Thursday, July 29, 2010

Alas, Poor David Bowie … Shakespeare in Song

There have been many, many attempts to categorize Shakespeare references in modern popular music, but I’ve yet to find anything I’d consider the master list.

But since we haven’t done it for awhile, and this attempt seems new, I give you Shakespeare in Song, Categorized by Play, on The AWL.

The choices in this list are interesting, ranging for instance from the background noise in The Beatles’ “I am the Walrus” coming from King Lear, to David Bowie’s habit of carrying a skull when he sings “Cracked Actor.”

References to Sting (“Nothing Like The Sun” being a pretty obvious one) are nowhere to be found. Likewise no Dire Straits (“Romeo and Juliet”).

I think the task is just too difficult.  Is it a Shakespeare reference every time somebody says Romeo? Or Juliet? I’d love it if somebody made a list of songs that contained actual Shakespeare text as lyrics. That’d be a great start.  Then we can go from there and debate whether Led Zeppelin’s “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold” is or is not a Merchant of Venice (“all that glisters is not gold”) reference.

‘Scrubs’ Shakespeare

Not too much content here, but I was a big fan of the television show Scrubs until NBC ruined it.  I had no idea that Zach Braff, who played the lead role of Dr. John “JD” Dorian, had some Shakespeare experience:

After going to college at Northwestern, where he studied film, he performed in two Shakespeare plays — small roles in “Macbeth” at the Public Theater, directed by George C. Wolfe, and Romeo at a regional theater in Connecticut — before starting “Scrubs” in 2001. (He made a brief return to theater in 2002, when he played Sebastian, alongside Julia Stiles as Viola, in “Twelfth Night” in Shakespeare in the Park.)

Echoes, of the Sounds … of Shakespeare

You know those “soundscapes” devices that make glorified white noise?  You keep them on your desk, or night stand, and they make soothing noises.  Some people like to listen to the rain. Or maybe a babbling brook, or birds singing.  Whatever relaxes you.  What is the sound that you want to hear when you open up the windows and listen?

I have an idea for such a device.  I want my device to play … Shakespeare. Performed by children.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing that sound, particularly outside, then hopefully you know just what I’m talking about.

I don’t care if they’re any good.  They are children, I do not expect them to be Olivier and Brannagh.  If they are good? Outstanding, imagine how good they’ll be when they make a career out of it.  If they’re not?  Who cares, they’re doing Shakespeare.  They don’t fear it. They may actually like it. That is win on so many levels, for so many people, I can’t even begin to count it. Better for the students who don’t drag their feet through the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene but actually actively participate. Better for the parents who get to sit proudly in the audience and watch their kid do Hamlet. Better for the audience who get free Shakespeare with their picnic in the park.  Better for the bystanders who walk around the park who get serenaded by Shakespeare on the wind.

Just wanted to get that out there. The one thing that could make it better, that seriously I actually fear to dream? Is one of my kids (or heck, all of them) performing Shakespeare at some point in their lives.  I don’t need them to grow up to be actors (oh good god), but even just once I’d love one of them to have a part in a Shakespeare production.  I am very afraid that, should that happen, I will explode.

Rebel Othello

I am thrilled to have Rebel Shakespeare performing in my home town this year! I’ve spoken of them many times over the year, because I simply love what Keri Cahill is doing.

In short? Think Summer Shakespeare Camp.  Spend  a few weeks learning Shakespeare, and then at the end? Put on a play out in the park for all to see.  I’m not sure if the younger kids tour, but the teen program takes their show on the road. 

This year I took my kids to get some books at the local library, and while checking them out made a joke about getting Shakespeare next time.  I always do that. ;)  This caught the librarian’s attention, and I learned that they wanted to sponsor some Shakespeare.  “I know just the group…” I said. 

Badda-boom badda-bing, Othello’s playing in my town.  Love it!

Anyway, on with the show.  I had fun wandering around in my Shakespeare shirt and having people ask me, “Are you with the Shakespeare group?”  I answered truthfully in each case, “No,” because I’m not big on riding on other people’s hard work.  All I did was play connect the dots and put up some posters.   For which they put my name in the program, thank you :).

What I did do, however, was wander around outside and talk Shakespeare with anyone that would listen.  This included one mother who’d brought her children to the acting workshop and was desperately looking for more info.  When I said the Rebels would be back in August she immediately asked, “And will there be another workshop?”  So, I think they have a fan.

The show itself had to take place inside the library, which was a big upsetting.  Too hot, and as pointed out the dead grass was way too pointy.  At first I thought this might have to do with the bodies hitting the floor, but a number of the actors were barefoot.  Fair enough.  I was worried that they wouldn’t get the sort of foot traffic they would outside, and that inside the library the noise might be a problem.  I was … disappointed.  There’s something special about being outside and hearing Shakespeare on the wind.  It’s a lovely sound (and actually the subject of another post I’m putting up shortly).

