bad mother characters, including "the cannibal Tamora" (ummm..does unwittingly being fed human flesh make you a cannibal?), "the depraved Gertrude" (I guess women shouldn't ever remarry after their husband dies), and, my favorite....Lady Macbeth. Did I miss a couple of little Macbeths running around that play?

And then there's Greenblatt. I toyed for a long time with how to properly describe his place in the book. I was going to say that the original working title was "Shakespeare's Wife : Or, Stephen Greenblatt Can Just Go Bite Me." Then I was going to say that I could imagine Ms. Greer reading Greenblatt's Will In the World with an indignant gasp and an "Oh no he *didn't*!" exclamation every other page. Instead I think the best description comes from Alan K. Farrar, who never references Greer without adding (bbke) after her name, like some type of blessing (he's told us that the bb is in fact for "blessed be"). I've decided that, in Greer world, I will imagine her doing a similar thing for Greenblatt. Only the letters will be (sob) (That's "son-of-a-b*tch", in case I'm being a little too subtle for folks). The book is far more amusing if you imagine the author sticking a pin in a voodoo doll every time she mentions his name. (The really annoying thing about this whole issue is that when I read Greenblatt's book it was very plain to me that this was Greenblatt's own personal fantasy about how he wished Shakespeare's life had gone. I never for a second thought of any of it as remotely defensible.)

In the end I guess this book comes with too much baggage for me to fully appreciate and/or enjoy it. Is it intended to be a serious biography, or an ironic attack on all the other Shakespeare biographies? If I were to ever cite Greer in mixed company (and by that I mean mixed company of Shakespeare scholars, naturally) would I be laughed out of the club? She's so busy pointing out how much of a right bastard Greenblatt and his ilk are (she's got some choice words for Anthony Burgess as well, though I can't say I've ever read anything of his that wasn't fiction....) that I found myself rolling my eyes every time another attack came up. It was like reading the transcript from a political rally. "Well, here's why my opponent's an idiot....blah blah blah nothing to back up my own case, just bunches and bunches of reasons why his case stinks."

There are those not embroiled in controversy who just want to learn more about the couple, and I think for that audience, this book does offer some value. Take my wife, for instance. She's the sort who bonds with others at the family level. You could put up a picture of a random celebrity on television, announce that she's pregnant, and watch as my wife's ears perked up, followed by "Who is that? Who's she married to? Do they have any other children?" It interests her. The same is true of Shakespeare. She has asked me what Shakespeare's married life was like. In particular, did he love his wife? After all, the man wrote some pretty romantic stuff. I hate to say "I don't know", or worse, "The circumstances seem to suggest they were pretty unhappy." To a romantic like my wife, the idea that Shakespeare loathed his own wife and wrote to escape his situation, rather than to praise it, makes the whole thing a pretty sad story. I'm happy at least to say that Greer paints a very positive picture of Shakespeare's relationship with his wife. So if you could care less about what the misogynist tradition has to say on the subject, and just want a little bit of a more positive spin on what their marriage might have been like, there are bits in here for you to enjoy (provided that you learn to skim past the attacks on Greenblatt and crew).

Friday, April 25, 2008

Oh, To Be The Local Shakespeare Geek, Now That Spring Is Here

Earlier today I got to use the word "pandering" in IM conversation, just hoping that I'd get to point out that the word comes from Pandarus, a Shakespearean character. Alas, no such luck.

However, not 5 minutes ago I heard a hallway conversation from two cubes over on the derivation of the character "Lothario."    Before the inevitable "I wonder if it's a Shakespeare thing. Hey Duane?" came lofting my way I'd already googled enough to answer, "Nope, not Shakespeare, he's apparently from a 1703 play by Nicholas Rowe called The Fair Penitent."  I like anticipating when I'm needed. :)

Although interesting, the Wikipedia is unclear on whether Rowe's character is in fact the origin.  There's a reference to a Lothario in Don Quixote, which was 100 years previous.    So perhaps Cervantes is the originator of the name?  In that case Shakespeare could also have known of the character.  Maybe he shows up in Cardenio!

God Bless Megan Fox

So, Megan Fox is the sexiest woman in the world, according to FHM magazine.  It also happens that she has a King Lear tattoo, which I've pointed out in the past.  You know what that means, right?  Traffic spike for Shakespeare Geek! :)  I'm getting a heck of a lot more traffic from people googling "Megan Fox tattoos" then I ever got from Folger, I'll tell ya that.

Other than that, it's a slow day. :)

Hamlet, The TV Drama

I'm surprised I missed references to "The Prince Of Motor City" the first time around.  This potential new ABC drama claims to have "Shakespearean themes."  The obvious guess (as the above post points out) is a battle over who takes charge of the family business when the dad dies, the son is not quite ready, and the evil uncle swoops in and takes control.

Could be good, I suppose, if they actually went for it and did a planned 2-season run or something, complete with accidental murder of the uncle's advisor, eventually insanity and suicide of the girlfriend, and so on, culminating in the big death scene at the end of the series.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Shakespeare's First(?) Sonnet

Our very own Alan K Farrar (how many blogs do you *have*, Alan???) reciting Shakespeare's sonnet 145, labelled as his "oldest piece of writing, written when he was around 18 to his wife, Ann Hathaway."

