Thursday, April 30, 2009

Review : Shakespeare and Modern Culture

When I heard about a book called “Shakespeare And Modern Culture” I thought, “Cool, that sounds like exactly the sort of thing I do here – the whole  ‘Shakespeare is everywhere’ thing, video game commercials, Simpsons episodes, etc….”

Then I saw it was written by Marjorie Garber, of “Shakespeare After All”, and I thought, “Uh oh.”  I still can’t finish that one (a weakness I expect is my own, and not the author’s).

Turns out I’m right on both fronts.  This is a real book that treats the subject seriously, considering not just examples of Shakespeare in modern culture (though it gives plenty), but looking at how opinions of Shakespeare have evolved over 400 years and how its integration with has changed. 

There’s one play per chapter, and while not all of the are covered, the big ones are all there.  This is an excellent way to organize, as it gives the reader a chance to jump to their favorite and see how it’s been handled for the last few centuries.   I started with the Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, then skipped around past Merchant, Henry V (with lots of Obama references!) and Hamlet. 

How have attitudes toward The Tempest changed?  Do we as a society identify more with Caliban, or Ariel?  Is it really about slavery and colonization?  Or what about Romeo?  When and why did his name become synonymous not with someone who would die for true love, but more of a lothario, love-em-and-leave-em sort of individual?  Where did the curse of Macbeth come from?  What is it about Henry V that makes those particular speeches so darned quotable?

Far from a simple sampler of Shakespearean performance and critique over the last few centuries, this book keeps it all in perspective of the big picture.  The question is constantly asked, Why?  What is it about Shakespeare’s work that enables us to ask any question, and then find what appears to be evidence to support our case?  Is it even a relevant question any more to ask what Shakespeare intended, or does each generation simply use the work as they need?  How is it possible that everything else in the world has changed over 400 years, and yet we’re still going back to what Shakespeare gave us? 

I still contend that Garber’s work is not quite as “approachable” as I’d like, and this time I have a good example.  I once said that I could flip through Shakespeare After All and find a word on any random page that the average reader would have to go look up in a dictionary.  Well, this book did it for me with the word ‘aubade’.  I’d like to think I’m fairly well educated, and I’ve been around for a couple decades now, and never before this book had I seen that word (which turns out to mean “a poem or song about lovers separating at dawn”).  I need a glossary more when Garber talks about Shakespeare than I do with Shakespeare!

In the end, Garber’s premise is fascinating and her research is top notch.  She seems to get genuinely peeved when sources get their history wrong, which I find amusing.  Her biggest problem with Shakespeare In Love is the idea that it was Romeo and Juliet that was Shakespeare’s breakout hit that put him on the map.  And she completely dismisses the idea that The Tempest was Shakespeare’s “farewell” play.  This is an author who clearly takes her subject seriously both because it is her profession, and because she has a true love of the source material.

This book isn’t for everybody.  It’s not a light read.  It’s hard enough to read Hamlet, it’s hard enough to read Joyce’s Ulysses – so where does that put the chapter dedicated to Stephen Daedalus’ interpretation of Hamlet?  It’s confusing just *talking* about it, unless this is the kind of thing you live and breathe.  But for those of us that do live and breathe it (or at least we had more time in the day to do so?)  It’s quite the treasure.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mackers…..James Mackers

Dear Orson Welles,

When you need a Scottish accent for a Shakespeare play, don’t fake it.  Just get the man himself, Sean Connery:


Here’s a guy who’s played nothing *but* a Scottish accent his entire career!  Seems only logical that he would have done the Scottish Play at one point or another.

(To be fair, I hear Mr. Connery is actually very good in the recently released Age Of Kings DVD collection.)


“Sean Connery stars in the movie the Highlander, about the eternal Scottish warrior, and he plays a *Spaniard*.  Doesn’t anybody think about this stuff at all?”   -Craig Ferguson

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Shakespeare At 40

So, today’s your Shakespeare Geek’s 40th birthday.  Been celebrating on and off for a few days, got (among other, non Shakespeare presents) another Shakespeare action figure as well as the “love quote” pillow which my 5yr old middle daughter had become simply enraptured with when she saw it on a web site back around Christmas.  When I unwrapped it, my older daughter (7) began reading, “Doubt thou the stars are fire…”  so I explained that Hamlet wrote that to Ophelia.  I didn’t get into the whole “ill phrase, vile phrase” thing.

Anyway, I got to wondering what Mr. Shakespeare was doing when he was 40.  I found this link:

and a few tidbits from the years surrounding:

Sometime between 1599 and 1601 Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, and from Hamlet on, until about 1608 when he began writing the great Romances Cymbeline, Winter's Tale and The Tempest, Shakespeare's vision turned to tragedy.  The comedies he produced over the next couple of years are distinctly un-funny, and have been called "problem plays": All's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure (both probably written in the period 1603-1604).  Troilus and Cressida (probably written in 1602) is such a problem play that it has perennially confused audiences and critics, and may well  never have been performed in Shakespeare's life time.  After Measure for Measure Shakespeare's vision seems to turn unrelentingly to the tragic, with his great string of tragedies Othello (probably 1604), King Lear (probably 1605) Macbeth (probably 1605), Antony and Cleopatra (probably 1607),Coriolanus and Timon of Athens (probably 1606-8).  (These last two plays, along with Troilus and Cressida, surely Shakespeare's least liked and performed plays).

(Emphasis mine.)  Yikes!  Mid-life crisis, much?

If the quality of the blog starts going down, somebody please don’t forget to tag them as “problem posts”.  Just don’t call them “distinctly un-funny” :)

Premiering … Cardenio?

Kinda sorta not really?

My experts probably know the drill, but for the newbies:    There’s been a play that we’ve known about for a while, called Double Falsehood (not sure if there’s a The in front of that) by Lewis Theobald.  Here’s the thing – he always maintained that it was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Cardenio, the holy grail of lost Shakespeare plays.

“Ummm…and do you *have* a copy of Cardenio?” people would excitedly ask him at cocktail parties, trying not to salivate.

“Unfortunately my dog ate it,” he would reply.  Or the 19th century equivalent of a similar excuse.


Anyway – a little while back (just last year?) renowed Shakespeare scholar Gary Taylor announced that he was backing Double Falsehood’s story, and has “re-adapted” (maybe?) it into The History of Cardenio.

If you’re in the neighborhood of Victoria University of Wellington next month (May 2009) you may get a chance to see it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Would He Had Blotted 1000

"I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honor to Shakespeare that in his writing, whatever he penned, he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, 'Would he had blotted a thousand."

Maybe I’m just slow.  I’ve certainly heard that quote before, and always took it to be an insult, suggesting that there’s plenty of errors where Mr. Shakespeare could have done better.

It only just now dawns on me that that’s the point – given how good he actually was, can you only imagine what we would have ended up with if he *had* improved upon all the mistakes and weaknesses?

Shakespeare For Presidents

Perhaps the best article I’ve seen yet that dives into what past presidents have thought about Mr. Shakespeare.  We all know by now that Obama loves Lincoln and Lincoln loved Shakespeare, but this article looks in detail at Lincoln’s favorite speeches and his commentary on them as well, and then goes on to examine what other presidents have had to say on similar topics (including Reagan and Clinton).

Then we also get a trip through the history of the presidency with mentions of the Shakespeare connection to:  John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, James Garfield, Millard Fillmore and JFK, ending with George W Bush (although it is certainly positioned as an insult in that case).

Lastly the author (hey look – Barry Edelstein, I just got his book Bardisms last week!) goes on to make a whole laundry list of suggestions for speeches that Obama might want to use, once he gets around to quoting the Bard in public.

Great article.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Shakespeare Plots, Twittered

This list is going around Twitter at a furious pace right now, so may have already seen it.  But then I realized that not everybody’s on Twitter :).

You know the Twitter drill?  Get your point across in 140 characters.  So somebody went ahead and summarized each play in 140 characters:

H: Mommy issues are just the beginning for a prince with a murdered father and new Uncle/Step-dad. Most everybody ends up dead.

