Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gone To The Dogs?


Who was it that said to never act with dogs or children?  This Taming of the Shrew director never heard that, and is auditioning real dogs for a scene in Act IV where Petruchio asks for a spaniel, only to be brought a different breed of dog.

P.S. I’m very very sorry for the pun.  ;)

One Of These Men Played Hamlet Four Times On Broadway


Another gem from Cracked.com.  This time it’s “The 6 Most Depressing IMDB (Internet Movie Database) Pages” and you just knew there’d be some Shakespeare up there, didn’t you?

The man in the picture is Maurice Evans, who was an acclaimed Shakespearean stage actor before he moved on to bigger (?) and better (??) roles like Batman villain, and of course Dr. Zaius.  I still contend that Dr. Zaius is not a bad role.  That original movie is outstanding.

[NSFW warning, the article opens with some pictures of a young lady who spent the better part of her career playing unnamed roles like “shower girl” or “cute naked girl” with accompanying pictures. ]

Passionate Pilgrim XXI


Many people on Twitter today are throwing around this quote, calling it Shakespeare:

He that is thy friend indeed,
He will help thee in thy need:

That does not feel right to me, and it took me awhile to find it.  It is actually, as you may have guessed, from The Passionate Pilgrim:


As it fell upon a day
In the merry month of May,
Sitting in a pleasant shade
Which a grove of myrtles made,
Beasts did leap, and birds did sing,
Trees did grow, and plants did spring;
Every thing did banish moan,
Save the nightingale alone:
She, poor bird, as all forlorn,
Lean'd her breast up-till a thorn
And there sung the dolefull'st ditty,
That to hear it was great pity:
'Fie, fie, fie,' now would she cry;
'Tereu, tereu!' by and by;
That to hear her so complain,
Scarce I could from tears refrain;
For her griefs, so lively shown,
Made me think upon mine own.
Ah, thought I, thou mourn'st in vain!
None takes pity on thy pain:
Senseless trees they cannot hear thee;
Ruthless beasts they will not cheer thee:
King Pandion he is dead;
All thy friends are lapp'd in lead;
All thy fellow birds do sing,
Careless of thy sorrowing.
Even so, poor bird, like thee,
None alive will pity me.
Whilst as fickle Fortune smiled,
Thou and I were both beguiled.
Every one that flatters thee
Is no friend in misery.
Words are easy, like the wind;
Faithful friends are hard to find:
Every man will be thy friend
Whilst thou hast wherewith to spend;
But if store of crowns be scant,
No man will supply thy want.
If that one be prodigal,
Bountiful they will him call,
And with such-like flattering,
'Pity but he were a king;'
If he be addict to vice,
Quickly him they will entice;
If to women he be bent,
They have at commandement:
But if Fortune once do frown,
Then farewell his great renown
They that fawn'd on him before
Use his company no more.
He that is thy friend indeed,
He will help thee in thy need:
If thou sorrow, he will weep;
If thou wake, he cannot sleep;
Thus of every grief in heart
He with thee doth bear a part.
These are certain signs to know
Faithful friend from flattering foe.

It still doesn’t feel right to me.  Notice the comment in the link, that Shakespeare is only identified as the author of several of the poems – and 21 is not one of them.  What do you think?  Does this one sound right to you?

I’m intrigued by what Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet has to say on the topic (a blog that takes itself and it’s research very seriously):

The Passionate Pilgrim was first published in 1599, on the sly, as it were, by the disreputable (though later, thanks to his role in producing the First Folio famous) William JaggardThe Passionate Pilgrim is a collection of 20 poems, represented on its title page to be the work of W. Shakespeare.  In fact, only five of the poems are the work of Shakespeare, the first, an early version of sonnet 138 ("When my love swears that she is made of truth"), the second, sonnet 144 ("Two loves I have of comfort and despair"), and the next three lifted from Love's Labour's Lost, written and placed in that play to be intentionally bad sonnets, as Shapiro points out.  The rest of the poems in Pilgrim are by minor Elizabethan authors, except for poem 19 which is a corrupt version of Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd to His Love followed by an answering stanza by Sir Walter Raleigh.

Emphasis mine.  So, most likely not Shakespeare at all?

Your Mission : Shakespeare Attitude Adjustment

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to start bringing a little Shakespeare appreciation into the world.  Right now, from your computer.

Are you on Twitter?  Here’s what I want you to do.  Figure out how to add search/watches to your main feed, and then add “Shakespeare.”

What you’ll get is a pretty steady stream of students complaining about their Shakespeare homework, or at the very least pleading confusion and begging for help.

Set them straight.

If they are asking for help, give it.

If they’re frustrated over something, help them over it. [A popular complaint is “Why didn’t Shakespeare write in modern effing English?!”  I always gently point out that, technically, he did.]

If they’re bored, show them the entertaining bits.  [There’s always a dirty joke lurking somewhere nearby.]

If they’re mistaken in their understanding of something, correct them.  [Just last night somebody wrote about completing his paper on Jacques, from As You Like It.  I wrote back “I hope you spelled it Jaques in your paper, his name’s not Jacques” :)]


That’s part of the beauty of Twitter, you never know when you’ll spot new opportunities to communicate with people.  You may not always get a response, and when you do it might not always be polite – but who cares.  Give it a shot.  For every kid out there that moans “I hate Shakespeare!” there’s even more who want to like it, if only they understood it better.  Here’s your chance.

Monday, March 30, 2009

DVD : Shakespeare’s An Age Of Kings

Shakespeare's An Age of Kings


Has anybody seen this BBC collection?  I saw it referenced in the Boston Globe this weekend and had to go hunting for it.   From the production description:

In this fifteen-part inventive series based on William Shakespeare's history plays, the turmoil, power, mystery and frailty of the English crown in the medieval ages is laid bare in epic style. This series originally aired as live broadcasts and was recorded on film. Starring Sean Connery, Julian Glover, Eileen Atkins, Robert Hardy, Angela Baddeley, Judi Dench and John Warner.

From what I can gather this was a 15 part series originally broadcast back in the 1960’s(?) that has been pieced together to show the progression of kings from Richard II, through the Henries, concluding with Richard III.

I’m just now noticing that it is not even out yet, still a pre-order.  That would explain why the Globe was talking about it all of a sudden.  But there are customer reviews, and they are glowing.  Has anybody seen the contents, perhaps in their original form?

Tennant’s Hamlet Coming To DVD


It’s official!  Polonius actor Oliver Ford Davies told the Telegraph:

"We are intending to film it over two or three weeks in June. It won't be a full feature film as there isn't time but it will certainly be more than just the filming of the stage. It will be fantastic to work together again."

As I’ve mentioned, I don’t really know anything about David Tennant, but his Hamlet got rave reviews.  If it is only half as good as Lear was, it’ll still be jaw-dropping.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Review : The Sourcebooks Shakespeare

The Sourcebooks Shakespeare

I stumbled backwards into this fine resource when I saw a Twitter reference that mentioned both iPhone and Shakespeare.  So I wrote to Marie asking if she was doing some sort of software development related to Shakespeare.

Long story short, I’ve got books to review :).  Marie was nice enough to send me review copies of King Lear and Macbeth (which I will be giving away next week in some sort of contest).

I am very pleasantly surprised by how cool these are.  Let me see if I can break down the layout for you.  First and foremost, each book has a traditional script of the play – on the right hand pages.  Nicely laid out, lots of whitespace, which I like.  It looks visually like the kind of thing that might be read by an actor, rather than something out of an academic textbook with microscopic print.

The left-hand pages are where you find all the good stuff.  Not only is there the traditional glossary of odd words, but actual trivia, anecdotes, images, and links to the accompanying audio CD where that particular part of the scene is being read aloud, so you can follow.

Think about how cool that is.  We read about Lear and the Fool stumbling across Poor Tom’s hovel, while we flip through images of other people’s interpretations of that scene.  Where we don’t get images we get descriptions, like the story about a Cordelia who plays guitar through the opening scene, showing either that she was completely not paying attention to what was going on around her and thus completely taken off guard, or else that she knew exactly and was deliberately being rude.  I couldn’t get enough of that sort of thing, and only wish there was a way that they could imbed video right in there with everything else.

