Sunday, October 31, 2010

Princess Diana, Shakespeare Scholar?

Here's an interesting story - an old Shakespeare text from 1977 has been found with scribbled notes in the margins that have been authenticated as those of Princess Diana The play? The Tempest. There's also apparently some math notes, and she weren't so good at da math.

I'm not sure what's more sad, though - her handwriting, her grasp of math, or the article's sad emphasis on pocket change: ‘Being a Yorkshireman, my father always checked what people had thrown out in case it was worth a few bob." And then later, "‘I’m shocked and delighted it’s worth so much. I’m going to sell it at the right auction and at the right time.’" Absolutely - you've found a piece of history. Sell it as fast as you can.

Also interesting is that it's only worth about 1500 British pounds, which is somewhere around $2000US. At that price I think I'd keep it. What am I going to do when I sell it, buy a television? That'd make fun dinner conversation. "Oh, like the new high def? Yeah, I sold a piece of British history for it."

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Regular readers know that I'll often sing "Shakespeare songs" to my kids as lullabies. I know two -- Sonnet 18, which I originally heard put to music by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd (and used to use as my cellphone ringtone), and "What A Piece of Work Is Man" from the HAIR soundtrack.

So last night I crawl into bed with the 4yr old. "Daddy sing you a song?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied.

"What song should I sing?"

"Shakespeare," he said

"Which one?" I asked

"William," he answered.


You know that thing that fish do when you take them out of the water, how the little mouth just sort of opens and closes and nothing really comes out? I had one of those moments. It took me a good number of seconds to shake it off and regain myself. "Which Shakespeare song," I asked more clearly.

"The one about the guy? With the skeleton? And he talks to it?"


"Yeah, Hamlet."

Ah, back to reality. :)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Who's Who In Shakespeare Blogs?

Thanks to Bardfilm for pointing out this list of the 30 Best Shakespeare Blogs. Best, of course, is in the eye of the beholder -- look at instead as a survey across the wonderful world of Shakespeare Blogging. How much it's grown in 5 years!

Many of our friends made the list. Congratulations to Mad Shakespeare, Shakespeare Place (JM's site), Shakespeare Teacher, American Shakespeare Center, Bardfilm, Folger, Shakespeare Standard ... great work, everybody!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Urban Shakespeare Legends

Open topic for discussion. What "fact" about Shakespeare is commonly known, but probably has no basis in reality?

I'm ... Stumped.

Would you believe I actually found a good, unique question on Yahoo Answers? Maybe it's been asked before, but in all my time I don't think I've ever seen it.

What play, or type of play, do you think Shakespeare *enjoyed* writing most?

People these days find reason to debate the very identify of Shakespeare, so the idea that there's hard and fast evidence about whether he enjoyed his work sees a bit ridiculous. But is it unanswerable? I'm not so sure.

Wasn't it Midsummer that's basically his only original story? Maybe we could argue that was a favorite. (Wasn't Shrew an original story as well, though?)

I think that today we point to Hamlet and Lear as his masterpieces, but I wonder if that has simply come with time, and if he didn't think of them as just another tragedy. Didn't I read somewhere that Titus Andronicus would have been one of his more popular shows at the time? Shakespeare was a business man, that must have appealed. Then again, that would happened after he wrote it, so we can't really use that as evidence that he enjoyed writing it.

Who knows, maybe it's too hypothetical. But I thought it was a neat question.

Lear's Math Skills

In the lunch room today two of the managers were joking about how they were late getting in their budgets. "The last guy to turn in his budget just gets what's left," I said. "That would be the greatest motivational tool ever."

This brought to mind the opening scenes of King Lear, where Lear says that he will divide up his kingdom among his three daughters, and give the best piece to the one that loves him best.

And here, as I'm sure many of you have noticed, he then starts divvying up his land as each daughter speaks, fundamentally breaking his own game. By the time Cordelia speaks, the most she can hope to get, regardless of what she says, is "whatever's left." Mathematically, the correct way to play the game would be to let them all speak first, and then to decide who won, and divide up the kingdom accordingly.

So, since Lear clearly does not do that, here's my question. Is this just a Shakespearean "mistake" (though perhaps "oversight" might be a better word)? Or, and here's where I think it's more interesting, did Lear already save the best portion for Cordelia, assuming that she would be the one to win his little game?