HV: Bad-ass Henry V kicks France’s butt with a rag-tag army, many long-bows, and excellent speeches. Henry then marries a French princess.

It’s not entirely a comedy show, most of them are pretty straight forward summaries.  Of course, not wanting to devote characters to the titles, they are all abbreviated down to first letter and you have to figure out which one is which.  Sounds like a different game.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Open Shakespeare Mic Night

Just got back from my first ever “open Shakespeare mic” night in Salem, Mass (thanks to Keri from Rebel Shakespeare for letting me know about it, and thanks to my lovely wife for securing us a babysitter and actually sitting through it with me!)

What fun!  At first it was awkward trying to figure out what the deal was – where to sit, how do you get food and/or a drink, etc… but eventually we answered all three, and could sit back and enjoy the performance.  I was pleased that I recognized almost everything, and even caught the occasional mistake :).  That’s not to say by any means that I have the memory for that kind of thing – most of the performers read from script, and I suspect I’d have to do the same thing.  That is, if I had the guts to get up there and do it :).

What fascinated me most, I think, was the variety.  I walk into situations like that with the assumption that everybody knows everybody else and has done this 100 times.  But what I saw were people reading directly from script (and getting it wrong), people comfortably off book (but still needing the occasional cue), and confident professionals who looked like they’d done their particular parts 100 times.  I saw kids as young as maybe 10 not only getting into their roles, but saying things like “I couldn’t decide which monologue to do so bear with me while I do both.”  I saw a man with a prosthetic leg remove it so he could do Richard III, and another elderly gentleman do a simple performance of several sonnets that sounded like he might have dedicated them to his long lost love.

I tell myself that some day I’ll get up and do something.  Of course, I’m 40 years old (next week) and the closest I’ve ever been to performing is getting dragged up on stage for the HAIR finale in Baltimore.

I wonder if there’s more such events like that, or if this was a special birthday-only thing.  I could see myself hanging out at such events.

So, How’d You Spend Your Day?

Confess, fellow Shakespeare Geeks, what did you do for Shakespeare’s Birthday / Talk Like Shakespeare Day this year?

Though I found it a bit silly, I did some of my Twittering in my best Elizabethan.

Gave away some books to the winners of my Sourcebooks Shakespeare contest.

Got a new book, “Bardisms”, in the mail.

Tried very hard to make as many posts to the blog as I could (8, counting this one, and the day’s not done yet).

Snuck into my coworkers’ offices and put Shakespeare quotes on their whiteboards like a Shakespeare ninja: (misquotes on purpose for context)

For the military boss who never gives up, no matter how bleak the prospects:  “Yet I will try the last.  Before the ground I throw my warlike shield.  Lay on, MacDuff, and damn’d be he who first cries, ‘Hold, enough!’”

For the founder of the company, recently bitten by a strange dog in the middle of the office (trust me, a funny story):  “Cry Havoc!  and let slip the dogs of war!”

For the young do-it-all programmer who could own the place if he really tried (who also happens to be the sort of skinny young guy who can down 9 pieces of pizza in a sitting and never gain any weight):  “Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look…”

For the programmer who never says much, but always manages to deliver twice as much as you asked, in half the time you thought it would take:  “How far the little candle throws its beams!  So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

For the “technician” whose just is slowly being replaced by automatic scripts, who sees his role evolving into something new:  “We know what we are, but not what we might become.”

In the break room, where we just had a catered lunch complete with cookies, cake…and beer and wine:  “If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked!’

Came home, played Midsummer Paper Dolls with my daughters.

Tonight, going to a “Shakespeare Open Mic” night.  No idea how that’ll turn out, but it should be fun!

[UPDATE: Typo fix, I did not write “so shines a good dead” on her whiteboard!]

Happy Anniversary to the Master Of Verona!

Here’s a story I bet not everybody can post :).  Hope he doesn’t kill me(*), but David Blixt, author of The Master Of Verona and regular contributor to my humble little blog, celebrates his wedding anniversary today, on Shakespeare’s birthday.  How cool is that?  The man’s a professional Shakespearean actor, a published author on the subject (historical novel, to be specific), and he even gets to live a life where he does things like getting married on Shakespeare’s birthday.  So I think that’s quite a nice story for a blog called Shakespeare Geek. :)  He did not, however, name his child Fleance.

Congratulations David!

(*) Trained in stage combat as he is, I expect he could only pretend to kill me.  Very convincingly, but still.

Google Doodle

Google UK gets in on the act with a multi-purpose doodle today showing St. George and the Dragon…acting out the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.  Nice!

YouTube : Folger Library

Who knew that the Folger had a YouTube channel?  This will take much of my time, I’m quite sure.  I wonder if anybody’s considered something more downloadable, like a video podcast?  I much prefer those.  Wherefore makest me stream thy content, fair Folger?

Happy 400th, Sonnets

In celebration of the man’s birthday, we should not overlook the fact that 2009 is the 400th anniversary of publication of the Sonnets.

I like this article which details the author’s visit to the Folger to see the actual physical publications of the sonnets over the years, including

Sangorskititlepage.jpga one-of-a-kind treasure made for Mr. Folger in 1926. Clad in leather and studded with sapphires and 18-carat gold, it sits snug in a blue velvet box. When Dr. Ziegler opens it, I expect our faces to melt off like the climax of "Indian Jones." The pages are velum, with silk sheets between each one. The intricately painted scenes radiate off the pages, bright and rich.

Sourcebooks Shakespeare Contest : Something For Everybody!

Thanks to everybody who participated in our giveaway of Sourcebooks Shakespeare!  Winners have been notified via Twitter DM, as specified in the contest rules.  So go check out your Twitter account, if you’re not in the habit of doing so on a regular basis.

For the curious, Hamlet was the runaway winner in the “favorite play” portion of the game, coming in with double the votes of the runner up, Midsummer Night’s Dream.


As a special thank you to everyone who participated, Marie has graciously offered up your choice of “consolation” prize for those who wish to purchase their own Sourcebooks  :

* Free Shipping (US Only) – enter code shakesfree at checkout time

* 20% off (shipped anywhere, though international shipping costs are horrible Marie tells me) – enter code SS200509

Both coupons are good until the end of May.  (If you have any trouble with either code, get in touch with Customer Support:

Thanks again for playing, and thanks to Marie and Sourcebooks Shakespeare for the prizes!

If Shakespeare Had Been A Hamster (?!)

That’s one for the “Okayyy….never really thought of that!” file.

8. Audiences would quickly grow bored and ignore him, but immediately upon his death would ask when they would get a new Shakespeare.

Also On This Day

Happy Birthday Mr. Shakespeare!  And, you know, Happy Death Day, too….I guess.

Quick AP link to other stuff that happened on this day.  Some big, some small.

Other folks who share this illustrious birthday:

Actress-turned-diplomat Shirley Temple Black is 81. Actor Alan Oppenheimer is 79. Actor David Birney is 70. Actor Lee Majors is 70. Irish nationalist Bernadette Devlin McAliskey is 62. Actress Blair Brown is 61. Writer-director Paul Brickman is 60. Actress Joyce DeWitt is 60. Actor James Russo is 56. Filmmaker-author Michael Moore is 55. Actress Judy Davis is 54. Actress Jan Hooks is 52. Actress Valerie Bertinelli is 49. Actor Craig Sheffer is 49. Actor George Lopez is 48. Rock musician Gen is 45. U.S. Olympic gold medal skier Donna Weinbrecht is 44. Actress Melina Kanakaredes is 42. Rock musician Stan Frazier (Sugar Ray) is 41. Country musician Tim Womack (Sons of the Desert) is 41. Actor Scott Bairstow is 39. Actor Barry Watson is 35. Actor Kal Penn is 32. Actress Jaime King is 30. Actor Aaron Hill is 26. Actress Rachel Skarsten is 24. Tennis player Nicole Vaidisova is 20. Actor Dev Patel ("Slumdog Millionaire") is 19. Actor Matthew Underwood is 19. Actor Camryn Walling is 19.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Time Machine: First Post!