Anyway, on with the show!  When I first saw the cast assemble and noticed one of them carrying a pillow I thought, “Oh, that’s a cute touch, is that going to stay on stage the whole time?”  Shows what I know.  One girl, not Desdemona, starts singing the Willow song, acapella.  Then the rest of the cast, all in black, joins in harmony.  It is very cool.  Then begins, can I call it a dumb show?  Enter Othello, Iago, Desdemona, Amelia…and we watch as the whole play is performed in mime.  At first I just think they’re doing the wedding between Othello and Desdemona, but handkerchiefs are dropped, accusations made, the whole nine yards. While this goes on, the singing continues and grows louder until we sit in awe as Othello smothers his wife, the singers are shaking the walls. the audience is sitting with their jaws on the floor (seriously, the words “holy f*ck” kept leaping into my brain) and then it just … stops.  Bang.  What an absofrigginlutely amazing way to start the show.

Then the real show begins.  Those who’ve heard me speak of Rebel previously know that I don’t care to review the acting, as such.  These are kids performing Shakespeare, the fact that they’re doing that at all deserves praise, not criticism.

Let’s talk about Iago, since that’s what everybody typically wants to know.  I don’t know his name, since they do a rotating cast, but he’s … nerdy.  Sorry, Iago actor guy.  He’s wearing nerdy glasses, and I’m not sure if those are a prop or not because when he does his soliloquies he takes them off.    Our Iago is very patronizing.  He rarely loses the smirk on his face.  His soliloquies are all clearly directed right at the audience – here’s my plan, here’s what I’ll do next, here’s why.  Actually, the “here’s why” bit seemed pretty lost. I mean, it was obvious that he thought he was far smarter than Roderigo (who was played as a staggering drunk) and Cassio (that sort of “I’ve had everything in life handed to me” guy) , so there was a bit of “I want to mess with these people just because I can.”  More on this in a  minute.

I have to say I wasn’t crazy about the first half, which was played up for the comedy bits.  I think I understand their intent to ease the audience into the dark side in the second half, but … and I didn’t think I’d ever string these words together … a rubber chicken? In Othello?   There’s comedy in the text, I don’t think you need to go so over the top with it that the laughs are coming in between the lines when the actors fall all over themselves.  Given the crazy intense opening to the show, it was a complete 180 to suddenly switch to Comedy of Errors hijinks.

Anyway, back to the good stuff.  The second half, when the bodies start hitting floor, starts to get a bit … rebellious?  The volume picks up, noticeably.  Othello charges at Iago so forcefully at times that I’m worried he’s going to put him through a window – and this is when he still *likes* Iago.  The sword play is very impressive, especially given the closed quarters.  And when Othello slaps his wife, the *crack* sound they produce makes you jump.

Iago’s character changes accordingly when the killing starts.  He’s not brandishing a sword, he’s got a tiny knife that he’ll stick in your back when he spots his chance.  It was an interesting turn to the character, who was previously nothing but a manipulator, and now he’s a killer.   I’ve seen Iago done where he’ll give you nightmares, and this was not that (maybe a big part of that is because these kids are less than half my age, and it’s hard to fear a 17r old villain?)  But you know what did come to mind?  Columbine.  That sort of mental state, that kid who *is* smarter than all the people around him, who for whatever reasons are going on in his brain is capable of taking somebody else’s life if he spots the opportunity.  If they’d dressed him in a black trenchcoat and had him brandishing a concealed weapon instead, I would have absolutely bought it.

The big scene goes to … Amelia.  I’ve never really thought of her character as anything but a supporting role to string together some plot points – steal the handkerchief, give it to her husband, then be in the right place at the right time to figure out the truth of what’s going on.  This Amelia was far deeper than that.  In her few scenes you got to see a wife who clearly had a mind and opinions of her own, who was saddled with a husband who couldn’t care less about her other than to order her around and tell her to shut up and go home when she got in the way.  Unfortunately for her situation, she had no choice but to do it.

Until the climax, when she pieces it all together. I absolutely loved this.  Because our patronizing Iago who was smarter than everybody else in the play?  Has to stand there, with nothing to say, while his wife lays it all out for everybody.  He keeps screaming (the Shakespearean equivalent of) “Shut up and go home” and she keeps screaming over him that she will not, until finally his master plan falls into chaos as he stabs his own wife.  When Amelia says to lay her next to Desdemona I actually felt something.  It wasn’t like Paris asking to be placed inside Juliet’s tomb, which is something of a “Yeah yeah whatever” moment.  This time you actually felt that this woman truly loved her mistress, knew that she’d betrayed her, and had done her best (albeit too late) to set things aright.

Volume was certainly not a problem. As emotions became more intense, voices rose until in the final act everybody was shouting all of their lines.  I noticed children’s faces pressed on the glass, looking in from outside our rotunda.  The library staff all stood and watched, and nobody seemed unhappy at the noise.  The director (of the library, not the show) was right there at the end to thank everybody for coming, Rebel Shakespeare for calling them (ahem….), and to remind everybody that we’re doing it all again in August with Much Ado.

Success!  Great show.

Sinister Swordplay

Saw something interesting yesterday, and I think it merits its own post because I’d love to hear details from someone who knows for real.

Saw Othello.  There’s a sword fight at one point between Cassio and Roderigo.  Here’s the interesting thing – Roderigo was left-handed (insert Princess Bride joke here).  Cassio was right-handed. 

This, if you stop to think about it, made the swordplay very … lopsided.  It all took place on one side.  Didn’t feel right.

