Thursday, July 30, 2009

Search Engine Juggling With Google Chrome

Ok, this is a fairly geeky trick but it’s Shakespeare related so I thought I’d blog it here instead of one of my lesser travelled tech blogs.

I’m working on a little side project involving a quotes database.  I’ve even built myself up a little web editor so I can crank through them.  Problem is that I have text, but what I really want is character and scene.  Luckily we have wonderful search engines like http://shakespeare.clusty.com that do exactly what I need.

Turns out I can combine the two, using Google Chrome.   If you select some text and right click it, a menu option “Search Google for this text” comes up and you’ve just saved yourself a bunch of cut and paste.  It even opens up a new tab for you.

But, it uses Google as my search engine, by default.  More often than not if I try this approach I’ll get a page full of other quote databases, none of which has my character and scene info.

Not for long. 

  1. Right click in the awesome bar (that’s the URL/location bar at the top) and you’ll see Edit search engines.  Pick that.
  2. Now Add.  
  3. Pick whatever name and keywords you like.  The URL is this:  http://clusty.com/search?input-form=simple-billy&query=%s&v:sources=billy-bundle&v:project=billy (noting the %s where the query goes).
  4. Lastly, go ahead and click Make Default to make Clusty your default Shakespeare search engine.
  5. Now select some text, right click and you’ll see Search Clusty for text…  Presto, I’ve got my character and scene information!
  6. Remember to put it back when done:  Edit search engines, select your primary engine, Make Default.   You’ll even notice that Clusty has jumped up into the Default section so you can get to it more easily next time.

Any kind of web research, not just Shakespeare, requires lots of cutting, pasting and cross referencing.  If you’ve got a particular search engine doing 99% of the work for you, Chrome can save you a tremendous amount of work this way.

Monday, July 27, 2009

To Willie Hughes It May Concern

Dr. Carl Atkins is the author of Shakespeare's Sonnets: With Three Hundred Years of Commentary as well as a prolific commenter here at ShakespeareGeek, both while holding down a day job as a medical doctor. Instead of a typical author interview with press blurbs and bio questions we decided to do something different – Carl’s going to guest blog a series for us based on *your* questions.

Question (from Paul, aka “emsworth”) : I just read Oscar Wilde's story, if you want to call it that, "The Portrait of Mr. W. H.," which has to do mostly with a  theory (by the characters in the story) that the sonnets were addressed to an effeminate member of Shakespeare's acting troupe named Willie Hughes.   Supposedly, in urging the recipient of the sonnets to have children, Shakespeare was actually encouraging Willie Hughes to take more acting roles.  Supposedly, the "Dark Lady" sonnets concerned a woman of whom Shakespeare first became jealous (because of Willie Hughes's attention to her), then became infatuated with her himself.  Was Wilde's theory entirely fictional?  Was this a theory that Wilde seriously urged, other than in his story?  Has anyone else ever taken it seriously?

Wilde's theory was entirely fictional, but definitely taken seriously by him and thence others. One might say that it resulted in an entire Willie Hughes fan club. The only so-called evidence that one can accumulate in support of it is the presence in the publisher's dedication of a reference to an individual whose initials are W. H., the repetition of the word "hues" or "hewes" in Sonnet 20 in reference to the "Young Man", and a vivid imagination. The context of The Sonnets, as I point out in my book, argues against such a theory. What I mean by that is that all other sonnet series written in the late 1500s (and further back to Petrarch) were written by poets as exercises in the expression of the speaker's love for his beloved. All shared similar themes and conventions, which are also found in Shakespeare's sonnets. True, as Maurice Evans says, Shakespeare's sonnet series reads like a convention that been turned on its head, but it is still difficult to view it in isolation out of context with other sonnet series. To do so, one must be very narrowly focused.

About the Author

This book brings together the scholarship of dozens of the most brilliant commentators who have written about Shakespeare's Sonnets over the past three hundred years. This edition adds the significant work done by modern editors to the most important commentary culled from the two variorum editions of the last century. Atkins presents a straightforward edition without jargon with the simple goal of finding out how the poems work and how they may be interpreted. He is the first to collate the modern texts so that differences among them can be fully appreciated and compared. His discussion of meter and verse is more substantial than that of any other edition, adding particular dimension to this text. Those coming to "The Sonnets" for the first time and those seeking a fresh look at an old friend will equally find this edition scholastically rigorous and a pleasure to read. Carl D. Atkins is a practicing medical oncologist in New York.

Got a question for the author? Send it in and we’ll see if we can get it in the queue!

Rebel Hamlet

http://www.rebelshakespeare.org

Last year I learned that there’s a group of kids doing Rebel Shakespeare, relatively near to me.  Relative in that it’s an hour away, so I only got to see a portion of a show from them last year.  Well, this year they decided to do one 10 minutes from my house.  Even better?  Hamlet.  So, you all know where I spent my Sunday.

How do you review something like this?  Christine (one of the folks organizing/running the show, and also a blog reader so I know she’s listening :)) told me of a bad review they got from some grumpy old dude who was holding them up to the same standard he might for a professional troop.  These are *kids* (in this case, it was the teen program).  Doing Shakespeare.  On their own.  For free.  The fact that they even *have* costumes, much less good ones, is a win.  Last year I saw a Tempest done in between stores at the mall.  Shakespeare everywhere, baby!

I won’t sit here and pick apart the acting. Maybe some of these kids are destined to become professional actors, maybe not.  They’re out there doing it, for their enjoyment and my entertainment, so I’m not going to sit here and criticize them.  Sure, maybe Ophelia could have been a little louder and Gertrude a bit softer, but on the flip side I thought Ophelia had down the “My boyfriend is acting weird and it’s pissing me off” facial expressions, and Gertrude was not afraid to put it all out on the stage, particularly during a pretty intense bedchamber scene.

Today I got to see their female Hamlet (they are rotating between the shows), and I quite liked her.  Though tradition dictates that Hamlet is commonly done by someone 30+, it is fascinating to watch it handled by a teen.  People joke about how “emo” Hamlet acts, complaining about his mom and his step dad and how much life stinks – but who better to play that part than a teenager?  Hamlet is not Claudius’ equal, remember – something that is lost when they both look about the same age and physical stature.