Normally this is the sort of thing one might do on an anniversary, but I don’t have one of those coming up and I do have Shakespeare’s birthday.  So I thought I’d take a quick trip to the past and visit my *first* post to…



Shakespeare ala Wikipedia

at 10:00 PM

If you haven't yet visited the Wikipedia page for Shakespeare, I highly recommend it. It's not like you're going to find any new information that you couldn't find anyplace else. But here it might be better organized than anywhere else. Who knew about the "questionable" plays? I knew about the existence of Cardenio, which is more "lost" than "questionable", and The Two Noble Kinsmen, which I got into an argument with my neighbor about (I lost, arguing "I have several copies of the complete works and there ain't no Noble Kinsmen in it!") I'm talking about plays like Edward III or Sir Thomas More, two plays which scholars think might have been collaborated on by Shakespeare.
Of course the entry itself is link-heavy enough to keep you interested in pretty much any direction you wish to go. Elizabethan history? Shakespeare contemporaries? The actual text of the plays? All there.


Wow, one small step there, certainly.  Link Wikipedia, how brilliant :).  How things change in four years.

Laying The Smacketh Down On Cobbe

Heavy on the science geekery, this article looks at strict comparative analysis of all known (and considered) portraits of Shakespaere, most notably the Cobbe, Janssen and Droeshout.  Includes a pretty cool montage of Droeshout and Cobbe.

Their conclusion, and I have to admit I have not fully understood the details of how they arrived at it, is

…that this clearly indicates once again that, only pending further research into its early history, can the Janssen portrait be admitted to the select company of genuine Shakespeare portraits; and that it cannot in all possibility be a copy of the Cobbe portrait. On the contrary, Janssen may have served as the model for the Cobbe.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In Faith I Do Not Love Thee With Mine Eyes

When I’m really bored and looking for content I skim the sonnets.  This time it is #141 that caught my eye, in particular it’s similarities to the famous #130 (“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”):


In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But 'tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who, in despite of view, is pleased to dote.
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue's tune delighted;
Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
To any sensual feast with thee alone:
But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,
Who leaves unsway'd the likeness of a man,
Thy proud heart's slave and vassal wretch to be:
  Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
  That she that makes me sin awards me pain.

Most of this sonnet seems to go over similar themes about the gap between physical qualities and emotional attachment.  The poet’s explaining that it’s not her looks – he could pick out 1000 things wrong with her.  Nor is it the sound of her voice (makes you think that “music hath a much more pleasing sound” straight out of 130), or her smell.   It seems downright rude to say “I’d rather not be in the same room alone with you, stinky.”

But yet nothing in his five senses can stop him from becoming completely entranced by her, transforming into a shell of his former self (“likeness of a man”). 

Here’s where I get lost, though – the final couplet.  I count my gain that she that makes me sin awards me pain?  So she *makes* him sin, which sounds like a bad thing, and she “awards” him pain, which also sounds like a bad thing, and yet he counts this his gain?

Somebody enlighten me.  Preferably without getting into a debate about ink splotches on the original page. :)

W.S.? W.H.? OMG, WTF?

Why is it that on so many documents from Shakespeare’s time we’re left with just initials, and have to guess at the intended?

For one we have Saint Peter's Complaint by Robert Southwell, inscribed thus: “The Author To His Loving Cousin Master W.S.” thought to be one William Shakespeare.

Second and more famously is the dedication of Shakespeare’s sonnets to “Mr. W.H.” People here go so far as to say “Oh, that’s reversed – it must be Henry Wriothesley, that’d make sense.”  That’s right up there with arguing that perhaps it should have been a G instead of an H, for example.  With one simple twist you could make 2 letters into whatever you want.


But my question is, what’s up with all the initials?  Why did people sign and dedicate things like this?  The cost of print too high? Something to do with all the class and religious warfare going on, that sending a direct dedication might often have sent the wrong message and thus needed to leave some room for mystery?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Giving Away Books for Shakespeare’s Birthday

The big day approaches!, through the generosity of Sourcebooks Shakespeare, is giving away *2* of their book+CD combo packs (your choice!) in honor of the Bard’s 445th birthday.

Hurry!  Contest ends Wednesday night!


1) Follow @ShakespeareGeek on Twitter.  I’ll need to be able to message you in case you win.  In case it wasn’t obvious, you have to be willing to provide a mailing address so we can actually send the book.

2) As the saying goes, “retweet” this specific link, swapping in the name of the book you’d prefer if you win.  You don’t have to call it “my favorite play” or anything, I just need to keep track of who is voting for which books.  Please do not just RT the main blog post, my filters may not pick it up if you do that.

3) That’s it!  I’ll keep track of contest entries and then choose 2 randomly from those received by midnight (EST), April 22.  That meaning the midnight at the close of 4/22, before 4/23, lest there be any confusion.

4) Winners will be notified by Twitter direct message (DM) so please make sure you keep that channel open and check it regularly, at least until contest winners are announced on the blog.

PLEASE DO NOT FORGET STEP TWO!  It helps me separate folks who want to participate in the contest from those who are just becoming new followers.  If I add every new follower into the contest it drastically lowers your chances of winning.

Shakespeare’s Actual Birthday Party

Here’s one for the historians in the crowd, because honestly I don’t know and I’m asking:

What would Shakespeare have been doing on his birthday?  Presumably as a child, though that’s not a requirement.  Would they have done some notion of cake (with or without the candles)?  What other celebratory food would accompany such an occasion?  What toys or other presents might have been the type gift given?

I suppose of course that it was a lousy time for everybody and they were just glad not to die of plague, but I thought I’d ask.  Shakespeare was a kid once, and it’d be nice to think that kids get birthday parties that are at least a little different than the day to day routine.

Talk Like Shakespeare Day


For Further Information, Contact

Alida Szabo, Director of Audience Development
Ben Frick, Public Relations Assistant
Chicago Shakespeare Theater – 312.595.5633



April 23, 2009—Shakespeare’s 445th Birthday

New Web Portal Online at

Chicago—April 20, 2009—Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that April 23, Shakespeare’s 445th Birthday, will be Talk Like Shakespeare Day, an occasion for Chicagoans to bring the spoken words of Shakespeare into their daily lives. "On his 445th birthday, Shakespeare still speaks to the people of Chicago through timeless words and works," said Mayor Daley in his formal city proclamation. "On April 23, I encourage citizens to celebrate Shakespeare by vocal acclamation, through his words."

Citizens can prepare for the occasion by brushing up their Shakespearean, and joining the conversation, at, which will go live as the Bard’s birth week begins on Monday, April 20. Visitors are asked to contribute stories, photos, videos, and quotes to the site’s live tumblr feed. The web portal features the online instructional How to Talk Like Shakespeare, activities for incorporating the Bard at the office, at home and at school, Shakespeare’s Twitter (a live feed from the Bard who, magnanimously, has offered to help translate any visitor’s request from English to Shakespeare), a Coined by Shakespeare Quiz to test visitors’ knowledge of words and phrases invented by the Bard, a "best of the web" collection of Shakespeare on YouTube (with cameos by the Beatles, the crew of the S.S. Minnow, Sesame Street, Captain Jean Luc Picard and others), among a variety of other resources. Shakespearean rappers The Q Brothers (creators of Bomb-itty of Errors and Funk It Up About Nothin’) will release to radio a new anthem highlighting, in hip-hop, the finer points of speaking Shakespearean. Finally, on April 23, schools throughout the Chicagoland area will take part in Talk Like Shakespeare in the Classroom activities, as teachers participate in inventive games and exercises to help students talk like—and engage with—Shakespeare.

Chicago’s own Tony Award-winning Chicago Shakespeare Theater will mark the occasion as well. "We're asking our artists and audiences to find a moment to bring Shakespeare into their daily discourse—even if it’s just asking a coworker to pass 'yonder stapler,’" said Artistic Director Barbara Gaines. "This is someone who literally, single-handedly, introduced at least 2,000 words to the English language that we still use today. We wish him a very happy birthday."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

SCOTUS Weighs In … On Authorship?

