Tuesday, December 30, 2008

He’s Probably Right, You Know

Had to share this email I just got from regular contributor Carl Atkins (with his permission):

I have been noodling around with some research on Twelfth Night and came across this remark by H. H. Furness (in the preface to his New Variorum edition from 1901), which I just loved. I thought you might get a kick out of it: "If the use of the adverb 'probably,' in connection with all statements regarding Shakespeare, were legally forbidden on pain of death without the benefit of clergy, I think the world would be the happier, certainly the wiser."

I like that little bit about "without the benefit of clergy." From the days when a fate worse than death was dying without the benefit of clergy!

He then throws in this kicker at the end, which made me laugh out loud:  Note that the passage of this law would have reduced Stephen Greenblatt's "Will in the World" to about 2 pages.

:)  Thanks Carl!

Monday, December 22, 2008

What, Nobody Wants Free Books?

Where is everybody?  The response for my Christmas Carol Contest has been less than overwhelming.

To recap : In celebration of Charles Dickens’ timely ghost story A Christmas Carol, I’m giving away two of Shakespeare’s own ghost stories – Manga Macbeth and Manga Julius Caesar.  To get in on the action, just email me and tell me the Shakespeare reference in Dickens’ original that from what I can tell most of the movie/tv/audio versions seem to snip out for some reason.

Contest ends at end of day on Christmas Eve.  For hopefully obvious reasons y’all will understand if I don’t get around to announcing the winners until after the holiday, however.

Shakespeare (and Lisa Simpson) Saves The Day


I had not seen this one.  Who knew that the ability to quote Shakespeare might save your family from a bomb-wielding maniac? :)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dr. Who HELP

Ok, need some help.  A geeky friend is looking to pick up some Dr. Who box sets for Christmas, and in my infinite wisdom I thought it would appropriate to score her the set that has all the Shakespeare in it, that people were raving about recently.

So the question is, which season was that and is it on DVD?

FREE Books : A Christmas Carol CONTEST

So last night my kids were introduced to A Christmas Carol ala the Mickey Mouse version.  At first I thought it would be too much for them (remembering my own introduction via Mr. Magoo), but it turns out to be a half hour thing that must be cut so drastically I can’t imagine it being all that meaningful.

They seem to enjoy it, although the prospect of ghosts is a bit frightening to them.  Afterward they don’t understand who the ghosts were, because all they saw were Goofy, Jiminy Cricket and an unnamed giant.

Folks that know me by now know I didn’t miss the opportunity to explain that this is just the Mickey Mouse version of an older, grown up story by Charles Dickens.  I liken Dickens to Shakespeare for them in the sense that it’s a “classic” that was written long ago, that they will study in school when they grow up, but for now at their age we show them the story in a way that they can understand it.

It just so happens that I’ve got the audio CD of Patrick Stewart’s famous rendition of the story.  Ever heard it?  It’s quite tremendous, I try to break it out every year.  I play that for the kids.  Well, partially, as it is very long that way and they’ve only got attention spans so long.  They do, however, start asking questions – who was Marley, oh was he the ghost?  How come his face was on the door knob?  What’s with the chains?  I’m pleased.  I do not bother explaining the Patrick Stewart / Shakespeare connection, I figure that’s a bit much for them :).

HOWEVER, by some strange quirk of the universe I happen to have sitting on the shelf two of Shakespeare’s very own well known ghost stories, Manga Macbeth and Manga Julius Caesar .  Seems only fitting that I come up with some sort of contest to give them away.

So, here it is:

Although most actual productions (including Stewart’s and Mickey’s) seem to snip it out, there’s a really good Shakespeare reference right smack dab in the middle of A Christmas Carol.  Find it and email me the answer by, oh, Christmas Eve – December 24.    I’ll randomly pick two winners from the correct answers received.

(Regular readers can vouch for the fact that this is not spam, nor an email-harvesting opportunity.  I don’t have a newsletter to send out, even.  I’m just doing it this way so that more than one person can play – if I had you post the answer in the comments it’d become pretty obvious what the correct answer is!)


I do always love comment traffic, though, so here’s a discussion topic – which is the better ghost story, Macbeth or Julius Caesar?  Why?  (No fair bringing Hamlet into it, I don’t have his book to give away…)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Silly Translators

So after the “Shakespeare Gifts” chat I’m on Amazon looking for books for the kids.  It’s important to me, as you may have guessed, to not just grab anything that says Shakespeare-for-kids on it.  Being public domain, Shakespeare’s easy fodder for anybody to just slap a title on it and ship it out there.  Besides, I’d like to think that my kids have got a jump on the competition just a little bit by having the geeky dad that they do.

