Saturday, January 30, 2010

Shakespeare’s Body Found

You’d think that “Shakespeare” is a relatively unique name, but trust me, if you monitor the newsfeed like I do, you’d realize just how wrong that is(*).  For months I’ve been distracted by headlines like “Shakespeare is Missing” and “Foul Play Suspected in Shakespeare Disappearance”, and more recently “Digging for Shakespeare’s Body.”  That last is a particularly tricky one, since there is in fact an archaeological dig going on over in Stratford as we speak.

This story, though, is the unfortunate demise of lottery winner Abraham Shakespeare, who disappeared some months ago.  His body was just recovered this week.  Cases like these are sad, as you realize that his body was found under a concrete slab.  Meaning that somebody put it there.  Meaning that, no doubt, somebody killed the poor guy.  I mean, it’s sad when you find remains anyway – but it’s different if somebody falls in the river, or gets lost in the woods, or other unfortunate but accidental deaths.  This guy was murdered, almost certainly having to do with his money.

Hope they catch whoever did it.  Apparently there’s a suspect in a neighbor/”friend” who claims he gave her a million dollars.


(*) I’ve learned to ignore the ironically named Shakespeare fishing rods.  When I think of people who take their fishing seriously, I do not picture them bringing a copy of the complete works out on the boat with them to read while they wait.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

King Lear and Holden Caufield

JD Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye, has died.  He was 91.

When a celebrity dies (be they famous for movies, television or even literature!), I go poking around to see if there’s any Shakespeare connection to make.  Other than a funny non-starter on WikiAnswers looking for a comparison between Hamlet and Holden Caufield, I found a larger story about Salinger’s position on copyrighting of specific characters…

(Big link!)

The gist of the story is that if you can claim ownership of a character like JD Salinger attempts to do with Caufield, then Shakespeare would never have been able to write King Lear.  The article does an admirable job of tracing back the “ownership” of all Shakespeare’s ideas in that play, at least as far as characters are concerned.

I wonder if this is perhaps making a mountain of a molehill.  Isn’t this what we have public domain for, and the whole “past the life of the author” thing?  If you create a character, and you are still alive to speak for that character, then aren’t you allowed to determine who uses that character?  Am I missing something?  Once the author has died, and time has passed (presumably allowing his estate to continue to receive benefit from his work?), then you can use his creation as you will.

The Shakespeare case is not really comparable, what with Lear being based on a “semi-legendary” figure.  I think that multiple interpretations of a fairy tale are of a different nature than taking the specific creation of one author and trying to appropriate it for yourself.


Something I’d never noticed before.

“I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died…”

  - one of Ophelia’s last lines

But then:

Lay her i' the earth:
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
May violets spring!

- Laertes over the grave of Ophelia

That’s actually the only two references to violets in the play (although that’s not terribly surprising, there’s not many references to any flowers).

I’m sure that violets have some special significance, I’m just putting it into my “pretend these are real people” way of thinking.  You were there to hear your sister’s last words, so at her funeral so turn them into something more positive and hopeful?  I’m not sure I’d call it a “pun”, as the excerpt below does:

The violet's scent, said Hamlet, was "Sweet, not lasting, the perfume and suppliance of a minute, no more" and reinforced the flower's traditional association with an early death. This tradition arose because the violet blooms early in spring and fades before summer and autumn arrive. This symbolism also explains why Laertes alludes to the violet and puns on "spring" in his speech over Ophelia's grave…

Ophelia Has Died. RIP Jean Simmons

When you think of Ophelia, chances are you picture Ophelia in Olivier’s Hamlet.  I think it was one of my commenters who originally said “It takes years to get that version out of your head.”  I had no idea that she’d won an Academy Award for Best Support Actress for that.

Jean Simmons, Olivier’s Ophelia, has died of lung cancer at the age of 80.

The article is a fascinating one, painting the long life of an outstanding actress.  She was surrounded by greatness, playing multiple times opposite both Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando. Who knew that Howard Hughes kept her from starring in Roman Holiday? 

Those who knew her said she was generous, modest and unassuming. According to Mr. Granger, Ms. Simmons called Audrey Hepburn after she saw her in “Roman Holiday” — in a role Ms. Simmons might have had — to say, “I wanted to hate you, but I have to tell you I wouldn’t have been half as good.”

From her fair and unpolluted flesh may violets spring, a ministering angel shall she be.  May flights of angels sing her to her reset.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Careful! He Got Mozart!