I'm curious - do we know that to be fact (or at least, strongly evidenced theory)?  This is the "I hate from hate away she threw" sonnet, which is typically considered a direct reference to his wife ("hate away" -> "Hathaway").  But I'm not sure where the logic comes from that it is the first?  I realize that they were not published or numbered in chronological order, so the 145 doesn't bother me so much.  I'll call it the first if somebody explains to me why it is, and not just because it doesn't fit the same iambic pentameter structure of all the others and thus must have been an early effort.  That logic could just as well demonstrate that Shakespeare didn't write that one at all.

Coming Soon : The Shakespeare Scene

I just got word of a new "Shakespeare magazine" coming out called Shakespeare Scene.  Looks intriguing.  I wonder a bit how much popular interest such a magazine will have, especially with a worldwide audience (it is published out of the UK).  Would I in the United States care about productions in Australia, or would I feel that my money ($12/issue!) was being wasted on pages of content that is irrelevant to me?  I do like that they plan to have content on the plays themselves, and biographical bits on Shakespeare himself, rather than just modern interviews and other contemporary issues.  I suppose that will be the balancing act, figuring out how best to present both types of information in a way that satisfies the audience who wants one, while not alienating those who want the other.

I wish them luck with it!  The more Shakespeare in the world, the better.

Flash Romeo and Juliet

I was hoping that would be better.  It's actually really bad, in my opinion, but I suppose someone out there might like it.  Claiming to be a demonstration of "l33t"-speak Romeo and Juliet (which has already been done to death a thousand times), this particular animator seems to equate the syntax of l33t (where numbers and letters freely transpose, and proper spelling is a nuisance) with a far more abrasive world in which every other word is "u suk, fag".

Not really my cup of tea.

Allusions to Hamlet in Joyce's Ulysses

Having never read the latter I'm not really sure what to do with this, but it seems like it might be interesting to the more well-read than I.  A list of Hamlet references in Ulysses, cited back to Act and Scene inside Hamlet.  Lots of them.

UPDATE : It bothers me that the link no longer works, since this seems to be one of my most popularly followed links.  I wish I had better info for you.  The best I can do is offer to google it for you.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Here's The Book I Want (or, Why I Still Can't Read Asimov's Shakespeare)

Once upon a time I picked up Asimov's guide to Shakespeare, decided it was far too heavy reading to just flip through on the shelf at the bookstore, and put it down.  I mean, for pete's sake, the man gives a history lesson of the state of the world before ever getting into any of the plays.

But, knowing its place among the highly recommended guides to Shakespeare, a friend got it for me for Christmas.  Nice edition, too - both volumes, hardcover.  So I started reading that this weekend while I was on vacation.  And you know what?  It's still an encyclopedia. 

I try opening randomly to a play.  I have to admit, I do like the books that treat the plays individually, I feel that I can break the book up better if I can pick and choose which subjects suit me depending on mood.  I end up on Merchant of Venice.  Sure enough we get a quick history of Venice, but then it's on to the play after just one page (plus a map), so I suppose that's a good thing. 

But then, here's a good example, Asimov gets to a quote about "let my liver rather heat with wine" and ponders whether Shakespeare was making an early connection to alcoholism?  "Nothing of the sort," says Asimov.  "The liver is the largest gland in the body, weighing three or four pounds in a man...."

...wait, what?

I'm reading about Merchant of Venice, and now I know that the human liver weighs about 4 pounds.  Great.  Super.  Awesome.  Asimov was legendary for this sort of encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything, but did he have to shove it in everywhere he could?  Do I really need to know this?  He then gives two paragraphs on the importance of the liver to soothsayers, since being the biggest organ it was the easiest to spot and watch for odd conditions.  But he never actually says anything about what Shakespeare's quote means.

I guess my point, simply put, is "How does this knowledge bring me any closer to understanding/appreciating Merchant of Venice?"


Here's the book I want.  At least, here's the criteria I've been using in my quest for "the" Shakespeare book.  I want a book that I would recommend to a friend who doesn't know much about Shakespeare, but is open to learning about it (and by it I mean the body of work, not necessarily the man). Almost every book I've found thus far falls into one of two categories - either an academic tome written specifically for people who have already professed their undying love for the subject and now wants to debate every last detail.....or else it is a variation on "for dummies" that starts with the premise that you really want to learn as little as possible, either so you can just pass the test or so you can appear to know the subject, and breaks it down a word at a time like a vocabulary quiz, losing the appreciation of the whole along the way.

I want something in the middle.  To date the closest I've found is actually Bryson's biography - it's light and conversational enough that someone with a passing interest in the subject could pick it up, understand it, and actually enjoy it.  Now I want somebody to do that for the plays.  I want an in depth examination of Romeo and Juliet, for example, that gives you a taste of everything that's in there, while never losing your attention and still keeping from and center the fact that it's a damned good story.  No, it's more than that, it's a far better story than you know, and here's why.  The kind of book that after you're done reading it you say "Wow, I had no idea.  Now I want to go learn more."