Ours seemed particularly….what’s a good word…..scheming, to me.  Like she always had the plan well in hand.  On an interesting note, for this version they edited out the “antic disposition” scene, so somebody coming into the play cold might not even understand that she was attempting to play it mad.  Take the “I am but mad north by northwest” line.  That can be played so you’re left thinking that Hamlet’s a crazy person saying ‘Dude, listen, I’m not crazy, there really are aliens sending me radio signals!  Get the tinfoil!’ or, as we had here, it can be “Look, I know that you think I’m nuts but I am just way frickin smarter than you, so I’m being incredibly patronizing because I know you’re never going to understand it.”  I would have liked to see this play out even more on the “play upon this recorder” scene – that’s really an opportunity to get at Hamlet’s anguish over his supposed friends who are looking him right in the eye and lying through their teeth at him.

I liked the costumes, though they did strike me a bit “Matrix” at first.  I’m told they were going for steampunk, which did not become apparent until characters started appearing wearing goggles (though I guess it did explain some of the boots).  I’m sorry to say, though I liked Polonius’ comedy, his beard was a bit much.  It was too hard to look past “that’s a kid with a grey beard glued to his face.” But what can you do?  There’s a scene or two that specifically mentions Polonius’ beard.  (Polonius actually makes a contribution to the play that I did NOT expect, and was pleasantly surprised by, but perhaps we’ll talk about that after their run is over in case anybody reading is still going to go see them.)

What I loved, most surprisingly, was the soundtrack.  One of the directors sat on a blanket next to me with an ipod dock, pressing buttons at the right times.  And sometimes, like during the play within a play scene or “Now could I drink hot blood,” it was perfect.  Hard to really explain, as they were not pieces that I was familiar with.  Even better, really.  Point proven when they went for the Johnny Cash / NIN “Hurt” and I was all “Aw come on, really?”

Great climax, too.  Stage combat is always tricky, even with the professionals.  The more realistic you make it, the better the chance of something going wrong or someone getting hurt.  So I was quite happy to see a real duel with real swords really hitting each other.  The trick, I guess, was to keep it brief.  Some productions will carry this scene for a long time, but here they got right to it – a first hit within about 10 seconds, a second soon after.  Good idea – make it good, but keep it short and keep the danger to a minimum.  ( Bonus points to our Hamlet as well for going all Gary Oldman on the “Follow my mother!” line to put away Claudius, even though only the ones that have seen The Professional will get that ;).  I could only wish for such intensity during the whole production. )

Have to wrap this up (it’s already tomorrow).  It’s not even like I can do a legit review, I’m such a raving fanboy when it comes to this stuff.  At intermission Christine asked me what I thought and I’m pretty sure my exact response was, “It’s Hamlet for God’s sake, it’s never bad.  Some parts are just better than others.”  Then later when comparing parts we liked I repeated something I’ve often said here, “I try to pick favorite lines and best lines and then realize that I can’t, because they’re all favorites and they’re all good.”

I look forward to seeing the Rebels do their thing any chance I get, and I encourage you all to do so as well. Maybe they’re not in your town, but have you checked to see if there is a similar group? Seriously, if you’re a Shakespeare fan, you want more Shakespeare in the world, right?  I dream of a time when I can randomly walk down the street and realize that there’s a Shakespeare production going on that I can sit down and watch. 

Or heck even keep walking and just listen to it in the air.  Caliban told us “Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.”  You know what?  For my money, sitting on the grass on a sunny Sunday afternoon listening for free,  to kids perform Hamlet not for grades or credit or cash but because they love doing it as much as I love listening to it?  I know exactly what he was talking about.  “I cried to dream again,” indeed.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Godless Shakespeare

http://www.dailytidings.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090718/LIFE/907180304/-1/NEWSMAP

Ok, well, I’ve heard it debated about whether Shakespeare was gay, and whether he was Catholic, but whether he was atheist is a new one on me.

Sorry, wait, got to get the terminology right:

The Bard can't be said to be an atheist but he comes across in his plays as "skeptical to negative" about religion and gives many clues that he's not inhospitable to the supernatural — demons, ghosts, uncanny things that can't be explained by science, even today."

Aren’t these two things somewhat incompatible?  He’s skeptical-to-negative about religion, but not inhospitable to ghosts?  What exactly does that mean?  Wouldn’t any support of ghosts imply an inherent soul/afterlife belief as well?  Hamlet and Brutus don’t just claim to believe in ghosts, ghosts actually show up on stage.  But I suppose the argument then is “Shakespeare was just giving the audience what he knew *they* believed in, it still doesn’t show his own personal beliefs.”

I think, and I’m at work so it’s always hard to fully digest these articles on a quick scan, that they’re arguing not so much a “no religion” point, but rather a “Shakespeare like other great thinkers wasn’t in such a hurry to just mindlessly offer it all up to God like he was supposed to according to popular culture.”

[UPDATE : I wonder if issues like these bring the Authorship folks together?  “Ok, Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays…but he was not a gay atheist!”]

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Authorship Movie? Disaster!

http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2009-07-22-roland-emmerich_N.htm

I’m glad I didn’t miss the little snippet buried inside this USA Today story about disaster-filmmaker Roland Emmerich’s new summer movie 2012:

Whether his retirement from chaos is permanent, he already has his next project lined up: Anonymous, a mystery about whether William Shakespeare really authored all his plays. It's clearly a departure, unless the Bard's critics are destroyed by meteors or a gigantic flood.

That’s right, people.  The man who brought you “Independence Day”, “The Day After Tomorrow”, and “10,000 BC” is apparently going to do a movie about the Shakespeare Authorship question.

Although I like the idea about the Bard’s critics being destroyed by flood.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sonnet Popularity

On the whole plays vs poems thing, Carl just gave me the idea to search for “Shakespeare’s sonnet ##”.  Want to know which ones are the most popular?