Bunch of people sending me this WSJ article.  It’s funny, I actually saw it last night around 11pm – on the new WSJ application for my iPhone.  But I was in no position to blog about it at the time.

Anyway, the article is about Justice John Paul Stevens, 34 years on the Supreme Court and an admitted Oxfordian. 

While it is interesting to see actual justices arguing the point – after all, they’re supposed to be some of the best at the art of the debate – I still disagree with some of the foundational points:

"Where are the books? You can't be a scholar of that depth and not have any books in your home," Justice Stevens says. "He never had any correspondence with his contemporaries, he never was shown to be present at any major event -- the coronation of James or any of that stuff. I think the evidence that he was not the author is beyond a reasonable doubt."

He was never shown to be present is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that he must not have been there?  Really?  The fact that correspondence is lost means it never existed?  Because if that’s true then there’s no such thing as the Ur-Hamlet.

I also hate the argument that people who “like to think that a commoner can be such a brilliant writer,” which seems to imply that the authorship people think this can *not* be the case.

Then they just turn stupid, in my opinion.  Justice Stevens, upon realizing that the nearby Folger owns a  Bible that once belonged to De Vere (Oxford), makes this wild case that “since the ‘bed trick’, (where the man thinks the woman is someone else) came from the old testament, then Oxford would have underlined those passages in his Bible.”  Ummm…. what?  Given that they found no such underlining, should we therefore argue this as evidence that the author was NOT Oxford?

I think all this article ends up showing us is that our justices, while likely very smart men who can form a persuasive argument, are admittedly not as well schooled in their literature.  Stevens himself refers to his wife as “a much better expert in literature than I”, and she thinks he’s wrong.

The article fails to mention that Oxford died before several plays, including The Tempest and Macbeth, were written.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Audiobook : Rude Mechanicals

Someone mentioned this book in the comments, and I apologize for losing the original reference.  This short book (about 10 chapters, under 3 hours audio) by Kage Baker is apparently part of a series, and deals with the (mis-)adventures of a couple of time travelling cyborgs.

Why do we care?  Well, because in this installment they’re both stationed in 1934 at the Hollywood Bowl, working on and around Max Reinhardt’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Mickey Rooney turns up briefly, and I realize that we’re ultimately talking about a sort of alternate history version of the movie.

The adventure itself is a bit slapstick, putting the prim-and-proper cyborg (who cares only about not getting his company car dirty) together with the Sam Spade wannabe with a closet full of trenchcoats who can never seem to stay out of trouble, and sticking them both into a big mess as they try to recover a diamond that keeps falling into the wrong hands over (and over and over) again.

This all plays out amid rehearsals for Dream, and we get a fair share of hearing the lines delivered (albeit in a somewhat nasally narration that I didn’t love).  The most interesting portrayal in the story is that of the director, who has such a perfect vision for his faerie wood that he sends workmen to go out and dig up more trees from the surrounding area and bring them to the set.  While complaining that he wished he’d gotten WC Fields and Charlie Chaplin for crucial roles, he still manages in mime to demonstrate some key scenes, such as Bottom’s great awakening.  It is telling that I would rather hear a description of a director who loves his craft miming what he wants (since he speaks only German and his actors do not), than to hear the actual lines delivered by someone who has no idea what he is saying.

It’s a cute story, it entertained me.  Now that I know it’s a series I will actually go check it out, although I highly doubt that she’s in the habit of doing Shakespeare crossovers.  But you never know.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

DVD: Playing Shakespeare

Ooooo, this looks interesting.  A 4DVD set of “actor’s workshops” including Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Ben Kingsley…

Anyone who has ever appreciated Shakespeare will find startling new insights in these nine intensive acting workshops. In an intimate, informal setting, the Royal Shakespeare Company's John Barton shares ideas with 21 world-renowned performers. Together they explore hidden direction in the verse, character motivations, and fresh approaches to classic speeches.

It’s stuff like this, and the recent Age of Kings collection, that make me wish I did this stuff for a living.  I have no way near the money or the time to buy these collections every time I see them.  Ah well, maybe somebody else out there wants to jump on something like this and tell us how it is.  Comes out in June 2009.

Hip Hop Shakespeare

Found this article cruising Twitter today.  The theme is pretty generic – teaching Shakespeare by putting a “hip hop”, aka “rap” spin on it. 

I like this article, though, because it points out that rap doesn’t have to be all “tits and arse and jewellery,” and that real artists can get real poetry and social commentary out of the medium.

Some of the kids tell me that they hate how Shakespeare is taught at school – how boring the approach is. But will this send them scuttling back to Othello with a fresh eye? Akala says the aim isn't that limited: "It's about showing them what's attainable. And if Shakespeare is presented as the most unattainable, highbrow entity, but then it's made relevant to them, what else might be? It's part of a wider effort to open kids up to what they wouldn't traditionally be interested in."

Emphasis mine, because I think that sums it up.  They also mention in the article how the kids aren’t in it for the Shakespeare, but for the rapping (which pains me, trust me), so they’re the exact audience you want to go after with this kind of approach.  If they’d come in already interested in Shakespeare, well then that’s good, but the guy’d be up there preaching to the converted.

Love Story by Taylor Swift

We often talk about getting younger kids interested in Shakespeare, as I’m sure my regular readers are well aware.  So I find this an interesting development.  I’m probably about 20 or 30 years out of the demographic for the music of Taylor Swift, but I was aware she has some sort of a song that mentions Romeo and Juliet.   Last night I actually heard it, and it’s not bad.

If this gets kids interested in the story who otherwise might have been a bit too young for it, hey, all the better!  I don’t know if I’ve got these right, I’m sure somebody will correct me.  Here is Love Story, by Taylor Swift:

We were both young when I first saw you
I close my eyes and the flashback starts
I'm standing there
On a balcony in summer air
See the lights, see the party, the ballgowns
See you make your way through the crowd
And say hello
Little did I know

That you were Romeo
You were throwing pebbles
And my daddy said, "Stay away from Juliet,"
And I was crying on the staircase
Begging you, "Please don't go,"
And I said

Romeo, take me
Somewhere we can be alone
I'll be waiting
All there's left to do is run
You'll be the prince
And I'll be the princess
It's a love story
Baby, just say yes

So I sneak out to the garden to see you
We keep quiet 'cause we're dead if they knew
So close your eyes
Escape this town for a little while

'Cause you were Romeo
I was a scarlet letter
And my daddy said, "Stay away from Juliet,"
But you were everything to me
I was begging you, "Please don't go,"
And I said

Romeo, take me
Somewhere we can be alone
I'll be waiting
All there's left to do is run
You'll be the prince
And I'll be the princess
It's a love story
Baby, just say yes

Romeo, save me
They're trying to tell me how to feel
This love is difficult, but it's real
Don't be afraid
We'll make it out of this mess
It's a love story
Baby, just say yes

I got tired of waiting
Wondering if you were ever coming around
My faith in you is fading
When I met you on the outskirts of town
And I said

Romeo, save me
I've been feeling so alone
I keep waiting for you
But you never come
Is this in my head?
I don't know what to think

He knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring
And said
Marry me, Juliet
You'll never have to be alone
I love you and that's all I really know
I talked to your dad
You'll pick out a white dress
It's a love story
Baby, just say yes

We were both young when I first saw you


[Love it?  The MP3 is available here.]

Seems a fairly juvenile interpretation, two kids who immediately leap into “we can’t be together therefore we’re just like Romeo and Juliet”  territory.  Not to mention the ending be just a wee bit different than how old Will had it in mind.  I do like the opening, though, as it does make one thing of the Capulet party where the two do actually meet.  Of course, Daddy didn’t say “Stay away from Juliet” at that point, but details details.

I think it’s funny that she throws in a “Scarlet Letter” reference while she’s at it.  It’s like she wrote the entire song while daydreaming in English class.

