Sunday, May 30, 2010

RIP, Easy Shakespeare Rider

Sad days lately, with the death first of Gary Coleman and now Dennis Hopper.  I had no idea that Hopper was originally trained in Shakespeare, did you?

The Hollywood Reporter: You trained in Shakespeare, and then went to work with James Dean in 1955's "Rebel Without a Cause."
Dennis Hopper: I thought I was the best young actor around, you know? That came out of Shakespeare. (But) I had never seen anyone improvise before Dean and I asked him if he would help me. So he advised me on various things, and it was difficult in the beginning. Then I went and studied with Lee Strasberg for five years, to solidify.



In Francis Coppola’s monster he played the Puck-like maniac with the cameras, at the end of the river.

As Kurtz's disciple and p.r. front-man in Francis Coppola's "Apocalypse Now."

Who knows? Maybe he modeled the character on Shakespeare’s Puck. When he was a classically trained upstart Hopper took a meeting in 1955 with Columbia Pictures’ Harry Cohn, who suggested that an aide take Hopper away for six months in order to “take all the Shakespeare out of him.” Hopper told Cohn to scram.


I can’t find any references to specific works he was in, though.  Anybody got more history on the man?

What You Talkin’ About, Shakespeare?

Gary Coleman died recently at the age of 42.  Although he was most famous as the little black kid on the tv show “Diff’rent Strokes” back in the 1970’s, that doesn’t stop me from pondering whether the gentleman had any Shakespeare connection.

Who’da thought?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Callback Jokes?

So I'm digging through the texts recently, and I always enjoy this because it gets my brain working on a different way, focusing on individual lines instead of entire scenes. When I do this I tend to spot things I'd never noticed before.

Like, for example, in Midsummer:

THESEUS I wonder if the lion be to speak.

DEMETRIUS No wonder, my lord: one lion may, when many asses do.
Despite the fact that Demetrius would have known nothing of Bottom's transformation, I expect this line would have garnered raucous laughter from the audience, no? Surely deliberate on Shakespeare's part.

Or, this one: (speaking presumably about actors)

The best in this kind are but shadows; and the worst
are no worse, if imagination amend them.
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.

Once I spotted that I could just picture Puck delivering his "shadows" in quotes as if to say, "Yeah, actors, that's us that Theseus was talking about a minute ago."

Am I imagining these? What about the epilogue from As You Like It, delivered by Rosalind?

It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue;
If I were a woman I
would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased
me, complexions that liked me and breaths that I
defied not: and, I am sure, as many as have good
beards or good faces or sweet breaths will, for my
kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.

If she were a woman?  If? So, basically, this is a written acknowledgement that Rosalind is speaking as the male actor who'd been performing a female role? 

Shakespeare Pickup Lines

Since I've got them all right in front of me I thought it'd be fun to highlight some real, legitimate Shakespeare lines that could be used to pick someone up at the bar.  No joke here, no twisty punch lines. I'm looking at a lengthy list of Shakespeare quotes and it struck me that some sound like pickup lines.  You'll have to write back and tell me if any of these worked!
  • I would not wish any companion in the world but you.
  • Your heart’s desires be with you!
  • The very instant that I saw you did my heart fly to your service.
  • When you do dance, I wish you a wave o’ the sea, that you might ever do nothing but that.  Probably only useful after chasing down someone who's just come off the dancefloor.
  • Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?  Yeah, I've heard you want to be careful starting out with the L word.
  • If love be rough with you, be rough with love; Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down. Especially useful when your target gives off that "recently broke up with somebody" vibe.

How's that wedding book coming? Why, thank you for asking...

UPDATED September, 2010 : My book is complete! Go get it now!  Shakespeare wedding quotes for everybody!

Hi Gang,

I'm happy to report that my wedding book project is coming along quite nicely and should be ready for its debut some time this summer.  I've got the bulk of content in place - thanks for all the quotes!  Searching gets tricky once you realize that not every good quote is going to have the words "love" or "marriage" in it,  you know. :)  Now I'm working on formatting for presentation as well as beefing it up with some other wedding related content, not just quotes.  Shakespeare bio, section on Elizabethan wedding tradition, that sort of thing.

Which brings me to my question.  Anybody got ideas for me on ... unusual ... ways to incorporate Shakespeare into the wedding?  It's fairly easy to grab a sonnet for a reading, or offer up a toast, or scribble a love quote onto the invitations.  I've got all that.  Now I'm looking for more out of the ordinary ideas.  For instance, could you decorate the cake in a Shakespeare theme?  I have this wonderful (to me :)) idea about a Romeo and Juliet cake where the bride is up on the top tier, done up like a balcony, and the groom is down on the lower tier, done up like a garden or something similar.  (If anybody runs with that, please send me a picture!!)  Or here's another one, I don't know if anybody would ever do this but how awesome a wedding reception would it be if actors were hired to perform the final scene of Midsummer?  I mean, come on, YouTube is loaded with people who break out in a group Thriller dance at the reception, why can't we have Pyramus and Thisbe?  This simply must be done.  Quick, someone out there get married so we can do this.

What else ya got?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Othello's Self-Hatred?

Just saw a thought go by on Twitter where somebody referred to Iago's jealousy (fine), and Othello's "self hatred".

Really?  Guess I never thought about it.  Othello hates himself?  Why and where's the evidence?  It may be obvious and I'm just not putting enough thought into it.

Shakespeare as History Lesson

So lately I've been playing with a database of over 5000 "Shakespeare" questions.  Not saying where I got it (I made it) or what I'm planning to do with it (you'll see soon enough, Fates willing), but I am finding a whole slew of interesting meta questions to put  up for discussion.  I saw "Shakespeare" in quotes like that because, just like any major data repository, there are false positives to weed out.  I think I'm finally done with questions about "Juliet" from LOST :-/.

