Friday, May 30, 2008

Perspective : Olivier's Hamlet

It's lunch.  So I popped in the last of my newly borrowed movies - Olivier's Hamlet.
Here's the thing, and whether it says something about Olivier or about Hamlet, I don't know - but I opened up *randomly* - in this case, the scene just after "Give me some light" where Polonius tells Hamlet to go see his mother.
And you know what? It's absolutely f^&*()ing brilliant. 
I have not seen this movie since senior year in high school (over 20 years ago) when Mr. Corey made us watch it.  My memories of it then are boring voiceovers, no Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and a relationship with Mom that made Mr. Corey pause the movie and remember to mention the whole Oedipal theory to us.
Maybe it is not saying something about Hamlet or Olivier at all, but about my own changed perspective.  I'm sure that 20 years ago I was thinking "When is this movie over?"  Five minutes ago, after 10 seconds of this exact same movie, I was thinking "I want to hear every single word, catch every single facial expression, contemplate every single directorial choice."  The way Hamlet just stops in mid conversation, points off into space and does the whole "Do you see yon cloud in the shape of a weasel" bit, the patronizing look on his face is wonderful, like "You stupid old man, how can you not possibly see that I see right through you?"  I wouldn't have been surprised if Hamlet at that moment said, "Do a little dance for me, Polonius" just to watch the old man bust a move.
I was optimistic about the Welles movies because I'd never seen one, whereas I was dubious about Olivier because I had 20 year old memories of it being dull and boring.  Funny how things change.

The 5 Minute Orson Welles

Ok, well, the same source that got me a peek at Chimes At Midnight also got me a chance to see Welles' Othello and Macbeth.  Hence my earlier post on your best 5 minutes - I don't have nearly the time to sit down and patiently watch all of these things.  It would take me days, and even then, I'd feel like I was rushing and not doing them justice.  So instead, at least for now, I skipped around a bit :)
For Othello, I can see much clearer what Alan meant about "the language of film."  This one seems to be all about the statement of the filmmaker, moreso than any of the actors.  Opening with the funeral procession of Othello and Desdemona filmed in stark black and white contrast (I don't just mean that the film is in black and white, I mean you'll be hard pressed to find any shades of gray anywhere), the scene cuts to a criminal being dragged through the streets in chains.   The term "baited with the rabble's curse" immediately came to mind as we watch Iago thrown into a cage.  Then, the movie starts.
I skipped a bit in the beginning - the quality of the film is poor.  Dark, poor sounds, and lots of skips and splices.  I guess I like Welles' as Othello, physically.  I mean, he's a guy in blackface wearing some sort of a turban.   What else can you say?  He's not really putting on any kind of an accent or anything.  He looks like a Shakespearean actor doing his lines.
Desdemona's death scene was weird for me, like something out of a Frankenstein movie.  Shots of her asleep (pretending to be, rather) in her chamber are interposed with shots of Othello approaching from far down the hall, giving this very empty feeling like they're the only two people in the entire castle.  I certainly wouldn't want to sleep there.  Interestingly, when Othello enters Desdemona shuts her eyes, pretending to be asleep.  I realize I skipped right to this part, but is she already afraid of him?  That was unexpected.  The scene overall I was disappointed with.  Like I said, it was like two people speaking their parts.  Desdemona did well at first when she stood up for herself, demanding that Cassio be brought forth to answer for the charges.  But when it came time to actually kill her, she didn't put up any real fight at all.  Nor did Othello look like he was particularly physical, it was more like "And now's the time in my soliloquoy when I put my hand over your mouth and you stop moving."  I kept thinking of how much I'd rather be watching Stage Beauty.
His Macbeth, on the other hand, I think I quite liked.  It was a little jarring at first, as the armies look vaguely like something out of a Genghis Khan epic.  Macbeth is wearing a crown that makes him look like he's the Statue of Liberty.  But the best part is that everyone is actually trying to speak in a Scottish accent!  You'd think that would suck, but to tell you the truth I got into it.  This was like night and day versus his Othello.  This was an entirely different Welles. Not only was he *acting* now, rather than just delivering lines, but he was acting like an entirely different creature.   I believed I was watching Macbeth, not Welles doing Macbeth.
Naturally I fastforwarded to my favorite part, the whole "lay on, Macduff" bit.  I was very pleased, because the scene played out not for the lines, but for the acting.  Macbeth looks at Macduff like a friend, warning him when he says simply "I bear a charmed life which must not yield to one of woman born."  It's like he's saying "Dude, back away, you can't win."  He doesn't scream it, he says it like a simple truth.  Macduff, however, never breaks form.  His blood is up, he wants Macbeth dead.  He only breaks free of their fight long enough to mention the whole "from his mother's womb untimely ripped!" thing.
Want to hear the best part?  On the line "I'll not fight with thee", Macbeth actually *runs*.  I'm sure I've seen other Macbeths run before, but somehow I believed this one more.  He waltzed into that fight knowing that he'd win, and now, knowing that he'll lose, he runs.  Of course he does.  So when Macduff chases him down and calls him a coward, the expression on Welles' face is a thing of beauty.  It's that "Oh hell no" moment where Macbeth finds himself again.  He's no coward.  Death is not exactly something to look forward to, but oh hell no, he is no coward, he will not be dragged through the streets.  So it is with an almost smirk, a look that says "I know exactly what I'm doing" that he delivers a very simple, very quiet "Lay on, Macduff."  It is with a great deal of resignation, is what it is.  Honestly it makes me wonder just how hard he was really fighting back.  When I've seen Macbeths charge full force back into the battle I tend to believe "Ok, he still thinks he can win."  Here it was pretty clear to me that he knew he couldn't.
Here's my two sentence summary:  I will go back and watch the entire Macbeth now.  I will not bother with the Othello.

The Five Minutes' Traffic Of My DVD Player

Ok, here's the game.  You've been handed the DVD of a Shakespeare movie you've never seen.  You're also about to get on a plane to a foreign country and won't be able to watch it for months because of regional issues.  So before you go, you pop it in and bring up your favorite scene, because you want to watch the best 5 minutes of the play.