Also strewn throughout are editorial comments that aren’t afraid to say things as they should be, like “Lear might be referring to _____ here, or possibly ______.”  I worry for textbooks that make factual statements to impressionable students, when another book might say something different with equal confidence that their answer is the only one. 

Some of the editorial choices are interesting as well, and those too are called out in the comments.  I saw several times “Some editors place a scene break here, but Kent stays on stage the whole time so we chose not to.”  Cool – explanation of editor’s decisions, and not buried someplace in an appendix that I’ll never read.

The book opens with a lengthy description of Shakespeare in performance, including stories about some of the more popular interpretations (like Kurosawa’s Ran, obviously).  It ends with a lesson on how to perform Shakespeare, and the importance of the spoken presentation.  This makes sense, of course because the books each come with an audio CD containing selections of well known Shakespearean actors performing key scenes from the play.  (I am deliberately not tearing into the book to listen to those, as I want to reward some of my readers with pristine copies.)

I think this is a great idea.  From the web site we see that these are clearly intended for classroom use, and I’m glad to see it.  Personally as someone long out of school I think I’d boil down all the stories and images into a single volume, leaving only key passages from the play, and do it like “King Lear in Performance” or something.  After all, I already have many copies of the play and don’t need the book to be twice as long just so I know what scene they’re talking about when they talk about Gloucester’s eyes.  But maybe that’s just me?

Excellent resource, fun to read.  It’s not often I get to say this about a Shakespeare book, but this is one that you can pick up just to look at the pictures!

Was The Cobbe Portrait Ruined By Restorers?


Whether you believe the Cobbe portrait is Shakespeare or not, this should be an interesting story.  A theory will be argued next week that the portrait was in fact changed deliberately to show Shakespeare as he aged – changes that were removed by the restorers.

One of the big questions that people immediately asked when the Cobbe became so famous a few weeks ago was, “What’s up with the hair?  In the Droeshout portrait – done only 6 years later – Shakespeare is quite bald.”  The argument of the article seems to revolve around whether some hair was added, or removed, at different periods in the painting’s lifetime.

Friday, March 27, 2009

“She had Brutus call in to request Eye Of The Tiger”


I always like hearing about projects like these, mostly because I never got to do any when I was in high school.  This teacher was doing Julius Caesar, and chose to make a radio station project out of it.  “Odd,” I thought, wondering where the Julius Caesar comes in.  But she explains in depth how she broke the lesson down, including things like the advertising copy written for each side’s propaganda (and spoken by the DJs).  They also had to involve the characters in some way.  I was thinking of a “special in-studio guest”, but the idea of Brutus calling in to get request some motivational music is pretty funny.

Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits


“Ages Of Man” sounds like the sort of show I would love.

Think of Ages as a collection of Shakespeare's greatest hits. The show is a one-actor tour de force initially performed by Sir John Gielgud in the late 1950s in Europe and the U.S.The concoction includes the monologue from As You Like It that provides the title of the current show; King Lear mourning the death of his daughter, Cordelia; Hamlet's soliloquy on suicide and Prospero's retirement speech at the end of The Tempest.

Ages also showcases several much-loved sonnets: the 18th (Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?), the 116th (Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment) and the 29th (When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes).


Cirque du Soleil Meets Shakespeare


So says the Chicagoist article about an upcoming production of The Tempest at  the Steppenwolf.

“Safe is not exactly what I do," said Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi, co-artistic director of the Actors Gym and aerial coach for The Tempest.

I wonder if my pal David Blixt, the Master of Verona, is still out there, because he’s a) based in Chicago but also b) outspoken on the need to keep actors safe onstage.

Your Will + Geekery For The Day

“I'm reading a book by Douglas Crockford called "Javascript: The Good Parts" and he precedes each chapter with a Shakespeare quote that underlines the topic of the chapter. Very cool considering it's a very technical book. There's your Will + geekery for the day”

JavaScript: The Good Parts

Thanks to Jay for the old-school geeky link.   He’s right, here’s the opening for chapter 1, which is titled Good Parts:

….setting the attractions of my good parts aside I have no other charms.  - William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives Of Windsor

That of course is only going to be of interest to web programmers, but I happen to be one of those :).

Kabuki Twelfth Night


I don’t know anything about Japanese Kabuki theatre, but I like the idea of the cultural crossover.   Also of note is that a single actor will play both Cesario/Viola and Sebastian, her twin brother.  In Kabuki theatre all the parts are played by men, just like Elizabethan times.

From the article:

In Kabuki, there are many, many forms -- you could call it a toolbox -- and it was a matter of choosing the right ones and putting them together. Because they know the forms so well -- some of which I didn't understand -- they normally rehearse and put on a play in three days.


But I Want More Shakespeare In My Games!


What happens when the leader of a very popular computer game company gets on stage and mentions Shakespeare?  My news filters all go frickin bananas, I’ll tell ya that!

This is only borderline related to us, but basically the maker of computer game World of Warcraft said very publicly to his developers, and I quote, “to stop writing a f***ing book in the game because nobody wants to read it…the sooner we accept that we are not Shakespeare, Scorcese, Tolstoy or the Beatles, the better off we are.”


I’d just like to say that there’s nothing wrong with building your game on a literary foundation such as those you mention.  Why not write in a plot that lifts directly from Kurosawa’s “Ran”, for instance?  You’re right, you won’t come up with stuff on your own that’s nearly as good.  But most of the good stuff is public domain, so why not just take it?

He’s right about not putting everything into text, no doubt about it.  I don’t play many games, but when I do (on Wii, mostly) I tend to skip the text.  Show me the story, don’t tell it to me.

Analysis of Sonnet 12 : When I Do Count The Clock That Tells The Time

So I was reading the sonnets today at lunch.  Not somebody’s commentary, the plain text file.  I was looking for something random and romantic to text my wife on this nice spring day we’re having.  (I know, awwww…….:))  [UPDATE : I actually started this yesterday, I just realized that I’m posting it a) before lunch and b) it’s raining. ]
Anyway, I was intrigued at how without training in what the heck it all means (Hi Carl!) some of them just make your eyes glaze over, and some pop out and make sense.  I think it has a great deal to do with word choice, in particular the first line or two.  If you immediately hit on a word that you don’t understand (“unprovident?”), and you can’t figure it out from context of the other words, then I expect you’re basically screwed as far as “getting” that particular sonnet, at least until you get some reference materials.
So I happened to get a kick out #12:

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls, all silvered o'er with white; 
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer's green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
  And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
  Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

We know, since it’s one of the “procreation sonnets”, that the blunt message of this one is “Dude, have a kid.”   I like the way this one just rattles off the rapidfire images of what happens to things as time goes by / when they get old:

* sunset (“brave day sunk into hideous night”)

* withered flowers (“violet past prime”)

* gray hair (“sable curls all silvered over with white”)

* lofty trees barren of leaves

* fields all harvested (“summer’s green all girded up in sheaves”)

Then, he makes it personal -- “Bro, I’ve seen what happens to things when they get old, man, and then, well, I look at you, you know?  And I wonder how long you’re gonna stay as beautiful as you are right now?”

I mean, that’s just good stuff right there.  It doesn’t say much about the person they’re apparently written *to*, who must be just crazy obsessed with his own awesomeness, but it says wonders for the poet.

It ends almost conspiratorially, calling out a throwdown against Time himself, the dude with the scythe – “You want to know how to tell Time to go screw himself?  Have a kid.” 

I think I like this one because, while reading it, I can visualize an entire scene – some annoying prince who refuses to get married and have kids, and an adviser whispering in his ear, playing to all the prince’s own weaknesses and conceits.  He doesn’t say “Everybody gets old”, he paints a picture of how ugly things get when they get old.  They he transitions into “You know, you’re beautiful now, but….” only briefly, just planting the idea, before quickly (I can even imagine him snapping his fingers like, “Aha!”) moving on to “Hey, I just had an idea!” (like he just thought of it, yeah right)  “You want to know how you can have the last laugh?  What if you had a kid?  Then when your time does eventually come, you’ll know that the world can still benefit from your beauty.”  And then the prince, who has been staring out the window the whole time, smiles and nods like “Yes, yes, that is a good plan, I will have the last laugh.”