I’m looking at one book, the title not important (it’s a version of Romeo and Juliet), and using Amazon’s “Look inside” feature.    I see some of the words in the text are footnoted.  Cool.  Then I see what’s actually written:

2. Mutiny: discord.

3. Star-crossed: illfated.

Does that not seem silly to anybody?  Can you imagine the conversation?

“Daddy, what does mutiny mean?”

“Well, sweetie, there’s a note of explanation, so let’s just look…it means discord.”

“Oh.  Daddy?”

“Yes, pumpkin?”

“What’s discord mean?”

“No idea, sugar.  There’s no footnote.”

That’s one big reason right there why I don’t even attempt to get my kids into the original text.  You have these cases where someone’s decided that “mutiny” needs explanation, so why not “ancient grudge” as well?  Is “civil blood” self-explanatory enough?  You could really go crazy trying to keep the text and yet still managing to explain it in a way that a first time reader will get it. 

I see it as two audiences.  People who’ve never heard of the stories before have no obligation to see them first in the original text.  Once they know the story, then they can learn to appreciate the quality of the original, and it will make infinitely more sense.


And if you don’t happen to agree with me on that one, you need to go home and throw out all your Disney merchandise, and read your children Grimm’s tales instead. :)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cleopatra’s Face


Want to see a 3D rendered model of what Anthony’s beloved most likely looked like?  Not bad.

Nintendo Shakespeare


I wasn’t going to report on this story, but I suppose I should.  Harper Collins has signed a deal to bring classic e-books to the Nintendo DS, and naturally that includes our pal Shakespeare, the king of public domain.

I just can’t imagine anybody caring.  Does having the text on a Nintendo make a kid more likely to read it?  I don’t think so. 

Ok, I Would Not Have Expected That Crossover


Often as a conversation starter I’ve told people, “I can speak equally well on Shakespeare, computers, and pro wrestling.  Pick one.”  Usually merits some strange looks.  But it’s true.

So I get a kick out of the fact that “Triple H”, one of today’s most popular professional wrestlers (who also happens to be married to the daughter of Vince McMahon, the guy who owns most of pro wrestling) is in talks to star in the Thor movie, which is to be directed by Shakespeare demigod Kenneth Brannagh.

That oughtta make for some fun posts. :)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shakespeare Gifts

It’s that time of year again (actually, it’s very late for that time of year).  Anybody giving good Shakespeare gifts for the holidays?

Personally I’m a little overwhelmed.  I’ve got a One Page Book sitting in the tube, waiting to be put up.  And I’m in the middle of both Will and Nothing Like The with no end in sight, and that’s not even counting the random couple I picked up on vacation a few months ago.

I was hoping that Ian McKellens’s King Lear would be out on DVD for the holidays, but I haven’t seen it.

I should find something Shakespearean for the kids.  But last year Santa gave them a Shakespeare book and it’s a little old for them, I don’t want to push it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bring Me The Head Of William Shakespeare


Or in this case, a Batman-style bust of Shakespeare with fliptop head and secret switch.  I actually blogged about this product years ago, like 2005, but the store I linked to at the time seems to no longer have the product.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sign The Petition : Tennant’s Hamlet on DVD


Personally I’m not really into this one, as not being a big Dr. Who fan translates to me not really caring much about this Tennant fellow.  But others seem to be falling all over themselves, so  I thought I’d send this petition some link love.

Keeping in mind, of course, that in the history of things online, no online petition has ever made a difference to anything anywhere…ever.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Video : Ian McKellen’s King Lear!


I don’t know exactly where this footage comes from, but wow is it cool!  Anybody know when the DVD is out?  I was looking for Christmas presents :).

Marjorie Garber Has A New Book?


I was unaware that Marjorie Garber, she of “Shakespeare After All,” had a new book out.  “Shakespeare And Modern Culture” seems to cover quite a bit : makeup, movies, songs, motivational speakers, and so on.  It’s one of those “Shakespeare everywhere” things.

I might like this one.  I found Shakespeare After All to be a hard read, the kind of thing that only the hardcore Shakespeare fans would truly appreciate. I’ve mentioned before, I’m always on the lookout that I could recommend to others to make them fans, you know?

Shakespeare’s work, in her opinion, is so constantly mutable that it always exists in the present, whatever that present might be. The ways in which Shakespeare is interpreted in different eras say as much about those time periods as they do about the writing itself.

I mean, that’s great.  I can totally get behind that.

Oh Happy Dagger, This Is Thy Sh….SON OF A B$%^&*()!


Always check your props before going on stage.  You know, so you don’t accidentally use a real knife and damned near kill yourself.

Did anybody watch the HBO series “Oz”?  There’s a similar Shakespeare moment when the prisoners are performing Macbeth, and one prisoner takes out the other by switching a real blade for the fake.

By the way, the story linked above is not a Shakespeare play…but it is about Mary Queen of Scots, so I guess there’s a bit of a stretch connection :).