When I saw a headline about F. Murray Abraham tussling with a robber in Much Ado About Nothing I assumed it’d be some sort of cute turn of phrase about one of the other actors on stage. 

Nope, turns out it was a real robber that he caught going through purses in the dressing rooms, and apparently they went at it.  Police are looking for “a man with a hole in his face the size of Abraham’s fist.”  (That’s an actual quote from the article).

Turns out, by the way, that the Oscar-winning actor was actually just in the audience watching, he wasn’t even part of the performance!

Wait, Wasn’t This The Plot to a Porky’s Movie?

Romeo and Juliet is too much for Nashville.  At least it’s too much for Nashville high school students, according to their parents.  They came to town, and out came the censors.

Apparently they recognized the word “maidenhead” in the first scene, because they wanted that gone.  Oh, you can still thrust them up against the wall, and pull his naked weapon out, that pretty piece of flesh – apparently nobody figured out what that means.

Falling under the same “I recognize that word!” magnifying glass is also Mercutio’s hand upon the very prick of noon.  Nope, right out.  Makes me wonder if Sleeping Beauty is allowed to prick her thumb on the spinning wheel?  Does this mean that Macbeth is out, too?  By what would something wicked this way come??

Romeo and Juliet is all sex and violence.  You can’t begin to censor half of it.

UPDATE: Be sure to read the lengthy rebuttal from Will O’Hare, Education Director for the Classical Theatre Project.  Apparently there’s more to the story than meets the eye, and any audience disapproval that may have existed seems to be centered squarely on some interesting choices by the actors, rather than on the specific source material.  I appreciate Will stopping by to set the record straight!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Harold Bloom Is Not Well

We joke about Harold Bloom here on the site, but the truth is I don’t know much about the man. I have “Invention of the Human”, and I’m not lying when I say that I can’t finish it.  That doesn’t necessarily say anything about the man, however – I adore Isaac Asimov, and I have trouble with his tome as well.

It’s unfortunate, then, to report on Professor Bloom’s failing health:

English professor Leslie Brisman described Bloom as “gravely ill” in a Jan. 7 e-mail to students in Bloom’s fall seminar, “Shakespeare and the Canon: Histories, Comedies and Poems.” Bloom has been in the hospital since December.

For those that are interested, somebody’s set up a Get Well Harold account on Twitter for sending him well wishes.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Kill Shakespeare

I spotted the “Kill Shakespeare” project a little while ago when they started following me on Twitter.  Fair enough, I thought – some more Shakespeare in the Manga style.  We’ve had that before.

Apparently they’ve got something else in mind altogether!  This might be a little over the top for some of the readers, but I think it could be great fun.  What do you think of a giant Shakespearean crossover where the “heroes” – Hamlet, Juliet, Falstaff – do epic battle against the villains – Iago, Richard III, Lady M?


As a purist I think the whole thing would self destruct – I think Hamlet wouldn’t be able to stand Falstaff and neither of them would give Juliet a second glance.  And I suspect that Iago and Richard would probably kill each other.

But we’ll just have to see how it plays out!

Update : Hamlet couldn’t stand Falstaff, that is. :)

Blog Like Shakespeare?

Copyblogger is one of the most respected sites on the net for those in the business of being bloggers.  So when our dear bard shows up in the title of one of their posts, I know it’s going to get some traffic.  The premise is an interesting one:

…he mastered the art of writing for completely different audiences. He appealed to the ultra elite, to regular theater-goers who never missed a performance, and to the illiterate mobs in the cheap seats. And he managed to satisfy each audience magnificently.

I’m wondering how true that is, or if the author of this article just needed to back up his argument and brought out Shakespeare to do it?

Where my historians at?  Is the above correct?  Would you say that Shakespeare was actively addressing three distinct audiences, or even that an Elizabethan audience broke down that way?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Reductio Ad Bardum

We’ve already done the “Big Lebowski” thing here on the blog (and it’s been all over Twitter), but this article is about that project yet again.

What’s interesting is the reference to Godwin’s Law, and the bits in the middle.  Godwin's Law, for those not up on the Internet lore, basically says “In any argument, once somebody brings up the Nazis no further intelligent conversation can take place.”

Well, it seems that one J Holtham has put forth a similar law for discussion of things theatrical :

If you bring up Shakespeare in any discussion, particularly if it’s about diversity or style, you lose the argument….It’s lazy, it’s weak, and worst of all it’s stupid as hell.  Everybody likes Shakespeare.  You know why?  Because he was a frickin goddamned authentic genius.”