I’m not saying that my interpretation any way echoes reality – we have no idea who they were written to, they were almost certainly not recited directly to the intended, and I doubt strongly that anyone of them convinced the recipient to go sow some wild oats.  I’m saying that you could pull this one out of the entire lineup and you could write an entire story of your own around it, it is that vivid in its imagery.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Gathering Of Flowers

I just saw a reference to this book on Twitter, and while I don’t have it personally, I like the idea and think it merits a post for those who might be interested. 

Shakespeare mentions flowers.  A lot.  Who can forget Ophelia’s violets “that all withered when my father died”, or Oberon’s “bank where the wild thyme blows”?

A Gathering of Flowers from Shakespeare looks to provide visual images to go with the mental picture you already have.  I wish somebody would show inside the book!  I can’t find sample pictures at all, and that seems a tremendous lost opportunity. 

Anyway, sounds like a potential great idea if you or someone you know is into nature, flowers, gardening… that sort of thing.  Heck, I’d get it if I didn’t already have a stack of Shakespeare books as tall as my kids.

Bard of The Financial Crisis


A very good mapping of Merchant of Venice onto the current financial crisis beleaguering the US economy.

When all Antonio's "argossies" reportedly wreck at the same time -- a wildly improbable event predicted by none of Antonio's complex statistical models and, as we have seen, completely discounted by him -- his over-leveraged balance sheet sends him spinning into bankruptcy and ruin.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dream, Without Those Annoying Kids

I was wondering last night, has anybody done a meaningful version of Midsummer Night’s Dream that focuses entirely on the Mechanicals?  Imagine just cutting out all everything having to do with the young Athenians and you’re left with simple entertainment – they rehearse their play for the wedding of the Duke, the fairies interfere, all is resolved, and we get the climax / happy ending when they do it fact get chosen to perform for the Duke.

Not saying it would be a great show on its own, but I could see it having some legs.

Shakespeare’s Daughter Accused


Interesting play about a case in 1613 that saw one Susanna Hall, eldest daughter of William Shakespeare, accused of adultery and having a venereal disease.

Always interesting to see stories involving Shakespeare’s children, we don’t hear much about them after they’re grown and on their own.

It’s Finally Happened

Last night I’m busy putting the girls to bed, so my wife’s got the boy.  I hear from down the hallway, “I sang you all the songs!  Mommy doesn’t know Shakespeare, Daddy sings that one!”


Shakespeare-Bacon Controversy : Solved


Made you look, right?  Yeah, me too.  Actually my first thought was, “Umm…there’s no controversy.  The Bacon theory was started by Delia Bacon (no relation) who was pretty much insane.”

So I was even more confused when the opening line to the piece said “Yes, and the solution is this : Of course Bacon wrote the plays, and I can prove it.”

Turns out that the article is a humor piece by Professor Ellis Parker Butler, whoever that is.  It’s somewhat reminiscent of Mark Twain in its “so simple any fool could see it” presentation that makes a connection between a Stratford breakfast order (ham omelette, naturally) and, you guessed it, ham-let.  [I choose Twain deliberately, since he himself was a questioner of Authorship.]

I suppose it’s funny if you like such things.  I just felt like reposting it to see how many of you get trapped by the subject line, like I did. :)

It’s, It’s A PBS Blitz


You’ve probably already heard, but the press releases are coming at me fast and furious this week reminded us that PBS has scored the broadcast rights to Sir Ian McKellen’s King Lear and they are shouting it from the rooftops.

First off let me start by saying that earlier reports of “airing in late March, check your local listings” will I’m told be Wednesday March 25 – that’s tomorrow people.  So if you haven’t set the DVR yet, get hopping.  (Thanks to bigtimebobdowning for reminded me of that one).  Let us know in the comments if you find it at a different time in your area.

Second, I’ve gotten word about the PBS Engage event called “Five Good Questions”.  They are actively soliciting Shakespeare questions for Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library Gail Kern Paster.  Go and check it out, if for nothing else to see that I was first in line to get my question posted ;).  I hope she plugs the blog if my question gets picked :) :) :).

Busy week!

Monday, March 23, 2009


Last night after watching “It’s The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown” I tried a little experiment.  I put in a movie without telling the kids what it was.  Naturally they freaked out (in the good way), very excited about the surprise movie.  Well when I told them it was a Shakespeare movie they went bananas.  I’d put in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the version with Kevin Kline.  I’ve not seen it, but I did find a copy recently and thought I’d add it to my collection.

The kids asked what the story was about as the opening credits rolled.  “Well,” I said, “This one girl is in love with this boy, but her daddy does not want her to marry that boy, he wants her to marry the boy that he likes.”  This is logic that toddlers understand, it is almost directly out of Aladdin and other “princess must marry a prince” stories.

“Then what happens?” they ask.

“Well the girl and the boy that she does want to marry, they run off into the woods to get married without telling anybody.  But the other boy finds out, so he chases after them into the woods.  And then you know what?  A girl that likes *him* goes into the woods after him, too, because she wants to marry him.”

Well, this is just thrilling to them.  “You know what happens then?” I ask.

“What?” they are intrigued.

“That’s when they meet the Fairies.”

Then you get one of those moments where  you’re convinced your child is going to explode, like when you tell them you’ve purchased their own private ice cream truck and it’s parked outside in the driveway right now, go help yourself.

Of course it is far too late to start a full length movie at this point, so being the cruel and heartless Daddy that I am, we pause the movie (which is right at the “ask the ancient penalty” line) until tomorrow.


Fast forward to today when I come home for lunch.  A neighbor is over having a playdate.  My 4yr old daughter delivers a flying powerhug, and then looks up at me with big eyes and says, “Please Daddy, PLEASE can we finished Midsummer Night’s Dream tonight?”

I explode a little inside, myself.  “Say that again?”

“Can we please watch the rest of Midsummer Night’s Dream?” she repeats.

“I love hearing that,” I say out loud.

“I was about to ask if I heard right,” says the neighbor.

At this point my daughter runs over to her to explain the movie. “It’s about these boys and girls who run into the forest to get married…and then guess what?  They meet Fairies.”


All day long I watch a Twitterstream go by with students whining about how much they hate boring Shakespeare.  Me, I’ve got a child who hasn’t started kindergarten (and one in first grade, equally enthusiastic) who are begging me for more.

I win :).

I’m having a good week.  First my wife spots a Lear reference, and now my kids are explaining Dream to the neighbors?  Who wants to trade places with me?  Ha!  You can’t!  Wouldn’t trade this for the world.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Review: FOOL, by Christopher Moore

When I heard on Twitter that somebody’d rewritten King Lear from the Fool’s point of view, I was interested.  I don’t know anything about the author, Christopher Moore – but I know King Lear.  Actually I read someone else’s review where he said the opposite, he knew Moore’s work but nothing of King Lear itself. 

You might be asking yourself the same thing I did – how do you have the Fool narrate, when we Shakespeare geeks know what happens to him at the end of the story?

Thanks to my friends at Harper Collins I was able to find out.  My review copy arrived wrapped in a plain brown wrapper with a warning label letting me know just what I was in for:

This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as nontraditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank . . .

Ok then!

The story does jump right in exactly as I was expecting, a comic novelization of the general plot, picked up right at Act I, Scene I with Gloucester talking about his bastard son.   Only now we get running commentary from the foul-mouthed Fool, who is given the name Pocket for the sake of the story.  I have to say, I found it hysterical.  As I said, I’m not familiar with Moore’s work – but if he writes like this all the time, I’m going to go and get more of it.

It doesn’t take long, however, for the story to lose a few points with me.  New characters are introduced, who are not in the story at all.  Sure there’s a ghost and the witches of Birnam Wood, but I appreciate that those were more like cameo appearances for the benefit of the Shakespeare geeks.  Instead I’m talking about the “other” fool, the apprentice to Pocket, named Drool.  Drool also happens to have several traits that are crucial to advancing the plot – he’s monstrously strong, incredibly dimwitted, and has an unnatural gift of speaking in other people’s voices.  He’s also the source of much of the more bawdy humor, as he’s pretty much willing to shag anything that will stand still, including an oak tree with a knothole.