What play, and what scene?  You like beginnings, endings, or something in the middle?  You like a tragedy or a comedy?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

John Penry

There's a name I'd never heard before : John Penry.  Executed in 1593, the "greatest protestant martyr of his land" is interesting to us for this little cross-reference:

The day after Penry’s execution, star English playwright Christopher Marlowe was killed in a fray whose timing some find a bit suspicious.

Some enthusiasts think Marlowe faked his death and went on to write Shakespeare under a pen name. And if he did that, his confederates would have needed a body to pass off as Marlowe’s … the body, perhaps, of a man of Marlowe’s age and class who’d just been hanged a couple of miles up the road.

Indeed! :)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Shakespeare's Tomb Getting A Makeover,23599,23775385-23109,00.html

I remember blogging ages ago about the Friends of Shakespeare's Church trying to raise money to save Shakespeare's burial place.  Apparently they've got enough now to proceed, although it sounds like they still need more.  And no, they're not moving his bones.

Want People To Think You're Well Read?

If the only reason you're into Shakespeare is so your friends see high quality literature on your bookshelf when they come over, here's a solution for you. Book Decor sells "books by the yard" to use as decoration.  Seems like there's something to be said here about judging a person by their book covers?

(Note, books are not in English and I have no idea if there's anything vaguely Shakespeare related in there.  You don't get to pick the books, only the decorative style.)

[Found via]

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Romeo and Juliet : The Soundtrack

This kid(?) had the assignment of creating a soundtrack for Romeo and Juliet (presumably the Zeffirelli version, since that's the image he chose).  I like some of the choices, although truthfully I don't recognize many of them.  Would have been cool to provide MP3 links, hint hint hint.  

Oh, and "Romeo and Juliet" the song is originally by Dire Straits, covered by The Killers (among others). It's not a Killers original.

"Juliet, when we made love you used to cry, I love you to the stars above, I'll love you til I die."

Good stuff.

Performance Envy

I wrote earlier today that "Words are timeless, performance is not."  If the greatest performance of Hamlet was performed 100 years ago, what's that to me?  I missed it.  Even today, the most ardent defenders of the "see it don't read it" school still freely admit "Every night is different."  So perhaps the best performance was yesterday, not tonight.  So sorry.

Aha, but what about film?  Now we're talking a whole different animal.  In a way it is simply the persistence of a performance.  You could, although it's not done so commonly anymore, do a straight recording of a stage play.  Or you could, to put it mildly, go crazy.  The "language of film" (thanks Alan) is not my point.  I'm interested more in the idea of persistence, and the idea of not missing things.

Rosenbaum's Shakespeare Wars  spends most of its opening chapters talking about a 1970's version of Dream by Peter Brook that changed the author's life.  He raves about it.  He travels the world looking for people to speak with about it.  But you know what?  I can't get into it.  Because I wasn't there.  No amount of praise from anyone who was there will bring me any closer to experiencing it, other than to simply say "Wow, I wish I'd seen it."  I have seen a good handful of Dream productions at this point, some good, some not so much.  The only real constant has been the text.  Each has bits and pieces that I like, but none had me stark raving.

Compare film.  Have I seen what Orson Welles did with Falstaff?  Not yet, but hang on a bit......ok, seen it.  Yeah, that was good.  I can now have an opinion, we can discuss it.  I feel as if I've shared that experience with others.   And by others I don't just mean others who have seen the movie, I mean the people *in* the movie.  I have an opportunity to feel what they feel, from my living room couch.

A different example that I'm trying to hunt down is Olivier's Othello, which apparently only exists as audio.  In trying to find the right words to do justice to Olivier's performance Rosenbaum chooses not a line, not even a word, but a syllable within a single word - Desdemona.  There's apparently a bit near the end, when Othello is wailing his wife's name, that his voice cracked in just that certain way that encapsulated all of the hero's anguish in one simple sound.  Had Rosenbaum been telling me this of a production he saw 30 years ago, I would at best be able to say "Wow, wish I'd seen it."  But instead I find myself thinking "I wonder where I could get that?"

It's here that performance wins, hands down.  I agree completely.  I can know the words of the plays, but in my head I would never see the facial expression of Hal when he denies Falstaff, or the cracking voice of Olivier's Othello.  For that, I need performance.  But I'm very jealous of performance.  Don't tell me that I've missed the good stuff, I don't want to hear that theatre is exciting because you never know what you're going to get from night to night. I want the infinite beauty and depth of what it means to be human.  Maybe I can have that on film, maybe I'll get to see it live.  Either way, they're both speaking the same words. So by studying the words I still get myself that much closer to the goal, even if I never get all the way there.  Know what I mean?

Shakespeare's Only Rival

Is Milton Better Than Shakespeare?  So asks Nigel Smith in his new book of the same name.  The title of this post comes directly from the article, in describing Milton: 

Ever since "Paradise Lost" was published in 1667, Milton has been acclaimed as a supreme English poet, Shakespeare's only rival in linguistic mastery. Yet even at the height of his prestige, in the 18th century, Milton never inspired the kind of ardent intimacy that readers bring to Shakesepare. Nor is it simply our lazy generation, unused to reading long poems and deaf to the majesty of Milton's artifice, that has relegated "Paradise Lost" to the seminar room. Even Samuel Johnson, in his "Life of Milton," wrote that "Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure. We read Milton for instruction, retire harassed and overburdened, and look elsewhere for recreation; we desert our master, and seek for companions."

The article goes on to point out that apparently no, Milton is not better than Shakespeare, as the book really ends up being more of an introductory piece on the current issues in Milton scholarship.

Who Killed Marlowe?

So an anonymous poster found an old post of mine entitled Who Killed Christopher Marlowe? where he begs assistance:

Here's the thing,I've got an english project on this guy, this Marlowe fellow,and I want to know precisely how he died,and who killed him. can you recommend me a reliable source? you are Tht Shekespeare Geek after all.

I could go to the usual Wikipedia and things, but I'm wondering if somebody out there's a Marlowe Geek.  The best I'd be able to tell the commenter is the usual about Marlowe dying in a bar fight, and the theories about him secretly being a spy, faking his own death, that sort of thing.

Anybody got better, more reliable info than me?

Who Is Sarah Blasko?