Bonus points for astute readers who remember this story about Brutus stabbing himself when a similar mixup occurred.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Klingon Hamlet, Coming Soon on DVD


When I first saw the headline I thought “Ok, just a documentary about those people that get dressed up for Klingon camp every year.'”  I think it’s in Minnesota.

Well I’m half right.  Looks like on the new DVD of Star Trek VI : The Undiscovered Country (one of the top three Star Treks, IMHO), will have some special extras that include actual Klingon Shakespeare performances.  This, you may remember, is directly in response to the quote from the movie where one of the bad guys says, “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have heard it in the original Klingon.”

Personally my two favorite moments from that film are:

* When the bad guy delivers the “Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war” line.  Sends chills.

* Bad guys are winning, and taunting Kirk and crew over the comm system with quotes from Shakespeare.  You hear it come over with, “I am constant as the Northern Star…” and Dr. McCoy says, “I’d give real money if he’d shut up.”

Shakespeare Tweets


For those not in the know, a “tweet” is shorthand for “a message sent via Twitter”, that service that I should use more.  This one is cute, and gets bonus points for having real Shakespeare references (as well as Ben Jonson and Marlowe).

Monday, December 08, 2008

How Much Do I Love The Child?

We sing my 2yr old son to sleep each night.  He treats Mommy and Daddy like his own personal playlist, of course, and it’s common to hear things like “No!  No do Santa Come To Town Yet.  Sing Frosty first, then Rudolph.”

The girls, 4 and 6, aren’t into the singing anymore.  They have their dolls that they sleep with, but basically it’s a “Good night sweetie, love you, sleep tight,” that sort of thing.

Tonight, the 4yr old:

“Daddy, can you sing me a song tonight?”

  “Sure, sweetie.  Which one?”

“Your favorite favorite favorite one of all time.”

  “…which one is that?”

“Shall I Compare Thee.”


I haven’t sung that to them in months.  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard her actually ask for it.  I sang, she smiled and closed her eyes and went off to sleep.  Can’t really ask for anything more for a Shakespeare geek.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Secret Love Story In Shakespeare's Sonnets

Attached is a press release from the book's author, Helen Gordon.  I'm intrigued by several things in her note -- that the 17 "procreation sonnets" were actually written to Shakespeare's own (unacknowledged) son, and that she reveals the identity of the Dark Lady.  Surely not the first book to take a crack at either of those two mysteries, but it's always fun to add fuel to the fire.

Personally I think I take what I called the "Kenneth Burke" position, after reading Scott Newstok's book:  "So far as I am concerned, even the Sonnets seem to me so thoroughly literary an invention, I cannot find in them the slightest guarantee that the poet, in his role as citizen and tax-payer, was involved in that inventive triangle with a dark lady and a fair-haired boy.  Or at least, if there were two such people in his personal life, one can feel sure that, in the sonnets, they were transformed, or pointed up, for specifically literary purposes."

But that's just my position, others are certainly welcome to form their own.


Press Release and Book Review

Helen Heightsman Gordon’s book, The Secret Love Story in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, 2nd edition, has won a finalist award in the category of “Best New Nonfiction Books of 2008” in a national contest sponsored by USA Book News, a monthly electronic magazine covering books from mainstream and independent publishers to the world online community. Complete list of category winners can be found at www.USABookNews.com .

Book: The Secret Love Story in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, second edition (Xlibris, 2008).   ISBN 978-1-4134-9375-7 (hardback), ISBN 978-1-4134-9474-0 (paperback)

Author: Helen Heightsman Gordon, M. A., Ed. D.


        William Shakespeare unlocked his heart in his sonnets.  His poems tell a beautiful love story that could not have been told in his lifetime.  But he left a message for future generations to decode in the Dedication to the Sonnets.  He had openly dedicated two published narrative poems to Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl of Southampton, in 1593-94.   But why did he dedicate the Sonnets to him in the form of a riddle in 1609? Now, 400 years later, the story can be told. 

         Helen Heightsman Gordon’s new book,  The Secret Love Story in Shakespeare’s Sonnets,  second edition [Xlibris, 2008], proposes a solution to that riddle and offers fresh interpretations of the sonnets.  Once we realize that “William Shakespeare” is a pen name (like “Mark Twain”), most of the mysteries can be solved.  In the last 90 years, scholars have identified the author who used that pen name -- Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, the favorite playwright in Queen Elizabeth’s court.  Oxford had two sons out of wedlock, one of whom was Henry Wriothesley, also known as the “Fair Youth” of the sonnets.

To bypass the spies and censors, Oxford used secret codes and symbols of the ethical societies known as Rosicrucians and Freemasons.  In the Dedication he has encrypted his true name (De Vere) , the name of his natural son (Henry Wriothesley), the name of Henry’s mother, and the mottos of all three.  The pen name “William Shakespeare” was a literary device needed to protect the author’s identity, the mother’s reputation, and the son’s life.