When I skim a statement like that it gets the ol’ dander up, since lord knows I mention Shakespeare often.  But I think, upon further reading, that they’re talking about modern theatre and those people inevitably say “Yeah, well, Shakespeare did it first.”  That’s useless.  I can agree with that.

Review : Actors Talk About Shakespeare

It is a great disservice to Mary and the good people at Hal Leonard that it’s taken me this long to get this review up, and for that I apologize.  When I opened this book I couldn’t wait to sit down and write about it, but the longer I went the more I realized how … unqualified? … I am do really do this one justice.

Who are the greatest Shakespeareans of our time?  Kenneth Brannagh, Stacy Keach, Derek Jacobi?  You can stand in awe of their abilities upon the stage, but what would you give to sit down and talk with them about their acting history? 

That’s exactly what Mary Z. Maher did in her book, Actors Talk About Shakespeare.   Each chapter is a household name to Shakespeare geeks – Kevin Kline, Kenneth Brannagh, Derek Jacobi, Stacy Keach, Zoe Caldwell, Nicholas Pennell, William Hutt, Martha Henry, Tony Church, Geoffrey Hutchings.  (Ok, in all honesty I only know those first four guys – and I only knew of Mr. Keach’s Shakespeare chops thanks to fellow geek David Blixt who haunts my blog from time to time and I believe got a chance to work on Keach’s Lear).

This is a book about actors, for actors.  Thing is, I’m not an actor.  So I can watch Kevin Kline do Hamlet, and I can read a chapter about him explaining what goes into his Hamlet, and it will give me some insight into the man…but what would an actor take away from that chapter?  Would an actor walk into his next scene thinking, “How would Kline do it?” even though Kline himself tells stories of walking into auditions asking, “How would Brando do it?” 

We’ve had some conversations here on the blog that just made me laugh as I saw them come up again in these pages:

The greatest gift [John Barton] brought to American actors is that he disabused them of the notion that there are rules. Folks would say, “But here’s a feminine ending – what does that mean?” He would reply, “It just means that there is a feminine ending.”

Or this gem:

I once had a director who said in opening remarks to the cast, “Good morning.  My single rule is that you only breathe at a full stop or colon.  No breathing on the commas or the semi-colons.”

I laugh, knowing the battles we’ve had over the importance of punctuation.  I can only imagine what it’s like from the actors’ side, having to listen to those instructions and try to follow them.


I wish I could tell stories about each chapter, but that would take me forever.  Instead I’ll jump to Stacy Keach, because I remember something specific about his method : come to rehearsal with your lines learned cold.  He compares it to actors who can’t memorize out of context because they need to know where they’re standing, and so on (advice repeated in our popular article “How to Memorize Shakespeare”, actually).  Although it may seem like an Everest in its own right, this means pretty clearly that Keach, a professional actor, still finds value in actually *reading* the play.    He’ll no doubt have to worry about beats and breaths soon enough, but for him the two can be separated.  There’s the text, and the performance of the text.  I like that.

But, then, there’s the story of Keach arguing with his director over changing the line “Gather my horses” to “Gather my automobiles.”  This merits an argument and a compromise…but Edgar’s redemption scene gets cut completely.  That boggles the mind a bit.

Well, look, there’s 10 different interviews so I have to stop someplace.  I’m an outsider to this process, so at most I’m still reading stories and saying “Oh, that’s neat” much like I might find a nugget of trivia on Kevin Kline’s IMDB page about filming A Fish Called Wanda.  (Well, that’s not totally true, I am getting some new insight into the acting process that I did not previously appreciate).  But this is a book to be cherished by actors.  Maybe you’re lucky enough to have worked with a Stacy Keach or Zoe Caldwell, or maybe you’ve just seen them on tv or on the stage and wished you had such a glimpse into what they do.  Well, now you can have that glimpse.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Some Love For The English Teachers

You know, we talk a lot about how the biggest problem most people have with Shakespeare is that they got a lousy and boring introduction in high school. I don't think that's fair. After all, I got the standard public high school introduction to Shakespeare, and look at me now :). I'm sure there are teachers in all subjects that phone it in and pick up their paycheck, but that doesn't have to be specific to Shakespeare.

To that end, I'd like to show a little love to the English teachers, and encourage other regulars to do the same.