Today's topic is about history.  Topics like Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Cleopatra show up frequently.  What's neat is that you can't always tell whether somebody's asking about the play ("Does Brutus die in Julius Caesar?") or history in general ("What did Cleopatra do for Egypt?")  But unlike the Juliet/LOST example, in this case the answers overlap. "When did Julius Caesar die?" has both a history answer and a Shakespeare answer. What I think would be cool is if we Shakespeare geeks just banded together to storm Google a bit and take those questions as our own.  Why not have the questioner land on a Shakespeare answer?  Even if that's not what he was looking for, maybe he'll learn a bit about Shakespeare in the process.  What could it hurt?  It's not like we're giving anybody the *wrong* answers.  We can plainly tell them "In the play, Cleopatra does this..." and, if you know it to be different from the "real" answer, throw in the real answer as well.

So, fellow Shakespeare bloggers, there's your call to action.  Looking for content?  Blast out some Julius Caesar / Antony+Cleopatra posts.  Who were they, what did they do, where did they live, when were they born and what did they do?  Assume that the searcher is a student looking for the historic answer, and give them the Shakespeare answer now that you've got them.  Bet you'll see some traffic.  Hint, hint.  Big ol' hint.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Come Not Between Ben Kingsley And His Wrath

You have to love this article which describes an interview with Sir Ben Kingsley about his role as the villain Nizam in the new Prince of Persia flick. The interviewer clearly doesn't take it seriously:

But let’s be honest: Prince of Persia is based on a video game. It’s a mega-budget, effects-heavy tale about a street urchin-turned-prince, Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), who finds a mysterious dagger that can turn back time. Its producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, is a spectacle-meister whose films are not usually lauded for their delicate subtlety.

Sir Ben, from the minute (earlier in the article) that she calls his acting "scenery-chewing", disagrees:

“I do the same job. The background alters, and where the camera is placed, and the effects around me. But I am doing the same job. I serve Nizam as if Nizam was written by Shakespeare and he was called Richard III.
“Why waste my time trivializing a character or a film?” he continued, now fully engaged, his voice smooth and mellifluous. “If I trivialize it, it’s going to spoil three, four, five months of my life. Instead, I consciously think to myself, ‘Aim high, aim very high with Nizam. If the kids are going to come and watch it, let them see Richard III from Shakespeare. That will make them go, ‘Wow.’ Don’t give them a Punch and Judy show villain.”

I see both points. I don't think, even if all the planets aligned just right, that any kid is going to walk out of Prince of Persia with visions of Shakespeare dancing in their heads.  But like he says, why waste your time trivializing the character?  There are certainly actors out there in the biz that just phone it in for the paycheck.  Sir Ben doesn't appear to be one of them, regardless of what roles he takes.

Friday, May 21, 2010

What Shakespeare play was Robert Pattinson In?

Another one from the popular questions file that doesn't seem to have an answer already by itself.

What Shakespeare play was Robert Pattinson in?
According to Robert Pattinson Unlimited, Robert played Malcolm in a stage production of Macbeth.  This was during his work with the Barnes Theatre Group, where he also had roles in Our Town, Anthing Goes, and Tess of the D'Urbevilles.  As far as I can tell there is no video footage available of these performances.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Happy Sonnet Birthday!

Today, May 20, marks the 401st birthday of the publication of William Shakespeare's sonnets.  I am currently swamped with day job things, so rather than post something half hearted let me point you at Bardfilm's Best Uses of Shakespeare Sonnets in Popular Culture.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Alfa Romeo Giulietta

Took me a second to figure out what this was all about when I saw a headline that said “Uma Thurman to star in Romeo and Giulietta” (which is the fancy way of saying Juliet, for those not getting it).  New movie?  Foreign?

Even weirder.  Seems that the car manufacturer Alfa Romeo is debuting a new model called the Giulietta! Uma Thurman is a major part of the new ad campaign, playing five different roles in the commercial.

The substance of the new Giulietta is further confirmed by the pay-off which counterbalances the Shakespeare quote: "Without heart we are only machines".

I’m sorry, where’d Shakespeare say that?

Seven Lost Bodies Of Work (Plus One)

Cracked is at it again, only this time they missed their biggest chance yet to bring up our hero.  When I see an article called 7 Lost Bodies of Work That Would Have Changed Everything I immediately bookmark it for Shakespeare references.  I read the whole thing up to #1, expecting Shakespeare on the list.  He's not.  Sure, Jesus is.  DaVinci.  Even Hemingway.  But nothing for our boy.  Shakespeare's only reference in the article comes when speaking of Chaucer, first arguing the "Chaucer was second only to Shakespeare" and then later hinting at who was greater by suggesting that if Chaucer had finished his tales, "Shakespeare would have had so much more to work with."

Can we think about this one for a moment?  Perhaps they did not realize that the works of William Shakespeare, as he wrote and intended them, are effectively lost.  We have the sonnets, published it is presumed without his permission (and certainly edited and arranged without his input).  And we have the Folio, lovingly put together by his friends, yes - but not the same thing at all as "Shakespeare wrote these exact words" when people are remembering them years after he's dead.  You can forever look at the works and ask, "Yes but what did Shakespeare intend here?" For that matter you could start with, "Did Shakespeare really write this?" I don't mean the Authorship folks, I mean, "Is this the final draft as Shakespeare intended it, or did he revise later? Was it misremembered by the person copying it down?" and so on.

What do you think it would mean if we have documentation from the life and works of William Shakespeare?  What if we knew everything about him?  Would the conspiracy theories disappear, or multiply?  Would modern interpretation dry up?

I don't want to do no damn Shakespeare

Lot of buzz about this interesting case from my neck of the woods where juvenile delinquents are being sentenced to Shakespeare.  I scanned the article to see if there's any mention of the very well regarded Shakespeare Behind Bars, but there is none.

I really don't know how I feel about this, on a number of levels.  First there's an issue regarding the quality of the journalism.  "I've been asked to refer to them by their first names to protect their privacy," the author notes parenthetically, in a paragraph right next to a video of the kids?!  Thanks for the description of the same young man as, "sporting an over-sized red hoodie and a slight shadow of facial hair," I see exactly who you're talking about.