So tell me, stage combat people, how normal is that? How much of a problem is it? Is there more danger?  I’d think that someone trained in swordplay for right handed people would be more likely to accidentally whack a leftie because the opposing sword is not where it’s supposed to be.  But maybe there’s tricks to it that I don’t know? 

Shakespeare : Geek

Enough fooling around about how you know you’re a Shakespeare Geek or I know I’m one.  What if Shakespeare himself was a geek?

I missed this article when it came around in April, but Pocket Lint imagines some geeky variants to the plays:

The Windows Tale
In Sicilia Valley, King Gates becomes convinced that his wife, Melinda, is having an affair with his friend Ballmer, King of the software department. He has her imprisoned and sends delegates to search the internet to see if his suspicions were true. While in prison, Melinda, gives birth to a girl and Gates has it sent to the software department to be placed alone in the wild. When the delegates return and state that the internet has exonerated Melinda, Gates remains stubborn and his wife and son die. Sixteen years later, a repentant Gates is reunited with his daughter, who is in love with the Prince of the software department. His wife is also later reunited with him by extraordinary means.

Give yourself extra computer geek credit if you thought that “delegates” was going to turn into a software patterns joke.  Double credit if you knew that Melinda Gates was the manager of the doomed Microsoft Bob project, and that the Internet will never ever exonerate her for that particular crime.

I Know I’m A Shakespeare Geek Because …

Challenge accepted.

…both my day job and my education have absolutely nothing to do with Shakespeare.  All of this is done on my own time with my own resources, entirely a labor of love.

…I own and operate 4 Shakespeare web sites (this one, this one, and two more yet to go public ….)

… I’m writing my first Shakespeare book, “Shakespeare for Weddings.”

…I read Shakespeare texts like this one. For fun. In ebook format. On my iPhone.

…I spent yesterday afternoon watching other people’s children perform Othello

….while wearing a shirt like this

…which is only one of a large collection.

…I’m on Twitter. And Facebook. And Ning. And Zazzle. And Wordpress. And Squidoo.  And probably a dozen others I’m forgetting.

…my oldest daughter reads As You Like It for fun, my middle daughter had Barbie dolls named Regan, Goneril and Cordelia, and my youngest son asks for “the Hamlet songs” as bedtime lullabies.

And, lastly, I know I’m a Shakespeare Geek because this post is still only about half as long as it could be.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Question of Rights

So I had a very interesting day.  Spent the afternoon watching Othello performed at my local library (more on that in a separate post).  Knowing I’d be surrounded by Shakespeare geeks I of course wore my Mercutio Drew First shirt.  More people recognized and appreciated the reference today than ever before, I’m happy to say.

Where it gets even more interesting is after the show when I stopped off at the nearby pizza place, and the guy behind the counter recognized and appreciated the line as well.  He’s the first to actually read it out loud, including the part. He said he wanted one, and like always I told him, “Come by my site and buy one.”  So maybe he’ll stop by, and see this.  Hi, pizza guy!

Anyway, that started up a conversation when he told me that he and a friend had spoken of producing a show of their own, and daydreaming about doing RENT until they realized just how much it would cost to procure the rights to such a show.   We spoke of public domain stuff, and he asked if I knew of a repository where fledgling producers could learn more about works that are available in the public domain.

I thought this an interesting question, because while we often hear about novels and poetry that are public domain via projects like Project Gutenberg, I’m not sure where I’d point somebody who wanted to read public domain plays.  I’m assuming that the rights are the same – if it’s more than X years past the death of the playwright, at least in the US, the work falls into the public domain? And once that happens, anyone who wants to do a show could get the script and just do it?

I am assuming all of that, and do not know it for a fact.  Hence, as I told pizza guy I would, I’m asking.  Surely one of my more theatrical followers, someone who has produced a show or two of their own, would know the answer.  How do you find out what shows are available, and what do you need to go through to actually do it?  If this guy did want to pursue attempting RENT, how do you figure out where you’re supposed to go about asking for the rights and cutting the check?

My Twitter Day

I want to take a moment to say a very public thank you to BardFilm, MadShakespeare and all my other Twitter friends who decided to congratulate me on my new day job by having a “You Know You’re a Shakespeare Geek…” party on Twitter, with all the links pointing back to me.  Some of my favorites:

You're a Shakespeare Geek if You TEND to VOICE your THOUGHTS in TEN beat LINES.

You're a Shakespeare Geek if you think it's a Hamlet quote whenever the Twitter login page says "Remember me."

You know you're a Shakespeare Geek if you get a little nauseous when someone mentions the Earl of Oxford.

You're a Shakespeare Geek if you're listening to Dire Straits' "Romeo & Juliet" and you think "That's not how it happened!"

Of course as I told bardfilm, this celebration of my new job resulted in me spending all my time on Twitter reading my notes!

Thanks again, everybody.  I loved it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I’m Baaccckkk

Hi everybody!

You may have noticed a sudden resurgence in Twitter tweets and blog posts.  I’m happy to report that not only am I back from vacation, but I’ve got a day job again!  Even better is that it’s got a heavy self-directed, work-from-home aspect to it which means I’m much more free to work on the blog without fear of some grumpy coworker looking over my shoulder and documenting in his little notebook of complaints every time I’m not doing “real work”.