First is #1, which I suppose makes sense, gotta start somewhere.

Second is #20.  That’s the, ahem, "gay one".  That is, that’s the one that’s supposedly proof that Shakespeare’s homosexual.

Next comes #30.  I have no idea why that one’s so special.

Then we get to some favorites:

#18 (“Shall I compare thee”, perhaps the most famous of them all)

#29 (“When in disgrace, with Fortune and men’s eyes”).  I wonder if the Rufus Wainwright musical version has anything to do with that.

#73.   I like this one.

#130 (“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”).

#116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds….”) aka the Wedding Sonnet.

 

Although the order is questionable, I guess the only real surprise is #30.  One of my experts out there want to enlighten us on why that one deserves to be in the top 10?

 

D

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Guilt

This will sound like a homework question, but it’s been 20something years since I was in high school so you’ll have to trust me that it’s not :).

It’s easy to find ways in which Shakespeare’s villains feel guilt for their actions, whether it’s Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking, or Claudius’ outright “My offense is rank, it smells to heaven” prayer.  Should we count Edmund’s last minute redemption, too?

What I’m interested in is bad guys who feel no guilt at all.  I was trying to explain to my boss last week why Iago is such a nasty son-of-a-gun, and I realized that when it comes to his actual crimes, there are other bad guys that did far worse.  It’s just something about him.  I think it has a great deal to do with the fact that, as far as I can tell, he never feels a shred of anything for his victim, right up until the last words we hear.  That’s what’s so scary.

Who else?  I’m expecting Richard III to make an appearance, though truthfully I’m not familiar enough with the play to know if he has any moments where he stops to think about other people.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Shakespeare Plays, or Shakespeare Poems

Here’s an interesting question for a Monday might.  I’m playing around with the Google Suggest API, and I noticed that if you just feed it “Shakespeare” you get some interesting results.

First, “Shakespeare plays” is one of the most common queries, coming in at 2million hits.  Pretty big, given that “Shakespeare quotes” only gets 800k, and “Shakespeare sonnets” gets 600k.

But something else got 5 million hits.  Know what?  “Shakespeare poems.”

That’s odd to me.  [It’s not a quirk, if I switch to searching on the possessive “Shakespeare’s”, then the poems still come out ahead by almost twice as much over the plays.]

I almost never think of the Works as poems in the traditional sense.  If I mean the sonnets I say the sonnets.  I’m pretty sure that the long narratives aren’t carrying that kind of traffic by themselves.

Is it some cultural thing I’m unfamiliar with?  Over in Europe are they referring to the Canon in general as poems?  What’s the explanation for this odd statistic?

 

[By the way, the winner, with 7 million hits … is the movie Shakespeare in Love.  That doesn’t count. :)]

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Nighttime for Geeklet

Been a while since I posted one of these stories.  The other night I’m putting my son (now 3) to bed.

“You want me to sing you a song?”

“Yes!”

“Which one?”

“Shakespeare!”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“What a piece of work is man, how…”

“No, Daddy, Shakespeare!”

“Why, what was I singing?”

“Hamlet.”

“Oh!  You know, you’re right.  Shall I compare, thee…”

“You tried to sing Hamlet instead of Shakespeare!”

“I did.”

“That’s silly!’

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Least Popular Works, Demonstrated

People following me on Twitter watched this play out, but I thought it’d make a blog post as well.  Wandering through town today I stopped into a used book store. High up on the top shelf I saw a stack of small books that read “Temple Shakespeare", $15/volume.”

I googled around a bit to see if there was anything special about the collection, then decided to go check it out anyway.  What volumes did he have, I asked?

Merry Wives

Richard II

Troilus and Cressida

King John

All’s Well That Ends Well

Measure for Measure

Two Gentlemen of Verona

Titus Andronicus

Rape of Lucrece

Venus and Adonis

That certainly says something about the popularity of the works.  If you’re gonna pick over a collection volume by volume, you can see the Hamlet and the Dream and such going first…these are the leftovers.

 

I went with the Venus and Adonis.  Fourth edition, 1899.  I’ll let you know more about it once I have time.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Shakespeare, in Five Acts

http://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081004075252AAL4yQM

I wasn’t surprised by the question (how come Shakespeare wrote in 5 acts, not 3) but by the answers, which are surprisingly detailed regarding the history of dramatic structure.

But I’m confused, because I thought that Shakespeare himself made no Act/Scene divisions at all, that came later with publication of the Folio.

Somebody correct me if I’m wrong?  Or are they talking strictly about structural elements, i.e. there’s 5 segments to the progression of the story whether Shakespeare labelled them that way or not?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sad Sonnet 66 (Says So Much…)

Dr. Carl Atkins is the author of Shakespeare's Sonnets: With Three Hundred Years of Commentary as well as a prolific commenter here at ShakespeareGeek, both while holding down a day job as a medical doctor. Instead of a typical author interview with press blurbs and bio questions we decided to do something different – Carl’s going to guest blog a series for us based on *your* questions.

Question from Lee :  I'm of the turn-the-volume-down school on the sonnets, meaning I think the more layers of modern psychology we put over them, the further we get away from the obvious.  Take sonnet 66 (please).  If I were on a desert isle, and knew only the basics of history, and had never heard of Harold Bloom, and that sonnet washed ashore, well I'd pick it up and quickly conclude the author was lamenting the loss of the Catholic faith (purest faith unhappily forsworn), complaining about censorship (art made tongue tied by authority) and mocking the Queen's much ballyhooed virginity (maiden virtue rudely strumpeted).  Honestly, what other "pure faith" had to be forsworn under Elizabeth besides Catholicism?  Was there really another "strumpeted" virgin in England other than Elizabeth?  Aren't we getting away from the obvious in our approach to the sonnets with all this Freudian who-ha about dark women and fair boytoys when instead we should be looking at history and the Essex Rebellion?  Shouldn't we be looking at Shakespeare as a political creature?  Thanks.  I look forward to your reply.  It's a very sad sonnet, isn't it?