I like that idea. I like the idea that he knew Regan and Goneril were backstabbing little ingrates, and he gave them a bare minimum portion. He knew Cordelia loved him best, and the whole game was just an opportunity (albeit it a selfish one) to stick it to the annoying two and prove how much he loved his youngest - after she proved that she loves him, of course. If this was his plan, then her unexpected speech about exactly how much she does love him must have been absolutely heartwrenching to him. Which, in turn, caused his temper to go off the charts. And, well, we all know what happens next.

What think you all?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Challenge Extended : Starlings

Ok, who's up for some research?

On Twitter someone questioned the story of Eugene Schieffelin, who in 1890 released several dozen (I've seen reportd of 40-80) starlings into Central Park in New York city. Why did he do this? Legend has it that he wanted to bring all the birds of Shakespeare's work to the United States.

The problem is that there appears to be no evidence to back up this story. Plenty of people tell it, but none of us can find any corroborating evidence. I've done what research I can on Google Books from that era, and there are plenty of 1890 publications citing Mr. S's starling release (and apparently some sparrows as well), but at the time there are no references linking Schieffelin and Shakespeare. At all.

The closest I found was this book, Tinkering With Eden, that makes multiple references to Eugene's obsession with "birds of the poets." However this is a 2002 book and it's unclear to me where she gets all this information.

Somebody got better supporting evidence? Ideal would be some reference to Schieffelin's Shakespeare quest that is either authored by him, or at the very least dated back during his lifetime.

Worth mentioning - I've emailed the author of that book. Why not? I'll report back if I get any good answers.

Eight Reasons Why Personalized Shakespeare Is A Bad Idea

There's a link going around Twitter (no need to keep supporting it) about a project that creates personalized versions of classic novels - including Shakespeare - where you presumably get to swap out your name (and probably some key descriptive attributes) with some of the major characters, thus making the story about yourself.

Somebody didn't think this through. (Warning, PG adult language and content ahead!)

Julius Caesar ... because stabbing innocent people and bathing in their blood isn't like it was in the good old days.

Twelfth Night ... because you're a boy who's always wondered what it would be like to be a girl in love with a man who thinks you're a boy.

Taming of the Shrew ... because bitch knew her place!

Othello ... because you want to strangle your wife.

The Merchant of Venice ... because Jews are evil.

A Midsummer Night's Dream ... because you should be allowed to drug your wife when she won't give you what you want.

Romeo and Juliet ... because you want to sleep with a 13yr old girl.

Hamlet ... because your girlfriend is crazy, you'd like to kill her dad, and your mom has been looking hot lately.

And Then There's The Adorable Middle Geeklet

I mentioned yesterday how my 8yr old daughter just finished The Tempest on her own (a children's translation). Over the dinner table this produced an interesting bit of oneupsmanship(?) with her 6yr old sister:

Elizabeth: "Daddy, I just finished Much Ado about Nothing in Katherine's book."

Katherine: "Much Ado About Nothing isn't even in that book!"

Elizabeth: "Well I finished something, I forget the name of it."

Daddy: "What was it about?"

Elizabeth: "I forget."

Daddy: "What was the name of the main character?"

Elizabeth: "I forget."

Daddy: "Did you read the one about a girl named Rosario?"

Elizabeth: "I think I remember now. It was the story about Rosario."

Daddy: "There's no story Shakespeare story with a girl named Rosario. Busted."

Katherine: "Ha!"

Elizabeth: "D'oh!"

:) All in good fun, of course. I realize that may sound like we were ganging up on the child, but that's not the case.