Anyway, back to the story.  The plot progresses while staying surprisingly true to the Shakespeare’s version (and, I learned, often dipping into Shakespeare’s own source material).  We learn many things about the backstory that we’ve always wondered, like the deal with Cordelia’s mother, and more history on Lear’s temper.  We also get lots and lots (and lots) of detail that perhaps we didn’t need, like the fact that Pocket was sleeping with both Regan and Goneril.  Although the trial that Lear puts him through upon finding this out had one line so funny it had me laughing so hard for so long my wife asked what was wrong with me.   I wish I could tell it, but I’ll just say it involves Lear’s dinner and leave it at that, see if you spot it when you get to that part.

I can’t spoil the story for you, but I will say this because I think it could be a deal breaker for some folks : Moore changes the story.  He stayed true for so long it actually came as a surprise to me, but near the end things start happening differently, and I realize that rather being “backstage” like something out of a Stoppard play, I was in an alternate universe version of Lear where things did not play out as I knew they did.  It’s an interesting moment in a story like this, because either you’re going to be curious to see how things resolve since now anything goes, or you’re going to lose interest because it’s not Shakespeare anymore.  I think I was in the latter group.

I highly recommend this book to anybody who, like me, has a  sense of humor regarding their Shakespeare.    Yes, he adds characters and changes the story.  Yes, it’s twelve kinds of filthy and offensive.  It’s also very, very funny.  And, better, it still remains a tribute to its source material.   There’s even an author’s note at the end where, amidst all the apologizing, Moore essentially says what we here at Shakespeare Geek know already – whatever you think you’re about to say, just accept that Shakespeare said it first, and he said it better.  A book like this only serves to echo that sentiment.  But that doesn’t stop Moore from adding creative suggestions for managing the Shakespeare empire :  “Amid all the attractions at Stratford-upon-Avon, I think they should add one where participants are allowed to push King Lears off a high precipice.  Rage, wind, blow! Crack your cheeks! AHHHHHhhhhhhhh*splat*.”

Ah Yes, That’s Why I Love Her

Helping my wife put on a necklace today I said, “We should get you a tattoo right here on the back of your neck.  Something Shakespeare.  We will all laugh at gilded butterflies.”

(That’s the quote that hottie Megan Fox has tattooed on herself, for the curious.)

“Lear,” my wife replied.

“…” I said.

“What?” she asked.

“…” I said again.  “Was that just a really lucky guess?”

“No. Gilded butterflies.  King Lear.  I remember hearing that.”

Made my day.  My wife is not a Shakespeare geek, so a Lear reference is no small feat.  “That was awesome,” I told her.  “Do that more often and I’ll buy you stuff.”


Thursday, March 19, 2009

SciFi Shakespeare


Ok, love this crossover.  I subscribe to Tor.com, one of the providers of free ebooks,specifically science fiction and fantasy.  So when the names Rosencrantz and Guildenstern popped up in the description, naturally I was curious!

From “master of alternative history” Harry Turtledove comes “We Haven’t Got There Yet”, the story of one Mr. William Shakespeare who becomes enraged that someone has taken some of his characters and put them in a new play.  He winds up at a performance of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Sounds great to me.  It is a short story, a single (long) web page.  So it won’t take forever to read it.  I just thought I’d post about it first before somebody beat me to it :)!

UPDATE : Posted this, went to Twitter, found at least 6 people already forwarding the link.  Wow, this stuff moves fast.  When do these people clean the kitchen?

I Think I’d Rather Defend Iago


“In Defense of Jar Jar Binks” is sure to hit a few hot buttons with the geek crowd.  Truthfully I would skip the article completely if not for the need to find the Shakespeare reference in it.

If your geek pride is too strong to stomach the idea of somebody defending the place of Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars movies, let me get right to the Shakespeare – the author makes the argument that Jar Jar is the clown, and compares him to Lancelot the Clown from Merchant Of Venice.  The clown, he says, “provides useful commentary, lessons, and above all, laughs…”

I don’t think anybody faults the movie for having a comic aspect.  It’s when it turns from dramatic to comic on the whole that there’s a problem.  The original movies had their comedy, after all.  But somewhere around Return Of the Jedi and the Eewoks, George Lucas decided that family-friendly cute-and-cuddly comedy was better box office gold than smart alec Han Solo and Chewbacca banter, apparently.

F U C Shakespeare


Although it seems a bit stale as far as celebrity news goes (apparently the video just dropped), Slate’s got an article up look at Britney Spears’ “controversial” album title “If You Seek Amy”(*) and how it’s actually a much older joke than perhaps even she realizes.  Dates back through a whole variety of bands that thought of the joke before her, one of whom even acknowledges getting it from James Joyce.  The article then goes on to show that, as always, Shakespeare said it first.  Only his is dirtier.


(*) If you seem to be having trouble figuring out the joke, it helps to realize that sometimes words sound like letters.  So “If you” = F U …  do I really have to <ahem> spell it out for you?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is Nothing Ever Good Or Bad? Really?

If you follow the Shakespeare keyword on Twitter long enough, you’ll see the same lines thrown around repeatedly.  The most popularly “retweeted” quote, by far, is this one:

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

It’s the sort of line that you can just picture people seeing come across their chat window, saying “Whoa man, that’s deep”, and feeling the urge to forward it.  I suppose if this were a generation removed it might have looked a little something like this in your email inbox:

Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: OMG SO TRUE! (Fwd: Fwd: MUST READ (Fwd: Fwd: The Power Of Thinking…

But really, isn’t it a bit simplistic?  It’s a little like the “there’s no universal right and wrong, that’s why people need God as a moral center” argument.  Are good and bad always subjective?  Is it possible to find something that you think is bad, that people will universally agree with?  (That is, of course, other than the argumentative morons who take the opposite side just because that’s their purpose in life…)

Stop Making It Look Easy!


Congratulations to 7th grader Ruth Swallow who won first prize in the literature portion of the North Carolina Reflections contest for … let me see if I get this right …  composing a “coronet” of seven sonnets, each linked by first/last lines.  So the last line of the first sonnet becomes the first line of the next.

I have to say, I’ve written sonnets and I found it difficult.  To write a bunch of them, on a theme, with that particular requirement?  In seventh grade, which would make her, oh, about 13 years old is all that much more impressive.  Good job, Ruth!

[Of course, as a Shakespearean I have to note that the first/last line thing confuses me – we all know that there’s a different number of syllables in the last line!]

[UPDATE : Thanks to Bill for gently pointing out to me that it is the rhyme scheme, not the syllable count, that changes in the final couplet.  Don’t ask me where my brain was, I don’t exactly know. ]


Wait!  There’s more! Later in the article where it talks about a local school’s production of The Comedy Of Errors.  Though I’m not quite sure the point of this paragraph:

“This is not your grandmother’s Shakespeare,” claims Ms. Gerdy. “It’s full of physical comedy and characters that bear striking resemblances to famous old “clowns” like Charlie Chaplin, the Marx brothers and the Keystone Cops.”

First off, it was probably one of Shakespeare’s earlier efforts and thus the very definition of “grandmother’s” Shakespeare as compared to a later, younger generation.  And second, Ms. Gerdy then goes on to compare it to Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Cops, shows that only my grandmother would recognize :).

Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Thespians?


While CommShakes struggles to stay alive on its own in Boston, over on the other side of Massachusetts the Lenox-based Shakespeare & Company is tightening its budget as well.  They’ve laid off a few, and cut pay for the rest – including the founders, who will take no salary at all for several months.

I’m sure most theatre groups are having similar difficulties all over, not just in my neighborhood.  So go see some shows, huh?  Even better, drag your friends along.  And when the time comes to pass the hat or rent a chair or buy a t-shirt, be generous.  You are closer to getting no Shakespeare than you might think.  And should that time come, it’ll be too late to break out your wallet.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

West Side Vanity Fair Story


I knew that West Side Story was experiencing something of a revival.  With the help of Jennifer Lopez and friends, Vanity Fair magazine recreates some scenes from the famous (infamous?) musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Note that the pictures are actually in a slideshow format, you have to click on the navigation arrows atop the title screen to get it started.

Commonwealth Shakespeare Goes It Alone


When I heard that we’d be getting Shakespeare on Boston Common again, my first thought was “Really?  After all the financial whining that Citibank does?  Quite frankly I’m surprised.”