It is a sad sonnet, Lee, but I see it from a different angle. Rather than complaining about political specifics, I see a generalized list of the world's ills that have been around for a long time. From my book:

Shakespeare now toys with an old French form, the Provençal enueg. Wilkins (1915, 496) explains its three regular characteristics: ³the list, the initial repetition, and the emphatic presence of a word denoting Œannoyance.¹² I think too much has been made of parallels between this sonnet and other works of Shakespeare, especially Hamlet 3.1.70-76 [TLN 1724-30], The Rape of Lucrece 904-7, and The Merchant of Venice 2.9.41-45
[TLN 1153-57] (see Rollins). Cruttwell (1960, 8-9), for example, finds that ³the long piling Hamlet-like list of the world¹s iniquities utterly overwhelms the protesting little line at the end.² I find nothing so serious here, just a new way to compliment the beloved. ³You are more important than all the ills of the world,² the speaker says. It may be that the conclusion is somewhat weak (we might expect some stronger expression of love), but the effectiveness of this poem lies in its form more than its content. The list, the repetition, the annoyance, and the protest work together to make the speaker¹s point: ³I love you. I don¹t want to leave you.²

About the Author

This book brings together the scholarship of dozens of the most brilliant commentators who have written about Shakespeare's Sonnets over the past three hundred years. This edition adds the significant work done by modern editors to the most important commentary culled from the two variorum editions of the last century. Atkins presents a straightforward edition without jargon with the simple goal of finding out how the poems work and how they may be interpreted. He is the first to collate the modern texts so that differences among them can be fully appreciated and compared. His discussion of meter and verse is more substantial than that of any other edition, adding particular dimension to this text. Those coming to "The Sonnets" for the first time and those seeking a fresh look at an old friend will equally find this edition scholastically rigorous and a pleasure to read. Carl D. Atkins is a practicing medical oncologist in New York.

Got a question for the author? Send it in and we’ll see if we can get it in the queue!

Undiscovered Favorites

Dr. Carl Atkins is the author of Shakespeare's Sonnets: With Three Hundred Years of Commentary as well as a prolific commenter here at ShakespeareGeek, both while holding down a day job as a medical doctor. Instead of a typical author interview with press blurbs and bio questions we decided to do something different – Carl’s going to guest blog a series for us based on *your* questions.

Context : Following up on our discussion about the possibly overrated Sonnet 116, I promised Dr. Atkins equal time to talk about favorite sonnets…

As for favorite sonnets that deserve more popularity than they get, also difficult because there are so many. I am going to cheat because you asked for one and I am going to name two. It is not just that I can't make up my mind (OK, it's partly that) but because I have different types of favorite sonnets. And I am exhibiting great restraint in choosing only two types, mind you. The first is a very beautiful sonnet, number 52.  Here is the original printing, my glosses (mostly chosen from among other editors) and some of my commentary:

So am I as the rich whose blessed key,
Can bring him to his sweet up-locked treasure,
The which he will not ev’ry hower survay,
For blunting the fine point of seldome pleasure.
Therefore are feasts so sollemne and so rare,
Since sildom comming in the long yeare set,
Like stones of worth they thinly placed are,
Or captaine Jewells in the carconet.
So is the time that keepes you as my chest,
Or as the ward-robe which the robe doth hide,
To make some speciall instant speciall blest,
By new unfoulding his imprison’d pride.
Blessed are you whose worthinesse gives skope,
Being had to tryumph, being lackt to hope.  

4 For blunting for fear of blunting 5 sollemne formal 6 sildom rarely 8 Or that is to say; captaine chief; carconet jeweled collar 9 as like 12 his its

In this sonnet, Shakespeare vividly describes scenes of a gloating miser, an eager celebrant, a crafty jeweler, and a proud gentleman. In swift succession, he compares the beloved to a chest full of treasure, a joyous feast, a special jewel, and a fine garment. The last, seemingly the most trifling of the list, is presented with such delicious pleasure that it dwarfs the rest, unfolding its imprisoned pride with a wealth of specialness. And all through the poem, as Vendler notes, we find blessedness.
My second undiscovered favorite is a more restrained sonnet, number 107. I just love the way this sonnet sounds! Again, with original printing, my glosses, and some commentary:


Not mine owne feares, nor the prophetick soule,
Of the wide world, dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love controule,
Supposde as forfeit to a confin’d doome.
The mortall Moone hath her eclipse indur’de,
And the sad Augurs mock their owne presage,
Incertenties now crowne them-selves assur’de,
And peace proclaimes Olives of endlesse age.
Now with the drops of this most balmie time,
My love lookes fresh, and death to me subscribes,
Since spight of him Ile live in this poore rime,
While he insults ore dull and speachlesse tribes.
And thou in this shalt finde thy monument,
When tyrants crests and tombs of brasse are spent.

4 confin’d doome limited duration 6 sad Augurs prophets of disaster; presage predictions 7 Incertenties i.e., things thought to be uncertain 10 subscribessubmits 12 insults ore triumphs over; tribes multitudes

With a dramatic change in tone and style, this unconventional sonnet returns to the conventional theme of the ability of the poet’s verse to immortalize the beloved. Commentators have been so caught up in the meaning and allusions of this sonnet that they have failed to notice its most salient feature—the incredible beauty of its rhythm, so very different from any metrical variations we have seen so far in The Sonnets....
    The contrast between the beginning octet and the final sestet is arresting. The former is highly irregular and unusually rich with pyrrhics and spondees, while the latter is highly regular with only one initial trochee and one final spondee, both common variations in The Sonnets. Booth notes, “ . . . the first two quatrains have the kind of effect on a reader that prophecies have. They feel full of important and valuable meaning that seems potentially available to a reader but always remains just beyond his reach.” Or as Holmes puts it, “the far-stretching future . . . is reflected in such large, vague metaphors as are its only possible expression.” The mesmerizing meter in the octave enhances this vague feeling of unattainability—the iambic pentameter is as hard to find as the meaning, though inescapably present. The change with the sestet underscores the difference between the cosmic metaphor of the beginning of this sonnet and its narrowly personal ending, which focuses on what is important to the speaker and his beloved....
    Rollins notes that this sonnet “has been made to fit whatever theory each writer on the subject is addicted to. Personal and political references of all kinds have been detected, especially in forfeit to a confin’d doome, in the mortall Moone which (or who!) hath her eclipse indur’de, and in the peace proclaimed by Olives of endlesse age.”...
    Lever (1956, 267) takes a broader, more sensible view: “One thing is clear, that the sonnet is not a Commentary on the News, whether the news be the defeat of the Armada, the Queen’s survival of her grand climacteric, or the accession of King James. In the context of the group, it commemorates a moment of stillness when all the contradictions of life are suspended in the autumn glow of Love’s victory over Time.”