I want a book that makes me want to buy copies for my friends, and send them with a little note saying "Read this and you'll have some idea of why I love this stuff so much."  (To be truthful, Bryson comes up short on this bit, as there's not much passion in his writing.  The first chapters of Shakespeare Wars (Rosenbaum) are probably the closest I've gotten so far. )  Remember, I'm neither history buff nor literary academic nor theater nerd.  In truth there's no good reason why I should be a Shakespeare geek....except the words.  There's enough magic in the words alone to hook me, so I've got to believe that it can do the same for others.

[Admin] Elizabethan Recipes

Hi Everybody,

Sorry for the interruption, but I've got a quick question.  I've got a link back in the archives about "Elizabethan recipes and food" that has long been one of my most popular links.  However, according to their statistics nobody's ever actually bought anything from them.  I'm trying to determine if this is an error on their part, or if it is accurate.  So if there's anybody out there reading that has in fact bought from the place I'm talking about (I'm no longer bothering to link to them in case the link is in fact bad), could you please let me know?  All I need is confirmation of one person who actually followed the link and bought something to know that there's a problem on their end.  Normally I'd say no big deal, it's a rare item that nobody wants, but on the contrary, it's typically my most popular link, so people do indeed seek the stuff out and follow the link.  But that's where it stops.  Seems fishy.

Thanks!  Again, sorry for the interruption, but I've been meaning to ask that for weeks now.

Folger Linked Me, I Can Die Now

Well, sure, it's small potatoes (linking to my "What are you doing for Shakespeare's birthday" post), but still - it's FOLGER,man!  I feel special.

Thanks, whoever did that :).  Nice to know I have fans in high places.

Happy Birthday You Know Who

Wow my feeds are full today with Shakespeare's Birthday posts :). 

I'd like to say I'm doing something special, but as discussed, not so much.  I'd like to announce that I've finally begun my own little side publishing project, but I'm far too chicken to commit myself like that.  Apparently I'm to spend Shakespeare's 444th birthday reading Germaine Greer's book, Shakespeare's Wife.  It arrived today.  (Yes I do realize that earlier this year I wrote that I had no interest in reading this book, at least not in the sense that I go seek it out like I did for Greenblatt or Rosenbaum.  This one was sent to me for review.)

I can't wait to see how Alan's opinion of me changes after I'm done!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hamlet 2 Trailer

I've already blogged about Hamlet 2 previously, but now there's a trailer!  You know what?  It looks good!    The "doesn't everybody die at the end of the first one" question is asked and answered in the trailer -- time machine!  Out steps Hamlet...and Jesus!

Shakespeare Pulp Fiction

Making the rounds.  Absolutely brilliant, wish it was longer.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Are You In The Shakespeare Biz?

Here's a question that just came to mind (thanks, Alan).  Are you "in the business", so to speak, of Shakespeare?  What's your connection?  Do you get to do it as a full time job, a side job, a hobby?  Wish you could do more?

As I've said in the past, this blog is really it for my connection to Shakespeare.  I do it as much as I can.  Lately it's also turned into "book reviewer", which I kind of dig, because I get to read books I wouldn't normally, which in turn has definitely increased my exposure to all things Shakespeare.

One of these days I hope to get something published on the topic of teaching Shakespeare, if for nothing else than to put my money where my mouth is and see if I know what I'm talking about.  Of course, I've been saying that for years.  Maybe by the time my kids get to high school?  The computer programmer geek in me keeps trying to turn the project into something interactive, technologically speaking, but then I go down that path for awhile before falling back on good old print.


Ok, who's next?

Romeo and Juliet Quiz

I love this.  A huge test on Romeo and Juliet (Acts 2 and 3).  If I didn't have so much to do at my day job I would print it out, take it, and then research the answers myself to see how well I do.  It does cover lots of bases, ranging from "Who said this and why" to "Tell me if you understood the story properly" to "Is this an example of a simile or a metaphor", so that's good.

Still, though, it always feels weird to me to break down the plays into such small bits.  To dissect something, first you have to kill it.  I have a different idea for a test - how about we go to a production of Romeo and Juliet, and then at intermission, ask people in the audience if they felt that the Friar knowledge of herbs was an example of foreshadowing.  Then ask whether or not they care, and whether or not the answer to that question impacts their enjoyment of the show.  Yes, we're talking about education, so there are certain things you should be tested on.  But at some point can't you appreciate it for a work of art, too?

The true/false questions are interesting to me.  On the one hand I like some of them, like #9, which asks whether Juliet hates Romeo for killing Tybalt.  Since Juliet tells her *mother* that she hates Romeo, this question shows whether the student realizes that she was just saying that, and didn't really mean it.  But then look at #12, "The Nurse comforts Juliet when her father says she must marry Paris."  I went back and looked up the Nurse's speech.  I'm not sure if "Look, Romeo is banished, and you could do worse than Paris" counts as "comforting".  But isn't that a matter of interpretation?  The Nurse probably thinks she's being comforting, but Juliet pretty much never looks at her the same again ("ancient damnation, o most wicked fiend!")  Yes, Juliet had asked for "comfort", and that was the Nurse's response, so perhaps the teacher expects a true answer her.  But, like the "I'm only telling my mother I hate Romeo, I don't, really" thing from question #9, shouldn't we take Juliet's "thou hast comforted me marvellous much" to be equally deceptive?  Is comforting an active or a passive verb - does the person doing it or receiving it get to decide whether it worked?