Second, I'm not a big fan of Shakespeare as punishment.  Equating Shakespeare as something *worse* than prison is not terribly helpful, in my opinion.  That's why I grabbed the subject line that I did, it's a quote from one of the kids.  A judge has just told him that he is *not* going to juvenile hall, he is instead going to do Shakespeare, and that's his reaction.  That saddens me.  This is ten times worse than "Memorize the balcony scene because I'm your teacher and I said so."  Forget about fear of a failing grade, now you've got the weight of the courts mandating you to drag your feet through it.

"This program is not designed to fix them," the director says.  "That's not our goal."  Awesome.  Apparently the entire goal is to give the kids an outlet for their anger.  In the video voiceover (I do not see this bit in the article text) he also points out that Henry V was chosen specifically for the physicality, rather than a Hamlet where you sit around talking.  (Insert obligatory joke here about that year they tried Titus Andronicus and the chaos that ensued ;) ).  The above-linked "Shakespeare Behind Bars", in comparison, takes on The Tempest - a play with almost no violence at all, instead populated with magic, fairies and monsters.

I don't really see the difference between this and those programs where you'd take kids down to the gym and let them punch the heavy bag for a little while, or take up karate.  Shakespeare teaches these kids self control?  So would a black belt martial arts instructor who put them on the ground every time they got out of control.  Maybe this is a good thing and I'm just too far removed from that end of our world that I don't see it.  I see irony in the director quoting Macbeth's "I have no words, my voice is in my sword."  When they quote a student who punched his locker instead of his friend as if this were a good thing I think, "How about getting to a place where he doesn't punch anything?"

"Am I allowed to say whatever I want?" asks one kid who's obviously just doing whatever he can to stay out of jail.  "It just gives me something to do after school so I'm not selling drugs."  There will be people that read that and say "See? He's not selling drugs!"  All I see is "Ok, he's not getting anything out of it other than a place he's required to be for a few hours, and when his sentence is over he'll go right back to doing what he's been doing."  The people running the program, who clearly state "We're not therapists," acknowledge that the kids might re-offend.

Maybe it's a good program and a terrible article.  This "Shakespeare in the Courts" program has been running for 10 years, apparently.  Where's the story from the graduate of the program who's gone on to do great things with his life?  Have you got even one kid who got turned around? Any success stories? Any?

Le Shakespeare?

I just recently found 365 Days of Shakespeare, and I'm kicking myself for not having done so sooner.  In this linked post she's found the French translations of some Shakespeare works, and asks how many you can name.  I'm ... not good at that game.  Sure, "Jules Cesar" is pretty obviously Midsummer ;) but I wouldn't have a clue at Songe d'une Nuit d'ete without some googling.  Much Ado, maybe?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Where Does Cleopatra Live?

Sometimes I like to poke around Google and see what sorts of Shakespeare questions people ask.  We did this will great success on the "Why Does Romeo?" thread earlier this year.

I found an interesting one today, though, that stumps me a little bit.  The following question ends up being the most popular question on my list, above "How did Hamlet die" and "What does Romeo compare Juliet to".  Ready for this?  Well, I suppose there's really no surprise as I put it right in the title.  Where does Cleopatra live?

I can't imagine why that is such a popular question.  Is there a modern pop singer with that name, or something?  Given that it is being asked in the present tense, you see. Even googling for the answer, at least right now, turns up no meaningful results.  Lots of variations ("Where in Egypt did Cleopatra live?") but none for that exact phrasing.  Makes me wonder if people are asking a question that's not being answered.

So here we are.  Where does Cleopatra live?  There's the easy answer of "Alexandria, Egypt."  Is there a better or different answer, in the context of the Shakespeare play?

Update: Couple hours later, and we're on the first page of Google results for this question.  So make it good!

If you've arrived from Google and this is *not* the answer to the question you were hoping for, please share with us what you meant so we can help you find the answer!  We're good like that.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Author Roll Call!

I had a whole big take off on Full Metal Jacket planned, but it's not ready for primetime yet.  I got as far as "drop your quills and grab your socks" :)
New reader Jessica hit me up with a question over the weekend where she asked (and this is a paraphrase), "I was in the bookstore the other day and saw a novel that was based on Shakespeare. Do you know which one it was?"

I wrote back suggesting that there were many, and that this was the equivalent of saying "I saw a romance novel with a pirate on the cover, do you know which one I'm talking about?" but promised that I would post an opportunity for my lurking authors to pop up and shill their work a bit.

So here's your opportunity.  She did say "Shakespeare novel" and that was really it, so anything else is fair game.  If you're not an author but you know a book that should go on the list, speak up!  I don't think Christopher Moore's hanging out but "Fool", his rather bawdy spin on King Lear, would certainly fit the category.

Get going!  Sound off like you've got a couplet!

UPDATE: Since so many people are wondering, here is the exact wording.  I suppose "newish looking" might be a clue, but that's about it:
The other day, I was at the bookstore (ran in with a three year old to the free potty) and spotted a newish looking novel that used Shakespeare as a jumping-off point.  I couldn't tell you what it was about, only that I had never heard of it and that it looked interesting- I really was flying by with my son in a panic.  I tried to find it later and nobody at any bookstore, including that one, can help me figure out what it was.

Shakespeare as a jumping off point helps to classify it a bit I suppose.  Not really about Shakespeare the man, but rather an extension to one of his plays?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Can We Call This Bardercise? And Then Never Do It?,0,3589588.story

Interesting story about an 85yr old English professor who drops 80lbs on an exercise program that involves doing all your repetitive work (walking, biking, stretching) to the rhythm of sonnet recitation:

So off I went, huffing and puffing to the likes of "let ME not TO the MARriage OF true MINDS and TWO and THREE and FOUR adMIT imPEDiMENTS love IS not LOVE and TWO and THREE and FOUR and."

If you listen  you’ll hear the screams of Carl, JM and maybe even John Barton as this English professor of all people pitches the idea of reducing iambic pentameter down to nothing but a 2 step cadence (“the rhythmical barking of an Elizabethan drill instructor into my head”).  No trochee for you!