Mary Cunningham was my ninth grade English teacher. I remember she taught us Romeo and Juliet, because I remember having to memorize and recite the balcony scene, and Leah DiNapoli saying that she and I should have done it together because we were the only two in the class that took it seriously. I also remember watching the Zeffirelli version, complete with topless Juliet, and all the girls in class getting all bent out of shape at how excited the boys got. I remember she taught us Julius Caesar because she told Matt Conway that his paper was excellent, let him bask in the applause of his classmates for a bit, and then told me that mine was superb. Not a way to make the nerdy kid accepted, Ms. Cunningham! :) I remember watching To Kill A Mockingbird in Ms. Cunningham's class, and everybody realizing that she was sitting in the corner crying during the "Hi, Boo!" scene (in the intervening years I've come to understand the context of that scene from the eyes of someone other than a fourteen year old). I also remember reading "Three Deaths" by Tolstoy in her class, and trying to make the argument about the hypocrisy of the one lady who wants her family around her, all while still being a pain in the neck to everybody. "This lady never shuts up!" I said. The problem is I said it while Ms. Cunningham was speaking. Oops. :) Sorry Ms. C! Thanks for introducing me to Shakespeare!

Mr. Corey was senior year, and he taught us Hamlet. I remember him showing us the Olivier movie, and then diving for the Pause button when he realized he'd never explained the concept of "Oedipus complex" to us :). I remember doing a stream of consciousness paper in his class about the day I got into a car accident, being asked to read it in front of the class, and chickening out. He read it, and I thought it did a mediocre job ;).

I wish I could remember my other teacher's name, honestly. I feel bad. I want to say it was Mrs. McCormick, but I can't remember if she was social studies. 10th grade, we learned Macbeth. I have no stories about this, honestly, other than the crush I had on the girl that sat in front of me. :)

I do not remember any of my college English teachers, truthfully.

I think it's easy to say who had the biggest influence on my Shakespeare geekery. Glad I got her first!

Anybody else got a favorite teacher they want to send a shout out to? Is it ironic to end that sentence with a preposition?

Why Did Ophelia Break Up With Hamlet?

Here's another one in the "timeline immediately before the play" series. When the story opens it's been two months since the king's death, right? And we've got Laertes telling Ophelia to watch out for Hamlet, and Polonius coming right out and saying "I forbid you to see him anymore" (paraphrased drastically).

Why? Why then? Does that mean that for the previous couple of months Hamlet and Ophelia have been cool, a couple even, and that the melancholy prince has actually had a girlfriend to rely on for some emotional support? And then, for no reason at all, the rug gets swept out from under him and she's all "Nope, can't see you anymore, sorry, take your presents back." It seems odd to think that right in the middle of all this is when Hamlet decided for the first time "Hey I think I'll ask Ophelia out." Gertrude even later says "we'd hoped you would be Hamlet's wife" or something to that effect, so surely they have a previous relationship.

Like the "Hamlet's friends" question, I'm trying to recreate, in terms a modern reader could empathize with, the lead up to the play itself. Guy's dad died. We know his mom is messed up at first, but seems to get over it awfully quickly, too quickly for most people's taste, and then goes and does something that's just so awkward it borders on gross. A couple of Hamlet's friends come to pay their respects. So the next logical character is his girlfriend.

What I want to do is blame Laertes. He's dragged back to the kingdom for the funeral, and can't wait to take off again. While he's home, he seized on the opportunity to say face to face what he's no doubt told his little sister many times in the past - Hamlet's no good for you. Only this time, their father Polonius hears the conversation. Who knows? Maybe Polonius is so out of it with respect to his daughter's actual life that he had no idea they were already a couple, and all he's really doing is picking up on what Laertes said and expanding it.

Looking at the text I see this line from Polonius: 'Tis told me, he hath very oft of late
Given private time to you; and you yourself Have of your audience been most free and bounteous:', so clearly he's got some idea. But I don't know how to interpret "very oft of late". I mean, I know what it means, but what does Polonius think it means? Did Hamlet's father die and then all of a sudden, with no other emotional support, Hamlet threw himself at Ophelia? Is Polonius arguing that Hamlet and Ophelia used to spend time together, and he realizes that, but now they're spending way *too* much time together, and that's what he doesn't like?

I guess I've come around full circle. The clues are all there that Hamlet and Ophelia had some sort of relationship prior to the play. But the Polonius says "Nope, give him back his gifts and don't see him anymore." We can explain away Laertes, the big brother away at college, who has probably never liked the idea of his sister and Hamlet. But why does Polonius suddenly take an interest, and make her shut him down?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Did Hamlet Have Any Friends?