Maybe I'm nitpicking, but I think this is a big part of why I like to talk about Shakespeare, when we get to show examples of how people can miss the big picture because they're too busy dissecting the individual word choices.  I'm cool with the reader having to interpret when Juliet's words don't match what she's feeling - that's something people do every day.  But when the hardest part of the question is determing what the teacher wants for an answer, because you can justify both, well, then you're kind of stuck.

What Are You Doing For Shakespeare's Birthday?

This April 23 the world will celebrate William Shakespeare's 444th birthday.  Nice number.  What are you doing, anything good?  I wish I'd planned something in advance, like a big giveaway or something.  But alas, nothing good this year from your Shakespeare Geek. 

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Shakespeare Cartoons

I don't really love the quality of this site's work, but it's been in my saved pages for awhile and I figure it does have enough Shakespeare content to deserve a link.  This is a catalog of reprintable cartoons, with a Shakespeare theme.  Or rather, reference.  Many of them are variations on the "to be or not to be" thing.  There's at least one with a typo (nice quality control).  And some I just don't get at all -- who is Fifi Oscard?

What I did find amusing was artist "Kes", who has 10 pieces in the catalog - 5 of which are Yorick jokes, with Hamlet posed the exact same way in each picture :).  I'll bet it's like writing greeting cards, you think of 10 variations on a single theme, so rather than going with the best one you just go with all of them.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ie Shima : The Pride of Shakespeare?

I don't fully understand the connection here, but I'm intrigued.  This history web site tells us about Ie Shima, a small island near Okinawa that apparently fell pretty easily during World War II.  Big deal, you say?  Fair enough.  But the island "has a Shakespearean tragedy-legend all its own", we learn.  A girl named Hando-gwaa wanted to marry her love, named Kanahi.  But it turns out he’s already married, so she climbs Tacchu Mountain and hangs herself with her long hair.

...and??  There's nothing else in the post about this story.  So I'm a little confused on why the author makes the leap to associate it with Shakespeare.  While our man in Stratford did write a few doozies, he does not have a monopoly on tragedy.  I'm hoping that there's something else to the story to merit the Shakespeare connection.

Anybody got more to the story?  Should we throw a yellow card on Today's History Lesson for unnecessary Shakespeare references?

Shakespeare Ghost Town

Seriously. It's a ghost town, named Shakespeare.  I knew about it's existence, but I don't think I've ever linked to it.  Technically has nothing to do with the real Shakespeare, as far as I can tell, which would normally break one of my rules (I don't, for instance, blog references to Shakespeare fishing rods), but it seems like it *should* be related to the man, and I can't see any evidence that it's not.  Be sure to follow the links that describe the history of the town, it's actually pretty fascinating.

I have a brother out in New Mexico.  If I ever get out there to visit him, I'll have to check this place out.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Speaking of All's Well...

I just happened to see a review roll through my feeds today.  This one was in Cleveland, and neither the production nor the source material get a particularly good review.

What Patrick Stewart Does For Fun

Great article (by CNN, no less!) on what Patrick Stewart does when he's not playing Macbeth.  Answer?  He reads Hamlet. For fun.  The man is far more a "Shakespeare freak" than I think even his biggest fans give him credit for.

"What I'm doing now is all I ever wanted to do. I didn't have any other ambitions," he says. "Once I'd been accepted into the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1966, I was perfectly content."

He stayed for an eyebrow-raising 14 years, playing everything from Mark Anthony to Henry IV to Shylock to Oberon. "People who were not in the company would say to me, 'Give it a break. Why don't you go somewhere else?' And I would say, 'To do what?' " he says. "Telly?"

Monday, April 14, 2008

World Book Day Challenge

Apparently "World Book Day" is coming up?  Some crafters specializing in bookbinding are jumping all over this day (I wonder why?).  In the link above someone has made a pretty cool looking Shakespeare-themed notebook.  I wasn't really sure at first what it was, hoping for some original content, but eventually I figured out that it's just a nicely crafted blank 50 page notebook.  The backs of the pages are actually printouts, in various forms, of assorted Shakespeare content including pictures, biography and other bits.  Check out the pictures, that's really the only way to explain what I'm talking about.

Young Adult Macbeth

Last week we spoke of a young adult novel about Ophelia, only in that version apparently she's pregnant and runs off with Horatio, or something like that.

This week I see "Enter Three Witches", which revolves around Lady Mary, the 14yr old daughter of the Thane of Cawdor.    Since in this case the character is entirely made up, I'm not sure if that will make people feel better or worse about butchering of the story. 

I suppose if you love this stuff you'll like it, and if you hate this stuff you won't.  To each their own.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

My Favorite Shakespeare Play

So again this weekend somebody asks me my favorite Shakespeare play, and again I give my standard answer, "No favorite, they're all good for different reasons." But she wants to argue it with me, saying I must have a favorite.  I point out that if you ask me what I think the best play is I will say King Lear, but that I have read The Tempest to my children as a bedtime story and had my 3yr old quote it back to me, and that offers a value that I can't get anywhere else.  They are different.