And then he somehow manages to turn it into the “and TWO and THREE and FOUR and…” as if it’s a normal extension of the traditional exercise beat we’re all accustomed to.  Here’s my big problem with that, you forgot the one!  The natural rhythm we’re all accustomed to would be more akin to BAHdum BAHdum BAHdum BAHdum ONE and TWO and THREE and FOUR and…

I guarantee that if someone tries to run to an iambic beat they’re going to end up straining just one knee because the mental shift necessary to put the emphasis on the second beat will cause people to subconsciously slam that foot harder into the ground.

I think the only way around this would be to just say the first unstressed syllable, and then take your first step or pedal or whatever on the second beat.  But then guess what? You’re back to the traditional STRESS and stress and stress and stress and STRESS and stress … that we’ve *always* done, and there’s really no difference then between reciting a sonnet and, oh, pretty much anything else that has meter.

Two ROADS diVERGED in a YELlow WOOD and I took the ONE less TRAVelled BY….

What Can Shakespeare Teach Me About IT? (Best Of!)

If there's a pet peeve I have about Shakespeare, it's that connection between "Shakespeare is hard and useless, therefore why learn it?"  Once I heard a radio commercial for some sort of vocational school that used that exact line, presumably in reference to not wanting to get a real education at a real school:  "What can Shakespeare teach me about IT?"  (That’s “information technology”, in case anybody’s pronouncing it like the pronoun and wondering why I’m talking about the Stephen King novel.)
Well.  As a lifelong computer geek (been coding for 30 out of 40 years, thankyouverymuch) with a love a Shakespeare, I think I'd like to comment on that.  Let's talk about what Shakespeare can teach you about IT, and about yourself.
Shakespeare appreciation is self-directed.  If all you know about Shakespeare is what the teacher makes you memorize for the test, you will fall very very short of what you can accomplish.  At best, school provides that glimmer of something that makes you say "Wow, I love this" and then it’s up to you to do whatever you can to seek out more information. 

Computer science is the same way.  If you love it, then you will go over and above what school teaches you. If all you're doing is walking through classes in order to get the grade and the diploma, then you're not getting much out of life. That’s true of pretty much any subject.
Shakespeare wrote in a different language, with its own tokens and syntax.  Computer software is very much a game of speaking new languages (Java, Ruby, Erlang, take your pick).  When you’re just starting out you can say “I know language A but not language B,” but as you become more senior your answer is expected to evolve into, “Because I know languages A, B and C, even though I’ve never seen D I have enough fundamentals in what to expect from a computer language that it shouldn’t be difficult for me to pick it up.” All languages have variables and loops, objects and conditionals. You have to know when you've seen an old idea in a new context, and be able to make the leap of understanding about what that means. 

Reading Shakespeare offers similar challenges. Most of the words he used are still in use today (as a matter of fact he invented many of them, or at least was “first recorded use”, for the sticklers in the audience).  But he often used them in different ways than we do.  There's a certain amount of deciphering that has to go on, sure, but when you get right down to it Shakespeare’s people still spoke in sentences with subjects and verbs just like we do.  Much of what Shakespeare added could be considered “syntactic sugar,” if you like.
"Reverse engineering", for the non-IT crowd, refers to taking an existing piece of technology and taking it apart in an effort to figure out what the creator meant when he did certain things.  Often this is done in a sitation where you no longer have (or may never have had) access to the creator to just plain ask. There's almost so much parallel to Shakespeare there that I don’t know where to begin.  Was he Catholic or Protestant?  Did he even write the plays?  Reverse engineering Shakespeare's works has kept scholars busy for hundreds of years.
Shakespeare is a memorization game.  I'm convinced that Google kills memory cells.  Most programmers I interview these days will say that they don't need books anymore, they just google for the answer.  I think the better response is that they have the memory capacity to remember the answer in the first place!  No, of course not everything, but surely there are things you run into so frequently that you shouldn't be running for your search engine every day.  Same goes for Shakespeare.  When I'm speaking to someone on the subject and trying to make a point, if I have to stop and go "Oh, shoot, what's that thing that Antony said in Julius Caesar about when people die?  Darn, oh hang on a second let me google it...."  I'd look pretty weak and foolish.  I can make a point with a Shakespeare quote because, if it is needed in a certain context, I’ve acquired enough knowledge that I can use it to my advantage.
Shakespeare is Open Source. Do you like Shakespeare’s source material?  Take it.  Use it.  Put your own twist on it.  He did the same thing, after all.  What is "Romeo and Juliet" but a specific implementation of the "unrequited love" idea that already existed before Shakespeare got hold of it?

There are many different ways to go with this idea. As a programmer, I carry around the works of Shakespeare in XML format.  It’s the sample I use for nested content.  When I need to learn a new method for storing and accessing data, I use the raw XML to build myself a Shakespeare database. When I wanted the sonnets in XML and couldn’t find them, I made it myself. When I need to quote something and want to verify my facts, I grep (i.e., search) the text.  If I started listing out the ideas I’ve had for startups that never go anywhere (note to non geeks, all computer geeks always have a steady stream of ideas for stuff that they’d build if they just had the time …) you’d find that most of them start with Shakespeare’s content at their core.

Or maybe instead  you just run with the ideas, and not the literal source material. Maybe you write the next West Side Story or Lion King (which pay homage to Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, respectively, without copying any words).  Or maybe you go more the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead way, finding the holes in Shakespeare’s stories where you could retell them from a different angle.  The possibilities are, as 400 years have shown, endless.
Shakespeare reminds me every day that I am more than just a geek.  My life is equal parts computers and Shakespeare, and I see absolutely no conflict between the two.  As a matter of fact the existence of this article is demonstration that I blend them wherever I can.   That is very different from what our Two Cultures world would like you to believe.  Will it be a liberal arts school or an engineering school for you?  Which degree will you get, so we can tell you ahead of time what jobs you’ll be eligible for?  Just put the checkboxes next to the buzzwords on the job application.