I’m imagining Hamlet back at school, before news of his father’s death came in.  Do you think he’s the kind of guy (kid?) who was very social, had many friends? Or was that biting sense of humor and condescending tone too much for those around him?

I’ve heard it argued re: Horatio that he was either a) Hamlet’s best friend in the world, or b) just a nice guy acquaintance who tried to pay his proper respects, and got caught up in the whole thing.  I honestly don’t know the answer either way.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I assume, fall more into that category of “I know them, but they are not my friends.”  I don’t see it as a very great surprise that they turn on Hamlet so quickly, as I have no reason to imagine them as close confidants to begin with.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Keep His Language Alive

When I spotted an article entitled “Teach Shakespeare However You Want – Just Keep His Language Alive” I knew I’d found a kindred spirit.  When I noticed that the article comes from the George Lucas Educational Foundation, it almost makes me forgive him for Jar Jar Binks.  Almost.

There’s not a great deal that’s new in the article, it comes off more as a plea to not forget the greatness of the language.  I’ll just paste one quote, which sums it up quite nicely for me:

Those who value the craft of writing do not take this lightly. C.K. Williams, an award-winning poet who teaches at Princeton University, told me, "The very thought of William Shakespeare being rewritten makes me ill."

All We Hear Is, Lady O’Gaga

Continuing on the music theme this week we have Lady Gaga Wrote Shakespeare’s Works from the American Shakespeare Center.

I suppose you have to at least be familiar with who this chick is, to appreciate the funny.  Put it this way, 10 years ago I’m sure somebody wrote this exact article about Britney Spears.  Exact same idea.  Only here it’s all about “Poker Face”, the only real song of hers that anybody knows.

Bonus points for recognizing the other music reference in my title :).

Dull As Dishwater

Articles like this make me sad.  I don’t know the celebrity in question – Carol Vorderman? – but apparently she made a bit of a spectacle of herself on a television quiz show by missing a Shakespeare question and proclaiming him “dull as ditchwater.”


The points are all the same – what came first, his greatness or our worship of him? Is it all self-fulfilling?  And blah and blah and Harold Bloom and so on.  “The best Shakespeare is the Shakespeare we understand best,” the author writes. I like that line.

Couple of interesting points, though, cheered me up:

* The author noting that to decide for yourself whether Shakespeare is in fact dull, ideally you would have to know the plays in the first place.  Good point indeed, since this woman (the one on the tv show) failed her question.  Does that mean that she’s proclaiming Shakespeare dull from the position of someone who’s actually read him?  Or someone who has not?

* “Toby Belch, as the name indicates, really is a pig; Shakespeare could as well have called him Fart.”  I love that the article’s not afraid to go there. :)

* “In my department, I’m happy to say, you won’t graduate unless you know all 39 well enough to take a six-hour exam on them.”  That could be fun.  Not sure I’d pass, but it’d be cool to live the life where I actually had an opportunity to try it.

* “400 years on, no one will be watching reruns of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire…but will they still be performing and studying Shakespeare?  Nothing is more certain.”

Damn straight.

There’s also a pretty good Shakespeare test at the bottom, that I’m happy to report I got an average score (27 out of 55) on, just off the top of my head.  It’s somewhat unfair to we U.S.-bound (this being a UK article), as the final question is about modern English politics.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

There He Is Again!

Ok, this one’s a little silly but I couldn’t resist.

Whenever puts up an article that might have anything even remotely to do with Shakespeare, I go have a look.  Such is the case with “7 Books We Lost to History That Would Have Changed The World”.   No, there’s no Coriolanus or anything that (the list is primarily science and religion books).

However, I did find a reference that made me laugh out loud for the timing of it:

Ever heard of that Coen Brothers movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? What about James Joyce's Ulysses? Or Cold Mountain? Or 2001: A Space Odyssey? Or William Shakespeare or Bob Dylan? They were all influenced by The Iliad and The Odyssey, and we could easily go on.

I used to mistakenly refer to such moments as “serendipitous”, but that’s not the right use of that word.  Instead I now call them “small universe” moments.