I've decided to change my approach.  Now, when somebody asks me that question and does not take my honest answer, I'm going to name random Shakespeare plays and see what sort of response I get.  "Favorite play?  Oh, gotta be All's Well That Ends Well.  Do you know it?  Great stuff."  Be interesting to see if I get anybody who actually wants to pursue the question after that. :)

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Comedy of Juggling Errors

I have not watched this yet, but whenever I saw that the Flying Karamazov Brothers (jugglers extraordinaire) were doing The Comedy of Errors, it was an immediate download!


Nuclear Shakespeare

Starting with one of my favorite quotes ("Each line in Shakespeare is an atom. The energy that can be released is infinite – if we can split it open."), Alan K. Farrar sits down to review what, I'm not quite sure.  The transcript of a lecture given by Peter Brook in 1996...but does that mean it's newly published and only just now available, or something he's just gotten his hands on?  Perhaps he'll tell us.

Anyway, I'm becoming more and more fascinated with this Brook character, a name I'd never heard until Rosenbaum's lavish praise in Shakespeare Wars.  I mean, seriously, the man spends the first 50 pages travelling around the world and asking people if they'd seen Brooks' production of Dream, and then saying "Wasn't it awesome?"  Obviously I've got to learn more about Mr. Brook and his influence on our modern understanding Shakespeare.

Why isn't Shakespeare Out of Date?  Alan tells us that this is the question Brooks' short (32 pages) hopes to answer.  I love that question.  I think it's one of the most important questions, as a matter of fact.  At least as far as justifying why we're all still sitting around talking about the man.

I know he hangs out here, so perhaps Alan will tell us a little more about the book.  Unlike us whoring Americans, he doesn't put any Amazon links in his post :).

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Review : The Master of Verona

There's a bit of a back story to this review.  A long time ago I found this book, billed as "a novel of Shakespeare", and commented that "I wish I had time to read it."  A year later, as I do the occasional book review, the author David Blixt called me out on it.  After all, he hangs out here.  Fair enough.  So I went about getting myself a copy, and just finished it this week.  I review it with the full knowledge that the author is one of my most prolific commenters.

I was pretty worried about what I'd gotten myself into for the first 20 pages or so.  This is a historical novel, set in the 1300's around the son of one Dante Alighieri, yes, the one who wrote The Inferno.  As a matter of fact this is a major arc of the book, as The Inferno has only recently been published, and Dante is something of a rock star, traveling from patron to patron, discussing philosophy while people secretly make signs behind his back to ward off the devil.  I'm not usually much of a history guy.  "Speculative fiction", the near future stuff, is more my thing.   I knew that there'd be some Shakespeare to come, as that is what caught my attention in the first place.  Apparently within this world of the Alighieri's, I was to learn what started the feud between the Montagues and Capulets.

Whenever I saw that the book started with a family tree (more to the point a "dramatis personae", just like any of Shakespeare's work, although this one is organized by family) and a number of maps, I thought I was doomed.  That's no failing of the author - that's just my relationship to this sort of epic story.  My "thing" is characters on stage (or on the page) doing things and saying things, and saying why they're doing things and doing things to back up what they're saying.  If somebody hates his distant cousin because there was a failed hostile takeover between their grandfathers, I internalize it better if one character says it to another character.  Seeing it on a family tree does nothing for me.

Anyway, back to the story.  I got my action and dialogue soon enough as Pietro, son of Dante, is cast into a battle alongside his new friends Anthony Capecelatro (soon to be Cappuletto), and Mariotto "Romeo" Montecchio, under the charge of the Francesco "Cangrande" della Scala, legendary leader of Verona.  From that point on, I loved it.  There's action - lots and lots of action.  There's character development.  There's a good story about a prophecy and a child who may or may not grow up to fulfill his destiny.  It is particularly fascinating to watch the development of Pietro, recently knighted, who matures into quite a hero indeed.  I also like the child, very much.  I do not like at all how the adults treated the child.  But as a character I thought the child was written very well, and could only imagine that the author's own child had something to do with that (although I believe I'm wrong there).

Along the way, as promised, we learn the history of the "Montecchios" and the "Capulets".    I guess there I got a little confused, as I do not know all the multiple sources to Romeo and Juliet that Shakespeare used.  I thought this was supposed to be sort of prequel to the Shakespeare story, the cause of the "ancient grudge" that "breaks to new mutiny."   But one of the characters in the story is in fact named Romeo (although on first introduction he says "Never call me that" and it's never spoken of again).  So perhaps that's the author's joke, but it did have me scratching my head trying to figure out if he was supposed to be *the* Romeo.  I find, though, that I didn't end up as interested in that story as I thought. I only ever found this book as "a novel of Shakespeare", but ended up far more interested in Dante and his son.  There are a number of Shakespeare references and jokes, many of which I'm sure I missed.  (Update: It just clicked with me that perhaps I do get it, if Romeo grows up to have a son named Romeo, which would be a logical thing to do.....)

In the end, I'm not quite sure I understood all of the political twists and turns that were taken.  There are characters who seem good that do horrible things, and vice versa.  There are several major characters where you're really left scratching your head, trying to figure out if they're good people or not.  But through it all there's a certain innocent nobility that follows Pietro.  An underlying theme of the story is that of astrology, and Fate, and whether your destiny takes its course automatically or whether you're expected to take an active role in it.  (I love, by the way, the reference to Macbeth right in the middle of all this - if the witches hadn't told Macbeth that he'd be king, would he have killed the king?)  Pietro is a walking example of this question.  Does he end up where he does because of free will, the manipulation of others, or just Fate?  Or are they all ultimately the same thing?