I'm not sure who this Sarah Blasko person is, but I like the idea of "composing the score for Bell Shakespeare Company's latest adaptation of Hamlet."  Anyone familiar with her work?  Australian, apparently.

Welcome John Hudson of The Dark Lady Players!

If you don't recognize the name, John Hudson is known for having put forth Amelia Bassano Lanyer as the latest contender for the Authorship Question (also known as the "Shakespeare was a black Jewish woman?!" theory).  When I first posted about the theory I wondered aloud if it was a joke.  I also wondered why the discussion is always about As You Like It, since it seems that you'd want to go right to Shylock if you're going to argue that a Jewish person created him.

So when I got email from Mr. Hudson, I apparently have no shame, I dove right in and asked both questions :).  Answers printed with his permission:

Q:  With all due respect, are you serious?  Or is this some larger satirical joke on the Authorship question as a whole that's gone over my head?"  (paraphrased)

A: Actually I am serious--which is why in March last year I went to London to present this theory to Mark Rylance and the Shakespearean Authorship Trust, who treated it seriously and brought her in as candidate number 8  at the top of the 'other candidates' section of their website. I would also not be spending money putting on demonstration allegorical versions of the plays unless I was serious!

Q: Why have I not heard anyone ask about Merchant, or even Taming of the Shrew?  Why would Bassano have written such misogynistic, anti-Semitic works?

A: This theory holds that the plays are written as allegories---as was much of Elizabethan and Renaissance literature---so they have a meaning in some cases on the surface that is opposite to what they really mean underneath. Both MOV and Shrew are quite complex, so  it is easiest if I begin  referring you to my analysis of more straightforward plays like MND and AYLI (which we are currently rehearsing for production in late July). Once you see how those work it is easier to make analogies to the others. For instance I would show why the way that Adam disappears half-way through AYLI is a parallel to the way that Shylock disappears half way through MOV--and what happens to them is similar. (I would however refer you to the literary signatures she has left on the two Shrew plays, which have also recently been detected by Rene Weis in Shakespeare Unbound pg 177).

(I certainly plead ignorance regarding the depth of these arguments, but that answer to the Shylock question does seem similar to the "nonono, it's not anti-Semitic, it's showing us the dark side of anti-Semitism" case that we've spoken of.)

Hudson goes on to add, "The only person who has ever considered Amelia  Bassano was the Russian critic Gililov, who  identified the Shakespearean quality of her poetry (The Shakspeare Game pgs 305-312) then decided as a lower class woman she could not have written it, even though she was educated by a duchess and a countess from the age of 7. Once you have read the two documents will be happy to talk further, and yes please use it in your blog, I would like to get the public debate going!!"  [John did attache two PDF documents for me, but I don't have a good way to attach them to this post.  Perhaps if he is reading he can provide links.]


John is currently producing As You Like It; The Big Flush: 

A Jewish toilet joke written using double allegories-this adaptation highlights the two characters called Jaques/Jakes (Elizabethan for toilet), and the character whose pocket watch identifies him as Sir John Harrington, the inventor of the flush toilet!

What are these characters, a dunghill, and many references to excrement doing in this play? Why does As You Like It end with Jaques warning that Noah's flood is coming? Why are there other flood references, like Hercules cleansing the Augean stables of manure?  Why does Touchstone go off to the ark with Audrey, who is named after St Ethelreda, the woman who was saved from a flood? Could this be the Last Day?

More info available at


Thank you to John Hudson for his response, and the boatload of reference material he provided.  I've got some reading to do.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Anthony and Cleopatra's Tomb Found?

Title sort of says it all, archaeologist thinks he may have found something big.  Coincidence noted that the new Indiana Jones movie came out this week, and that this guy - Zahi Hawass - is "known for his trademark Indiana Jones hat."

Best Marriage in Shakespeare?

Shakespeare Teacher's got up the "question of the week", who has the best marriage in Shakespeare?  Is it, as Harold Bloom suggests, the Macbeths?  No taking the easy way out - ShakespeareTeacher doesn't want to count any comedies that end in weddings, since we don't technically know how the marriage will work out.

What do you think?

Shakespeare On The Cape

I'm excited!  Shakespeare On The Cape (Cape Cod, that is, for my internationals) is doing a kids' version of The Tempest this summer!  Regular readers may recall that my children, 5 and 3, know The Tempest as one of their fairy tales, and it is not uncommon for me to be asked over dinner questions like, "Daddy, what was the name of the monster on the island with Miranda and her Daddy and Ariel?" 

I'm thrilled, I hope very much that we'll be able to put together a trip to get down there.  Could there be a more perfect play for them?!

Shakespeare Geek At Home

"It's Elizabeth's last week of preschool next week!  We need to have a big party!"

"Tell me you're kidding?"

"Well, we did take Katherine out to dinner when she graduated preschool."

"Well, some traditions are better honored in the breach than the observance."


"Nuthin?  Hamlet?  Never mind."

Reading, Performing, and Chimes At Midnight

So I saw Chimes At Midnight last week.  Didn't love it. Sure, I respected it for a work of art.  But it didn't give me the kind of spinal lightning bolts that some movies/performances have done.  And I think I know why.  It gets back nicely to a recurring theme of this blog.  Ready?  Here it is:

I've never read Chimes At Midnight.  Sure, lifetimes ago I read all the Henry plays, but I'm sure I read them through once and moved on.

Compare the two biggies, Hamlet and Romeo&Juliet.  I've read those many times.  As such, I understand more of the play as it is performed, and thus I enjoy it more.  If we're talking about the Henry plays, there's really only two scenes that stuck with me from whenever I read them - when Hal prematurely takes the crown away from his father, whom he thought dead, and the new king's denial that he knows Falstaff.  Because of this, the movie bent itself around these scenes for me, if that makes sense.  Hearing lengthy streams of Shakespearean dialogue that you've never heard before is very, very difficult to follow, especially if there's not a great deal of plot advancement.  Or, worse, the plot advancement is happening offstage, and has to do with the politics of who is attacking whom. 

Reading the words, on the other hand, is very different.  You can pause and think about them.  You can look words up.  You can have those moments where you suddenly say "Ohhhhh, I know what that means!  That makes sense!"  In performance, that is impossible.  You don't get to pause and go back.