For an even more esoteric one that nobody but me could possibly get, I’ll tell you the story of reading Julius Caesar in…I want to say ninth grade English class.  We had a writing assignment which was to mimic a newspaper article reporting on the death of Caesar.  Well it just so happens that I was taking Latin as my foreign language requirement, and in studying ancient Rome I’d learned that their version of “A.D / B.C” for calendars counted from something called “Ab Urbe Condite”, which if I remember translates roughly as “From the founding of the city”.  So, I put that on my paper as part of the byline:  “Rome – March 15, 175 A.U.C”.  Nobody knew what it meant, and I had to explain it.

ANYWAY, like I was saying … it’s the name of the #2 book on the Cracked list. :)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sting or The Police for Lit Geeks?

Ok, the music thing seems popular, and coincidentally it’s come up again, this time with a completely different friend.  I mentioned in passing that I was going through some Police music, and just didn’t find it that interesting to my taste.  Conjures up memories of hanging out at the pizza place in the mall during high school, but nothing really special about it.

“I’m a bit surprised to hear you say that,” he says.  “Some of his [Sting’s] Police stuff has good lyrics for a literary snob like yourself.”

We both agreed that Sting’s solo work is full of such things (such as an entire album entitled “Nothing Like The Sun”, from Sonnet 130).  But the Police as a group were also sneaking in literature references?

Somebody enlighten me.  What have I missed?

UPDATE: Janefan found this article that pretty much tackles this very topic.  Sting’s apparently just a bit too smart for some of us.  Thanks Jane!

Yay, Iowa? Wait, Never Mind


I see an article entitled “Five People Suggest Five Books” in my Shakespeare feeds and I think, “Oh cool, they walked up to people on the street, asked what they’re reading, and at least somebody mentioned Shakespeare.”  I like stuff like that.  Ever better is that it’s not from New York or Cambridge or something, it’s from Des Moines.   I’m perfectly happy with the idea that you can wander down Main Street in some Iowa city, ask somebody what books they’ve read lately, and have them bust out a Shakespeare reference.

Sure enough the first guy has Harold Bloom on his list.  Impressive, although I think I was hoping for something a little bit more accessible.

But then … I read the bios.  Their “five people who live in the Des Moines metro” are: the marketing manager for the public library, a book store owner, the librarian, a college professor, and .. the dude who recommended Shakespeare?  Yeah, he’s the frickin director of the Iowa Shakespeare Experience.

I swear, I cannot fathom how this article came to be written without somebody saying, “Well you know, random people on the street don’t really know about books, so no problem, we’ll just go and get people who work with books for a living.” 

Yeah, that’s so very useful.  Thanks for that.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Shakespeare as Bob Dylan

So I’ve been sharing my writing lately with a friend.  He’s not the literature type, he’s more of a music geek.  Here’s what he wrote me back:

I kind of group Shakespeare with Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan has written some incredible songs, yet to listen to him sing them turns many people off, when other artists cover the material, you really get the depth of the lyrics  and  think of Shakespeare in that same realm, where because the language is so dense if you will, that people are turned off and don't see the real beauty of the stories being told.

I can see his point. There are Dylan people who know every word the man ever spoke, who hunt down every scrap he may have written a note upon. Then there are those who know a couple of his tunes, and he doesn’t really do it for them.  But then there’s a huge group in the middle who’ve probably heard a Dylan-penned tune and loved it, without ever realizing it was Dylan. (I could probably take it farther and say, “If you told them it was Dylan before they listened to it, they wouldn’t like it….”)

The television series “Band of Brothers” was quite popular.  Yet I’m continually surprised that people don’t know this is a Henry V reference.  I wonder if I started like that - “Hey, did you see that HBO war series that’s named for Shakespeare’s Henry V?” – if people would like it as much?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Sherlock Holmes / Shakespeare Connection

I’ve read a few Sherlock Holmes stories, but they’re not really my thing.  I never got to the ending and thought, “Wow, that’s brilliant!” it was always more like “Oh, he strung together a random set of trivia in a way that happens to work in this particular instance.”

But when I spot a Shakespeare reference I look closer.  Who knew that January 6 was Sherlock Holmes’ birthday, and that Shakespeare was responsible for it?

According to an article in the New York Times' City Room blog last year, there are multiple theories as to why January 6 was chosen as his birthday, one that's celebrated by his fans over at Paul Singleton, a Sherlockian scholar, said that Christopher Morley (who helped found the Baker Street Irregulars, a group dedicated to the study of Doyle) came to his theory based on the fact that Holmes, who quotes Shakespeare often, only quoted one Shakespeare play twice — that being Twelfth Night, and therefore, Holmes was born on the 12th night of Christmas, i.e. January 6.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Two Gentlemen of Lebowski

Pretty sure you need to be a fan of the movie to appreciate this one, but it’s really well done.  Check it out.