Now, after reading the article in the Boston Globe about director Steve Maler, I’m not – they’ve cut ties, and he’s going it alone, and he needs to raise $350,000 to fund the planned 16 performances of The Comedy Of Errors.  I also understand that choice better now, as it is a small and strategic play without large and expensive set requirements.

You see, now I want to give money.  More to the point, I want Citi to give me back the money I gave them, so I can give it to Mr. Maler.

Link for donations on the second page, or just go straight to CommShakes.org and help them out!

New Works Discovered??


Funny I should mention “Arden of Faversham” just yesterday, innit?  Here we have a new scholar, Dr. John Cosson, with a new book called “Enter Pursued By A Bear.”  Cute title.

Some of his “discoveries” include:

Shakespeare's first published poem, the Phaeton sonnet, his first comedy, Mucedorus, and his first tragedies, Locrine and Arden of Faversham.

I truthfully don’t know how to parse that – is “the Phaeton sonnet” the name of the poem, or an independent thing?

Anyway, he’ll also present evidence that Cardenio is a genuine work by Shakespeare and John Fletcher.

I suppose we can chalk this up to yet another variation of conspiracy / authorship theories, but still, it’s interesting.  Doesn’t say much for the topic, though, that the article switches to coverage of the Cobbe portrait for the last 3 paragraphs.

Shakespeare’s Women Of Mythological Proportions


When I read the title of that article I thought “Ok, this will be all about Lady Macbeth and such.”  So I was surprised that it is, in fact, a look at Shakespeare’s female characters who share a name with women from mythology. 

Examples include Hero, Helena, Lavinia, Hermione and Diana.  I wish the writeups were longer, but it’s a start.  Somebody could probably take any one of those and do a college research paper on whether Shakespeare intended to make that exact connection, or if it’s just complete coincidence.  Diana and Helena are common enough names, but the only time I’ve ever seen “Hero” as a name is in Much Ado, and in the appropriate myth (Hero and Leander).

Get Married On Juliet’s Balcony


Now, see, I think this idea is great.  One of the big tourist attractions in Verona is “Casa Di Giulietta (Juliet’s House)” where everybody’s favorite romantic tragedy (tragic romance?) supposedly took place.  Yes yes, it’s a fictional story and all that, but the local argument is that this was once the home of the Capello family, who might have been the model for the Capulets.

Either way, it’s quite the tourist attraction.  Although I’ve never been, my inlaws were – and they brought me back a nice painting of the balcony.  I’m told that there’s a statue of Juliet there as well whose chest has gone all lopsided because it’s good luck to cop a feel – but only the right side.  I didn’t get a painting of that, though.  Oh, well. :)

Anyway, on that romantic note.  Apparently you’ll soon be able to book a wedding at the balcony, which I think is just great.  It’s a small balcony, so I’m sure that it’ll be little more than a photo opportunity, but still.  Some people get engaged or married at the Eiffel Tower.  A Shakespeare geek would certainly love the idea of getting married in the middle of Romeo and Juliet. 

[Let’s not go all cynical and talk about the tragedy bits, eh?  We know.]

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ripped From Elizabethan Headlines


We last wrote about Alice Arden back in 2006, in reference to a possibly-Shakespeare worked called “Arden of Faversham”.

The article linked here, in “Executed Today.com” no less, details the murder of Thomas Arden by his wife, Alice, and her lover, Richard Mosby.  Apparently they did him Rasputin-style :  poisoned, strangled with a towel, smash with a 14pound pressing iron, and stabbed 7 or 8 times.

Every time I hear “Arden” I can’t help but think they are related to Shakespeare.  Remember that Shakespeare’s mom was Mary Arden. 

I Don’t Know Him, But His Face Rings A Bell


With the new(?) portrait of Shakespeare(??) getting all the buzz this week, it only makes sense for the “face readers” to come out of the woodwork and tell us some things about the man based entirely on the science of judging the book by its cover.  Or, in this case, judging the book by someone else’s interpretation of what the cover looks like. 

Know what I’m thinking?  Surely this has been done, but I think that we should take all known or assumed portraits of Shakespeare, throw in a bunch of other folks of the same period, and then use one of the face recognizing software packages (like Google’s Picasa, for instance) to see if it groups all the Shakespeares together.

(*) The subject, by the way, is the punch line to an old and rather bad joke.  I thought it appropriate.

Shakespeare In Time : Gielgud as Hamlet


I find stuff like this interesting for its place in history.  Anybody my age knows Sir John Gielgud as…well, ancient.  My first memory of him is the butler in Arthur, 1981, when he would have been 77.

So it’s a rare treat indeed to find such a clip as Bardfilm has uncovered, showing a 1944 Gielgud performing Hamlet. I’m particularly intrigued by the delivery, a pretty straightforward “Hold skull up and deliver lines” recitation.  I went looking for an example of how the interpretation has become a bit more animated over the years, and surprisingly when I turned to Brannagh I found this, which while perhaps a little heavier on the “acting” and less on the “recitation”, is still the exact same “hold skull up and deliver lines” recitation from 60 years ago.


Essential Things In Heaven And Earth


Linked entirely for the opening quote:
“The essential thing “in heaven and earth” is…that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”  - Friedrich Nietzche, Beyond Good and Evil

Nietzsche not just quoting Hamlet but extending it to make his point?  Love it.  I don’t even know what the article is about, I stopped at the Shakespeare reference. :)

Shakespeare On Boston Common 2009

I don’t know if this is officially public or not, but a source on Twitter tells me that Shakespeare will return to Boston Common this summer. The play: A Comedy Of Errors. All I heard was “August” so I’m not sure if we’ll get 1 week or 3. I expect the former.

Yay! A play I’ve not seen live, and despite no end of financial whining from Citibank ever since they bought everything in site and slapped their name on it, we still get our Shakespeare. I'm pleased.

Unfortunately this year I don’t work 5 minutes from the stage, so I’ll have to plan accordingly to get there and get a good seat instead of just walking over and sitting someplace. But I can work with that.

UPDATE, AUGUST 2009 : The show is going on right now, don't miss it! My review is already posted here.

Kings : You Tell Me

Should I be watching Kings, the new NBC drama that premiered this week?  More than one person has told me (or rather, I’ve read in more than one place) that it’s supposed to be a sort of weird parallel universe that plays out like a Shakespeare history.  Of course, the actual official plot description says that it’s supposed be the King David story from the Bible.

I have to admit, I’ve got plenty of real Shakespeare to choose from without being hooked on a new show in the hopes that maybe they make some Shakespeare references.  I’d rather watch Steve Wozniak on Dancing With The Stars.

Anybody seen the show?  It is Shakespearean enough for us to talk about it?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Bard and Bodyslam Connection

So in a stunning combination of my own personal universes, (1) WWE superstar John Cena was a guest on (2) NPR’s Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, which I listen to via (3) podcast, and host Peter Sagal posted a request for questions on (4) Twitter, to which I responded with one about (5) Shakespeare, making that particular moment one of the most dense points of interest in my life to date.

What I suggested was, “Does Mr. Cena envision himself or any of the other wrestlers-turned-actors ever trying Shakespeare?”

They did not use my question, but this morning I did see an interview where Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was asked the same thing (take THAT, NPR!).  But his answer was a generic joke (“my audition is next week”) and a generic answer about that being a goal, sure, why not.

Well when I wrote back to Peter Sagal about this he responded, and I quote Twitter:  I actually think Cena could pull it off. The man has talent and determination. And biceps. Think a very buff Oberon.

Now, I can’t let that go.  Oberon is indeed a bad-ass when he doesn’t get his way, but he strikes me as a bit too much the romantic for a WWE wrestler.  There hasn’t been a real romantic storyline in pro wrestling since Macho Man Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth.

I could see him as Petruchio, playing up that whole sort of “Don’t think I won’t smack you, woman” thing right up to the edge, but still keeping it funny.  And you’d have the perfect ending where he still thinks he’s in charge, and Kate thinks she’s in charge, and maybe they’re made for each other, who really knows, but it’s a happy ending so the audience is pleased.