Being “well rounded” does not mean being 99% computer geek who happens to have a parasailing hobby on the weekends.  Don’t be afraid to pursue your passions, regardless of the direction they take you.  I speak of this blog right on my resume, and love it when potential employers as me about it. Why can’t you be a rocket scientist and a published poet? Why can’t you run a Jane Austen book club at your biotech company?  Perhaps the better question is, why aren’t you?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Best Anthology for High School?

Regular reader and contributor Haley writes in with the following question:

I teach a high school survey course for grades 10-12.  We normally have around 10 in a class, but enrollment is creeping up.  With that bait, I'd like to campaign for a new textbook.  When we adopted new books as an English department, we didn't get Shakespeares because they are always expensive and the ones we have are in good condition.

The first seven years were Nortons, and then were switched to Riverside second editions, which we now have.  They aren't BAD.  But they are large, cumbersome, with Bible paper and teeny-text.

I just received--TODAY--the RSC Complete Works based on the Folio.  Just looking at the layout and skimming some intro material to the plays, it looks way more accessible for the high school crowd.  The Riverside intros are great in the academic sense, but overwhelming for teenagers so it's never used.

Some have asked me why I don't get individual copies of what I teach.  I don't because it would actually cost more to by 7-8 sets of paperbacks that won't last as long.  Also, I like having the complete works because I have flexibility in deciding "I feel like '12th Night'!" over 'As You Like It."

I’m intrigued by what sort of discussion this post can open up, on a number of levels.  A high school teacher with the freedom to decide which play to teach? Really?  I would have thought that was pretty firmly locked down by the curriculum gods, especially if Advanced Placement classes are in the picture.

I’ve often wondered why, in the interests of keeping expense down, teachers don’t simply hit up the public domain versions available at Project Gutenberg and print up individual plays.  Are all the extras really that useful? Which parts, exactly?  The glossary and footnotes?  The summaries?  The questions at the end of each scene?  How much of that could we simulate and tack on to the existing public domain stuff?

Shakespeare’s Thighs

Another idea that I like, although I don’t expect to see it anytime soon.  It sounds like something out of one of those physical-challenge based reality game shows on tv, but imagine a larger than life typewriter where you have to crawl all over the keyboard and physically press the keys down with your hands to type a letter.  Now imagine a typing test, where you’re given a selection from Shakespeare and you have to copy it.  For speed and accuracy. Go.

What’s the point? Why, it’s a piece of physical fitness equipment, of course (hence the thighs reference).  I threw in the “speed and accuracy” bit for myself since I could use the cardio.  But I like how the original idea adds that your prize is, in fact, a printout of what you wrote.  I’m all about the using Shakespeare as source material wherever you can.

I just realized that this is a literature geek’s version of Dance Dance Revolution! :)  You know, using some of the techniques that have been invented to map the alphabet to the 9 digits of a cell phone, you could probably come up with a dance mat very similar to DDR and make this a video game.  You wouldn’t get the same quads workout but the cardio would go through the roof. I think I may go write that.

Shakespeare Alarm Clock

Now, see, this one I love.  How about an alarm clock that wakes you up by reciting Shakespeare?  Even better, though I don’t see anyone saying it in the comments, would be if it also played appropriate quote when you hit the snooze button.

5:58…5:59….6:00 “O now be gone, more light and light it grows!”


“It was the nightingale, and not the lark, that pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear.  Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day.”

Yes, I deliberately switched up those quotes.

The problem with the whole concept of, well, a concept alarm clock is that it has to be the best at so many things.  It has to be a good radio (these days, perhaps, an MP3 player).  It has to be a good clock (some people like well lit LED, some people like traditional analog, some people like large digits, some have it broadcast onto the ceiling…)  You can’t just take a single idea like “Have the alarm be Shakespeare” and have the rest just work itself out.

A long time ago as part of a brainstorming exercise, myself and some other engineers were trying to dream up the perfect alarm clock.  The idea that I had was an alarm clock that immediately started reading the news to you, so you could stay in bed with your eyes closed for a few minutes while still being productive.  It would be voice controlled so you could say things like “Sports!” and have it jump to sports, skipping over Traffic.  If you said nothing it would just go through all its stories in a row, like the local news.  But unlike the local news, for any given story you might say “More” or “Pause” or “Repeat” to focus on something in particular.

These days I know exactly how I’d build that, almost.  It’s basically a podcast receiver, sitting on your nightstand, with voice control.  You program it with some news/sports/local related RSS feeds, it refreshes them as fast as it can, and then it reads them to you.  At the time I saw two problems – true local news feeds were never up to date so you couldn’t get a good traffic or weather feed.  Second, you’d have to rely on text-to-speech since the freshness of the data would preclude having somebody actually record and post an audio file.  I think the first is pretty well solved at this point (Twitter, even?) but the second is still a bit tricky.

Ok, you Shakespeare geeks don’t care about tech stuff like that.  The idea just brought back memories.   I may take this over to my other geeky blog and continue it there.

Exploding Shakespeare

Where do I find this stuff?  I stumbled across a repository of “half baked ideas” where people post the start of something, and then others help them decide whether it’s a good idea, whether’s already been done, and so on.  So naturally, like I always do, I find the search button and type Shakespeare.  What do I find?

Exploding Shakespeare

When I was in High School, I hated every minute of the school produced Shakespearean plays we were forced to sit through. Imagine, though, that instead of committing suicide, Romeo and Juliet blow up. Just like that. Damn, what a great play.

It does give you a sampling of the quality of ideas in the directory, but some of the commentary is pretty funny.

There are things in this comedy of Pyramus and Thisbe that will never please. First, Pyramus must draw a sword to kill himself; which the ladies cannot abide. How answer you that?

By'r lakin, a parlous fear!

I believe we must leave the killing out, when all is done.

Not a whit: I have a device to make all well.

You Think Maybe He Meant Macbeth?

I see so many random Shakespeare references all day long that I’ve learned to ignore most of them.  Then again, sometimes they’re funny enough to merit a report.  Here we have a seemingly innocuous story about Verizon and Google getting together to create an iPad rival tablet.  What’s this I see in the middle of the article?