In sooth, then, faithful friend, this was a rug of value? Thou wouldst call it not a rug among ordinary rugs, but a rug of purpose? A star in a firmament, in step with the fashion alike to the Whitsun morris-dance? A worthy rug, a rug of consequence, sir?

It was of consequence, I should think; verily, it tied the room together, gather’d its qualities as the sweet lovers’ spring grass doth the morning dew or the rough scythe the first of autumn harvests. It sat between the four sides of the room, making substance of a square, respecting each wall in equal harmony, in geometer’s cap; a great reckoning in a little room. Verily, it transform’d the room from the space between four walls presented, to the harbour of a man’s monarchy.

Indeed, a rug of value; an estimable rug, an honour’d rug; O unhappy rug, that should live to cover such days!

Of what dost thou speak, that tied the room together, Knave? Take pains, for I would well hear of that which tied the room together.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Histories As Fiction

I never really got into the histories, during high school Shakespeare.  We read a selection of histories – I remember Richard II, and at least some of the Henry’s.  I don’t remember much about Falstaff.  I remember Richard II being a big deal because of the poetry.

You know what I think the problem was?  Maybe it’s a high school curriculum thing, but we were taught the *history* first.  Like, “Here’s what was going on that Shakespeare was trying to write about … and here’s what Shakespeare wrote.”


I know what I love about this stuff, and it’s the exact opposite of that.  Give me Prospero over Henry IV (that is, an entirely fictional construct over a historical one) any day.  I love talking about whether Gertrude had a thing going with Claudius before the play, and what Hamlet’s relationship was to his dad, and any other number of questions that Shakespeare never answered but yet go toward the bigger purpose of making the characters real.  Ironic, then, that I could care less if you start the lesson by saying, “Ok, this character here was actually a real person.”

I will take the opportunity to note that “Julius Caesar” and “Anthony and Cleopatra” had a special place for me, because I was also a Latin geek.  I was all about the ancient history.  It was the history of England that I hated.


Anyway, here’s my big idea.  What if you took all that “here’s how the stories map to real history” stuff and just chucked it out the window?  Treat the histories like they’re entirely fiction, stuff that Shakespeare just made up out of his brilliant head.  A very large epic, like a Robert Jordan Wheel of Time sort of thing.  Just play after play that all sort of ties together, with a couple of overlapping characters.

I know that there are history buffs that would *hate* that.  They’re the ones that are the exact opposite of me, they want to know every last detail about the political landscape when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, where he snuck in the satirical bits and what he was trying to say.  That’s huge to them.  Heck, there’s an entire society out in the world dedicated to shedding the image of Richard III as a bad guy.

But that’s not me.  I prefer fiction.  Let me read the story front to back, get into it, appreciate the characters for who they are, and *then* tell me, “This is based on true stories.”  Then you’ll have my attention.  But to do it the other way, and give me the boring *real* people first?  And then the Shakespeare creations?  Mistake.

The Shakespeare Industry

Like many bloggers, it wouldn’t be the end of the world for me if I suddenly discovered I could make money from what I do.  I’m not ashamed of that.  If you told me I could write about Shakespeare all day and make a living at it, I think I’d take it.

So I spend a good deal of time keeping an eye on “how to make money from your blog” stories.  They have a common theme, which I find funny.  Namely, they all assume that if you want to make money, you have to be talking about making money.  Everything is an industry.

Take for example this list of blogging topics I found.  First one:

10 ways your industry will change next year


best industry resources


the invention that would rock your industry

So I’m sitting here thinking, “What exactly is the Shakespeare industry?”

I think there’s two ways to answer that question.  One is the more obvious, “How can I make money?”  There’s lots of answers – t-shirts, books, teaching, and so on.

The more interesting one, though, is more blog-centric.  And that’s, “Who is my audience?  Who is listening to me, and why, and what value do they hope to gain?”  In other words, I think what I’m saying is that there’s an industry of people out there who want more Shakespeare in their lives, and at least in theory are willing to pay for it.  The question then becomes how to connect those dots.

Aren’t those two the same?  Not really.  In the first, it’s “Figure out what makes money, and then do that.”  In the second, it’s “Figure out why people value what you’re already doing, and then plot a course between what you would have done anyway, and a way to make money doing it.”