Twenty Bits of Shakespeare Trivia You Probably Haven't Heard Before

Bardfilm has compiled a list of unknown Shakespeare trivia. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Twenty Bits of Shakespeare Trivia You Probably Haven't Heard Before:
  1. All the plays and poems attributed to Shakespeare were really written by a little girl named Prosperina Del Factotum.
  2. The character of Hamlet was modeled on a large fish given to the Queen on 3 February 1578.
  3. When you read Hamlet’s Soliloquy backward, the words “Paul is Dead” are clearly audible.
  4. In addition to writing the plays, Shakespeare was also an actor. He played the ghost in Hamlet, Adam in As You Like It, and Vikki the Space Vampire in Macbeth.
  5. Only six of Shakespeare’s signatures survive. They range in spelling from “S-h-a-x-p-e-r” to “B-e-n-n-y.”
  6. None of the portraits of Shakespeare are of Shakespeare. They’re all of another man of the same name who dressed as Shakespeare to elude tax collectors.
  7. King Lear was originally marketed as a comedy. Audiences loved the slapstick of the storm scene, and they fell all over themselves when a senile old man couldn’t tell if his daughter was dead or alive!
  8. The Sonnets have always been misinterpreted. They’re really the sixteenth-century equivalent of Marley and Me.
  9. In his youth, he drank too much. This led to the expression “He’s as tight as Andronicus.”
  10. His sexual orientation is pretty clear. He was either homosexual, bisexual, or straight.
  11. He coined many words and phrases, including “bombshell,” “rockin’,” “Hoosier Daddy,” and “Ow!”
  12. Many of the words Shakespeare used had a double entendre as a secondary meaning. If you knew what “be,” “question,” “mind,” “slings,” and “arrows” meant in Shakespeare’s day, you’d never stop blushing.
  13. If you read every 39th word in the First Folio, you get a good recipe for Tater Tot Casserole.
  14. Every word in En Vogue's "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" is taken directly from Pericles, Prince of Tyre.
  15. Shakespeare, Gertrude Stein, and Mark McGuire once traveled in the same car on the Orient Express.
  16. Contrary to expectation, Shakespeare never did. Shake a spear, that is. But he wrote many bit parts for spear shakers, which is how he got his name.
  17. His second trip to Hollywood culminated in two pilot episodes of The Love Boat (one that is lost).
  18. Shakespeare did not wear a ruff. He was half human and half Australian Frilled Lizard.
  19. Not long after his death, he was called "The Cygnet of the Cenotaph." "Swan of Avon" came later.
  20. The original ending of Richard III had Richmond shout "Who da winter of your discontent NOW, Dickie?"
Our thanks for this guest post to kj, the author of Bardfilm. Bardfilm is a blog that comments on films, plays, and other matters related to Shakespeare.


In googling Eugene Ionesco for a previous comment, I learned(*) that he wrote a satire of Macbeth:

Two generals, Macbett and Banco, put down a rebellion. In payment for their heroic service, Archduke Duncan promises to bestow on them land, titles and cash, but he reneges on the deal. Encouraged by the seductive Lady Duncan, Macbett plots to assassinate the Archduke and crown himself King. He tries to maintain his tenuous grip on the throne through a vicious cycle of murder and bloodshed. Meanwhile, he is haunted by the ghosts of his victims and discovers that his new wife is not all that she seems.

Anybody know anything about it?

(*) I say learned, though when I searched my own archives for mentions I found this post from July 2008 where we talked about Shakespeare fiction, and Alan Farrar brought up Macbett briefly in the comments.

I wonder what ever happened to Alan. I know he was sick, he blogged about his health issues on a different site. I'm afraid he's no longer with us.

Poetic Genius in Training

My daughter, 8, was writing poetry last night for Halloween. "Witches bats and spooky cats," she chanted.

"DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da," I echoed from the next room.

After some discussion we agreed that there were 7 beats in that line, I found it too hard to get across the idea of there being a pausing beat on the end. But, 7 is fine. "So then on the next line you want to try and make it 7 beats as well," I tell her.

"Or," she says, "You know, close to 7, like maybe 6 or 8."

"Or 7," I suggest.

"And then for the next lines," she goes on, ignoring my suggestion, "I could do like 5 beats and 5 beats...."

I guess she's kind of getting the idea. :) I want to get to the point where I get a call from her teacher asking me to explain what "trochaic tetrameter" means :)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Top Seven Shakespeare Plays for Halloween

Ok, ok, I want to play too. Over the last week or so I've seen lists for tv shows, family movies, horror movies - everything to get you in the Halloween mood. But what about our little corner of the world? Doesn't Shakespeare have anything to get us into the Halloween Spirit? Here's my contribution:

Twelfth Night

You're a girl? Dress up like a boy. You're a boy? Dress up like a girl dressing up like a boy. Twelfth Night's main character spends the whole play in costume. We discovered, a few months back, that she's not even called by her real name until the very end of the play!