Best Case

Google's ready to prove its tablet mettle, and Verizon wants an answer to AT&T's iPad. It's Shakespearean, almost, kind of! Within months, AT&T and Verizon will fall deeply in love, and commit suicide due to an easily avoidable misunderstanding. No, wait, wrong play. I wanted the one where EVERYONE FIGHTS EVERYONE, AND IT IS AWESOME.

You see, people?  Make your Shakespeare references funnier and I’ll link them more :).  I’m looking at you, Huffington Post.

The Shakespeare Marionette Company

I don’t really know what this is.  It doesn’t appear to be a store (there is no catalog, and no prices), but there’s not nearly enough material for it to be a gallery.  It’s Shakespeare marionettes, which is cool – Macbeth, Bottom, the witches, etc…. But it’s also paintings, in a similar style.  Perhaps they paint it first and then make the marionette?

Either way, it’s some neat stuff to look at that I’d not seen, and I’ve been scanning the net for Shakespeare links for a long long time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Merchandise Sneak Peek!

Thanks to everybody that took part in my little survey.  I’m happy to see that “merchandise” was beating all the other choices pretty soundly (although "tip jar" made enough of a showing that you'll notice one over in the left margin, in case you have enough t-shirts and bumper stickers ... )

I’ve actually had a store set up for quite some time, but after consulting with some folks that make their living at such things I realized how out of my league I was.  I had ideas for a handful of slogans, and they’re telling me to have a minimum of 100 products before I open my doors. Holy cow.

But that presents a problem, since I don’t know what people want.  So, I’m going for it.  Please feel to check out what I’ve got so far and see if you like.  Give me some feedback?  Be gentle, it’s a work in progress.


UPDATED: Peak? Did I really title this post Sneak Peak last night? I’m going to plead sleep stupidity on that one, I’m normally a very good speler.


Shook-Up Shakespeare Movies

Finally!  I can’t remember the last time I saw an interesting and well researched list of Shakespeare-ish movies.  Thank you ReelzChannel for providing the “Shookup Shakespeare” list, their way of saying “inspired by”.  All your favorites are here, from Ran and Throne of Blood to O and Ten Things.  Not one of them is a “modern version with original text” like Romeo+Juliet. 

I can just imagine the crowd that sees this list either being those that saw and loved Ten Things and have never heard of Kurosawa, or vice versa.  Which is sort of the point of Shakespeare as unifying factor, no?

Monday, May 10, 2010

When Burbage Played

[ Twice now in the last couple days another Shakespeare blog has linked me first while simultaneously offering something of independent value that I want to link back.  We are not all ganging up to play link exchange, it's just kinda working out that way. ]

When I was in college writing for the theatre group known as New Voices, I had no theatre experience.  I didn't know how to format a script.  I'm pretty sure that for my very first play I messed up "stage left" and "house left".  What they gave us to work with was a bare stage.  Your walls were black, and your only objects were black wooden boxes.  Anything else you carried on and off with you.  If you put something on a box it was a table, if you sat on it it was a chair, if you put two together and lie down it was a bed.  That's how I learned to write, and one of the ways that I learned to love the idea of telling your story entirely in what the characters say.

With that I point you to JM's discovery, When Burbage Played:
When Burbage played, the stage was bare
Of fount and temple, tower and stair,

Two broadswords eked a battle out;

Two supers made a rabble rout;

The throne of Denmark was a chair!

Hark, A Vagrant!

Thanks to Katie for pointing out this mini-series of Macbeth comics from Hark, A Vagrant.  Cute ideas, not really fall-down hysterical.  Adult language, be warned.  The "our kids" strip seems to demonstrate a pretty key misunderstanding of the play, but maybe I'm being picky.  I like the King James joke best and totally don't understand the "clothes too big for him" joke.  Have fun.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Quote Something.

Had an interesting thought today.  Was pondering a situation where I've met someone, they've heard about the Shakespeare Geek thing, and this person says, "Quote something."

What's the first quote that comes to mind?  No fair thinking about it, no fair with the followup questions like I'd normally do ("Oh, geez, something from the tragedies or would you prefer a comedy?")

Reason I ask is that, when it occurred to me, the quote that came to mind was "If we shadows have offended think but this and all is mended that you have but slumbered here, whilst these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme no more yielding but a dream, gentles do not reprehend.  If you pardon, we will mend."  That surprised me, because normally I don't go for Midsummer like that.  If I'd been asked the question like this I think I would have said I'd pull out some Hamlet, Macbeth, or possibly Tempest.  But not Midsummer.

Whether that's because I just watched Were the World Mine, I don't know. That's not how it first came to mind.

What about you? No fair thinking about it. Quote something first, then ask why that one.


My adorable 5yr old daughter follows me into the kitchen this evening, holding a small piece of paper.  "Daddy, I found this card," she says, "Under the couch. I don't know what it is."

I know what it is.  "What does it say?" I ask.

She begins to read.  She's just learning how. " an ... a g e..."

"Age," I say.

"Age," she says, "Not of an age...but...for....all time."

"Thanks Sweetie," I tell her, "That's one of Daddy's Shakespeare cards.  You can just leave it on the counter."

:) I can't tell you people how it melts my heart to hear words like that coming out of my kids' mouths.

Survey says ... I don't know yet. That's where you come in.

Hi Everybody,

This post goes out primarily to those folk reading Shakespeare Geek on RSS and maybe not coming to the web site regularly.  I've got a survey up in the left nav over there for a couple weeks trying to be democratic about the whole "make money" thing.  On the one hand I hate to do it, because it feels cheap.  I do this because I love it, and putting a price tag on it is difficult for me. But on the other hand, I've put a lot of time and effort into creating what I hope has been of significant value for a lot of people over a good number of years now, so it's pretty silly of me to let that value languish on principle while others don't think twice about slapping together less content of poorer quality and sticking a price tag on it from day one.  (Besides, more income means more budget to buy stuff, which I can then review or give away as promotional materials.  And I've got no shortage of ideas about what I'd like to do, believe me, it's just a simple matter of resource management -- I dedicate X amount of time for Y profit, so if Y goes up, my motivation for increasing X goes up accordingly.  It's not like I'm expecting this to suddenly take over my day job, but it does have to pay for itself.)