The Rock, who has done more “real” movies than any of the other former wrestlers, I could see in something more serious.  Not Hamlet, let’s not get crazy.  Could he pull off Henry V?  I’m trying to think of something where he could be the stunningly handsome, brave and strong young prince and essentially be the hero without having to stretch his dramatic chops to the breaking point.   I’m wondering if maybe something in Julius Caesar for him.  Does Antony get enough screen time?  I’m so used to these guys being the big box office draw it’s hard for me to imagine them in any but the lead roles, and I do not see him as Brutus.

Hulk Hogan, for some reason, I have in my head as Lord Capulet.  I’ve seen decades of that whole “Let me at him, I’ll murder him, don’t hold me back!'” thing they do every week while the tiny referee just puts up the one hand and they can’t get around him.  I could see Hogan doing that with Lady Capulet in the opening fight in the streets.


Anyway, I have to get back to work.  Who else has some?  Which wrestlers would make the best villains?

So Intolerably Dull It Nauseated Me

Or so says a certain Charles Darwin, of our dear friend Mr. Shakespeare.

So I was led to believe when I saw that quote float by my Twitter stream earlier today  (full quote:  “I  have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and I find it so intolerably dull it nauseated me.”)

Curious, I googled the phrase to see if there was some context around it.  Guess what I found?  Darwin’s autobiography.  Thank you, Google Books:

I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music. Music generally sets me thinking too energetically on what I have been at work on, instead of giving me pleasure. I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did. On the other hand, novels, which are works of the imagination, though not of a very high order, have been for years a wonderful relief and pleasure tome, and I often bless all novelists. A surprising number have been read aloud to me, and I like all if moderately good, and if they do not end unhappily—against which a law ought to be passed. A novel, according to my taste, does not come into the first class unless it contains some person whom one can thoroughly love, and if a pretty woman all the better.

Emphasis mine, of course.  The man’s talking about how he’s changed as he’s gotten older.  It’s not that he’s singling out Shakespeare not in the least.  And he’s also not making any sorts of proclamation that Shakespeare is lame.  On the contrary he sounds to me a bit sad that he no longer has the appreciation for these things that he once did.  Note after the Shakespeare bit that he even says pictures and music don’t really do it for him either anymore, only novels.  And even then, only certain novels.  You have to dig the joke at the end about characters whom one can thoroughly love. :)

Quick and Painful

Both my wife and I have been trying to diet lately, so part of the morning ritual has become to step on a scale and report back and successes.

This morning I told my wife how much I’d lost (and nope, I’m not telling you people ;).

“Who’s the man!” she responded, by way of congratulations.

“Amanda Bynes?” I countered.

“????” she said.

“It’s a Shakespeare thing,” I explained.

“??????” she said again.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Don’t Miss Sir Ian as King Lear


Can’t wait for your DVD to show up?  Amy from Folger Shakespeare Library wrote in to remind me not only that they are teaming up with PBS to show McKellen’s King Lear “later this month (check local listings)”, but that they are producing a whole series of projects dealing with cutting-edge methods for teaching Shakespeare.

This spring, Folger Education is partnering with PBS to provide teachers with resources for teaching Shakespeare's timeless tragedy, King Lear. The Royal Shakespeare Company's production, starring Sir Ian McKellen in the title role, airs on PBS in late March—check your local listings for showtime.

Folger Education experts will blog, participate in a free webinar, and provide lesson plans and teaching strategies for creatively bringing Shakespeare to life in the classroom.

Seriously, now you have no excuse.  You couldn’t get to see it live, and you can’t see paying international shipping charges to get the DVD from Amazon.uk.  Well, set your DVR and don’t miss your chance!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New Portrait….Or Maybe Not?


Here’s an article that brings a little skepticism to yesterday’s big big news about the “new” Cobbe portrait of Shakespeare, which has actually been around for 300 years and believed to be Shakespeare for at least 3 years – yesterday was just the “official” announcement.

In the article, the author points out that the whole premise of this being a Shakespeare portrait rests on its similiarity to the Janssen portrait, which is already acknowledged to have been doctored to look like what Shakespeare was supposed to have looked like.  Got that?  So it’s something of a vicious circle – the Cobbe portrait is only Shakespeare because it looks like this other portrait of Shakespeare, but that one only looks like Shakespeare because it was deliberately manipulated to look like what Shakespeare was thought to have looked like.

Personally I’m still optimistic, as I’m sure that Professor Stanley Wells would have known this and not attached his name to such a single flimsy piece of evidence.  What have they been doing for the last 3 years before making their official announcement?  What tests were run?  What is now conclusive that wasn’t a year ago?

Sir Ian Pretending

Thanks to Bill for this one, I’d not seen it!

The Babysitter Must Hate Me

“Ok, so, we’ll be back by about 10.”

“Any special instructions for putting the kids down?”

“My son may ask you to rock him a bit, if so, just sing him a couple of songs and then tell him you’re going to sleep, too.”

“What songs does he like?”

“Baa baa black sheep, twinkle twinkle….oh, and the What a piece of work is man soliloquoy from Hamlet.  Act 2, Scene 2.”

“Very funny.”

“I’m not kidding.”


Ok, that’s a hypothetical – for now. :)  But I’ve definitely created a monster, as every night that I do put the boy down, it now goes  like this:

“You sing Shakespeare.”

“Shall I compare thee…”

“No!  New Shakespeare.”

“What a piece of work is man?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason…etc…”

“That from Hamlet?”

“Yes, that’s from Hamlet.”

“Now sing Shall I compare thee.”

And I am not kidding in the slightest.  I’m just thankful that when Mommy puts him down, she is allowed to use the “Only Daddy knows those songs” excuse, and he seems to accept that.

The boy is going to be 3 in May.  You people realize, of course, that when my kids are actually old enough to perform Shakespeare for the first time (assuming that they show an interest in it, blah blah not forcing kids yadda yadda), my heart is in fact going to explode.  I can’t wait.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Review : Ian McKellen as King Lear [DVD]

I had to go to Amazon’s UK site to get this, but I am the proud owner of Ian McKellen's masterful King Lear on DVD.

When I was in college and just blossoming into the Shakespeare Geek I am today, I got Sir Laurence Olivier’s Lear on VHS.  Truthfully, it was over my head.  I don’t think I ever finished it.  Partly because I didn’t understand it, to be sure, but also because Olivier was nothing to me but a name.  He was a good actor because I was told he was a good actor.

McKellen, on the other hand, might well be one of today’s greatest living actors.  He’s Gandalf, for heaven’s sake.  And if that’s not the particular style of geek you follow, he was Magneto as well.  But check his Shakespeare resume:  Richard III, Richard II, Hamlet, Iago, Macbeth…the list goes on.  So it’s only reasonable that he finally tackle King Lear, and boy does he deliver.

I’m tempted to say this should be a one man show, Sir Ian McKellen Does Selections from King Lear – but that wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the cast, who are superb.  It’s just that he is so very very good whenever he’s on stage, that he’s hard to see anything else. When he’s not, you hope the plot will move forward until he comes back.

Some of the directorial choices were interesting to me, right off the bat.  For instance, Cordelia.  The first word out of Cordelia’s mouth is when she says “Nothing, my lord.”  But the thing is, she doesn’t say it with any sort of fear or concern, she says it in a very patronizing way, like “You silly little man, of course I have nothing to say, don’t you realize that my sisters just fed you a giant load of bull?”  I was a bit surprised at that.  But it quickly turns around as she realizes that she’s incurred the dragon’s wrath, and in no time she’s got more that “What have I done?” look like she should have.

McKellen does a great angry Lear.  He screams at people, and while doing it he manages to mock them, letting us well know that he’s well in control of what he is yelling, to whom, and why.  The way he turns on Kent, particularly as he delivers the “this shall not be revoked” line, you fully believe that you have pissed off the king, and you’re going to pay for it. 

Let’s take a moment to talk about Goneril.  If we were giving out Oscars for this sort of production she’s a shoe-in for Best Supporting Actress.  I am not kidding when I told people on Twitter that whenever Goneril’s on the scream I kept screaming “YOU EFFING B*TCH!”, my wife can vouch for that.   She gets this Lady Macbeth sort of scheming look on her face, like she’s got the whole thing planned from the very beginning.  During the big confrontation where both sisters are on stage and they’ve driven their father into the beginnings of madness by taking away his soldiers and kicking him out of their houses, there’s an agonizing scene where Regan, who shows tremendous guilt in the early scenes, goes to comfort her father – and behind his back, Goneril puts her arm between the two, so no one touches Lear at all.  All the while with that “all going to plan” look on her face, the effing b*tch.