For some reason this makes me think of Starcrossed, by Lenny and the Squigtones.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Shakespeare Tavern on “Original Practice”

Thanks to regular reader/commenter Ann for the link on “original practice”, where Shakespeare performance is done as close as possible to how Shakespeare himself would have done it. 

In the Elizabethan Playhouse, as I imagine it, the world of the play and the world of performance are one and the same. Thus we do not craft a distinct world of performance for each and every play we do. We use the Elizabethan playhouse. In the Playhouse, we have the Heavens, we have the Hell, we have every thing known to man and we have all of humanity as well. We have all that has come before and all that is yet to come. The playwright has free and easy access to all creation with the stroke of the pen. Thus the playhouse was the central metaphor for life, the universe, and everything. Shakespeare called his playhouse “The Globe”.

This reminds me of my own limited theatre experience back in college, where I wrote for the annual festival of plays (and saw 4 of my works produced).  They did strictly bare stage, where the only props you got were black cubes.  If you sat on one it was a chair, if you stacked them it was a wall.  Anything else, you were bringing it onstage and taking it off yourself.

Now, that’s probably a gross over simplification of one small part of what the author’s talking about, so I’ll shut up.  I mention it only because I credit that experience with making me more a playwright and a man of words, than some who cares what color the mountains are.  I’ve always been happy to write “Scene: Outside” and then move on to whatever the characters need to be talking about.

What Are You Doing For Shakespeare’s Birthday?

It always seems to sneak up on me, but in just over a week we’ll celebrate Mr. Shakespeare’s 445th birthday.  What are you doing?

Alas, I’m almost certainly doing….nothing.  It’s a Thursday, and I’ve got a big boss coming into town for the week so it’s highly unlikely that I could take a vacation day :), and the following weekend (May 2) we are already celebrating both my son’s and my own birthday.  So poor April 23 is going to come and go relatively uncelebrated.  Perhaps I’ll wear a party hat and toot a horn at my desk.

Business idea : Shakespeare’s Birthday greeting cards for Shakespeare geeks to send each other.  The rest of the world may not care, but we do.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Remember The Guy That Stole The First Folio?

Apparently he’s getting his day in court.  Man, the guy looks like an absolute flake.  I’d like to get a closeup of those buttons/stickers on his jacket.

Here’s the original story on the theft, and capture.  Seems the eccentric Mr. Scott just walked into the Folger one day and asked them to verify/date “his” Folio.  He apparently did not realize that every Folio in existence has been micro-catalogued for every last smudge and tear on each page, so while they said “You just sit there for *one* sec, ‘k?” it took them no time at all to identify “his” Folio as the one stolen from Durham University.

Where’d he get it?  Why, a friend in Cuba, of course.

You know, it just dawns on me that Obama just recently eased restrictions on travel to Cuba.  Wouldn’t it be funny to tell the guy “Get your coat, we’re going to meet your friend.”  I’d like to see how the story changes!

I know I’ve got some Folger folks that read the blog, I wonder if there’s anybody that was directly connected to the story that can share any good gossip?  I would love to talk to the person who he handed the book to!

Ten Things We Knew

I feel obliged to click on these stories, just in case one of them turns up something I didn’t, in fact, already know. This one has nothing new under the sun – shotgun wedding, Venus and Adonis, 1700 new words coined, etc etc etc. While it mentions the second-best bed, it gives no reason to believe that it was “possibly the couple’s marriage bed.”

The article itself is pretty badly written.  For instance:

8. At least two of Shakespeare’s plays, Love’s Labour’s Won and Cardenio, have disappeared entirely without trace. Love’s Labour’s Won is a follow-up to his early romantic comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost, while Cardenio is thought to have been a version of Don Quixote.

If they disappeared without a trace, we wouldn’t know that they existed.  That’s also the first time I’ve seen somebody make the leap that because Cardenio was a character *in* Don Quixote, that Shakespeare’s play of the same name must therefore be his version of the same story.


He was just 18 when he got Anne Hathaway pregnant with their first child, Susannah (she was 26),

Wait, so who was 26, Susannah?  


His only son, Hamnet (the name was relatively common), died at the age of 11, but his sister Judith lived to be 77.

Whose sister, Hamnet’s or Shakespeare’s?

Instead of telling us that Hamnet was a common name I think I would have preferred to hear about the neighbors, Hamnet and Judith, for whom the twins were named.

Normally I wouldn’t nitpick – my grammar’s hardly stellar – but these are apparently excerpts from a book called the Rough Guide to Shakespeare.  I hope the book is better edited than the article.

Your Favorite Question

There are many “questions” about Shakespeare’s life and work.  There’s of course the big Authorship question, but also a whole bunch about his married life, that other woman, whether he was even heterosexual, who was Mr. W.H.…and then there’s questions within the work itself:  was Hamlet mad?  Did Gertrude know?  Sullied or solid? :)

Some questions annoy people, and we take the position that it’s not really a question at all.  Others, though, tend to merit lively discussion.

Which are your favorite questions?  You’re at a party and you hear people discussing Shakespeare – which topic do you studiously avoid, and which do you jump in with an “Excuse me, I couldn’t help overhearing…”

As is probably obvious to my regular readers, I’m always interested in questions about the work more than the man.  While it’s interesting to me (mostly as a married man) whether Shakespeare was happily married or shotgunned into it, I just don’t think we’ll ever know. 

For the record, I realize that “questions about the work” could be considered simply “preference of interpretation” and thus there is no right answer.  What I’m talking about is Shakespeare’s original intent.  If we went back in time 400 years and watched these plays performed (assuming we could understand a bloody word of it!) would we see someone playing Hamlet as mad, or just putting on an antic disposition?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Meet The Commenters

I haven’t done one of these in awhile.  It seems like a good a time as any, seeing the lovefest going on over in the recent threads on iambic pentameter in the sonnets, and the “man v. work” debate.

Who are you, and what’s Shakespeare to you?  Author, actor, director, teacher?  Just random lover of the Bard?  Here’s your chance to introduce yourself to our readers.  After all, you folks are often the ones coming up with the really good content, I just open up the threads.  Seems only fitting that everybody get introduced.

Plugging stuff (i.e. links) are welcome, do not feel like you’re being spammy.  My one rule : I expect an actual human written introduction that explains the link and preferably a little bit about yourself.  If I catch any spambots spotting this opportunity to just drop in random anonymous links, then those I will kill.

And yes if you’ve introduced yourself before feel free to do it again, I get new readers all the time. :)

Reminder, FREE Books!

Just reminding folks that Marie over at Sourcebooks Shakespeare was kind enough to donate *2* book+CD packages for me to giveaway here on Shakespeare Geek.  Read my reviews here and here.  I’ll hit the highlights:  Focused primarily on Shakespeare in performance, these books provide a very well formatted and edited version of each play, accompanied by liberal notes including not just the standard glossary, but editorial comments about why certain decisions were made, anecdotes about famous interpretations of the scene in question, and screen shots from movies and stage of famous portrayals.  And then there’s the accompanying audio, “hyperlinked” (as best you can in a paper book!) to tracks on the accompanying audio CD.  So when you get to the heath, you get to hear for yourself a few different versions of how it has been interpreted.  Of course, that’s the King Lear example – Marie’s actually offered to let my winners pick which play they want from the Sourcebooks catalog, which includes most of the major works.

Quick reminder of the rules!

1) Follow @ShakespeareGeek on Twitter.  I’ll need to be able to message you in case you win.  In case it wasn’t obvious, you have to be willing to provide a mailing address so we can actually send the book.

2) As the saying goes, "retweet” this specific link, swapping in the name of the book you’d prefer if you win.  You don’t have to call it “my favorite play” or anything, I just need to keep track of who is voting for which books.  Please use the link I’ve provided, do not just link to the main blog post, it may not be picked up by my filters.

3) That’s it!  I’ll keep track of contest entries and then choose 2 randomly from those received by midnight (EST), April 22.  That meaning the midnight at the close of 4/22, before 4/23, lest there be any confusion.