About the Author

This book brings together the scholarship of dozens of the most brilliant commentators who have written about Shakespeare's Sonnets over the past three hundred years. This edition adds the significant work done by modern editors to the most important commentary culled from the two variorum editions of the last century. Atkins presents a straightforward edition without jargon with the simple goal of finding out how the poems work and how they may be interpreted. He is the first to collate the modern texts so that differences among them can be fully appreciated and compared. His discussion of meter and verse is more substantial than that of any other edition, adding particular dimension to this text. Those coming to "The Sonnets" for the first time and those seeking a fresh look at an old friend will equally find this edition scholastically rigorous and a pleasure to read. Carl D. Atkins is a practicing medical oncologist in New York.

Got a question for the author? Send it in and we’ll see if we can get it in the queue!

Tiny Speck

http://tinyspeck.com

No idea what this stealth site is going to be, but:

* Founded by some original Flickr members.

* Their coming soon page is nothing but a Shakespeare quote.

 

I like them already.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Readers’ Choice

As I catch up from my weekend away I thought I’d take a trick out of Lifehacker’s book and see what sort of interest an open thread will generate.

Consider this post wide open.  What questions have you got?  What topics would you like to see addressed?  Not just to me or by me, but in general?  What’s on your mind?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

ADMIN : Comment Woes

Hi Everybody,

Tough timing as I was out of town this weekend right when I was getting hit with some spambots.  I switched over to comment moderation for a little while, which normally would only take effect on older, stale posts.  But of course the series with Carl is doing so well that people are commenting on those posts for days, and thus moderation sets in right at a time when I was not able to jump on it.

I’m back now and I’ll keep working on tweaking the system, so hopefully it won’t pose too much of  a problem anymore.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A Guide to Quarrelling, by Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde

http://emsworth.wordpress.com/2009/07/08/learning-to-quarrel-well-from-shakespeare-and-oscar-wilde/

From Emsworth comes this I suppose tongue-in-cheek guide to having a really good quarrel, using examples from Cassius/Brutus (Julius Caesar) but also Cecily and Gwendolyn (The Importance of Being Earnest):

Play the guilt card for a winning hand

Tired of being called names, Cassius resorts to inflicting guilt. He whines to Brutus that he “hath riv’d my heart” and that “a friend should bear his friend’s infirmities,” and he complains to Brutus: “You love me not.” Brutus has only a weak retort: “I do not like your faults.” Cassius trumps: “A friendly eye could never see such faults.”

A minute later, Brutus, who was masterly in the early rounds, gives it up. Cassius claims victory amidst the lovefest:

Brutus: When I spoke that, I was ill-tempered too.
Cassius: Do you confess so much? Give me your hand.
Brutus: And my heart too.
Cassius: O Brutus!

Very well written, especially since it could easily have gone into some modern psychology journal about how to avoid quarreling, using Cassius as an example of what not to do.  Instead, M turns it around to keep our attention, making Cassius the ultimate winner of the quarrel.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Not So Fast, Sonnet 116!

Dr. Carl Atkins is the author of Shakespeare's Sonnets: With Three Hundred Years of Commentary as well as a prolific commenter here at ShakespeareGeek, both while holding down a day job as a medical doctor. Instead of a typical author interview with press blurbs and bio questions we decided to do something different – Carl’s going to guest blog a series for us based on *your* questions.

Context : Starting with the premise that most people know about only a handful of sonnets – 18, 116, 130, and such – I asked Dr. Atkins if he felt there were any that in particular did not deserve the praise that’s been heaped upon them.  In a later installment we’ll look at the opposite question, which sonnets are the undiscovered gems that people haven’t really noticed, but should?

Great question, but difficult to answer. First of all, there is not one of Shakespeare's sonnets that I can't stand. There are a couple that are not on my list of highlights (like 105 and 145), but I am still able to find redeeming qualities in them. But of the popular ones, the one that I think is the most overrated is probably 116. I certainly think it does not deserve to be better known than many others. Additionally, I agree with Helen Vendler that the sonnet is probably most often misread. From my book:

She suggests it is a rebuttal to an “anterior utterance” made by the beloved: “You would like the marriage of true minds to have the same permanence as the sacramental marriage of bodies. But this is unreasonable — there are impediments to such constancy.”

The major effect this has on the reading is one of tone, which is brought out at the outset by emphasis on the word “me” in the first line: “Let me not (as you have done) admit impediments to the marriage of true minds, etc.” ...

Kerrigan also finds an unorthodox reading:

“This sonnet has been misread so often and so mawkishly that it is necessary to say at once, if brutally, that Shakespeare is writing about what cannot be obtained. The convoluted negatives of the last line ...show the poet protesting too much...”

Yet those negatives are anything but convoluted. The couplet is a simple statement of fact. As Ramsey says:

“The implied completion is ‘But I have written and men have loved; so this is not error,’ precisely fulfilling the valid logical paradigm: If A, then B; not B, therefore not A. A sufficient proof that he has written and that men have loved is the poem itself, which verifies the claim.”

You should try reading this sonnet with Vendler's mindset. It changes it from a lovely, romantic piece into an angry, passionate outburst. It is still a great poem, and it fits with many others in the series, but its tenor is entirely different.