So could I beg a favor?  I put up some choices about what people would find least offensive, as far as money raising goes -- banner ads, affiliate links, merchandise, tip jar -- and even included a "None" option for the folks that want to express that particular desire.  Could I get two seconds of your time to come and click on it?  The more votes the better the indicator.  I'd rather have people click "None" than not click at all, you know?  At least that way I know.  Be honest, because I am going to implement something. 

Thanks! Sorry for the  interruption.

Update : Julie Taymor's Tempest, Coming In December

We've been talking about Julie Taymor's Tempest, starring Helen Mirren as a role-reversed Prospera, since 2008.  Last year when Disney's Miramax division went defunct, the fate of this project was up in the air.

Well, I'm happy to report that it looks ready for release in December under the Touchstone banner, instead.  Hurray!  Article doesn't have much other than an explanation of the plot, but it does have a picture of Prospera if you're interested.

Sir Ian Being Awesome. (Is That Redundant?)

Hat tip to Ian Thal today (via his Facebook wall) for bringing us this story about Sir Ian McKellen being mistaken for a homeless person!  Seems he was taking a break from his production of Waiting for Godot, and for whatever reason had his upturned hat at his feet.  Someone threw him a dollar.
"If that man would like to identify himself, we would like to invite him to come and see Waiting For Godot. And if he insists on paying, we'll knock a dollar off the ticket price."
Bonus, for the curious, when Sir Ian explains who exactly "Godot" is supposed to be, in case you never really understood it when you read it in high school :).  When I was a teenager working at the supermarket I'd pull into the parking lot and often run into the situation where a person had stopped their car in the middle of the lane to wait and leech the parking space of a person filling their groceries into the trunk.  Inevitably I'd drive a couple yard farther down, park, walk back and still the car would be waiting there, under some strange mistaken math that told them they'd be saving time by getting a closer space.  "Mr. Godot's not coming today," I would say through their windshield.  "Surely tomorrow."

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Review : Were the World Mine

Ok, I knew what to expect when I first heard about this one : gay Midsummer.  Turns out it's more like, "gay Dead Poet's Society".  Gay kid at an all boy's school, hangs out with the other "misfits", taunted by the other boys and the very badly stereotyped homophobic rugby coach.  It's made very clear that this is a gay movie, within the first five minutes.  The same boys that were trying to hit our hero in the face with their balls (ahem) are, in the next scene, dancing and singing shirtless in a fantasy sequence so unexpected that I had to check outside my window to make sure my neighbors didn't think I was watching softcore.  Our hero, of course, goes on to play Puck, just like in Dead Poet's.  Whatever will happen?

At this point, other than the very over the top homoerotic stuff (there's a whole "love juice" sequence, too.  I mean, come on!), it's about as predictable as it gets.  Hero kid's got issues with his mom, his dad's not in the picture.  Everybody that the mom runs into, from customers in her job to her new boss, all immediately hear about the gay son and want nothing to do with her anymore. I mean this literally - every character in the play is either gay or homophobic, there's no middle ground. The acting goes along pretty much the same lines you'd expect.  There are some cute Shakespeare references, though, I'll give them credit for that.  During auditions one character asks that he not play a girl's part, because he's got a beard coming in.  Later when roles are posted he's heard to ask, "What is Thisbe?"  But if that were all there was to this one, I'd give it a pass.

There's two big differences, however, that make this far more interesting.

First, it's a musical.  And surprisingly, a good one.  I have to pay more attention to the rest of the tunes, but so far it's good enough that I'd go track down the soundtrack.  You folks know me and Shakespeare-to-music.  It's only partly that, more like "I'll find a line or two from Shakespeare and then build a song around them."  But, still.  Great start.  The title, for example, Were the World Mine?  That's a line of Helena's, but they give it to Puck.  And then they mix it in with lots of references to leading them up and down, and fairies running.  So, really, it's all over the place lyrically.   But sung well.

The second, and this is the biggie, is that this is apparently a magical story.  Puck finds a recipe for "Cupid's Love Juice" (I'm still trying to figure out if they wrote that up just for this movie, or if it was copied from something historical), makes it, and it actually works.  So with his prop flower from the play he goes about wreaking havoc by squirting it into the eyes of everybody - the rugby hero he was pining for in the first place, the homophobic rugby coach, his mother's boss, everybody.  It wasn't until he got to his mom's boss and told her, "Try living in my shoes for awhile" that the significance of the title clicked with me.  Unlike Midsummer where the love potion inevitably causes the wrong people to fall in love, somehow in this movie he's fixed it so that everybody he squirts falls in love with someone of the same sex, even though he runs through crowds spraying it on everybody he sees.  Somehow it never seems to generate a hetero couple.  Puck wields his magic flower like a super power, seeking out homophobes and dispensing justice.

Where his theory first breaks down is that none of these newly gay folk seem to have his closet insecurities.  They prance around, they dance ballet.  They throw themselves at each other.  That's hardly seeing things through his eyes.  They even seem to speak Shakespearean, which is a weird side effect.

Once everybody's gay (except for Puck's straight female friend), the movie plays out like Midsummer - two guys fall in love with the same guy, and want to go fight about it.  Two girls, meanwhile, fall in love with Puck's friend, the one girl who has no idea what's going on and thinks they're all playing some joke on her.  And, of course, Puck's left to straighten it all out.  As far as I can tell there is no Oberon in this movie. Only thing is that Puck now actually *gets* his boy, and doesn't want to give that up.