Thanks for your patience, and special thanks to everybody that tipped and bought merchandise when I didn’t have a regular paycheck coming in!  You can still do that now, of course.  Don’t let me stop you ;)

OK, Everybody Line Up Behind Stanley

(This particular link made the rounds on Twitter already, but it's definitely worth sharing far and wide.)

I'm not particularly enamored with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's new "Blogging Shakespeare" site which, five-plus years late to the party, seems to be positioning itself as the only Shakespeare blog in town.  Since it's a new project (just a month or two old) perhaps they'll put up a Blogroll or some other link section and give a little acknowledgement to the now wide variety of other blogs that have been "embracing Shakespeare conversation in a digital age" for quite some time now. If their desire is truly to provoke conversation and foster community they might do well to start by engaging in some of the conversation already taking place in the already large community.  I'll be the first to admit that I need to link more blogs myself. I link a bunch, primarily for those authors who are regular contributors to the site, but I'm well aware that there are many I'm missing.

However, having said that I can't help but be jealous that they've got Professor Stanley Wells blogging for them, and he writes gold like this about the new movie Anonymous, and the authorship question in general. We can all sit here behind our blog editors and take our pot shots from a distance, calling the anti-Stratfordians "loony" and getting all patronizing and eye-rolly ... but Professor Wells is the guy who sits in the room with them and gets interrogated for hours on end.  Literally. I don't know that any of us could stand up to that for very long, at least without it breaking down into name calling and chairs flying.

Two specific points come out of this post that make me feel less anxious about the new movie.  First, as Wells points out, this is not being positioned as a documentary, it's going to be something more like Shakespeare in Love.  I think very few of us had to explain to random movie-goers that Romeo and Juliet didn't really go down like that.  Second, and this from the comments, is that the actual theory being hyped - the one where Oxford is both Queen Elizabeth's son and lover (ewww), might well end up looking so crazy that it works against the Oxfordians.  So, that's never a bad thing either.

Authorship is just one of those nagging conspiracies that I don't think will ever go away. You'll still find people who want to engage with you about who shot Kennedy, who was the mastermind behind 9/11, what Obama's real birth certificate says ... We as Shakespeare geeks can choose to ignore it, or we can dive into the conversation and try to give as good as we get in what will soon become a series of very personal attacks.  It's nice to take a moment, though, and remember that there are real people who do this for a living (although, as Wells says, they didn't pay him for his interrogation while he sat on his "distinctly uncomfortable bench" :) ).  Their job is harder, and they deserve some credit and respect for leading the charge into battle.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Greatest Page Break Ever

This doesn’t really merit its own blog post but Twitter and Facebook are just a little too small to tell the story properly.

I’m currently reading Stanley Wells’ book about love and sex in Shakespeare’s work (I will post a full review when I’m done).  I’m actually reading the Kindle version, and I’m reading it on my iPhone.  So it’s a little painful, but I knowingly did it that way, because I knew I’d carry around my iPhone into more situations than I’d carry a traditional book.

Anyway, there’s a spot where the sentence reads like this: 

Even so it may be revealing. People masturbate, woo, marry, copulate and give birth.

Fine.  But in my first reading of this sentence on my tiny screen, what I got was this:

so it may be revealing. People masturbate, woo,

My first instinct was to read “woo” exactly as we most typically use it these days, like an interjection of excitement, like Woohoo!  Only without the exclamation point it’s even better, like Professor Wells is sarcastically letting us know early in the book that he’ll be speaking of grown up topics and we should get over it.  People masturbate. Woo.

Only after turning the page did I see the marry, copulate and give birth bit, causing me to go back and reparse the entire sentence properly, thus realizing exactly how wrong I was.

<shrug> Maybe you had to be there.  But I couldn’t not share that story.

Do You Grok Shakespeare’s Jive?


Geeks of the more technical persuasion will recognize, and probably already saw, this XKCD comic.  But I couldn’t resist, for obvious reasons.

In case you’ve never been to XKCD, there’s always an extra joke hidden in the rollover text of the image.  I’ve not included it here, so click through to the original if you want an extra chuckle.

Orson Welles on Macbeth

Really?  How’d I miss this interview between Peter Bogdanovich and Orson Welles when it came around back in April?

Great stuff, including discussion about the budget and schedule of Welles’ production, his comparisons to Olivier and Polanski films of the time, and what was up with the Scottish accents.

Very long article with great insight into how Welles approached Shakespeare, including excerpts from his book on the subject.  Wonderful stuff.

Verbing Weirds Language

I don’t know whether Calvin and Hobbes (who coined my chosen subject line) were in the brain of Erin McKean when she penned this masterful yet subtle slam on a certain recent Shakespeare-wanna-be in the news about how the English language evolves the right way.  (In truth, the timing may purely be coincidental, as Mrs. Palin is not mentioned at all in the article.  But I like to think it was deliberate…)

The subject? Verbing.  That is, the use of nouns as verbs.  English allows for it, whether you like it or not.  I have a blog, I blog things.  I also have a table, and I can table things.  I look around my office and spy a wall, and technically I could say that I was going to wall my calendar, although what that means might be ambiguous – am I going to hang it up? If I walled my buddha statue that might mean I threw it at the wall.  Or I suppose I could lure my enemy down into my wine cellar with the promise of Amontillado and then wall him up down there, too. Grammatically, all valid sentences.