4) Winners will be notified by Twitter direct message (DM) so please make sure you keep that channel open and check it regularly, at least until contest winners are announced on the blog.

PLEASE DO NOT FORGET STEP TWO!  I get new Twitter followers every day, and I have no idea which of them want to be entered into the contest unless they follow it up with the request retweet.  You do not want me to just enter every new followed into the contest, that will drastically cut down the chances of winning for people who do actually want the books, so please RT the message so I can keep track.  Thanks!!

Hey Vern! To Be Or Not To Be, Am I Right?

Anybody remember the “Ernest” movies starring Jim Varney, who gained his fame as the “Hey Vern!” guy of a bunch of commercials?

Turns out he was a Shakespearean actor as well.  Who knew?  Check out the 1984 video for a shot of him doing the “too too sullied flesh” speech from Hamlet.  Not too bad!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sourcebooks Review Part II : The Audio

When I first reviewed Sourcebooks Shakespeare I had not ripped into the accompanying audio CD because I wanted to give them away to my readers.  Well, now that we are giving away copies to TWO readers I am free to dig in.

Umm…wow.  Or maybe, holy cow!  Or fill in your own word for “cow”.  To think I almost missed this.

Let me take a moment to explain how I listen to stuff on CD these days.  Regardless of the matter, I rip it into MP3, compile it all up into a single file, turn it into audiobook format, and then put it on my ipod where I most typically listen while driving.  I got into this habit specifically because the ipod lets you put audiobooks (and not just any random MP3) on “faster” mode, allowing you to effectively speed read your way through a book on CD.  It was with this approach that I began the King Lear CD.

…and it took me about 10 seconds to turn off “faster” mode, for starters.  I want to enjoy this, not merely say that I completed it.

The CD ends up being something that is half lesson, half sampler, and all wonderful.  There’s a very simple structure – Derek Jacobi narrates, introducing a scene from the play followed by two different versions of that same scene.  At least I think it is always two, I’m not quite done yet.  By description I don’t just mean he says “Ok, here’s the Scofield versus the Olivier” – that would be the sampler.  It is a lesson because he explains what to listen for in each, how in the first you might hear Edgar doing a manic Poor Tom who barely prevents breaking character when he realizes he is speaking to the king, while in the second you get an Edgar who always looks to be in control of himself and is merely spouting a steady stream of gibberish. (That is my paraphrase, that is not part of the narration).

I could listen to that all day.  There is no confusion, none at all, with this snipping of a scene here and a scene there, without context.  The narration provides perfect context, telling you what’s led up to this point, and walking you through the action that will happen.  It is where he says what to listen for that the real hardcore fans in the audience might find fault, as they’d like to listen for themselves first.  Not me.  I’m perfectly happy to be told the differences to watch for, and then see if I can hear it in the performance.  Quite honestly sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t.  Jacobi may tell me that this Lear is going to speak to the storm like it’s a person standing next to him, but then when I hear that performance that’s not the thought I get at all.

Walking through the scenes like this is also a great way to get a taste of productions you might not otherwise get to witness.  The first Fool I ever saw was John Hurt, playing to Olivier’s Lear.  Samples from that version are included, sometimes up against none other than Kenneth Branagh, playing the Fool vs Paul Scofield’s Lear.  You know what?  To my ear, Branagh never stood a chance. :)

It is easy to get confused, I have to say that.  One long stream of various people doing various scenes from the play makes it hard to connect the two and say “Ok, I remember how Olivier played Lear in the first scene, now I want to compare it to the scene on the heath…”  That might be easier with the original CD and the book for reference, rather than how I am doing it.

[Funny aside, a coworker just came by as we wrap up our lunch hour and we got into a discussion about source material and multiple versions, and how there are some folks that will only ever love the first “version” they see, while others will seek out multiple versions and find their enjoyment in the intricate differences between the two.  I played a sample of this very audio for her, explaining that even though it is an analysis of King Lear, “This is the sort of thing I listen to for fun.”  You know what?  It sounds 1000x better on my headphones than in the car, I may have to switch my listening style…]

Anyway, wrapping it up.  This is just wonderful, wonderful stuff.  I’d like the entire canon like this, please.  I want more than 2 examples of each, I want half a dozen.  I want a web site where they’re all indexed so I can pick and choose, a virtual Build-a-Lear Workshop (I just thought of that! :)) where I can piece together some Olivier, some Scofield, some McKellen…

Don’t forget, we’re giving away two copies, so what are you waiting for?

Shakespeare Guy Love

After seeing a very funny and definitely off-color reference to Sonnet 20 on Twitter, I went to look it up and saw it tagged as the one that “surely” proves Shakespeare’s homosexuality. 

I don’t have the time right now to dig into it, but you know what it did remind me of?  Scrubs.  How many people watch this TV show?  I love it, and for awhile even had a web site dedicated to it.

In the show, for those that don’t watch, there’s the very complicated best-friend relationship between Turk, the masculine black surgeon, married with kids, who spends his time playing basketball, working out, high-fiving and chest-bumping his like-minded surgeon friends…and J.D., the emotional needy nerdy white guy who spends his time fantasizing about things that most certainly border on homoerotic, to say the least.

Some examples from the history of the show…

J.D. “Dude I don’t want to sound girly or anything, but for the last 5 years you’ve kinda been like my wife.”

Turk  “How is that girly?”

or this

J.D. “Come on, it’s not like we’re married.”

Turk “Dude, we’re married a little.”

or the fact that in their musical episode there is an entire number entitled “Guy Love”:

Guy love, that’s all it is!  Guy love, he’s mine I’m his!  There’s nothing gay about it in our eyes. 

This is a very trendy topic, ranging from the reality show “Bromance” to the recent movie “I Love You, Man.”  But in this relationship it’s pretty clearly lopsided, with JD being far more “expressive” in his feelings.  Take this running joke, as part of the best friends’ celebration:

Turk:  Upstairs!

(They bump chests.)

JD: Downstairs!

(They bump crotches.)

Turk:  I don’t really like ‘downstairs’.

JD:  No?  I wanted to try it.

That was a few years ago.  Just last night they revisited the joke:

JD: Downstairs! 

(They bump crotches.)

Turk:  I still don’t like ‘downstairs’.

JD: Really?  You haven’t come around yet?

Just a few minutes later, Turk received some good news:

Turk:  Downstairs!

JD: Really?

Turk:  No!  What’s *wrong* with you?

I guess my point, other than wanting to showcase my love of my favorite TV show, is that that’s sort of how I view the whole “Was Shakespeare gay?” thing.  No, I don’t think he was.  Can you cite examples where it really really really looks like he was?  Probably.  But so can I.  After all, the JD character above has a child of his own, and also been through relationships with many women.  I think the bigger issue is how some people deal with the topic.  It’s like the rule goes a little something like this: 

No amount of heterosexual activity will be proof positive that you are heterosexual, but the one bit of homosexual evidence is enough to prove otherwise.

If that’s how you want to play it, fine.  But personally I find it a pretty boring topic.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Rachel and Juliet,1155453.html

No, it’s not what you think.  This is a play by Lynn Redgrave (sister of Vanessa, children of Sir Michael, if I read that right) about her mother (Rachel) and “the role that would beguile her all her life”, Juliet.

On the day his mother died, the celebrated actor Sir Michael Redgrave had a matinee and an evening performance to give as Hamlet. Backstage at the theater, he sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. Then he went out front. "And he did two of the greatest Hamlets he ever played."

The article makes it sound like the father is the more interesting character, a man who was so preoccupied with other things that the birth of his child doesn’t even appear in his diary, so obsessed with the stage that on his deathbed he whispered “How’s the house?”

But Lynn Redgrave already wrote that play  - Shakespeare For My Father.  This one is different, as is her relationship with her mother.

Lynn describes her mother as a funny and perceptive woman, afflicted with self-doubt. "She suffered from her lack of security, making room for my father's career," she says. "Rachel and Juliet," then, is "a love letter" to Kempson, who retained an attachment to Juliet into her golden years: At age 90, she recited a speech of Juliet's at the wedding of one of Lynn's three children, daughter Pema.