We can now solve other mysteries of the Sonnets that have not been satisfactorily explained until now. Professor Gordon names the Fair Youth, the Dark Lady, (Ladies) and the Rival Poet(s) who give the sonnet collection its narrative qualities.  Gordon has researched her subject for 20 years and has also published numerous books, articles, poetry, and humor.

Shakespeare Mind Maps

Adam from IQMatrix sent me this link to his web site where you can purchase some rather interesting Shakespeare study guides featuring colorful, cartoony "mind maps" that attempt to show the important aspects of each play visually on a single page.

The idea of mindmapping Shakespeare is certainly not new, and it is indeed quite a challenge to not end up with a spaghetti-monster mush of lines more confusing than the original text.  I like IQMatrix's use of cartoony clip art to draw your eye to some easy concepts (like "love" or "spies on"), instead of feeling like you have to start in the middle and work your way out (which defeats the whole purpose of mind maps by making you think you have to work linearly through a very non-linear diagram).

It's certainly an educational resource, and I don't expect that the analysis is all that advanced.  But for folks who like their information visual, it might be just the thing.

Stop That Or You'll Go Blind


Playwright Rick Thomas suggests in his new play, For All Time, that Shakespeare may have left London and retired from playwrighting because he was going blind.

How does he come to this conclusion?  Personal experience, apparently - his own vision is failing, and he's got much better writing conditions than Shakespeare did.


Or maybe he just spent too much time shaking his spear? :)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Enhancing The Sonnets

Really bring Shakespeare's sonnets to life.

(It's a comic, btw :))

The Tempest, Act I Scene 1, by Geeklet

TheTempest, Act I Scene 1, by Katherine Remember a few weeks ago when I told the story of being at a hotel breakfast buffet and my 6yr old daughter presenting me with the picture she drew - of the opening scene from The Tempest?  I promised to get it scanned in, and here it is (the best I can do). 

It's too big to fit in my scanner so the edges are cropped a bit.  In the lower right corner you'll see Miranda telling the sailors on the boat to "Come" to the island, where they will be safe. In the middle is their ship being tossed by the waves, and the faces sticking out the portal windows saying "Ok!"  I'm not sure if the red dots are more faces or if those are flames, but it'd be pretty cool if they were the latter, I'm not sure I ever told her that the ship was on fire.

Also on the island with Miranda is her father Prospero.  It's mostly cropped, but right up against the edge there you'll see one of Prospero's Books, which is hidden in a tree. Off to the left, unfortunately also cropped, is red Caliban, and up in the sky is Ariel.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What Would You Teach?

ShakespeareTeacher asks the question that is near and dear to my heart: What play would you choose to teach? Does it matter the age group? What are the pros and cons of Dream versus Romeo and Juliet? How about The Tempest, my own personal favorite?

Discussion on his blog, no sense in stealing his thunder :).

Monday, December 01, 2008

Tempest Pictures!

Remember Julie Taymor's Tempest, starring Helen Mirren?

Want some pictures? I think they look cool! I like the idea of a fairly monstrous (in the sense of big and strong) Caliban, rather than a slimy sort of Gollum-like creature.

Alas, Poor Y or....ok, that's a little gross.

So David Tennant is holding a real human skull?

Wasn't that a major plot point in that BBC series about a Shakespeare theatre, the name of which escapes me at the moment?

Speaking of Anniversaries...

Is he right?

This author, who finds that he shares his wedding anniversary (November 28) with Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway (is that the confirmation I was looking for?), decides to recite a sonnet for his wife. The one he chooses is 130, the famous "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun..."

Is that appropriate? Is his interepretation accurate? I've always been curious about that one.


Catherine Eaton's Corsetless seems like a familiar idea -- a character who speaks only in lines from Shakespeare. I always take a passing interest in such projects, although they tend to suffer from a problem that the author of the review notes -- it's hard to make your mind stop saying "Ok, that was from Hamlet...that was from Romeo and Juliet...."

Hamlet, Psychoanalyzed

How about an up to date psychiatric reading of our favorite Dane?

Sure there's been Freudian analysis of Hamlet since...well, Freud. It's not new. He makes a good subject. I liked this one because it reads like Psych homework: "here's a brief summary of the patient, here's the emotions he's experiencing, here's how I characterize him and why, here's how I would treat him..." I think it's a bit more approachable than some of the traditional papers done on the subject.

Happy Anniversary?

Really? Is this true?

Should I really mark down November 28 as Shakespeare's wedding anniversary? Or is that just one of those "best guesses" that academics come up with, like that time I read that Romeo and Juliet's wedding would have been in...March, I think they said. Seems like we should be able to know Shakespeare's anniversary date (we have his baptism, after all), but it occurs to me that I just don't know it.