So, getting back to the movie for a bit.  There are parts that I understood before the movie ever started, parts that I hang the rest of the movie around.  Then there are those parts that make sense as they happen in the course of the movie.  Often those are simple plot developments, lacking in any real poetry.  After those bits come the bits where you scratch your head and say "I think I understood what just happened", and finally "Ok, I have no clue what he just said."

Doesn't it stand to reason that you want to maximize that first category?  Those are the lightning bolt moments.  I'll tell you seriously, whenever Hal announced that he was banishing Falstaff, the single look on his face told me so many thousand words more than the script ever could.  I want more of that!  When I'm channel surfing and I stumble across Luhrman's Romeo+Juliet I want to be able to stop and say "Oh wait, this is the good part..." no matter *what* part it is, because it's *all* good.    How can anybody possibly get that, if all they ever do is see performance?  Sure you'll get the plot and some of the poetry, but I find it hard to believe if you walk in cold that you're not leaving more than half the play on the floor when you leave.  It's when you read it that it sticks in your brain.

Do both.  I've always said, do both.  Reading's got nothing on performance, no doubt about it.  In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined Falstaff like Orson Welles played him.  What I've always said is that it's performance without reading that makes it all fall apart. If you're content to walk out of a Shakespeare performance saying, "Yeah, that was good," then I suppose I'll never be able to make my case.  If I can't convince you that every word is an atom, with infinite energies waiting to be released, well, then, I guess I'll have to keep trying.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Night in Elsinore

I could swear I've posted something like this, but I can't find it in my archives.  As long as we're on the subject of Shakespeare humor, I thought it'd be funny...


                        Ask him about the war!  

                        What war?  

                        Ask him if we should go to war with young

                        Hey, Ghost, should we go to war with Fortinbras?

The Ghost shakes his head "no." He hold up ten fingers, and then three fingers.  

                        No. He says Fortinbras is too many. He thinks we
                        should go to war with thirteen-bras.

The Ghost slaps his knee and goes into fits of silent laughter. 

Macbeth and Prospero

I have a bad habit of finding these more in depth posts in the morning, when I am at work, and don't have time to properly read them through.  This one is all about Macbeth, the "bloody orgy of death", and The Tempest, the "utter avoidance of death."  Somebody read it and tell me what point it's trying to make :).

Shakespeare Walks Into A Bar

Listen.  I love a good pun, and I love a good "walks into a bar" joke, and well, I have mixed feelings about Shakespeare ;).


I only wish it was a better joke :).


A man is walking down the street when he rounds a corner and crashes straight into William Shakespeare, knocking them both to the ground.  "Can I get a beer?" the man asks.

"I beg your pardon?" asks Shakespeare.

"Terribly sorry," says the man, "It seems I've gone and walked into a bard by mistake."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What's Hamlet To Japan?

A fascinating history of how Shakespeare (particularly Hamlet) was introduced to Japan, via the Dutch translation, in the 1850's, and what happens in translation.

I Will Avenge You, Iago!

Not quite sure what this is, exactly, but I saw a bunch of bookmarks fly past my feeds this morning that referenced "Iago Films", so I knew I had to check it out. 

Shakespeare's words aptly come to life in I Will Avenge You, Iago!, a comedy about great actors and their on and off stage dramas and farces including adultery, burglary, suicide and murder.

A great stage performance almost costs Jack Bandrowsky (Larry Pine - Melinda and Melinda, Vanya on 42nd Street, The Royal Tenenbaums) his life when a naive and confused audience member, Marvin (Keith Nobbs - Phonebooth, 25th Hour, It Runs in the Family) goes backstage to kill the villain Iago at the end of "Otello". In a desperately improvised and inspired performance, Bandrowsky convinces Marvin that the real villain is not him, but instead -- the Duke, who killed his beloved daughter Gilda.

Cry Havoc!

I have no idea what game that card is from, but I don't think I'd want to see him on the field of battle.


(That reference is small on Shakespeare, large on Geek. :))

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Kenneth Starr Does King Lear

I find this link (courtesy my coworker Beryl) too late to be of much use since it's happening tonight, but you never know who's listening.  Kenneth Starr, he of Clinton/Lewinsky infamy, is dong a reading of King Lear to be followed by discussion of "how the political and legal issues in the play pop up oin state, national and international levels".  Free, but tickets are required.  Contact info at the link.

Shakespeare Anagrams, With A Twist

A bit of a twist on the old Shakespeare Anagram idea - take anagrams of a play's title to create titles for new, fictional works.  Then write a summary of what that work would be. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Where The Long Tail Ends

I don't think Matt is in the habit of blogging about Shakespeare, but after a post like the above I wish he was.  After admitting that he prefers adaptations to originals ("Why watch King Lear when you can watch Ran instead?  Or read Dream when Gaiman's Sandman beckons me?"), he confesses that his initial introduction to Shakespeare is, in fact, the Taming Of The Shrew episode from Moonlighting (everybody remember that show?)

So when he starts in on his praising review of Chimes at Midnight, I was hooked.  As I mentioned previously, I had a copy of the film on my iPod but never watched it and eventually let it get deleted.  Well now I want to see it again.  You'd think it difficult to review a film like this.  Not only is it Welles' own version of the several Henry plays (so it's not like you can say "Oh, ok, I know this play..."), it is considered by some (Rosenbaum among them) to be one of the greatest Shakespearean performances ever put on film. 

None of that scares Matt away.  His review is a well balanced combination of professional movie reviewer (noting particular directorial choices and camera shots he likes), just enough story telling to not give anything away, and praise for Welles' Falstaff, all while keeping the same tone as the guy who just a minute ago was singing the praises of Bruce Willis as Petruchio.  The final "Perhaps its time I give 'ol Billy another try," seems to sum up just how much Matt liked the film.

I can't wait to see it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

All-Star Lear Is Coming

Straight out of Cannes comes the announcement of Lear, starring Anthony Hopkins (nice!), Gwynneth Paltrow (maybe now she'll start pinging my radar for something other than every time somebody calls her the Shakespeare in Love actres), and Keira Knightley ... who is famous for the Pirate movies?  Not sure what else she's been in.

I look forward to seeing this one!