I can't say that I'm suddenly a fan of historical fiction now.  As I said, give me dialogue and action over politics any day.  But I can say that I enjoyed this book, very much.  I have reviewed books that I felt were a chore, and looked at the end with relief that I could move on.  With this one I anxiously returned to my reading each morning and evening (train to work, don'cha know), honestly curious about how it would end.  As it seems set up for a sequel, I can honestly say that I'd like to read the sequel.  The politics and the prophecy don't mean much to me, but I can appreciate well developed characters and want to see how their lives turn out.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Which Dads Are The Good Ones?

After posting about Lord Capulet and having people argue back that he's actually a good guy, it seemed logical to post the next question : when does Shakespeare portray the dad (particularly the father of girls) as a good guy, and when is he a right bastard?  Polonius and Ophelia are a rather obvious example of the latter.  Although Polonius' fingers never itch, he doesn't think twice about dangling his daughter as bait in front of the potentially insane prince, just to please the king.  And then there's the opening of Dream, where Egeus basically says of Hermia that she's his property, and if she doesn't do what he wants, he insists on the death penalty.  But Dream is a comedy!

But what about the other side?  When is the Dad the good one?  How about Desdemona's dad?  In the Capulet post I used Kate's father Baptista (from Taming of the Shrew) as an example of a bad one, but then I thought, maybe I'm really off base there.  What does he do that's so wrong?  Sure he basically sells her off to the first real suitor to come along, but isn't that what they all do?  Wasn't he showing his concern for his oldest daughter by requiring that she be married off first, before her younger sister?  I can't really see a selfish reason in that.

It just dawns on me as I type this that we have to include The Tempest, probably the biggest of the "father/daughter" stories.  But where do we put Prospero, exactly?  For the most part he speaks down to his daughter as if he's forgotten that she's not 3 years old.  Most of his manipulations have more to do with his own plan than with her happiness.  But somewhere in the middle he apparently changes, and then he's all about getting Miranda married and off the island.  I think he's one of the good ones.  Gruff, to be sure, but you don't survive alone on an island populated with magical creatures for long if you're not willing to zap them back every now and then.

Who else?

Building A Piece of History

I'm linking this story almost entirely because the kid is from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, my alma mater.  He's done his MQP, or "Master Qualifying Project", on "lesson plans for a six-session course about the resurrection of the Globe Theatre".

Your MQP is like an undergraduate thesis, you spend the better part of two years on a project that demonstrates your competency in your chosen major.  Mine had more to do with educational software, as I was pursuing a computer science degree.  I expect that the student linked above is pursuing a theatre degree.

WPI also requires a humanities project, called the "Sufficiency", during your first two years in which you as an engineering student show that you have a well-rounded education by exploring an area of the arts.  My project was a comparison of the role insanity plays in Hamlet, Death of a Salesman, and Long Day's Journey Into Night.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Why It Would Be Awesome To Play Lord Capulet

I promise I really was thinking about this topic, and not just because somebody woke up the old "Is Tybalt one of the better villains?" thread over in the sidebar.  I love Juliet's dad as a character.  He's got some of the best moments in the play whenever he's on stage:

  • His very first entrance, in his nightgown, he's yelling "Bring me my longsword!"  He sees a fight, he wants in.  Sure, maybe he looks like a fool, and his wife gets in the better line ("A crutch! Why call you for a sword?")  Good for a little comic relief.  So, that's one side of his character.
  • "Tis not hard, I think, for men so old as we to keep the peace."  When he's not in the heat of the fight, he's actually got a reasonable head on his shoulders.  If this personality of Capulet's sat down and talked to Montague, maybe we wouldn't have a tragedy on our hands.
  • "Woo her, gentle Paris, get her heart.  My will to her consent is but a part."  He could easily hand over his daughter to Paris, but he doesn't, and he cites his reasons.  Paris points out that girls younger that Juliet are already married, and Capulet smacks him down with "too soon marr'd are those so early made."  He's actually a good dad here, much better than he technically needs to be.  We will see a very different side of him later.
  • "Am I the master here, or you?"  When Tybalt spies Romeo at the Capulet party, he wants to duel on the spot.  So what does Lord Capulet do?  Remember, this is the guy who we first saw screaming for his longsword when he saw fighting in the streets.  This time, though, he clearly tells Tybalt, "You're ruining the party, so sit down and shut up."
  • "She loved her kinsman Tybalt dearly, and so did I.  Well, we were born to die."  Sounds like he really loved him.  Oh well, people live, they die, we move on.
  • "I think she will be ruled in all respects by me, nay more, I doubt it not."  Yeah, that's gonna work out real well for you, chief.  This is the guy who said "my will to her consent is but a part", and now he's saying "Don't worry, she'll do whatever I tell her."
  • "Thank me no thankings, proud me no prouds, but fettle your fine joints 'gainst Thursday next, to go with Paris to Saint Peter's Church, or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither.  Out, you green-sickness carrion!  out, you baggage!  You tallow-face!"  Funny how he's changed his tune about the whole "win her heart" thing, isn't it?
  • "My fingers itch."  I don't know it for a fact, but I've always interpreted this to mean "I really think you need a good smack right now and I'm trying very hard not to follow through with it."