Back to McKellen.  As he starts to lose it, Sir Ian brings some interesting mannerisms to the old king.  He carries a handkerchief and periodically wipes his nose.  I guess that’s to show that he’s not well?  And he tends to do this thing with his index finger, sometimes rubbing his nose, sometimes twitching it in front of him like he’s pointing at something that nobody sees but him.  They are minor things, but they stuck out to me in a sort of “Why did he choose to do that?” way, which breaks suspension of disbelief for me, so I felt the need to point it out.

In general, though, the man is an acting god.  Whenever he’s on stage, it’s like “Ok, everybody else sit down and watch, the master is at work.”  The storm?  Come on.  I remember when I saw a live Lear, with a timid king who bargained with the elements not to hurt him.  I came back disappointed, that’s not what I thought.  I wanted someone screaming at the heavens, and that’s exactly what this production delivered.  I could watch that over and over.

I’m trying to think of the defining moments in the show, but it’s so hard to pick.  It’s all good, when he’s on stage.  There are some bits I did not love.  When Gloucester loses his eyes, in particular, was a bit of a bloodbath.  I mean, sure, it has to be a gross scene.  But the way Regan cackled with glee was a little over the top for me.

The ending was actually a disappointment for me.  This was not a movie version of a play – this was a play on film.  Even though there was scenery, and outside really was outside with real rain, you never forget that you are progressing scene by scene, with character entrances and exits as expected.  So the final scene, just before Lear’s “Howl, howl!” entrance, just does this theatre thing that made me feel like I was sitting in an audience watching people on stage, because only actor, not real people, would do something like that.

On that note, I have to say that I don’t find Lear’s final entrance, carrying Cordelia’s body, to be the most gutwrenching scene in the play.  Maybe I haven’t seen it done enough.  Sure, true, I almost lost it when he curls her lifeless face up to his ear and asks her “What?  what’s that?” and tells the others that she was always a very quiet child.   But I guess because I know what is coming, it’s not as painful as it could be.

No, to me the agonizing parts came prior – his first reunion with Cordelia, the “No cause” moment.  Then later, after they are captured, and he’s willing to go peacefully to prison, where he will spend his remaining days laughing and telling stories with her.  He is back with her, she has forgiven him, he is happy.  Knowing what comes next?  That, that is the agonizing part.  That is where you get the briefest glimpse that the story could still have a happy ending.  I can only imagine what it must be like for someone who has never seen the story and does not know what comes next.


What can I say?  It makes me want to see more King Lear, it makes me want to see more Shakespeare, it makes me want to see more Sir Ian.  I’m tempted to start it up and watch it again, but I’ve got a boatload of other stuff I have to do, too.  Maybe I’ll keep it as a treat for myself. ;)

The Return of West Side Story


That explains it.  Just the other night I was flipping through the channels and happened catch the opening number to West Side Story on some random movie station.  I fell asleep shortly after.

Waking up the next morning and turning the tv back on, which was naturally tuned to the same movie channel…I caught the end of West Side Story.

Are we in some sort of anniversary year, or is this just coinicidence?  The article, by the way, points to West Side Story on Broadway in case you haven’t read it.  So it looks like we’re in a bit of a West Side Story Revival.

Personally I didn’t like it.  I appreciate the retelling of the story, and how close they kept while still making an entirely new thing.  But without the text, as if they’re pretending it does not owe everything to the original, it just comes off as a pale imitation to me.  Birth to Earth, womb to tomb?  Bleh.

Am I in the minority?  Do you other Shakespeare geeks love that one?


I do have a funny West Side Story…story…though.  My friend Brian is more the actor than I, and he did get to play Tony at one point.  However in the big final scene, where he’s supposed to rush across the stage to Maria?  The prop gun didn’t go off.  So instead of the big moment when he just gets there and then crumples at her feet, he reaches her and is like, “Ok, now what?”  So they faked it a bit with an extra long embrace, and then they got the gun to go off.

Which reminds me of a different story, back in college, where some friends were doing Inspector Hound (by Tom Stoppard, oddly enough).  I get this story second hand, but I guess there’s a confrontation between the hero and the bad guy, and the bad guy’s supposed to get shot?  Well, the gun doesn’t go off.  So the bad guy, improvising, *runs for it*.  The good guy then chases him offstage.  Well, some handy producer sort grabs a couple of pieces of wood to make the required BANG! noise – only the bad guy, trying to stay consistent, now has to stagger back on stage to properly die like he should have in the first place.  I can only imagine how silly that looked :)

History Day Today : First Theatre Found?


Getting lost in the news about the new Shakespeare portrait comes word of the discovery of Shakespeare’s first theatre.

Sorry for the short bursts, busy day at work today but I didn’t want to miss these big events!  Somebody with more time on their hands fill us in on all the details….



CNN’s got the Cobbe portrait up, for the curious.  It definitely looks similar to the other portraits we already have, but different enough to be an interesting addition.  He seems pretty young in this one (odd, if it was really painted in 1610 near his death) – full head of hair, light colored beard and mustache.  

What sticks out like a sore thumb (to me) is the lace doily wrapped around his neck, it looks like something under the lamp on my nightstand.  People really wore that?  Bleh.

UPDATE : Watching Twitter today, it seems that “He’s a fox” outweighs “He’s not that attractive” by a good margin.  Also smatterings of “Looks the same as all the other pictures” and the occasional “Hey [random friend], he looks like you!”  Curiosity from folks who seem to think that he was a poor commoner his whole life.

Twittering Romeo and Juliet


Sorry, but this is a lousy idea.  They’re broadcasting the entire play over Twitter, 140 characters at a time.  This means that one simple soliloquoy will take dozens of tweets, and half the time be broken up between multiple transmissions.  I don’t even know if there’s people on the other end, or just some bot that has been programmed to do it.

AmwayShakes’ version of Taming Of The Shrew is far more interesting, because you’ve got people actually attempting to rewrite the text in a more Twitter-friendly way, accomplishing in those 140 characters what you might otherwise have taken half a dozen lines to do.  Sure, it destroys the original text, but that’s kinda sorta the point, innit?  Making a statement about communication as a whole, and the core of what you are trying to express versus the medium by which you choose to express it?  If you want the original text go read it, just like if you want people to speak at you in great lengthy paragraphs, go send an email or read a blog. 

[Dang, boss just walked in and clearly stared at my screen :(  gotta go!]

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Only Known Portrait of Shakespeare To Be Unveiled


Well well well, isn’t this interesting news for a Sunday morning!  It seems that a certain Cobbe family has had in their possession (for some 300 years, apparently) a 1610 portrait of one William Shakespeare.  At least, that’s who they believe it to be.  They’ve got Stanley Wells on their side, and he’s no slouch at this sort of thing.

The unveiling is supposed to be tomorrow (Monday, March 9).  Stay tuned!

Update:  http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/visual_arts/article5864845.ece  Better link.  Is that an image of the portrait at the top of the article?

Friday, March 06, 2009

UR, by Stephen King

If you don’t personally have a Kindle yet, chances are you’ve seen somebody on the net raving about how they can’t live without theirs.  In theory it’s right up my alley – I like to read, I would read more if I could have a book in front of me more often, but I pretty much only get my content in audio or ebook form because I’m just not into carrying books around, and ordering new ones and waiting for them to be shipped to me.  With a Kindle, getting a new book is as easy, very literally, as saying “I want that book.”  It just shows up for you.

I do not have one, no, but I have the next best thing – the freely available Kindle reader for my iPhone.  Yes, yes, I know that physically it’s not the same thing at all.  But if we get back to that idea of “I would read more if there were always a book in front of me”, then this fits the bill perfectly.  I can now get modern content, not just the public domain stuff, and have it available to me all the time on a device that I have with me anyway, all the time.

Anyway.  In celebration of the launch of Kindle, Stephen King himself wrote a short story called UR.  Let’s get the review out of the way first – it’s a neat idea but a lousy story.  It is 100% product placement for the Kindle (I’m not kidding, there are characters saying things like “I love my Kindle I thought with features like these it would cost double what it did!”  Just like an infomercial).  And King’s normal depictions of reality that draw you in to the story are replaced with his own personal political leanings about the most recent political election.  He certainly phoned this one in.