I was not aware of the apparently deep connection between the Redgraves and Shakespeare.  I shall have to keep an eye out for more of that.

The Man vs The Work, Continued

I just had an idea in the comments, maybe it will help me explain my position a little better.  Bear with me for a second.

Once upon a time a man by the name  of Joseph Weisenbaum wrote a book called Computer Power and Human Reason.  In it, he described something he called the “compulsive programmer”, someone who we would now call a “hacker”.  I cite this example because this is very much my life, I identify greatly with his description and when I stumbled across this particular analogy it stuck with me for life.

What he said (and this is drastically paraphrased) was to imagine computer programming like a chessboard.  You’ve got a finite space, and a fixed set of rules and logic for the interaction of entities within that space.  It is a closed universe.  And yet, it is effectively infinite, and the chess master is god over that space.  That is how the compulsive programmer feels about his computers.

I know *exactly* what he’s talking about there, but maybe that’s just because I’m one of them, so I hope I haven’t lost people already.  Still with me?

Compare that analogy to the study of Shakespeare the man, and the body of Shakespearean work.  We end up with three different universes in which to work.

The words we have (and their punctuation!) are the first finite space.  Which words were used, how often, in what combinations?  When is punctuation the core of an idea, and when is it used more or less at will? 

The second “finite” space is the world described by those words.  The characters are the pieces, the words determine their moves.  And it is only our understanding of what it means to be human that we take it to the next level, making the difference between “Hamlet said this because Shakespeare said so” and “Hamlet said this because Ophelia died.”  (I imagine asking a computer AI that question and getting the first answer.)  Much like a chess set there are still effectively infinite interpretations (which is why I said “finite” like that), but they all have to be prefaced with a “maybe…but there’s my evidence why I think that.”    It is a world that still presents itself as having a finite set of rules.  Does that make sense?

The third space is infinite – it is Shakespeare the man.  We don’t know why he did anything, or what he meant.  Technically we don’t even know if he existed in the form that we know as the Author.  As soon as a sentence starts with “Shakespeare meant…” or “He did this because” or “He wanted to show…” then you are in this space.  There is nothing finite about the world of Shakespeare the man.  We are playing with a partial set of rules on an infinite space.  Some people are comfortable with theorizing about how to fill the spaces, some are not. That’s why things like the Authorship question exist (not to mention the whole sexuality thing, etc etc …)


Phew.  That’s a lot to type.  Having done so, I can say it simply – it is that second space where I live.  99% of the time I see the plays as something like a roadmap / recipe of what it means to be human.   Sure, sometimes I dabble in that first space, mostly because as a software guy I have the ability to make a computer analyze the work on that level.  Almost never am I comfortable in that third space.  While it may be true that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth for specific reasons having to do with his political affiliations, that is simply of neglible interest to me other than as a curiosity.  It in no way changes my view of the play, any more than if you told me that we were all just puppets being controlled by some alien race. 


There, how’s that?  Bigger can, more worms?

Shakespeare Video

I don’t even have time to go through all the embedded video on this one post alone, but let me hit you with the highlights:

* Shakespeare Who’s On First

* Looking for Richard

* Theatre of Blood

* The Flying Karamazov Brothers’ Comedy Of Errors

with a whole bunch of other references in the text tying it all together.  Great stuff.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Sonnet 73

We’ve been doing the sonnets lately, and I happened to see a reference to #73 today on Twitter.  So, why not?

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.


Honestly I’ve never even looked at this one until now, so any analysis here is off the top of my head.  Disclaimer, I might be totally incorrect!

When we talked about “forty winters” we saw that Shakespeare deliberately chose certain seasons to paint the picture he wants.  So, what season is he talking about the openly lines? Brilliantly he doesn’t just say it, he describes it: “that time of year when a few yellow leaves are left on the trees, whose branches shake in the cold wind.”  Sounds like autumn to me.  What’s more, it puts you right there.  Who hasn’t woken up one cold fall morning to exactly that feeling? 

There are times (particularly for those of us here in foliage heavy New England) where you can look forward to fall – the changing colors, the coming holidays, the start of school, seeing friends you haven’t seen in months.  But on more mornings than not, you’re most likely thinking “Blah, summer’s over and pretty soon it’s going to be winter.”

This sonnet is fairly depressing in that respect.  The poet is telling the “fair youth”, “This is how you see me – as a man in the autumn of my life.”  Someone who is going to die one day. 

The whole sonnet is like that, actually.  “I remind you of sunsets, and the coming darkness of night.  In me you see the ashes that remain of what was once the fire of youth.”

The whole thing sounds pretty self serving, like the poet was having a bad day.  It’s not like he’s saying “You called me old” or even “I can see on your face how you think of me.”  Everything the poet says about “this is what you think” is really, “this is what I think you think.”  In other words, “This is what I think of myself and I’m projecting that onto you.  I am upset about my own age and wasted youth.”

If there is an optimistic bit here, it comes in the last two lines:  “You see in me what it means to get old, it makes you appreciate your own youth more because you know that you too will have to give it up someday.”

What I find unusual, and I’m sure my experts will enlighten me on this one, is that there’s no reference to the relationship between the two men.   The poet never says why the youth would see him any differently than any other individual.  At first I thought that the love reference in the second to last line referred to the love of the youth for the poet, but in context it does not, it refers to a love on one’s fleeting youth.

…and you know what?  As I read that it looks like it could well refer to the poet.  “Your feelings for me are stronger because you realize now that I’m not going to be around forever.” 


That’s enough from me, for now.   Let’s see if this one gets as much chatter as the iambic pentameter one :)

Citing Shakespeare For Your Own Purpose

Twice this week I heard stories about people pulling a quote from Shakespeare and using it to make a point that almost certainly was way off base from what the original intended.  But interesting conversation is always good, no?

The first (thanks, amusings_bnl!) was this one:

To thine own self be true.

Everybody knows that one, right?  Apparently when looked at from the right angle, it could also mean something like this:  “As long as you think it’s ok, then go ahead and do it.”  That in turn opens up the whole interpretation of living a selfish life, only looking out for #1, and so on. 

The other one I just saw on Twitter, where somebody posted:

Hell is empty, and all the devils are here!

Apparently making a statement about the state of the world today.  In this case I pointed out that in context, the “devils” really turn out to be spirit Ariel, who in fact is watching over them and does not let them come to any harm at all.  So perhaps someone with a religious bone in their body (not really my strong suit) could run with that, make some bolder statements about God and how things around us that look like darkest days actually turn out ok?  Sitting here right now I could actually imagine the priest doing that topic as a sermon on Sunday morning.  And I might actually listen :).

Got any others?  Pick a quote and argue that it means what you want it to mean.

Does The Man Outweigh The Work?

The recent conversation on iambic pentameter got me thinking about how we approach “Shakespeare”. I say it like that for a reason, because it really means two things – the man, and the work. We don’t say “the stuff Shakespeare wrote”, we just call the whole body of work “Shakespeare.”  Or, “to study Shakespeare.”

But sometimes, such as the iambic discussion, the line blurs – when are you talking about the work, and when about the man, and can you draw a line between the two?

Let me put it like this.  When I look at the plays, I almost always envision the characters are real people, and speak of them that way – what did Hamlet mean by this, what happened to Ophelia’s mother, did Gertrude know what Claudius did?  Likewise with the sonnets (here and here) I try to see them for their narrative (oh, Carl will love me for this…).  Maybe that’s a bad term, though, because I’m not talking about the story told by the entire sequence.  I’m talking about the picture that is painted, much like how you could see a work of art hanging on a wall and somehow feel that you could climb right inside it and stand next to the characters, have a conversation with them.

Very rarely do I stop and think “Shakespeare chose this word and this punctuation for this purpose.”