About the Author

This book brings together the scholarship of dozens of the most brilliant commentators who have written about Shakespeare's Sonnets over the past three hundred years. This edition adds the significant work done by modern editors to the most important commentary culled from the two variorum editions of the last century. Atkins presents a straightforward edition without jargon with the simple goal of finding out how the poems work and how they may be interpreted. He is the first to collate the modern texts so that differences among them can be fully appreciated and compared. His discussion of meter and verse is more substantial than that of any other edition, adding particular dimension to this text. Those coming to "The Sonnets" for the first time and those seeking a fresh look at an old friend will equally find this edition scholastically rigorous and a pleasure to read. Carl D. Atkins is a practicing medical oncologist in New York.

Got a question for the author? Send it in and we’ll see if we can get it in the queue!

Empty Vessels

Time for another round of “Did Shakespeare really say that?”

Today’s quote is:  “Empty vessels make the loudest sound.”

Turns out, he did!  Henry V, Act 4, scene 4 (thanks Clusty!)

Boy : Suivez-vous le grand capitaine.

I did never know so full a voice issue from so

empty a heart: but the saying is true 'The empty

vessel makes the greatest sound.' Bardolph and Nym

had ten times more valour than this roaring devil i'

the old play, that every one may pare his nails with

a wooden dagger; and they are both hanged; and so

would this be, if he durst steal any thing

adventurously. I must stay with the lackeys, with

the luggage of our camp: the French might have a

good prey of us, if he knew of it; for there is

none to guard it but boys.

 

What I think is funny about this one is that, in context, it says “as the saying goes”.  So although it’s technically a Shakespeare quote, Shakespeare’s saying “I wasn’t the first one to say this.”

Jonas Brothers … Shakespeare….. World…. Ending…

http://news-briefs.ew.com/2009/07/camp-rock-2-jonas-brothers.html

:)

Relax – the new Camp Rock movie just looks like it’ll have some Romeo and Juliet thrown in, which I’m sure simply means “boy and girl can’t be together because parents are stupid.”  And, like all good comedies, it’ll have a happy ending when everybody learns their lesson early enough so nobody has to die.

Of course, now that the High School Musical craze has died down, my daughters are perfectly poised to become Camp Rock nuts.  So I suppose it’s not a bad deal to get a little Shakespeare thrown in.  Although if I know my kids it’ll take them about 2 seconds to spot the similarities and say “Wait, that’s not how it goes in the real story…”

Iago : Anybody speak Italian?

When I saw what looks like a trailer for an Iago movie, I was all over that in a flash as you could well imagine.  Problem is, it’s in Italian:

 

Anybody know what they're saying?

Good news is that IMDB tells us this is indeed a real movie.  Bad news is that the reviews are awful.  (Actually looking closer I see that there are only 2 reviews – a 2, and a 10.  Wonder if they were watching the same movie?)

Oh well.  The idea’s neat.  Iago could handle his own movie, I think.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Hey Look! An Actual Michael Jackson / Shakespeare Reference!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/jun/26/michael-jackson-death-in-la

Go ahead and read the article – I couldn’t stomach it.

I link it only for the Shakespeare connection.  Spot it?  The article’s written by Germaine Greer, who wrote a book about Shakespeare's wife (among other contributions to the field).

Had to post that.  I try so hard to stay on topic, but the rest of the world is busy talking about Mr. Jackson today, I wanted to get in on the act :)

Monday, July 06, 2009

Expectation is the root of all heartache. Or is it?

Or so I saw quoted on Twitter today, attributed to one Mr. William Shakespeare.  I was excited, as this almost directly reflects the First Noble Truth of Buddhism which, roughly paraphrased, says “Desire is the root of all suffering.” I’m thrilled when interests of mine cross like that.
But…it doesn’t sound like Shakespeare.  I don’t know if I’m developing the golden ear or what, but I’m finding that when I hear a Shakespeare quote that I’ve not heard before, I have pretty good luck in determining whether it’s misattributed.
And thus far, I cannot find a single piece of evidence that this is indeed Shakespeare.  It’s attributed all over the place, but always just to “William Shakespeare”, never with an associated work – even in lists where they otherwise do specify the work.
Anybody got the scoop?  Surely if it’s in the plays (or sonnets or long poems) then it would pop up in a search, wouldn’t it?

Don't forget to check out Not By Shakespeare where we track down the source of this and many more quotes mistakenly attributed to Shakespeare.

Guest Blog : Publication of The Sonnets, with Dr. Carl Atkins

Dr. Carl Atkins is the author of Shakespeare's Sonnets: With Three Hundred Years of Commentary as well as a prolific commenter here at ShakespeareGeek, both while holding down a day job as a medical doctor.  Instead of a typical author interview with press blurbs and bio questions we decided to do something different – Carl’s going to guest blog a series for us based on *your* questions. 

Question: I never really appreciated until recently the mystery over the actual publication of the sonnets.  Can you tell us a little bit about who this Thorpe fellow was, and how you think he got his hands on the sonnets?  Who do you think W.H. is? 

(* Note from Duane – if you’re not familiar with the so-called “mystery”, here’s the short form – the sonnets were published in 1609, not by Shakespeare, but by a man named Thomas Thorpe. This of course has led to the question of the relationship between the two men – did Shakespeare want them published, or was it against his will?  If he did not want them published, then why, exactly?  Was he hiding an illicit relationship?  Additionally, they contain a dedication to a Mr. W.H, which only adds fuel to the fire as people have forever tried to guess who that might be…)

Given the publication practices of the time, I am not sure I would call the publication of The Sonnets mysterious. Much has been made of their being published without Shakespeare's consent, but we do not even know that for a fact. There certainly are signs that he did not see them through the press. They do not appear to have been carefully proofread. They have no author's dedication (although this was by no means universal). But in Shakespeare's day an author's rights were pretty much limited to selling his manuscript to a printer. He might negotiate the right to see it through the press and have a say over corrections, but he might also merely be left to complain about the sorry state of his printed copy. There is no evidence that Thorpe's publication of The Sonnets was a problem for Shakespeare. There is no contemporary record of any complaints.