I'm not done with the movie yet as I write this review (I prefer to do it that way, getting in at least a portion of the review "live blogged"), but it's not really keeping my interest.  Maybe it's because I'm from Massachusetts where things like gay marriage aren't nearly such a problem as they're made out to be in this one.  Second, the acting and writing is seriously coming second to the heavy handed message.  Take the father who "caught his son in bed with his best friend .. holding hands and kissing!" because obviously it was important to not let anybody assume what "in bed with" meant.  Then he adds, "You can bet I taught them a lesson."  And there we are left to wonder.  So, what, you beat them? You just admitted to an audience full of parents and teachers that you abuse your kid? That's cool, though, because all the parents are homophobic and it's ok to beat fags?

Like all of these "movies with some Shakespeare" that I watch, my favorite part is always the Shakespeare itself.  This one hasn't got much.  It's got some rehearsal, and the music, and a bunch of people randomly quoting.  But again just like Dead Poet's, we get some performance near the end.  I dig the costumes, they've got this cool sort of "Dark Crystal" thing going.

So in summary?  Love the music (seriously, I'll be hunting down the soundtrack shortly), dig the gimmick of playing out Midsummer in real life.  But this is very much a movie with a gay message, and as I said, I think the writing and acting suffer for it.  If you stripped all that away and just played it up like a typical romantic comedy with some mistaken identities and such, and it would have been just as interesting to me.  Maybe that means I'm just not the audience? But if your message is tolerance of the lifestyle, wouldn't you want your movie to be seen by people who may not already live it and understand it?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Lullaby for Titania

I've mentioned in the past that I've been known to sing Shakespearean sonnets (and other speeches) to my kids - Sonnet 18, sonnet 29, the "what a piece of work is man" speech from Hamlet (from the HAIR soundtrack).  I can't really call them lullabies anymore because the kids are too old for that, though sometimes my two youngest do still ask for them.

Well, Bardfilm's gone and done me one better by actually finding some music and seeing a portion of Midsummer to it!  It's the "Come not near our fairy queen" song, and he's got it set to the tune of "Holy Bible, Book Divine".  When I mentioned that I can't read music all that well and requested audio, not only did he make his own, but a reader chimed in with his own version, in harmony no less.

Excellent work all around.  I'll be humming this one this evening.

P.S. This post has nothing to do with the fact that he linked me first. :)

A Midsummer Night's MILF Hunt

Slate has their article about Roland Emmerich's coming authorship movie entitled "The Shakespeare Apocalypse", but halfway through the article the author hands me this better subject line on a silver platter, so how can I not steal it? :)
Early in the daylong set tour, it becomes clear that Anonymous, Roland Emmerich's upcoming drama about the secret author of Shakespeare's plays, won't be a decorous literary costume drama but rather a certifiably loony fantasia built on an epic scale.
I love it when people use the "loony" pun when speaking of authorship, I highly support that. (The Oxford theory, for those who do not know, was first put forth by a Mr. Looney. They'll never escape the tittering that goes with that. :)

The author gets to be part of the press tour for the movie, so there's all kinds of good backstage info all written from the perspective of an author who's clearly not on their side.  Quite an amusing read.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Jacques Statement

I’m currently going through Malcolm Gladwell’s “What The Dog Saw” and I’ve gotten to the chapter on FBI profilers. Note to anybody who might actually be family with an FBI profiler? Don’t read this chapter.  He pretty much makes the case that they’re all nothing but cold-reading con men.

Which is where I learned something.  Because apparently there’s a language to the script that cold readers use, including the Rainbow Ruse, the Barnum Statement … and something called the Jacques Statement.

I didn’t recognize this at first because Gladwell pronounces it “JAYkus” and I’ve always heard it more like “jayQUEE”, but it is named for the As You Like It character either way.  Taken from the “ages of man” speech, it means to tailor your statement to the age of the person being read:

e.g. late thirties….” If you are honest about it, you often get to wondering what happened to all those dreams you had when you were younger.”

I’m sure there’s more to it than that. Just wanted to point out the connection in case that intrigues anybody enough to go learn the art of cold reading.

(Funny story about that? I used to know how to read Tarot cards.  I once read them for a friend’s wife.  I told her, “I am customizing my answers based on what I know about you. This is a trick.” And yet it freaked her out so much that every time I saw her she’d ask me to do it again.)

RIP Lynn Redgrave

Actress Lynn Redgrave has died of breast cancer at 67.

In doing some research I realized that we've spoken of Lynn Redgrave here on Geek previously.  Allow me to quote from my April 2009 article:
On the day his mother died, the celebrated actor Sir Michael Redgrave
had a matinee and an evening performance to give as Hamlet. Backstage at
the theater, he sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. Then he went out front.
"And he did two of the greatest Hamlets he ever played."
Yes I realize that Lynn is not in that, it's because she wrote it.  Later in life she wrote several plays about her parents and their attachment to the theatre, Shakespeare in particular, including Shakespeare for My Father, and Rachel and Juliet.  The latter is the subject of my post from one year ago.

I think it's wonderful that her IMDB page lists one of her Shakespeare credits as "ABC Afterschool Specials (Various Characters)".  This was in 1973, and also starred John Gielgud.  I would have been 4.  I don't think I was into Shakespeare quite yet.

I'm unfamiliar with her theatrical work.  Anybody else have stories to share? Any productions she was particularly well known for?

Cute Overload

Danger, this article from Cute Overload is titled "Cover Your Ears, Shakespeare" for a reason.   Many bad (or, depending on your taste, awesome) puns follow, especially in the comments.

Shakespeare on Baseball

Not really much of substance in this article about Shakespeare baseball references, since obviously the man died a few hundred years before the game was invented.  But, much like bringing up "Thou base footballer!" in King Lear, you can go scraping the text for things that *sound* like baseball.  Actually I'm a little surprised by just how many they found.  Catch a fly?  Stealing bases, errors, foul and fair balls ...  I once heard about Klingon Camp where they play the entire game in Dr. Okrand's made up language.  Perhaps we could have Shakespeare camp and play the game entirely using misappropriated Bardisms?

(*) I remember an episode of the television show Frazier where brothers Frazier and Niles Crane had staged a theatrical performance.  After the apparent success of the opening, Niles can be seen saying to his brother, "We're a hit, a palpable hit!"  That one seems to come up often (and obviously in the article above, you see).