He's certainly not a nice guy, most of the dads in Shakespeares works are not, at least when it comes to their daughters (look at Polonius/Ophelia, Egeus/Hermia, Baptista/Katharina, etc....)  But getting inside his character and trying to come to a place where he's not just completely schizophrenic seems like it would be quite a challenge.  How can he be all "oh my daughter my daughter!" one moment and "I disown you, get out of my sight before I drag you through the streets myself" the next?  Is it all just temper?  Is that why he runs into the fray with his longsword (almost), but can still say "It's not so hard to keep the peace?"

Super Mario Brothers Movie Is An Underappreciated Masterpiece

Coworker of mine just passed along this link, in which is hidden this gem:


The entire plot is actually a tweaked version of Hamlet.

The old Mushroom King (King Hamlet) is de-evolved (killed) by King Koopa (Claudius), and it's up to an inexperienced hero (Mario/Luigi) to restore balance to the kingdom by avenging the king. Daisy is Ophelia and Spike and Iggy are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Except, you know, nobody dies.


You know that was getting posted :).   Warning, language is not suitable for young ears or eyes.

110 "Best" books

If you're the sort to be easily offended and like writing web comments, head over to the Telegraph's list of 110 "best" books, which notes only one Shakespeare - "the sonnets".  Normally these lists are tricky in how they include Shakespeare, since after all they are not books per se.  I saw one list (I believe it was "most important books") that specifically cited the First Folio.  Others just say "The Complete Works" as if that means anything.  But this one chooses to include the sonnets, while leaving out all the plays.

There are already a number of comments saying "Where's the Shakespeare?"

Monday, April 07, 2008

An Animated Hamlet, Too?

Hamlet A.D.D. is set entirely in front of a green screen, with live actors in an animated world. 


Dear lord, that's a surefire way to F*** with my head.  Just the other day a coworker challenged me to listen to that stupid song all the way through.  I lasted 17 seconds.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about I'll leave it up to you to google "chocolate rain" (it's nothing offensive, unless you speak of the quality).  Don't say you weren't warned.

Eddie Murphy Does Romeo And Juliet

Wait...what?  Will this be the Eddie Murphy of 48 Hours and Trading Places, or he of Daddy Day Care and Dr. Doolittle?  Seems Mr. Murphy may have a project cooking to "reimagine Romeo and Juliet from the parents' viewpoint."

Ok then.

Romeo and Juliet Flipbook

Absolutely outstanding!  Great stuff.

Shakespeare Jewelry

The other day we had portraits.  Today, bracelets.  This isn't stuff with quotes carved into it, no no.  These are actual craftwork where the artist has chosen Desdemona, for instance, as her inspiration for the design.  Personally I'm not crazy about the two designs shown (Desdemona and Kate), but that's just my personal taste.  I like the idea of Shakespearean characters as design, and would love to see what she does with more characters.

But What If You Would?

There's a certain contradiction that I struggle with when trying to explain to people why Shakespeare is so frickin good.  I usually start with the argument that there are real people portrayed up on stage; Shakespeare illustrated the entirety of human emotion before our eyes.  "But!" counters today's cynical audience, "How can we related to characters who run around and kill each other?"

It's a good point.  Maybe you've been in love, but have you ever been so in love that you'd kill yourself for it?  Maybe you've been ambitious at work.  Would you kill your boss?  It's easy to say that today's teens can't relate to Romeo and Juliet because the idea of killing yourself over a boyfriend or girlfriend is just so far out of their realm of comprehension.

But what if you would?

What if within each of us lies the capacity to feel that level of emotional response?  Take whatever stupid thing that one of Shakespeare's characters is about to do - kill himself, kill the king, kill his wife.  Come up with a reason why it is stupid and why you wouldn't do it.  Now imagine having an emotional response so strong that those reasons don't seem like enough to stop you.  It's not that we *can't* react like Shakespeare's's that we choose not to.  

We choose not to because we must continue to exist in society.  You can't go around killing people when you're upset.  It's like that cliche we hear all the time in the movies when the good guy chooses not to finish off the bad guy:  "You're not worth it."  Longer version:  "The strength of the emotion I'm feeling right now that's driven me to hang you upside down off of this building does not outweigh my understanding that if I drop you, I will go to jail for the rest of my life." 

But what if it did?  Shakespeare's tragedies are an illustration of how that would look.  They are tragedies for a reason.  The character who lets emotion rule all, who ends up doing the stupid thing that we wouldn't do, ends up getting taken out of the picture.  Not too many characters escape that punishment. 

So maybe it's more of a vicarious thing, then.  Maybe Shakespeare's not always showing us what we *are*, but what we have the potential to become. Maybe that's why we say things like "The greatest Lear of his generation" but not "The greatest James Bond of his generation."  Somebody gets to step into the role of Lear or Hamlet or Richard the III and, however briefly, leap into the depths of what they *could* be, if the world were a different place.  We, as the audience, watch in a combination of admiration and fear.  Admiration for these characters who are not constantly reigning in their emotions for fear of societal reprisal.  Fear of what happens when they don't.