Verbing is also at the center of an old grammatical puzzler:  “Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo”.  I think I got the right number of Buffalo in there.  Because the word happens to work as a noun (the animal), an adjective (the place from which they come), and a verb, you get such a valid sentence.

It’s often hated, no doubt.  We all google things and xerox them without too much thought, but sit in a meeting with too many MBA project managers talking about statusing each other or incentivizing their customer base and you may want to beat them with a dictionary.

Oh, and one more thing, and I think that this is how and when you correctly drop Shakespeare’s name:

Philip Davis, a professor at the School of English at the University of Liverpool, devised a study in 2006 that tested just what happens when people read sentences with verbed nouns in them--and not just any verbed nouns, nouns verbed by Shakespeare. (Shakespeare was an inveterate noun-verber; he verbed ghost, in ”Julius Caesar, I Who at Phillipi the good Brutus ghosted”; dog, in ”Destruction straight shall dog them at the heels”; and even uncle, in ”Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle.”)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Reading Between The Words

I'm always torn when reviewing a major piece of work, like Richard Burton's Hamlet.  On the one hand I want to watch it straight through, taking notes, and do one long and detailed review.  But I watch it so piecemeal over time, spotting and then forgetting crucial moments I want to specifically call out, that I feel the need to put up a post every time I have an idea.

Right now I want to pursue that second idea.  You know the scene where Horatio meets up with Hamlet, and they go through the whole "I saw him once", "I think I saw him yesternight" exchange?  Hamlet has a line where he says, simply, "Saw? who?" and Horatio answers "My lord the king your father."

I've seen it done with confusion, as if Hamlet has no idea what Horatio's talking about. I've seen it done more throwaway, like Hamlet's only half paying attention to Horatio, too busy daydreaming about his father.

Burton's version has this great long pause between "Saw" and "who" where the whole scene comes together, and I think it's just wonderful.  It's like he starts the thought not really paying attention (not even looking at Horatio), "Saw...." and then as he says it, he realizes what Horatio means.  And then the whole tone of the scene shifts because now he's not sure he wants the answer.  He turns to face Horatio, and the "Who?" is scared, defensive, like "I think I know what you're about to tell me and I'm not sure I like it."  Which really makes sense, when you think about it.  Someone doesn't just tell you they saw the ghost of your dad and you just get all excited and say "Oh good I hope I get to see him too."

The rest plays out like an interrogation, and I have to watch it again but I could swear that Hamlet in this instance isn't too crazy about the idea of his father coming back, he's terrified.  There's even a great moment where Hamlet, seated, is asking his questions - "Armed? Top to toe?" when he suddenly jumps up and *states*, as if he's a lawyer trying to prove his case, "Then saw you not his face!" This was surely a Hamlet who would have been happy to discover that this was not, in fact, his father.

Anyway, I'm not too much farther into the movie so I can't go deep, but I wanted to stop there with an idea.  Can you spot another scene, preferably in a movie version so it's captured on film, where there's a moment *between the words*, one of those moments that's entirely on the actor and not the words, that turns the scene for you?  A facial expression, a physical posture, what have you.  Something that, without any words, says everything?  I looked for a YouTube version of this particular scene to embed, but I can't find it.  There are several other Burton clips online, so hopefully I can make use of those in later posts.

Dear Sarah, I'm On Vacation.

So I go on vacation for three whole days, and the Shakesphere asplodes when Sarah Palin compares herelf to Shakespeare.  Wonderful.

Specifically, for those that haven't seen it (or don't care as much), she made a post using the interesting word "refudiate".  When people pointed out that this was probably not the word she meant, as it was not actually a word, she a) changed the original Twitter message to read "refute", and b) said that Shakespeare liked to coin words, too.

Three thoughts.  We've brushed against political topics here in the past without much ado, but I get the feeling that these days you pick the wrong target and everybody goes absolutely batshite nutty. 

First, in defense of Mr. Shakespeare (as if he needs it), the man deliberately constructed new words for the purposes of his poetry, not because he simply didn't know the right word.  

Second, either defend your apparently deliberate coinage of a new word, or change the word to something else, but how can you do both? If it was the word you meant, why did you change it? If you legitimately made a mistake to be corrected, why try to cover it up?  Plenty of politicians, past and present, Republican and Democrat alike, have misspoken and made up words.  That's not the thing that bothers people, it's the refusal to acknowledge it as an honest mistake.

Third, "refute" ("Peaceful New Yorkers, please refute the Ground Zero mosque plan ...") is still not the correct word to use, since it means "prove to be false or erroneous."  She may want you to prove that it's a bad idea, but that's not the same thing as proving that there is no such plan.  She may have meant "repudiate",  which means something more akin to "refuse to acknowledge, or to disown."  That's my guess.  I think the refute thing is the red herring, and that she just misspoke repudiate.  No biggie.

Then again this all happened on Twitter, so perhaps the real problem is that she really did mean both words, and just ran out of characters?

Ok, I'm going back to vacation.   Flame away, I'll be on the beach.

Death Masks and Undying Faces

So, I'm on vacation.  I wander into the living room of the house we've rented where my father-in-law is watching the History Channel, and I see the Chandos portrait on tv.  So you know what we're doing for the next hour :).  Turns out that it is a show about "death masks", not specifically Shakespeare.  We've just come in on his segment.