The same cannot be said for The Passionate Pilgrim, which raised the ire of Thomas Heywood, whose poem was printed in the volume by Jaggard and passed off as Shakespeare's. Contemporary accounts record Heywood's complaint and his note that Shakespeare was also put out by the incident. So although Shakespeare may not have authorized the printing of The Sonnets, it is also possible that he did and just didn't make a big deal of it. We certainly cannot know whether he gave the manuscript to Thorpe or whether Thorpe obtained it some other way, whether it was in a form in which it was intended to be printed, whether Shakespeare cared that Thorpe printed it (if he did not authorize it), and what the heck Thorpe's dedication is all about.

I long ago gave up trying to decipher Thorpe's dedication. Not that I didn't try like the rest. It is just an enigma. And it is completely fruitless guessing at the identity of W. H.: William Herbert, Henry Wriothsley, Willie Hughes, Who-the-Heck. In the end, it really doesn't matter. As one commentator noted, it more profitable to read Shakespeare than Thorpe. The only good that has come of Thorpe's dedication is Oscar Wilde's short story,
"The Portrait of Mr. W. H."

 

How have the sonnets been treated differently in the last few centuries?  Can you give a couple of examples of the sort of issues that were the focus back then, compared to now?

Very interesting. Initially, The Sonnets were ignored. When they were re-discovered, it was Benson's bastardized edition of 1640 that was first found. It was not until Malone's edition of 1780 that editors returned to the original text of 1609 (Lintott was the only early exception in 1711).


But even then, they were often viewed with disdain as inferior works. They often were excluded from collections of the complete works. George Steevens's reason for leaving them out of his 1793 edition is often quoted: "the strongest act of Parliament that could be framed, would fail to compel readers into their  service."  Because of this, early commentary was often scant and mostly centered on elucidating individual words or phrases which might be obscure.

There was also some misguided wrangling over emendation of words and punctuation due to a failure to abide by bibliographic principles which only later became better understood (and still now are not often applied uniformly). To my mind, a landmark edition was that of Tucker in 1927, as he was the first to truly analyze The Sonnets from the point of view of their poetry, looking into such things as imagery and metaphor for the first time. The next giant leap was the New Variorum edition by Rollins in 1944, which culled all the commentary which came before. Rollins was heavily indebted to his previous two variorum editors, Boswell (1821) and Alden (1916). Rollins added very little of his own commentary and the volume is filled with concerns about whether Shakespeare authorized The Sonnets, when they were written, the question of autobiography, the identity of the Fair Youth and the Dark Lady and the Rival Poet and many other trivialities that seemed to be important at the time, but that scholars now do not take seriously.

Modern editors have little to say about the authorship question and rarely try to identify characters. They spend more effort on explaining the meaning of sonnets and exploring their imagery and effects--in essence, their poetry.

About the Author

This book brings together the scholarship of dozens of the most brilliant commentators who have written about Shakespeare's Sonnets over the past three hundred years. This edition adds the significant work done by modern editors to the most important commentary culled from the two variorum editions of the last century. Atkins presents a straightforward edition without jargon with the simple goal of finding out how the poems work and how they may be interpreted. He is the first to collate the modern texts so that differences among them can be fully appreciated and compared. His discussion of meter and verse is more substantial than that of any other edition, adding particular dimension to this text. Those coming to "The Sonnets" for the first time and those seeking a fresh look at an old friend will equally find this edition scholastically rigorous and a pleasure to read. Carl D. Atkins is a practicing medical oncologist in New York.

Got a question for the author?  Send it in and we’ll see if we can get it in the queue!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Support Shakespeare At Your Local Library

Summer’s here, and my wife took the kids to the library to start stocking up on reading material.  My 7yr old got her library card last year, my 5yr old excitedly got hers this year.

Question : How’s the Shakespeare at your local library?  Do they have more than just the complete works?  In the last year or two look at all the Shakespeare related books that have crossed this one blog alone:

Bardisms, by Barry Edelstein
Shakespeare and Modern Culture
The Sourcebooks Shakespeare
Shakespeare's Wife, by Germaine Greer
FOOL, by Christopher Moore
Will, By Christopher Rush
Shakespeare Wars, by Ron Rosenbaum
Classical Comics
The Master of Verona
The Book Of Air And Shadows
Bill Bryson's Shakespeare, The World As Stage
Kenneth Burke on Shakespeare
Interred With Their Bones

And I’ve missed a few!  I think this year I’ll get together much of what’s in my collection and donate them.

How about you?  Your local library got any of the good stuff?  Carl reminded me that it’s not always about running out to buy your own personal copy of every book you think you might like.  That’s kinda sort what libraries are for!

Guest Blog : Are The Sonnets Autobiographical? with Dr. Carl Atkins

Dr. Carl Atkins is the author of Shakespeare's Sonnets: With Three Hundred Years of Commentary as well as a prolific commenter here at ShakespeareGeek, both while holding down a day job as a medical doctor. Instead of a typical author interview with press blurbs and bio questions we decided to do something different – Carl’s going to guest blog a series for us based on *your* questions.

Question : Let's start out with the big question - are the sonnets autobiographical, or what?  If they were, then who is the Dark Lady? Who is the "Fair Youth"?    Have these questions always been a mystery, or is it more like the authorship question, where it can all be traced back to one person who originally asked the question (I'm thinking of Delia Bacon, who first posed the idea that Sir Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare's works).

This is a good place to start. Let's get this out of the way right in the beginning. The presence of some autobiographical elements in at least some of the sonnets were suggested by Shakespeare's earliest commentators, including the most influential, Edmund Malone, in his edition of 1780. As more commentators found signs suggesting autobiography, the effect  snowballed, perhaps reaching a height with Wordsworth's romantic outburst
"with this Key Shakespeare unlocked his heart." However, Sidney Lee, a turn-of-the-century Shakespeare scholar and biographer cautions:

"autobiographical confessions are very rarely the stuff of which the Elizabethan sonnet was made....With good reason Sir Philip Sidney warned the public that 'no inward touch' was to be expected from sonneteers of his day....At a first glance a far larger proportion of Shakespeare’s sonnets give the reader the illusion of personal confessions than those of any contemporary, but when allowance has been made for the current conventions of Elizabethan sonneteering, as well as for Shakespeare’s unapproached affluence in dramatic instinct and invention...the autobiographic element in his sonnets...is seen to shrink to slender proportions."