(There is, by the way, a whole different answer to “Shakespeare industry” if we talk about the pop culture aspects – bumper stickers, bobble heads and such – that cater to anybody with disposal income.  I’d like to not be that, precisely because anybody could be that.  You don’t need to give a rat’s third left incisor about Shakespeare to sell stuff with Shakespeare quotes on it.  I’m far more committed to carving out my own path, and then figuring out whether anybody else is interested in being where I’m trying to get.)

Living With Shakespeare (Rest in Peace, Adam Cohen)

I didn’t know much about Adam Cohen before he died this week at age 38, but I wish I had.

Love Shakespeare?  Of course you do, that’s why you hang out here.  So did Adam.  Now imagine somebody tells you that you’ve got a brain tumor, and while maybe they can successfully remove it, the medication afterwards is going to *prevent you from being able to read*.

What does he do?  Freak out?  Maybe a little, sure. But does he give up?  Wallow?  Oh, F no.

The technologies and techniques on which I usually relied were unusable, my standard place in the world lost. Like so many of Shakespeare's characters I had been yanked out of a life in which my place was certain and thrown into a maelstrom, an Arden Wood of the mind and spirit, a Prospero's island where I had no idea who I was or where I belonged.

I love this guy just for that sentence.  I’ve often tried to explain to people, in answer to the “Why read Shakespeare?” question, that “Your life will be better.”  This is the kind of stuff I’m talking about.  Talk about living the Shakespeare life.

It’s unclear whether this unpublished memoir will be published, but if so I think I want to get in line for it.  Wow.

I Know Thee Not, Old Man

When I got an Apple TV for Christmas, I demonstrated it for my wife by showing her the climax of Orson Welles’ Chimes At Midnight.  I love that scene.  I think I even tried to show it to my kids.

This morning in the shower, though, I thought of a question.  I suppose I could find this answer with a little more study, but sometimes it’s fun to get people’s impressions. After all, that’s what I love so much about Shakespeare – the humanity he instills in his characters that make us all immediately understand what they’re going through.

So, here’s my question.  Does Falstaff die a broken man, convinced that the new king Henry has abandoned him?  Or does he understand that “did what he had to do now that he’s king” speech?  Welles’ performance at this moment seems to suggest both.  There’s a flash of a smile, a sort of an acknowleding, “My boy has gone farther than I ever imagined he would” expression.  Just for a second.  After the procession continues, though, we see the broken man who still swears, albeit with a little less energy now, “I will be sent for.  You’ll see.  He’ll send for me in private.”

Perhaps it is a combination of the two. He’s proud, and understands, but at the same time also understands that no, he won’t be sent for.

How’m I doing?  Close?


(I have another Falstaff related post coming later today. I’m on a Falstaff kick. :))

Monday, January 04, 2010

England Teaches America

I’m not quite sure the history of this piece, but I’m greatly enjoying it.  And, I’d like to think, getting most of the jokes :)!

“I don’t get it. Othello smothers Desdemona with a pillow, right?”

England nods.

“But then Emilia comes in and asks who did this to her, and she says nobody; I, myself. Which means he’s stopped smothering her. Which means she can breathe again. Which means she shouldn’t be dying at all!”

“No, she has to die. The tragic form demands it.”

Credit and applause go to … puella nuerdi?  I never did understand LiveJournal names.

Anyway, go check it out.  Great, original, entertaining stuff.  A massive undertaking that has something snarky to say about just about all of the plays.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

How Were Everybody’s Holidays?

Been slow here at Shakespeare Geek, because it’s been crazy in the real world.  Christmas with three little kids, as some of you can imagine, gets crazy. There’s travelling to be done, vacations to take advantage of, toys to buy, then wrap, then unwrap, then open, then play, then throw into a corner and move on to the next one …

I hope to get back on track shortly.  I’ve got at least one book (Actors Talk About Shakespeare) and movie (Teller’s Macbeth) to write about, and that’s not counting the new stuff.

For Christmas I got the DVD collections “Playing Shakespeare” and “Age of Kings”, both highly recommended here on the site.  So those will keep me busy for awhile.  I also got a book, “Letters to Juliet” which looks pretty cool, it’s a very nice looking coffee-table style of book with lots of pictures.

I was looking for Tad Williams’ “Caliban’s Hour”, but it is out of print and nobody wanted to get me a used copy for Christmas.  Fair enough.  But now that I know a sci fi author I like did a Tempest story, I have to have it.

How’d everybody else do?  What’s new under the Shakespeare tree?