Look, More Good Teachers

What's better than getting your kids interested in Macbeth?  Taking them outside to perform it in public, even if the only people there to see it are classmates and a couple of parents.  You might even get in the paper...

The Search For Celia

Not being an actor myself, I do enjoy reading the thoughts of actors who get to portray Shakespeare's characters.  Here the author muses on her experience playing Celia in As You Like It. 

The Portrait of Mr. W.H., by Oscar Wilde

I'm really not sure what this is, but it looks worth reading.

Neil Gaiman on William Shakespeare

Yeah, you heard me right. 

Sunday, May 18, 2008

When I Shall Die? When *I* Shall Die?

UPDATE: A little Googling showed me a rather odd thing - there's a reference on Folger, of all places, to the line "When I shall die."  I'm going to assume *that* is not a mistake, and that it is some variation in the text that, however odd, is still legitimate.  I still contend it makes no sense, though.  Perhaps a case for the "original spelling" folks, where it sounds like I, but is supposed to mean he, and it's become subject to interpretation?  I see several additional references, including No Fear Shakespeare, that do the I thing, too.

So last night I'm channel surfing with the Mrs., and Luhrman's Romeo+Juliet shows up.  Even better, it's the big Mercutio death scene.  So, we watch.  I'm not a fan of the directorial style, or the overly violent bits, but more on that in a second.

Before you know it we've switch to Clare Danes, who starts in with a very adorable version of "When I shall die, cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven....."

Wait, I'm sorry, what did she just say?  Rewind.  Thanks Tivo.

"When I shall die..."  Rewind.

"When I shall die..."


It's when HE shall die!  How could that be missed???  The speech makes no sense otherwise!

This is hardly a throwaway line.  It's a big speech, and the camera is right in Juliet's face.  She's the only one on screen.  Why in the world wouldn't some script checker say "'s when *he* shall die, Clare.  Take it again."

That's not the only place I saw a major goof.  During Capulet's tirade against Juliet, I could swear (I did not rewind) that he said "Doth she not count her blest, unworthy as she is, that we have wrought so worthy a gentleman to be her bride?"  That's just silly.  It's "bridegroom."


I do have to say, though - I love this stuff, I do, I do, I really do.  There's no doubt that this is a pretty wild interpretation.  You have to come at it as its own story.  For instance the chase scene at the end - the cops, led by the Prince, have gotten word that Romeo is coming back to Verona.  He's a wanted criminal.  So they go hunting for him, with helicopters and all.  It's actually a pretty cool ending that really stresses the lengths to which Romeo will go, to be with his lost love.  There's lots of screaming, but that's the nature of the movie.  Everybody's intense, all the time.  Small lines like "Tempt not a desperate man!" really come to life when Romeo's got a hostage.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Shall I Compare Thee To A Brussel Sprout?

Amusings from a gardener wondering aloud (can I say "ablog"?) about where her "Falstaff brussel sprouts" got their name.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

100 Must Read Books

As I've mentioned, I love lists like this because I want to see where Shakespeare shows up :).  Although this one comes from the site Art of Manliness, it's really more about the classics - Huckleberry Finn, To Kill A Mockingbird, Slaughterhouse Five, etc... along with heaping helpings of real classics like Plato, Nietzche, and even Herodotus!

Yes, Hamlet is on the list.

I've read 20 of the 100.  Not sure if that's good or not.  Doesn't seem good.  There's gotta be another 40 or so for which I could say, "Yeah, dang, I've always wanted to read that."  Some I've just never heard of, or have no interest in.  Lot of war and politics books.

Chimes At Midnight

A little trailer I just happened across for what many consider one of the greatest Shakespearean performances ever put on film.  I had the whole thing on my ipod once, but found it hard to watch such new material (it is Welles' own script, not specifically Shakespeare but bits of many plays cobbled together) on such a small medium.  I'll have to try it again someday soon.

(Trailer found courtesy Where The Long Tail Ends)

Chasing The Bard

I don't know anything about this audiobook / podcast, other than "It's got Shakespeare in it" and I am a big fan of stuff I can subscribe to on my iPod.  I'll let you know how it is.

How To Easily Read Shakespeare?

I'm not sure I agree with much of what is on this list, which starts with "have a lexicon/dictionary handy."  I think that a desire to fully understand the etymology of every single word in every single sentence is a little too "can't see the forest for the trees", honestly.  I don't understand every single word, I admit that freely.   I move on.  I try to get the feeling for the whole passage, and then work backwards.  Took me a long time to understand what it meant to 'defy augury', but it didn't change my appreciation of the play.

I do, however, believe in #4, read the narrative to get the plot.  That's basically what I do for my kids.  I  think it's a little patronizing to suggest Charles and Mary Lamb's version to a grown adult, but hey, whatever works.

Top Ten Princes In Cinema

I'm disappointed in the quality of this list - I saw "top princes" in my Shakespeare file and thought "Oh, cool, there's a zillion princes to choose from."  So what do we get?  Hamlet.  Big whoop.  Not even a particular one - just Hamlet, the character, in general.  Meh.

Learning, Exams and Shakespeare

Here's a happy little coincidence in my newsfeeds this morning.  I have two stories about, basically, how to do well in school.

This first one is just straight up canned advice on how best to write research papers.  Fair enough, I'm sure there are a zillion sites like this on the net.  But check the advice in the first paragraph:

If you have attended class, recall anything you can about what your professor said when he/she introduced the paper. Make some quick notes about anything, no matter how minor, that you remember from the lectures. Lecture notes count as source materials and can provide guidance when you are determining you paper’s direction. For example, if your paper is on Shakespeare’s play Hamlet and you recall your professor saying the female roles in the play are critical to understanding the story, this may be a good area to focus on and also gives you room to cite information you recall from lecture materials instead of having to do additional research.

So their actual advice is basically to repeat back what the professor already told them, and show no additional thought.  Ok then.

What caught my eye was this next one:  and its opening lines:

A student friend was recalling her school days - not very long ago. "Don't write what you think," she was advised. "You don't pass A-levels that way. Write what you're told."  And that's how it works. She took the advice, kept quiet about her own ideas and wrote the unoriginal essays that would gain the highest marks.