Sure, I do that when I’m trying to explain something to someone, as those linked posts show.  But for my own enjoyment I don’t, you know what I mean?  The sum is greater than its parts, maybe that’s how I want to say it.  I agree completely that because he chose the words and punctuation he did, that the whole work manages to explode into a whole new universe for us to explore.    But rather than studying the parts I study the whole, does that make sense?

Maybe it doesn’t, I don’t know.  It’s what’s in my head right now.  I see everybody getting excited about the tricks and techniques Shakespeare used to emphasize certain syllables for certain reasons, and why there’s a full stop here but not there, and it’s like the excitement is more about the brilliance of the man, than the final product.

So which is it with you?  When you speak of love for “Shakespeare” are you talking about the man or the work?  I won’t say which came first because that makes no sense, but which *comes* first, for you?  Which is greater?

Somebody jump in here, I’m rambling.

Monday, April 06, 2009

FREE Books! Sourcebooks Shakespeare Giveaway

I love it when I get to give away books!  This time my new friends at Sourcebooks Shakespeare (read my review here) have offered to give one of their books – your choice! – away to  *2*  ShakespeareGeek readers.  Their list of titles includes:  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, Richard III, and Macbeth.  (Disclaimer : I am taking that list from Amazon, I do not know for certain that all of their titles are currently in print, perhaps Marie or someone else from Sourcebooks can chime in with additional info.  I reserve the right to update this post, including contest rules, in case I’ve said something that is not in line with my benefactor’s original expectations).

If you don’t feel like clicking over to my review, let me sum it up for you.  These books, while still containing a very well edited and formatted copy of the play, focus heavily on the play’s performance.  Over half the book is dedicated to images from the movies (as well as stage performances), detailed descriptions of various key scene interpretations, editor’s notes about what’s going on at that moment and why, plus the traditional glossary of terms (conveniently placed on each page right where you need it, and not in the back where you have to keep flipping for it).  That’s not even getting to the audio CD that accompanies each book.   First you read a scene from Hamlet, and then maybe you hear how Sir Derek Jacobi reads it? Hmm?  How’s that sound?  Sounds *awesome*, that’s how it sounds.

Since I met Marie on Twitter, we thought it would be fun to hold the giveaway that way as well.  And since a certain well-known playwright’s birthday is coming up later this month, we might as well make that the big giveaway day.


1) Follow @ShakespeareGeek on Twitter.  I’ll need to be able to message you in case you win.  In case it wasn’t obvious, you have to be willing to provide a mailing address so we can actually send the book. 

2) As the saying goes, “retweet” this specific link, swapping in the name of the book you’d prefer if you win.  You don’t have to call it “my favorite play” or anything, I just need to keep track of who is voting for which books.  Please do not just RT the main blog post, my filters may not pick it up if you do that.

3) That’s it!  I’ll keep track of contest entries and then choose 2 randomly from those received by midnight (EST), April 22.  That meaning the midnight at the close of 4/22, before 4/23, lest there be any confusion.

4) Winners will be notified by Twitter direct message (DM) so please make sure you keep that channel open and check it regularly, at least until contest winners are announced on the blog.

PLEASE DO NOT FORGET STEP TWO!  It helps me separate folks who want to participate in the contest from those who are just becoming new followers.  If I add every new follower into the contest it drastically lowers your chances of winning.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Sonnet LVIII : Is This Iambic Pentameter?


That god forbid, that made me first your slave,
I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
Or at your hand the account of hours to crave,
Being your vassal, bound to stay your leisure!
O! let me suffer, being at your beck,
The imprison'd absence of your liberty;
And patience, tame to sufferance, bide each check,
Without accusing you of injury.
Be where you list, your charter is so strong
That you yourself may privilage your time
To what you will; to you it doth belong
Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.
I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,
Not blame your pleasure be it ill or well.

Somebody want to break those opening lines (most notably 2,4,6,7) down for me so they fit iambic pentameter?  I can’t figure it out.

Forty Winters

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow…

A common complaint among those forced to study Shakespeare is, “Well why didn’t he just say that? Why does it have to be so complicated / use so many words / say things backward…?'”

I thought I’d pick one of my favorite examples, shown above. 

This is the opening line to Sonnet #2.  Like many of the other sonnets, the “procreation” ones especially, sonnet 2 offers a glimpse into the future. Any random future?  No, a very specific one – 40 years from now.  Sure, Shakespeare could have said “Some day”, and there are probably a whole bunch of “modern translations” of the sonnets that say exactly that. 

But he doesn’t say it like that, does he?  Imagine a job interview or a high school guidance counselor asking you, “Where do you see yourself in the future?”   Typically they don’t.  They ask, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”  By putting a real number up there, Shakespeare puts the future within the reader’s grasp.  Each person can imagine for themselves what life will be like in 40 years.

Wait, it gets better.  Shakespeare didn’t even say “years”, did he?  After all, what’s a year?  Draw me one.  How does a year feel? 

Instead he said winter.  That make a better image in your head?  I bet you could draw winter.  What’s winter feel like?  Shakespeare’s not out there sledding and making snowmen, folks.  Winter is long and cold and desolate, and you’ll be lucky to survive to see spring.  If we’re talking strictly about telling time he could just as easily have said forty summers or forty autumns, but this is why the man’s a poet.  He’s painting a picture in only a handful of words.  His point is still the same – 40 years from now.  But do you start to see how he makes it look?  If you’re an old man looking back on 40 summers you’re looking back on happy memories.  40 winters makes you think “Wow, what a long hard road that’s been.”

He’s not done, oh no.  Not by a long shot.  What exactly is that winter doing?  Just coming and going, one year after the next?  Time just passing you by?  “When forty winters have gone by”?  Far from it.  You have to love the word he picks here – besiege.  Do you know what that means?  It means to attack, to wage war upon.  Besieging is what the barbarian hordes do to the castle.  More illustratively it means a never-ending, relentless attack.  In a word, Shakespeare’s managed to take this sonnet from  a still life painting of falling snow to an ongoing war, you against Time itself (in other sonnets referred to as “the guy with the scythe”).

What’s the battleground for this war?  Where is Time doing its worst?  Here’s where it gets personal.  This is not a hypothetical “you against the guy with the scythe” argument, Shakespeare got a point. Time is going to play out this battle on your face, son!   What do you think happens when you get old?  You won’t be as pretty then as  you are now, let me tell you.

And that, ultimately, is the point. As the story of the procreation sonnets goes, you’ve got this young and handsome guy who is so busy enjoying his life that he doesn’t have time to settle down, get married and have kids.  So where do you hit him?  In his vanity.  “Dude, see how handsome you are now?  I’ve got news for you, you’re not going to look so pretty after 40 years.  Think about it.”  Once you’ve got his attention, then you can deliver the “you should have kids, because they’ll look just like you and everybody will still appreciate how handsome you were” argument.  (Compare this logic to that of sonnet 12 where he takes a very different approach, talking about how flowers get all withered up as they get old.  Here he doesn’t talk about what happens to people in general, he comes right out in this first line and says *thy* brow.  You.  When *you* get old.)

As I write this, the analysis next to the original says:  “Forty years from now when your brow is wrinkled with age.”  There’s nothing *wrong* with that.  It tells you the point, if you needed it.  But hopefully I can at least give you a glimpse at what you’re missing, and why exactly Shakespeare chooses the words he does.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Announcing BaconGeek !

You people have no idea how many emails I get about Authorship questions.  I feel bad calling them all loonies – after all, most of them want to get into a deep conversation on the subject and honestly I don’t have nearly enough knowledge to debate it.  Quite frankly some of them make a compelling case.

So I’m happy to announce that I’ve set up a new site to deal with that whole issue, and just basically get it off our plates altogether (and to give me a place to learn more about the subject).  And who better to symbolize the Authorship question than Sir Francis Bacon himself?  After all, it was Delia Bacon (no relation) who originally asked the question, and suggested Sir Francis as the author.  I thought it a fitting tribute.

On the new site I will do my best to pay equal time to all of the authorship theories, not just Bacon.  Feel free to stop by, no matter your opinion on who wrote what.  Try to keep an open mind, huh?  I know I will.