Starring as Marc Antony, Marc Antony and Marc Antony

As you've no doubt heard, Charlton Heston died this weekend.   It's debatable what his greatest role was - Moses?  Ben Hur?  The human guy in Planet of the Apes?  Hopefully he's not remembered as the crazy head of the NRA.

When a well known actor like Heston passes away I like to scan his works and see if there was any Shakespeare we can talk about.  I found something interesting about Mr. Heston, who by the way played the Player King in Brannagh's Hamlet.  Check this out:

Antony and Cleopatra (1972) .... Marc Antony

Julius Caesar (1970) .... Marc Antony

Julius Caesar (1950) .... Antony


Seems the man was born to play Marc Antony!  According to IMDB Heston actually directed the 1972 A&C himself.  I wonder how often you get to see an actor play the same role with a 20 year difference between them?  In 1950 he would have been just 26.

You want something downright spooky?  Heston played Sir Thomas More in the 1988 TV version of A Man for All Seasons.  In the 1966 movie version the title role was played by Shakespearean actor Paul Scofield, who himself died less than a month ago.

That's a little eerie.  Or, you know, coincidental.  Take your pick.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Is Shakespeare All That?

This simple question gets a very lengthy answer, including quotes from Keats, Coleridge and Herman Melville, a shout out to Harold Bloom, and a good summary of something I've always said:

It’s long been observed that one of the best measures of literature is when you can discuss the characters of a story, or play, as if those characters were real people: when you can talk about their personalities ; when you can psychologize over them, their choice of careers and deeds; when you can pick their brains and discuss their addictions and predispositions, as if these characters were actual human beings.

I never really thought about it being "long observed", but that certainly gets to the heart of what I get out of Shakespeare.

Resurrecting Ophelia

I love finding stuff like this to link to.  Here, an artist works on a series of "underwater self-portraits" using Ophelia as inspiration.   Warning, the images are a bit disturbing in that they are, in fact, pictures of a girl underwater who, if it's supposed to be Ophelia, is also a dead girl underwater.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

King Lear Homework

I stumbled across this blog the "English 340" class is using to organize their assignments.  It is from the University of Kentucky, thankfully - for a minute I was afraid these were high school questions:

Choose one for a short paper of 2-3 typed, double-spaced pages:

1.  Lear declares that he is “more sinned against than sinning.”  Consider his remark and write a brief discussion of whether you think it is accurate.  What “sins” have occurred in the play?

2.  Just as manliness is a live issue in Macbeth, characters in King Lear return repeatedly to the idea of what is “natural.”  Choose one character and discuss his or her relationship to nature and the natural in the play.

I am honestly not sure how to answer either question meaningfully.  I don't know if I've just been out of school too long, or if I don't understand the play well enough, or I'm just offended by the oversimplification implicit in the questions.  I hope this question comes after the students have demonstrated a clear understanding of the overall plot, character development, that sort of thing - that they actually get the story, first and foremost.  Then we can talk about all this meta nonsense not about what the character of Lear meant, but what Shakespeare was really trying to say.  Because as we all know, whenever we in real life say something particularly poignant, it was because we were making a statement on the whole of humanity.

Having said that, I really want to take a stab at answering the questions, but I don't really have the time to do 2-3 typed double-spaced pages :).  I think I would have picked #1.  "Sin" is more character-driven than "nature".

Shakespeare Carnival

While I love the visual that conjures up, I'm really talking about a "link carnival" hosted by Gedaly over at The Bard Blog where we Shakespeare Geeks all try to drum up each other's traffic by aggregating a bunch of good links all in one spot.  Go check it out!  And if you run a Shakespeare site, make sure to get in on the action next time!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ophelia, The Book

Just stumbled across this mini-review of a young adult novel that appears to be a retelling of Hamlet, from Ophelia's point of view.  Not really my cup of tea, but I thought I'd put it out there in case it looks interesting to folks.  I don't know if the reviewer keeps calling Ophelia Hamlet's wife because she's simply mistaken about the plot, or if the author of the book has gone ahead and taken that liberty.

The questions at the end, by the way, are complete spoilers.  Just in case you're thinking about getting it. Then again, who knows, the spoiled bits might make it look intriguing enough to get anyway.

Back in college, in my playwrighting days, I started a project of a similar nature.  I did a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead take on Hamlet, where the whole play is done from Ophelia's perspective.  The gimmick being that when she's "offstage" she's speaking in modern English, but as a character from the play comes on stage she falls back into character to deliver her lines.  I did not muck with the story - my reverence for the text dates back at least that far :) - but I did make the leap that Ophelia was in on Hamlet's feigned madness and just playing along...until she realizes that he has actually gone mad, or at least, she can't tell the difference.

Never finished it.

The Book Of Air And Shadows : Contest Over

Hi everybody,

It's April 1 and as I said, no joke, I'm giving away 3 copies of Gruber's The Book of Air and Shadows.  Names were chosen randomly via the guy in the cube next to me who had no idea what he was picking random slips of paper off my desk for. 

Winners have been notified, and hopefully will get  back to me soon with their shipping info. 

Thanks for playing!  Maybe some nice publisher will send me some more books to give away soon.  Something to think about, you know, for any authors who happen to hang out here who might be working on their next novel.  :)  I'm just sayin.