Blah.  This blog, at least, goes on to express some opinions about the value of this advice.

Mind you, I don't disagree that these are true pieces of advice, I'm just saying I don't like it, not one bit.

Time for a quick story?  I hope so, because it's starting...

When I was in college studying computer science, I went to a place that was very heavy into projects and actual getting your hands dirty.  In this case that meant writing computer programs, rather than taking tests about how to write computer programs.  One of my fondest memories (ask anyone that knows me, I've told this story to death) is about this one class where the grading was broken up across 5 programming assignments that made up like 60% of the grade, and then a midterm and a final making up the remaining 40%.  I set about getting perfect scores on the first 4 programming assignments, pretty much failed the midterm, and was having a grand old time actually learning something....until the last week of class.  The class rebelled on me, and took this more traditional approach.  Claiming they were all burned out working too hard, they argued with the teacher to make the *final* be worth more, and cut back the remaining programming assignment to basically be worth nothing.  This, they thought, was a good idea.

I was outraged, to say the least.

The teacher asked if everyone was ok with switching, and I said no.  I told her, in front of the whole class, that I'd come to this school and this class to learn how to write computer programs, not to memorize answers out of a book that I'd promptly forget as soon as the class was over.  And that I didn't care how she changed the grading, I was going to write her fifth programming assignment, and I was going to ace it, and I didn't care what I got on her final and what little random letter she stuck next to my name in her little book, because what mattered to me was whether or not I learned anything, not whether I convinced her of it.

And that's exactly what happened, I aced the last programming assignment and failed the final.  Fast forward to the first day after classes, before we were to go home for the summer, when we all had to go find our teachers and ask for our final grades if we didn't want to wait for report cards to show up.  I came by her office and she showed me her gradebook, which showed a final grade of 67 - at this school, a failing grade.  Next to that number she had written "C", which is a passing grade.  "Do we understand each other?" she asked.

"Yup!" I said, and got out the door fast.


Very great irony : A few years later I'm going back to grad school at this same institution, and attending the open house for the computer science program.  Who is running it?  This same teacher.  She said, "I remember you."  My first class was with her, and it was an entirely theoretical class -- *no* programming assignments, *all* text and test and memorization.  I got all A's.  What changed?  Simple -- my employer was paying for my grad school and wasn't going to pay for those "gentleman's C's" I got in undergrad!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ophelia At Thirty

I randomly tripped over this article in a navigation bar when "Ophelia" caught my eye.  It's actually quite good, written by a woman who vividly remembers what it meant to play Ophelia at 22 ("I truly went mad from that special kind of hurt and rage only a twenty-two-year-old, overly-dramatic baby can produce.") and reflecting on life a few years later. 

Is "Kill All The Lawyers" A Joke?

The other day over lunch, a coworker brought up the "first let's kill all the lawyers" quote in some context I've forgotten.  I then took the position that this is one of the more often misquoted, or at least quoted in incorrect context, bits of Shakespeare - rattling off the argument that the line is spoken by one of the bad guys, and is more along the lines of "The world would be a better place for the bad guys if we could get rid of all those silly lawyers who keep putting us in jail."

This morning, serendipity at work, I find this link in my feeds:

This old paper (1997) takes the position that it's really just a big lawyer joke, and thus probably goes more toward the first argument (nobody who quotes the line actually thinks of killing lawyers, right?  It's just a joke, like wouldn't it be great if we killed all the lawyers?) 

So I turn to my audience, who is far more knowledgeable than I on such subjects.  In what context is the line delivered, and how does that carry through to proper use of the cliche today?

Some Love For Titus

Titus Andronicus never seems to get the links.  I couldn't resist this one, if only for the comparison to presidential candidate John McCain :).

Acting As Marketing

Something light.  The author gets to play some Shakespeare (Antonio, The Tempest) and notes the connections between acting and marketing.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Can't Wait For Father's Day

My 3yr old has no patience for holidays.  Once one is upon her, she's already thinking ahead to the next one.  In this case, Mother's Day means she's all about Father's Day.  "Next week when it's Father's Day," she tells me (she has no meaningful sense of time :)), "We got you a surprise!  It's a Shakespeare thing!"

Now, normally, this means nothing, as she uses "Shakespeare" like an adjective.  I'll come home from work, she'll hand me a sparkling gold pipe cleaner that she has twisted into a loop and tell me, "Here Daddy, I made you this for your birthday.  It's a Shakespeare flower."   (Birthdays, by the way, are also in her somewhat ambiguous concept of time - any day can be anybody's birthday.)  She once told me a story that turned out to be about a princess Shakespeare snowflake.

This time, however, she got a stern look from my wife and a freakout from her older sister who yelled "Elizabeth!  Don't tell him!"

So who knows, maybe the Shakespeare Geek is indeed getting a Shakespeare surprise for Father's Day :).  I'll let you know.

Oh Great, I Thought I Was Othello

What Shakespeare Play Are You?

Your Score: Macbeth

You scored 43% = Tragic, 31% = Comic, 41% = Romantic, 46% = Historic

You are Macbeth! A supposed retelling of the true story of King Macbeth of Scotland, Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's bloodiest plays. Macbeth, after hearing the prophesy of three witches, believes he will be named king of Scotland. However, this line of thinking eventually leads Macbeth down a horrible road of blood and death as he fights first to gain, and then to keep hold of the crown. Believing the play to be cursed, many actors will not even say the name of the play inside of a theater unless it is being performed and refer to it simply as "The Scottish Play". But you probably don't care about some stupid old curse. As Macbeth you most likely don't take warnings too well and you are so headstrong that you can't take good advice when it comes your way, even if it is for your own good. But being Macbeth isn't all bad. You are most likely a man (or woman) of action. People probably like you because you are good at thinking on your feet and making quick decisions. But be careful, as your rash behavior may also get you in to trouble along the way.

Link: The Which Shakespeare Play Are You? Test written by macbee on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test
View My Profile(macbee)

A Brand New Etymological Discovery

Fun little article where the author goes hunting for origins of the term "brand new", and finds a possible lead in Shakespeare.