This is odd, I think - I would surely know about a new discovery like this.  (Turns out I did,back in 2006).  So it's not a new show.  That makes sense.  Since we have 3 small children running around making noise it's hard to get all the details, but the gist of it appears to be a comparison of the Chandos and Cobbe portraits to the death mask, but it's unclear to me which they are assuming is real and which they are trying to prove.

Mentioning the show on Twitter led me to, which in turn linked here, an article I could swear I've seen before about authenticating (or in this case, refuting) the Cobbe portait.  What I find unusual, that I don't think I noticed the first time around, is this:

On comparing the Cobbe and Janssen portraits, and referring also to the Droeshout engraving and the four previously authenticated true-to-life images (the Chandos and Flower portraits, the Davenant bust and the death mask)
 (Emphasis mine). Ummm...really?  Chandos and Flowers are authenticated as true-to-life?  Now we're back into "How did I miss that???" land.

I am still technically on vacation, writing this while the rest of the family has breakfast, so I can't make it too long.  Anybody got comment?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Much Ado About Darwin

There is a quote you may have heard, attributed to Charles Darwin, where he claims that Shakespeare is "so intolerably dull, it nauseated me."  I researched this quote and found that what Darwin was really saying was that in his youth he loved Shakespeare, and was actually somewhat sad that as he grew older he no longer found enjoyment in those things he once enjoyed.

At the time I'd not seen the following quote, courtesy Mr. Shakespeare, via Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing:

But doth not the appetite alter? a man loves the meat
in his youth that he cannot endure in his age.
Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of
the brain awe a man from the career of his humour?
 I love it.  He's like Nostradamus for what it means to be human.  You *will* do this, you *will* feel this way about it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Forgive and Forget

In my search for not-by-shakespeares today I stumbled across something I thought was interesting.  We all know that many of today's popular cliches came from Shakespeare.  Turns out that "forgive and forget" is one of them.  Why's that interesting?  Because Mr. Shakespeare seems to have been quite fond of the expression, and used it at least four times:

King Richard II  (Act I, Scene 1)
  1. Wrath-kindled gentlemen, be ruled by
  2. Let's purge this choler without
    letting blood:
  3. This we prescribe,
    though no physician;
  4. Deep malice makes
    too deep incision;
  5. Forget,
    ; conclude and be agreed;
  6. Our doctors say this is no month to bleed.
  7. Good uncle, let this end where it begun;
  8. We'll calm the Duke of Norfolk, you your son.

King Lear (act IV, Scene 7)
  1. You must bear with me:
  2. Pray you now, forget and forgive: I
    am old and foolish.

Cleomenes  (The Winter's Tale, Act 5 Scene 1)
  1. Sir, you have done enough, and have perform'd
  2. A saint-like sorrow: no fault could you make,
  3. Which you have not redeem'd; indeed, paid down
  4. More penitence than done trespass: at the last,
  5. Do as the heavens have done, forget
    your evil;
  6. With them forgive

Queen Margaret (Henry VI Part 3, Act III Scene 3)
  1. Warwick, these words have turn'd my hate to love;
  2. And I forgive and quite forget old faults,
  3. And
    joy that thou becomest King Henry's friend.

Given how freely he uses the expression he likely didn't invent it, but was rather just repeating an expression that was in common usage at the time.  From the Bible, maybe?  Many people think so (it's certainly a logical Christian sentiment), but no one's able to point to a specific verse that could be the source.

Let The Punishment Fit The Crime?

We've been talking about it, so I'm not going to rehash the details.  Crazy dude (allegedly, gah, I hate that I have to say allegedly) steals First Folio, mutilates it, then has the cajones to walk back into Folger and say "Hey, I found this, is it worth anything?" 

His trial's been going on for awhile, and finally he's convicted ... not of stealing it, or mutilating it, but merely of "handling stolen goods."  WTF?  Is that really how the system works over there, the only evidence you had to work with was the fact that the bloody thing was in his hands, so you get to charge him with handling it?  He didn't even offer any words in his own defense, and now I think I understand why.  He didn't need to.  Geez.

He hasn't been sentenced yet, so what's your guess at what he gets?  I recommend 375 years.  That's how many years of stolen history he was handling.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Introducing My New Project


Regular readers will remember my ongoing quest to stop people from attributing things to Shakespeare that he didn't say.  First came the blog post, then the e-book.  Well the hits (or should I say misses?) just kept on coming, far faster than I could keep the book updated.  So I thought it would make a neat blog of its own to track down these quotes and go into more detail about why they're not accurate.  Plus, I was finding that a number of quotes I could not properly identify, so this gives more people a chance to comment and help track down the rightful authors.

Hope you like it!

Shakespeare Dreams

Had an odd dream last night that I was hanging out at the bookstore, in the Shakespeare section of course, when two girls - maybe 6 years old? - started discussing Sonnet 18.  Specifically one of them, the smarty pants (and one of them is always the smarty pants) is trying to explain to her friend that you need to only read the first and last lines and you'll know what it means.  So they read "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?  So long lives this and this gives life to thee."  She then naturally decide that, because the person is like summer, she'll live forever because summer always comes back.  Her friend does not seem convinced.