The problem, I think, is that Sonnet commentary began almost 200 years after the sonnet convention peaked. Shakespeare's Sonnets were published in 1609, at the tail end of the craze that was going out of fashion. By the late 1700's when The Sonnets were starting to be taken seriously as part of Shakespeare's important works, nobody understood what "sonnet cycles" were.
They looked at The Sonnets as 154 poems and not in the context of the Elizabethan sonnet cycles that were popular in Shakespeare's day. Taken in that context, we must recognize that it was common for the poet to write "in propria persona", i.e., as if he were speaking, without regard to whether the subject matter literally applied to himself. The themes were also common
and repeated from one cycle to another--themes that we find in one form or another in many of Shakespeare's sonnets. Looked at from this angle, any initial suggestion of autobiography must be regarded skeptically.

 
An additional problem is that we know very little about Shakespeare himself, so it is very difficult to confirm or refute any autobiographical suggestions made on the basis of an implication in a sonnet. And, of course, The Sonnets themselves are maddeningly vague. 

As to the identity of the Dark Lady and the Fair Youth, much ink has been wasted in search of them. W. H. Auden did not mince words on the matter. He said: “It is...nonsensical, no matter how accurate your results may be, to waste time trying to identify characters. It is an idiot’s job, pointless ad uninteresting. It is just gossip.” Stephen Booth, somewhat less archly decries the "games of pin the tail on the Dark Lady." Again, we have the problem of the vagueness of The Sonnets and the lack of biographical
information for confirmation that prevents any conclusions from being drawn, even if we were to assume that these individuals were anything more than fiction. I have found nothing in The Sonnets themselves, nor in the extensive commentary I have read, to lead me to believe that the Dark Lady and the Fair Youth were any more than dramatis personae required for the
purposes of poetry (whether or not they bore resemblance in part or whole to persons familiar to Shakespeare).

About the Author

This book brings together the scholarship of dozens of the most brilliant commentators who have written about Shakespeare's Sonnets over the past three hundred years. This edition adds the significant work done by modern editors to the most important commentary culled from the two variorum editions of the last century. Atkins presents a straightforward edition without jargon with the simple goal of finding out how the poems work and how they may be interpreted. He is the first to collate the modern texts so that differences among them can be fully appreciated and compared. His discussion of meter and verse is more substantial than that of any other edition, adding particular dimension to this text. Those coming to "The Sonnets" for the first time and those seeking a fresh look at an old friend will equally find this edition scholastically rigorous and a pleasure to read. Carl D. Atkins is a practicing medical oncologist in New York.

Got a question for the author? Send it in and we’ll see if we can get it in the queue!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

An Anniversary I Should Have Remembered

Last night, while hanging out with the kids, my wife said, “Do you remember what anniversary tomorrow is?”

I did not.

I went through the whole list – first date?  first kiss?  first …? hope chest? Nope nope nope.

She dangles her wrist.  “A year ago you gave me my bracelet!

She’s right.  The kids were even at the same circus this year. :)

To Me, Fair Friend, You Never Can Be Old

Lot of people died last couple of weeks.  Big deal, lot of people die every week.  Maybe you’re upset over what you’re seeing on the evening news, maybe you don’t care.  Maybe it’s simply made you think about the passage of time, getting older, losing things that mean something to you… who knows. 

In my usual cruising around for Shakespeare material I tripped across something that struck a chord, particularly this week, that I thought I’d share.

To me, fair Friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters' cold
Have from the forests shook three summers' pride;

Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn'd
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn'd,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.

Ah! yet doth beauty, like a dial-hand,

Steal from his figure, and no pace perceived;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceived:

For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred,—

Ere you were born, was beauty's summer dead.

I can’t even say I fully understand that one yet (it’s Sonnet 104, by the way).  It jumped at me entirely because it’s one of those opening lines that pops so well.  I like when Shakespeare goes head to head with Time, Death and immortality.  This is no Sonnet 18, but in a way it’s like Shakespeare gives us our own personal “So long lives this” moment.   These days we’d say something like “here’s how I’d like to remember this person.”  If you’re a fan of Michael Jackson, do you prefer video of him in his later crazy years, or at his peak?

Only it’s got a whole different meaning because you’re saying it to the person while they’re still alive – to me you’ll never grow old, because you’re still as beautiful as the first time I saw you.  Sounds like the kind of thing you might tell your wife after 50 years of marriage.  (Although truthfully even after 50 years of marriage I don’t think I could pull it off without hearing “Are you saying I look old?” :) )

It’s quite possible that this one goes on to say the exact opposite.  But I’m not in the mood to care.  I like the opening, and I will take it to mean what I want today.

Know what I mean?

[ Whoa, here’s something scary.  While looking up backing references I found this interpretation:

The speaker addresses his poem as “fair friend,” but then makes it clear immediately that this “fair friend” is not a human friend, by asserting “you never can be old.” Such a claim cannot be averred about a human being, and as the reader has seen many times, while this speaker often exaggerates, he never diverts his eye and hand from truth.

The speaker is addressing a poem that he wrote three years ago, and he declares that the beauty of this poem is as evident as when he first “ey’d” it. Even after “three winters cold” which changed the “forests” that shone with “summer’s pride, the poem is fresh with the beauty of youth.

And this one:

Here the poet uses his fond memories of first meeting his lover as inspiration to write the poem. It is clear from Sonnet 104, and the other Sonnets as a whole, that the passion he feels for his male lover (possibly the Earl of Southampton), is the most intense experience the poet has ever encountered. Nothing is important but his lover; his lover is eternal, both in beauty and spirit.

Funny how different they can be, huh? ]