Tom Hanks Auctions Shakespeare Role

Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, are taking part in a production of Taming of the Shrew for Shakespaere Festival L.A.  To raise money, they're auctioning off a chance to take part in the performance (an actual, speaking role).  Actually, that sounds pretty cool.  Prize also includes rehearsal, VIP party, and group signed photo.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Patrick Stewart on Charlie Rose

It's video.  Of Patrick Stewart.  Talking about both Shakespeare and Star Trek.  What are you still doing reading?  Go!

The Meta Game Of Questions

A post on metafilter about the new Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Undead movie turns into a sort of meta "game of questions", which is funny if you've seen the original Stoppard movie (or read the book, of course).

Some Love For Marlowe

No Shakespeare in this one, just a short and simple introduction to Faustus, for those who might be interested in what Shakespeare's contemporaries were up to.  Seeing as we had a Ben Jonson story yesterday, it seemed only fair.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Jonson v. Shakespeare : It's All About The Math

The author of this post is doing research on Ben Jonson when she cross-references William Shakespeare and discovers the ratio of material is something like 15:1.  She then goes on to do a sort of "tale of the tape" between the two, figuring out how much time one would need to spend reading the material, and basically comes to the conclusion that while one could in theory "catch up" on what's been written about Jonson, this will never be true for Shakespeare - the rate at which new material is appearing is just too fast.

Then she makes the leap that "it must be fairly difficult (impossible?) to write anything new in Shakespeare studies", and that's where I'd disagree.  If that were at all true I think people would have stopped, or at least slowed, a long time ago.  It's not like we magically ran out of stuff within the last few decades.  Second, the world is a changing place.  100 years ago nobody was writing about what Shakespeare might have done with a word processor, or how Henry V compared to George Bush.  Lastly, it's not what you write, it's how you write it.  If you're saying that nobody can write an introductory book about Hamlet because it's already been written, I'd argue that nobody can write a story about unrequited love because that's been written, too.  Sometimes the quality is in the delivery, not the research material.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

High School English ... Done Right?

Now, see, this guy's blog I can appreciate a bit more.  For a lesson on Romeo and Juliet he has the students tell a biographical story in which they are to mix relevant quotes from Act I.  The problem would seem to be that not too much happens in Act I :).  But I like this idea much better than the tests I've posted in the past that are little more than "True or False, the Prince threatens to put people in jail if they disturb the peace."  Goes to my whole "Just because he wrote it 400 years ago doesn't mean it couldn't happen today" thing.

My XKCD Hobby

I don't know how funny XKCD is for folks who aren't computer geeks by trade, but if he's going to do a Shakespeare crossover, I'm there!  (Thanks to Teacher2.0 for finding what is apparently an old comic that I'd missed.)

Hamlet Roundtable

Just so nobody misses a passing reference in the comments, I wanted to make this item a post of its own.  Nigel Beale is hosting a "Hamlet roundtable" on Thursday of this week featuring four "prominent lit bloggers".  I'm not really sure what prominent means in this case, but they are:   (Amateur Reader)   (Anne Fernald) (Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind) (Edward Champion's Filthy Habits)


They do each appear to reference Shakespeare frequently, although I'm sure how often they are writing specifically *about* Shakespeare.  I think I may have linked the Idiosyncratic Mind one once or twice.

Anyway, sounds like it could be worth a watch.  They do appear to be a fairly deep lot (at least, relative to this blog), so your mileage may vary.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Error of Omission

I find it hard to debate her logic.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead

You know that vampire/zombie/horror movies are all the rage when somebody crosses one with Shakespeare.  Normally I would have put this in the same category as that "A.D.D Hamlet" thing we saw a few weeks ago, but this one appears to actually have some real (well, B list) actors attached including Ralph Macchio, Jeremy Sisto and Jake Hoffman (son of Dustin).  Sean Lennon is scoring it.

FREE Stuff from The Daily Telegraph

Blah blah, details, who cares, giving away free MP3 copy of "The Shakespeare Collection".  Includes 5 sonnets, selections from Dream, and two "great historical recordings" - Hamlet and Henry V - one of which is apparently Olivier, but I haven't listened to them yet so I dunno which is which.

You have to register and provide a UK postcode, but that's easily hacked.  If anybody comes looking for an Alan Farrar who lives at the House of Commons, tell them you haven't seen me!



(Just kidding, I'm actually Alan Blixt. :))

Stages of Thought

To make any contribution worth caring about, a philosopher's study of Shakespeare should do three things. First and most centrally, it should really do philosophy, and not just allude to familiar philosophical ideas and positions. It should pursue tough questions and come up with something interesting and subtle--rather than just connecting Shakespeare to this or that idea from Philosophy 101. A philosopher reading Shakespeare should wonder, and ponder, in a genuinely philosophical way. Second, it should illuminate the world of the plays, attending closely enough to language and to texture that the interpretation changes the way we see the work, rather than just uses the work as grist for some argumentative mill. And finally, such a study should offer some account of why philosophical thinking needs to turn to Shakespeare's plays, or to works like them. Why must the philosopher care about these plays? Do they supply to thought something that a straightforward piece of philosophical prose cannot supply, and if so, what?

I don't understand a word of it, but I've never let that stop me before.  There's plenty of folks in the audience who are far more well-read than I.

Great Tragedy, in One Word

Here's a game to play.  I'm curious if you'll all indulge me, or think I'm nuts.

Take a tragedy, and tell me what it's one word.

I'll steal the easy one:   Macbeth is about ambition.

Who's next?   Feel free to repeat if someone else uses your play, especially if you have a different word in mind.

(The tragedies, for whoever needs a reminder:  King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus, Timon of Athens.  I'm only really expecting folks to hit on the first 7 or so, I think the last three are less well known to casual readers.)


[The idea springs from a conversation with a coworker where Anthony and Cleopatra came up, and I was trying to explain why although I read it in high school I think I would better appreciate it now, later in life.  I tried for a comparison, "If Romeo and Juliet is _______, then Anthony and Cleopatra is ________" and found that while I had the answer straight in my head, I couldn't adequately explain it in as few words as possible. So I wondered if we could collaboratively come up with a single word that would encapsulate each of the great tragedies.]

Will On The Hill

The United States Congress does Shakespeare.  Apparently it's part of an annual arts and education fundraiser.  Never heard of it before, but it sounds like a positive thing.