"You have to read the middle too," I tell them.  Then, so I'm not the random stranger talking to little kids without permission, I explain to their mother that my own children started Shakespeare with this sonnet as well.  That gets us into a discussion about which plays to start with (Tempest and Midsummer, 'natch) before I am awakened to reality, ironically, enough, by one of my own children.  She is having her own bad dream that the aliens have come to take her away.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Free! Rebel Shakespeare Presents Othello

I've spoken of Rebel Shakespeare many times in the past (Rebel Romeo, Midsummer Review and visit with the Rebels to link just a few).  In short, Keri and Christine run a program where they teach Shakespeare to children (of varying ages), and then they take their show on the road performing free Shakespeare in and around Marblehead, Massachusetts. They've been doing it for, like, 20+ years and won awards for their work.  It really is quite the sight to behold, you've never quite gotten chills up your spine like you do when you watch children shouting "THANK YOU SHAKESPEARE!" to the heavens before every show. 

The current show is Othello, opening July 23.  The link above shows dates and locations, including several dates where they run workshops before the show so you can bring the kids and let them see what it's all about.

I've been several times (seen their Midsummer and Hamlet, and a portion of Henry V) and go whenever I am able.  I even helped make arrangements to bring them to my own town so I'd be sure to get there!

The Corfu Claim

My parents-in-law are going to the Greek Islands this fall.  Today my mother-in-law excitedly told me that they'd be going to Corfu!  When it did not register with me, she explained that this island was the setting for The Tempest.  I don't want to say that I told her she was wrong, because I don't know one way or the other, but I expect the claims were ... dubious.  The island's pretty safely a complete fiction, as far as I know.

But then I remembered that The Tempest is supposedly based on a true story, so I thought that maybe in the true story version, Corfu was the island in question. Thus somebody's played connect the dots with the story and stuck Mr. Shakespeare's name all over the tourist literature.

Googling around does indeed find me a bunch of references to the island of Corfu as the setting of The Tempest, but they are all "Greek tourist information" in nature, I can't really find any Shakespeare references.

Getting home from the in-laws house, I consult Asimov.  If there was ever an encyclopedic tome of Shakespearean info to consult all between one set of covers, Mr. Asimov was it.  No help here.  All he tells us is that the island is not identifiable on any map, and at best it would be somewhere between Italy and Africa.  He does, by the way, go on to describe how and when all the moons of Uranus, so it's safe to say that if he had the knowledge, he would have shared it.

Anybody got better research?  Does Corfu have any sort of meaningful claim to the title (such as a real-life backstory), or did maybe they say "Hey, we're an island in between Italy and Africa, let's brand ourselves as the Tempest island!"

(For the curious, what Asimov does say about the Tempest, without disclaimer, is that it is Shakespeare's final work that he completed entirely by himself, unlike the Fletcher plays Henry VIII and Two Noble Kinsmen that he merely contributed to.  Funny how times have changed, no?)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Which Shakespeare Edition Would You Recommend?

I love when I get questions like this. An unnamed reader (I'm not sure if she's supposed to be asking this) has just been placed in charge with ordering copies of Shakespeare's plays to be made available in the gift shop of the theatre company she works with.  So she's asked me, and by extension us, for recommendations on which publisher's editions to get.  In her own words she's looking for something that, "stays true to the bard but would be readable for people new to Shakespeare."

I know you'll all have some great suggestions!  Earlier this year we had discussion of carrying around your own copy of the First Folio and people seemed to land on the Norton version - but would this satisfy our questioner's requirements? Is it still approachable in the way she's looking for?

UPDATE: My source says thank you for all the ideas!  We can keep discussing favorites, of course, but she's thinking about going with Folger editions for her needs. 

On a different note does anybody know if any of these versions are available in an online / iPhone edition? That's how I do all my reading these days.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Shakespeare Babelfishing

I don't know if it's still called this, or if anybody still plays it, but us old timers used to amuse ourselves back in the day when "Babelfish" was the primary foreign language translator on the net by taking a popular phrase, running it through some random languages until it spit English back out the other end, then taking turns trying to guess what it meant.  Surely everybody's played a version of this game.

Here's my new twist. I monitor Shakespeare quotes on Twitter. Very often they come up in a foreign language.  When one looks popular, I'll often stick it into to see what quote it really was.  Very rarely do I recognize the quote after translation.

So, for fun (and because I feel like I've been neglecting the blog a bit), here's a handful that are skimming by on my Twitter feed right now. See how many you can get right:

  • The love of young people not in the heart, but in the eyes.
  • You learn that no matter how many pieces your heart was broken, the world does not stop for you to fix it.
  • Doubts the light of the stars, From the sun has heat, until the truth Doubts, But trust my love.
  • Cried at birth because we got to this huge scenario demented.  (I think this one might be my favorite!)  
  • There is nothing good or bad, is human thought which makes it appear so.
I don't have the correct answers for those, but I think that 4 out of 5 are relatively obvious.  I'm wondering if one of them is even Shakespeare at all.

Something occurred to me doing this.  Shakespeare's word patterns confuse the heck out of translation engines.  If something translates back into English naturally (such as the questionable one above), chances are good that it wasn't Shakespeare in the first place, no? 

Mr. Magorium

I've heard of this movie, but never seen it. Several times now, though, I've seen the following quote and it makes me want to look this one up.