But, back to the idea.  The author’s kindle arrived mysteriously, and has this weird experimental feature that allows him to download books from alternate universes.  It doesn’t take him long to realize that he can tap into literature from worlds where Kennedy wasn’t assassinated, or Hemingway wrote a dozen more novels than he did, and so on.  The book refers to these parallel worlds as “URs”, hence the title.

“What does UR mean?” I saw people ask in the forums.  Well, the author explains it in the story – it’s either a place in the Old Testament, or else a prefix meaning basic or primitive.

At one point in my reading just now, King used the phrase “the ur-Hemingway.”  And then it hit me – could he have had the ur-Hamlet in mind the whole time?  Is that perhaps where he got the idea?  I wonder.  Early in the story the characters do a bit of exploration into alternate universe Shakespeare, but that doesn’t seem to be the main point of the story (the narrator character is more of a Hemingway type).

I’m not done with the story yet, but that just sort of leapt out at me today.  I don’t often associate King with Shakespeare (except maybe when making Titus Andronicus jokes), so the idea that he got the premise of this latest story from Hamlet is amusing to me.

Celtic Shakespeare


I love it when The Onion does it Shakespeare style.  “A Director Sets A Play In the Time and Place Shakespeare Intended” is still one of the great Onion stories of all time.

When you throw in my Boston Celtics, well, then it’s comedy gold.

"Weird thing is, he kept calling the other guys moors, which is just really messed up," the 12-time all-star said. "I mean, what is that, anyway? He didn't say it like it was a good thing. If he plays good basketball he can do what he wants, but I'm not going to listen to anyone call me or my guys moors."

All three men also commented that Marbury had at some point pulled each one of them aside and told them the other two had been "making the beast with two backs."

Non-Traditional Adaptations


Over on Metafilter somebody’s asked for “interesting” adaptations of Shakespeare, either in book, film of play form.  The usual suspects are there, Kurosawa, Stoppard, 10 Things I Hate About You, etc…

Here’s a few that were new to me:

Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well (I didn’t know he did a Hamlet?)

A Thousand Clowns (1997, apparently King Lear?)

Good Night Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet


Wow, either it’s a short list or I’ve just seen a whole lot of Shakespeare adaptations. :)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Shakespeare : Sonnets In XML

A long long time ago I found Shakespeare in XML, by Jon Bosak, and I’ve quite literally carried it around with me ever since.  If you’re not a programming geek you may not know the value of XML, so let me try to explain.  XML is like a database inside a file – it is self describing of what’s in it.  So instead of this:

Act 1, Scene 1

SCENE I. Elsinore. A platform before the castle.
    FRANCISCO at his post. Enter to him BERNARDO
    Who's there?

You get something more like this:


<Title>Act 1</Title>


<Title>Scene 1</Title>

<Stagedir>Elsinore.  A platform before the castle … </Stagedir>





<Line>Who’s there?</Line>


Get the idea?  So if you’re a code geek you look at that and start seeing the logic you can apply, like “In Act #3 how many lines are there in all of the speeches spoken by Hamlet?” and it’s quite literally one or two lines of code.

Anyway, I never found the Sonnets in XML.  There’s one or two out there as examples of how to do XML, but I never found the whole set of 154, and I wanted it.

So I made it

It’s very basic, but it does what I need.  If others find it useful and make enhancements I’d appreciate hearing about it.


If Only Shakespeare Had Known How To Twitter


Fun story, full of Lear references, about how John McCain (the man who professed last year to not even knowing how to send e-mail) is now on Twitter.  Everybody is quite sure that it’s his people doing it, by the way, not him.  To be fair to the man, his long time injuries prevent him from sitting at a keyboard for extended periods.

It is not a piece that is positive on Obama, in case you’d like to know that up front.  But it is hard to deny the facts (I am a supporter of Obama, not McCain) – there’s lots and lots and lots of wasteful spending still going on, now with Obama’s signature on it.   Can’t really argue that.  The best you can say to defend it is “Picking your battles.”   McCain’s entire argument seemed to be about trimming 7 billion dollars – from a 410 billion dollar bill.  Hopefully (and note I’m saying hopefully, not definitely!), Obama will pick some bigger battles to fight.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Love is Blind?

Random idea I just tripped over : Would it be possible, without completely destroying major parts of the script, to play Juliet as blind?  I can imagine it really heightening the various scenes where they are apart – if he’s not physically in contact with her, he might as well be a million miles away.  Not to mention really emphasizing her dependence on the others around her.  When she wakes up in the tomb that’d be particularly scary, until she feels Romeo there beside her, and has to figure out that he’s dead.

Just something that hit me.  Somebody on Twitter said how could you play Juliet more vulnerable, and that leapt out at me.

Nine Daies Wonder

[From the press release.  Linked for the unusual reference -- “a musical reverance to Will Kempe”???]

A reviewer called it "the most lasting impression" of this year's Brass Festival of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester: Bramwell Tovey's "Nine Daies Wonder", performed by the Canadian violinist Mark Fewer and the Foden's Brass Band. The piece is a musical reverence to the Shakespearean actor Will Kempe, who in 1600 Morris danced from London to Norwich. Soloist Mark Fewer won the hearts of the Manchester audience not only by his virtuoso violin playing, but even more by reciting Shakespeare lines, singing, and finally fiddling a jig that made everyone's feet stomp.
If you missed the concert, you now get a second chance to listen to it: BBC Radio 3 broadcasts the live recording of "Nine Daies Wonder" in its "Afternoon on 3" show upcoming Friday, March 6, 2009, at 4:30 pm Greenwich time (11:30 EST). The show will also be available as a concert on demand for some days thereafter on www.bbc.co.uk/radio3.
Further information:
Mark Fewer: http://www.latitude45arts.com/en/artist.php?artist_id=83
BBC Radio 3: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/
Reviews of the Manchester concert:

Maybe I’ll Get To See Tennant’s Hamlet After All


People went frickin bananas for Dr. Who as Hamlet.  Personally I’ve never been a Dr. Who fan and don’t know much about Tennant, so I can’t really offer an opinion either way.

But if it comes to DVD, then I can watch it at will.  Much like how I’m in the middle of Sir Ian’s King Lear, I think this idea of getting the “superstar” stage performances of today on film is a huge step forward in bringing theatre to a world that wouldn’t normally see it.

Magneto and Xavier, Together Again


Of course, we know them as Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart.  I love the opening, how it contrasts their role as enemies (see title) with just how similar the rest of their careers, particularly the Shakespeare bits, have been.  Now they’re doing Waiting For Godot.  I think I’d like to see that.  I remember a long time ago hearing about a similar “celebrity” production starring Robin Williams and Steve Martin.  I expect this one will be…different.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Inventing Words Is Fun


No real Shakespeare content other than the “Shakespeare invented 1700 words” thing.  Linked because I like the word “gleng.” :)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Christopher Plummer vs … William Shatner?


I hadn’t heard this story, and I don’t really believe it, but it’s funny.  It seems that  Mr.Plummer, ahem, “injured” himself during some sort of one-night stand, and couldn’t go on to perform in Henry V.  This left the spot open for his understudy, Captain Kirk himself.  “I knew then that the SOB was going to be a 'star.’”

This is particularly amusing, if true, in the context of Star Trek VI where Plummer plays a Shakespeare-spouting enemy Klingon.

Romeo and Julian


I had missed this story – spotted on Digg, of all places – about a school in trouble for doing a gay version of Romeo and Juliet called, as noted Romeo and Julian.

What’s the big deal?  Directors make changes like that all the time, mucking about with gender, race and age at will to make a particular point.  I remember hearing about a version of Othello where everyone was black, except the title character. 

The most interesting bit of the article to me was this odd quote:

But Commons leader Harriet Harman rebuked him, saying: "I seem to remember that in Shakespearean times, boys would play girls and girls would play boys and the whole point was trying work out which was which.

Ummm….I’m not so sure about the “girls playing boys” thing, nor that that was, in fact, “the whole point.”  Maybe somebody over on the other side of the pond can fill me in if I’m missing something.