On a related note, I always wonder about women who say Taming of the Shrew is their favorite play.  Is it that they choose to see it with a wink and a Katarina victory at the end?  Or that they enjoy the debate about the real meaning?  I suppose that sort of like a Jewish person saying that Merchant is their favorite?

Hamlet, The Lost Ending

Short and silly.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Psychiatric Times, on Hamlet

I like finding crossover references like this (which, by the way, is dated 2005).  Most folks know, I'm sure, that it was Freud who came along and suggested Hamlet's issues with mommy.  Here is a psychiatric view of that argument and more.  As a matter of fact the article opens by crediting Freud with "persuasively answering" the question of Hamlet's delay.  However it then goes on to question Freud's character-centric analysis, showing the positive side of examining interaction between characters rather than just individual motivation.  I've got to sit down and read the whole 5 pages.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Cardenio Comes To Massachusetts

American Repertory is doing Cardenio in Cambridge, Mass starting May 10.  I have really got to make more effort to see these things. 

The Bard Never Would Have Let Me Use A Sledgehammer

[Note, image NSFW]

The above link just goes to a not-safe-to-work, albeit artistic image, with the following caption:

Shakespeare only really wrote with two views on women - the conniving sexualized and the innocent virgins.  The guys I work with in construction see me as either a sexual object or an incompetent child, so they aren't much different than Shakespeare.  Except the Bard never would have let me use a sledge hammer.


Art Student Macbeth

A USC student has a vision for Macbeth that includes, among others, Christian Bale.  The link is to a sort of "promotional" piece for his idea, which mostly repurposes clips from American Psycho spliced in with music and Macbeth quotes.  I thought it was pretty cool.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Forget Shakespeare

Alan K. Farrar (omgwtfbbq!) makes me want to read Peter Brook right now.  The topic, Forget Shakespeare, deals with advice on how to perform a Shakespearean role.  In so doing, Brook expresses pretty clearly one of the central reasons why I do love this stuff so very very much:

“The actor’s task is not to think of words as part of a text, but of words as part of a person whom we believe actually minted them in the heat of the moment” (pg 43).

In other words, take out the middle man between you and this fictious character.  Forget the playwright in the middle, forget that you are an actor performing a role created by Mr. Shakespeare.   You can't say "I will play Scene 2 this way because I know that in Scene 5 I respond in this way...." because Hamlet himself would have had no idea what he was going to do in scene 5, nor that there even is such a thing as a scene break.

Shakespeare’s words, Brook reminds us, are ‘necessary expressions of the inner patterns of exceptional human creatures.’

I think that summarizes nicely how I feel about things like Shakespeare biography, Elizabethan history, the Authorship question and all that sort of thing.  I care about the characters inside the plays, as if they are real people.  Hamlet is not a construct of this many words in this sequence - Hamlet is a messed up college kid whose dad was murdered and whose mom did some....well, he's got issues with his mom.  Hamlet, minus the sword fights and poisoning and such, could be any number of college kids in the world right now.  Same goes for Romeo, Juliet, Lear, Cordelia..... When I experience Shakespeare, I don't see text, I see people.  Exceptional people.   Last month I wrote a post entitled But what if you would? in which I tried to get at a similar idea.  Most of us in our lives will never experience the sort of exceptional life of a Hamlet or Romeo.  That is part of the great gift of Shakespeare, both to the actor who is given the roadmap for how to experience, and also to the audience, that they might witness it.

To Be Alone, Or Not To Be Alone

There's really no Shakespeare in this story, but it did give me an idea.  Can you imagine if Shakespeare were alive today?  I don't know whether he'd be writing for television, movies or theatre, but I'm pretty darned sure he'd have trademarked the whole "To be or not to be" thing, and would be running around like a mad fool suing everyone who uses it.  Don't even get him started on people that use "wherefore" incorrectly.

Covering Shakespeare

One of my favorite podcasts is called Coverville.  The premise is simple - all cover songs, all the time.  A week or so ago I put in a request, in honor of Shakespeare's birthday, to do a cover of Dire Straits' Romeo and Juliet. 

Ask and ye shall receive!

I wish he'd mentioned Shakespeare's birthday, but hey, I'll take what I can get :).


I was unfamiliar with this podcast until they stuck Shakespeare in a post title and showed up on my radar :).  If there's folks out there like me who are always on the lookout for some more intellectual / literary audio to fill up their MP3 players, this one might be worth checking out.

Note that I haven't actually *listened* to it, yet - I sync my ipod once a day before the evening commute home.  I'll let folks know tomorrow how it is.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Ok, Who's Heard Of The "EOX" Theory?

This article starts out as the standard "Guy things that Edward de Vere wrote the works of Shakespeare" argument.  But his spin is different - he's a crypto guy.  He thinks there's secret messages.

Apparently 99 of the sonnets contain some version of the symbol EOX.  This, of course, must stand for the Earl of Oxford.  QED!

One of the sonnets also contains a pun on Hathaway.  We're expected to believe that Oxford was so sneaky that he wrote in puns about his pseudonym's wife?  (Thanks to Bill Bryson for that one.)

The Burden of Proof

Dugg for calling the anti-Shakespeareans (more accurately I believe they prefer anti-Stratfordians) a "cabal".



A Shakespeare Quote Challenge

Ok, everybody, time for me to ask some help of you once again.  My company's doing a "green initiative" project, where we brand our product as environmentally friendly and then try to milk the marketing for all it's worth.  (Cut us some slack, it's not like every company in the US isn't doing the exact same thing right now :)).  Anyway, we're putting up a new web site decorated with a variety of quotes on the subject, ranging from saving the environment to general sorts of pro-activism comments (all those variations on "the worst you can do is, thinking you can do little, to do nothing.")  I said, "Can I throw some Shakespeare in there?" and they said "Absolutely."

So that's the challenge.  I'm looking for Shakespeare quotes relative to the green/environmental movement.  Can be either about the value of nature (and protecting it), or the larger picture of "its better to do something than nothing."  I am doing my own searching, not trying to get folks to do my homework for me :), but thought I'd see if anybody out there's got some that come to mind.  My Bartlett's is at home, otherwise I'd start there.