Mr. Magorium: [to Molly, about dying] When King Lear dies in Act V, do you know what Shakespeare has written? He's written "He dies." That's all, nothing more. No fanfare, no metaphor, no brilliant final words. The culmination of the most influential work of dramatic literature is "He dies." It takes Shakespeare, a genius, to come up with "He dies." And yet every time I read those two words, I find myself overwhelmed with dysphoria. And I know it's only natural to be sad, but not because of the words "He dies." but because of the life we saw prior to the words.

Having no context for this quote within the movie, I'm confused. First of all, "He dies" is a stage direction, and it's the exact same stage direction everybody gets when they die. So there's no significance in that. As for "No brilliant final words", you've chosen a senile old man clutching his daughter's dead body, what exactly did you expect? Go see Hamlet for deep thoughts.

But then Mr. M goes and says exactly what I'm saying when he points out "because of the life we saw prior to those words." Well, yeah, exactly. So....what exactly was your point about the "He dies" thing and the no brilliant last words? Did you want brilliant last words, or did you want a life prior?

So, two questions. First, somebody feel free to explain this quote to me in context. Second, is this a movie that my kids would like? What is it rated, and if it's not G, why (i.e. is it violent, language, etc...)? If it's a kids movie with real people that happens to have Shakespeare in it, I'm all over it.

Shakespeare The Meteorologist

As we sit here in the northeast part of the country trying to stay out of the 100degree temperatures (that'd be USA, and Fahrenheit, for my international readers ;)) I can't help but be reminded of the lesson I once tried to give my daughter in what Sonnet 18 means. 

Shakespeare wonders whether comparing someone to a summer's day would be nice. After all, people like summer. It's nice outside, you play in the sunshine.  But then again, sometimes summer's not so great.  Sometimes rough winds shake the trees.  And sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines.  Know what that means?  The eye of heaven? That's the sun - that big eye-looking thing up in the sky.  Sometimes it's just too darned hot.

Kind of  When Shakespeare said "too hot the eye of Heaven shines", this is exactly the kind of weather he was talking about. 

I would be beyond thrilled if I heard my local weatherman break out a reference like that, but I'm not expecting it. :)

What's Your Favorite Shakespeare Portrait?

This question had me curious over the weekend.  There are many portraits claiming to be Shakespeare - Droeshout, Chandos, Cobbe, Flowers, Jansen, Sanders, etc...    So, two part question:

Image : Cobbe, Chandos, Droeshout

Which one do you like most? Second, Which do you think is likely to be the most accurate?  (I realize that image only combines 3 of many, feel free to make a case for your own favorite even if it's not in there.)

Note, these are not the same question. I happen to use the Chandos for my branding because I get sick of the Droeshout. Whenever I see it I immediately associate that image with generic public domain mass marketing, and that makes me think "Shakespeare at his most shallow."  The Chandos image, whether realistic or not, portrays more of what others have called a "roguish" image.  That's an image that I hope says, "You may think you're familiar with Shakespeare, but there's more there if you care to look deeper."

Droeshout may have the best claim, what with it appearing on the first page of the Folio.  But where did it come from? Was it painted from life, or copied from another source?

I like that the Cobbe is the newest addition to the collection, but honestly I've lost track on its status. I know that some prominent names are backing it (I also know that Professor Stanley Wells, one such prominent figure, may be listening), but last time I looked there were numerous articles that suggested it was not Shakespeare.  Somebody feel free to enlighten me on where we stand.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Woot! Shakespeare Shirts!

I feel bad that I dropped the ball on this one, but Woot! just held one of it's derby contests and the subject was Shakespeare.  That's right, dozens upon dozens of Shakespeare t-shirts to vote on and choose from.  Alas, since this is Woot after all, each design was only up for a day.  Reader Matt had his design, "Read the Whole Book!" place 3rd - congratulations to Matt!  I'm not sure the rules but he apparently gets several more days up on the site (though not on the regular front page).  So if you're not crazy about the shirts I've been cranking out and want something a little more graphic intensive (the Woot rules required that it be a graphic design, not just text), go check out Matt's entry and help a fellow geek out!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Byrd and The Bard

I'd heard that Senator Robert Byrd, who passed away recently at the age of 92, liked to quote Shakespeare on the Senate floor (though, surprisingly, I can find no reference of ever having blogged that). What I did not know is how often or how well he did it.  This NY Times article has come indeed to bury Byrd, not to praise him, and pulls no punches in citing Byrd's mistakes ("the evil that men do lives after them" comes up), but credit is given where it is due.  The man knew his stuff.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Anybody familiar with this book, and/or the upcoming movie?  Check out the description that caught my eye:
Meet Oskar Schell, an inventor, Francophile, tambourine player,
Shakespearean actor, jeweler, pacifist, correspondent with Stephen
Hawking and Ringo Starr. He is nine years old. And he is on an urgent,
secret search through the five boroughs of New York. His mission is to
find the lock that fits a mysterious key belonging to his father, who
died in the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Of course, the Shakespearean bit could be all of about 2 lines of dialogue in the introduction of the character.  But I prefer to imagine something more along the lines of "Searching for Bobby Fischer", where the kid just exudes this sort of genius for everything he does.