Julius Caesar

Why just be any ghost, when you can be Great Caesar's Ghost(*)? Don't skimp on the knife wounds, or the blood. Lots and lots of blood. Or if you really want to wear a toga and don't want to get blood all over it, dip your arms in the red stuff up to your elbows, then go as Brutus.

(*) Bonus points if you can actually convince somebody to dress up like J Jonah Jameson from the Spiderman movies, and then spend the night pointing at you and shouting that.


I knew Hamlet would make a good costume when my 4yr old spotted the idea on one of his cartoon shows. After random channel flipping he comes running into my office to tell me "Daddy, somebody on tv is dressed like Shakespeare!" Along comes the 6 and 8yr olds to tell me "Well, not Shakespeare - he's dressed like Hamlet. He's holding a skull and talking to it." Of course you could also go with Ophelia, although taking a quick jump in the pool before going out trick or treating might cause you to catch your death (ha!). Then again why not go as Hamlet's father's ghost? I'll leave it up to reader imagination to depict how exactly you'd walk around wearing your beaver up.

The Tempest

A witch (although, granted, she doesn't really make much of an appearance), a wizard, a sea monster, an airy spirit. Plenty of opportunity here to take a traditional Halloween costume and really run with it. If you want to get really creative, grab a partner and dress up as Stefano and Trinculo. I always described them as pirates to my kids, although "court jester" is probably more accurate.

TItus Andronicus

How can you not have fun dressing up like Titus? Put on a chef's hat and bloody apron, carry a cleaver and a big stew pot. Throw a prop head in it, maybe a prop hand while you're at it. Shakespeare's goriest tragedy is often compared to a modern slasher movie, so why not just go completely over the top with it? Bring along your daughter. Don't let her talk.


Ghosts make plenty of appearances in Shakespeare's work, The Tempest and Midsummer are both loaded with magical goings on ... but really, is there any play scarier than Macbeth? Dress up like a weird sister, dress up like Banquo's ghost. Or maybe a sleepwalking Lady Macbeth, covered in blood? For the really inside reference, go as Macduff - carry around Macbeth's head.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Fairies are timeless, in more ways than one. If you need a couple's idea, why not Titania and Oberon? I love the idea of an entire family dressing up as Midsummer, with the kids playing the roles of Cobweb, Mustardseed and the others. Or go in a completely different direction and make an ass of yourself, literally.

Have I forgotten any? You can always throw on your monk's outfit and go as Friar Laurence (carry around a pickaxe, crowbar or some other tomb-opening implement for extra credit), or really grab any random "Elizabethan" or "Renaissance" costume from the local store and say that you're the lead in As You Like It, Much Ado, or any of the other romantic comedies. What else? Who's got the creative ideas?

Iambic Midsummeter

So after my daughter told me that she wants to be able to read Midsummer in the original, my brain started working on which parts I could extract and use to teach her, since I don't want her to approach it and feel that it is 100% over her head. "I know!" I thought, "It's a great opportunity to teach poetry, and meter."

I immediately think back to A Midsummer Night's Lorax, a post I did comparing something that kids aren't supposed to understand with something kids inherently understand.

"DUM, da DUM da DUM da DUM da," plays itself out in my head, "IF we SHAdows HAVE ofFENded, DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da, THINK but THIS and ALL is MENded..."

"Wait a second," I think. "That's not iambic pentameter. That's only 8 beats, and the beats on the first part."

ONE two THREE four FIVE six SEV'N eight

What the heck is that? I'm sure there's an official name for it.

By the same token, I go back to "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows" and wonder what meter that's written in.... is it me or does that line have nine syllables? WTF?

Where OXlips AND the NODding VIolet GROWS

Ok, the next line is iambic pentameter.

What happened?

Milestone Day for the Geeklet

616tCfIh4bL._SL160_.jpgSo today I learned that my 8yr old daughter, entirely on her own, broke out my Usborne "Stories from Shakespeare" because she wanted to read the Tempest. She'd now finished it, and wanted to discuss.


She pointed out to me that this version was written "in complete sentences, not like Shakespeare wrote it." She wanted to know what exactly did happen to Ariel, never fully understood where Sycorax was, and why Prospero would want to get rid of all his magic books. All very good questions, which I happily answered over brushing teeth this morning.

"Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare (Illustrated Story Collections)" (Usborne Publishing Ltd)

She also told me that she wants to do Midsummer next, because "she only knows it without the boy." Boy? Yeah, apparently the changeling boy is very confusing. Then again, so was Sycorax. I'm beginning to sense a pattern - when Shakespeare talks about people who aren't really in the story, it's hard to follow.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Original Pronunciation Is Back In Vogue

I'm always fascinated when someone says, "This is what Shakespeare performance sounded like." How do we really know?

Anyway, the topic's come back around again this week because someone at the University of Kansas is staging Midsummer in original pronunciation, and it's being dubbed "the first time in North America" that this has been the case. This is probably accurate, although it's certainly been done elsewhere.

When I first blogged about this idea back in 2008 I said it sounded "A bit Scottish", and I think that's still accurate. (The ShakespearePost article linked at the time is no longer up, alas).

I wonder how much of the UKansas work is really just taken directly from David Crystal's work? I mean, the man's got an entire site dedicated to Pronouncing Shakespeare.

For the curious, pronunciation has come up a lot here on Geek over the years. Often with respect to John Barton, who knocks it out of the park in the Playing Shakespeare videos when asked to demonstrate for his students.

Today is Called St. Crispin's Day

...and all the Shakespeare geeks are posting their favorite references. Here's mine, albeit a quick and unexpected one:

This is from The Anniversary episode of Fawlty Towers. The good bit is right around the 4 minute mark where Basil, having apparently forgotten his anniversary, is guessing at what today's date might signify.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Justin Bieber / Shakespeare Connection

Come on, you knew there was one!

Mr. Bieber, you see, grew up in Stratford. Though I'm loathe to say "grew up", given that the boy's barely into his teens.


No, Ontario. But, they have a Shakespeare Festival!

Oh! Did young Justin act! What part did he play?

Well, no. He didn't act. He's more a singer, really.

Oh...well, then, what play did he sing in?


Huh? So what role did he play in the festival?

None, really. But the festival brings in tourists, you see. Tourists who would see Mr. Bieber singing on the street corner.

So, the story really has absolutely nothing to do with Shakespeare?

Pretty much. Sorry, I wish the story'd been better. With the high young voice he probably could have had a shot at some of the female roles. If the festival casts that way, that is.

Shakespeare Novels, Coming Soon

David Blixt has long been a supporter of Shakespeare Geek, and I like to return the favor when I can. He's not been around much of late, but that's because he's busy busy busy.

Besides being a professional Shakespearean with the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, he writes novels. About Shakespeare. (I'm sure he doesn't want to be pigeon-holed like that, but that's what we talk about here ;))

He posts a quick teaser about what he's been working on lately, allow me to summarize:

This fall I finished a novel, a play, and a spec-script for a TV pilot. I'm also working on two plays for Shanghai Low Theatricals (both adaptations of great literature) and HER MAJESTY'S WILL, the Shakespeare Spy project I've been noodling with for a year or so

Meanwhile ... I sat down and finished the play I've longed to write for years. It's entitled EVE OF IDES, and takes place the night before Caesar's assassination.

I've gone back to work on the third Verona book a few times this fall, just to remind myself of what was going on.

But yesterday I launched full out into working on another project I've long been considering - my Othello novel.

That's allotta Shakespeare. If you've not read Master of Verona, go do so. Then watch for Mr. Blixt's name, because you'll be seeing it again.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Round Of Applause for Bard 365

365 Days of Shakespeare has reached entry #365!

Congratulations to the author on achieving her goal. I'm not really sure what that means for the blog, though? I got some good links from you. Why stop now?

The bard365 thing keeps working, you can just change the title to "365 More Days of Shakespeare" and keep it going!

Hamlet As Diagram. As Art.

We've talked about projects to visualize Shakespeare before, in a variety of ways. Here's one I hadn't seen. Via Incredible Things I give you an actual wallsized poster of Hamlet, diagrammed. Suitable for framing.

At almost $300 I'm not going to run out and grab one, but it does fascinate me. It is *very* tight. I'd love something in a big TIFF file that I could peruse at my leisure, to sit down and really see whether the entire story is adequately captured so succinctly.

I'd also like to see whether she's done the other plays! (Her bio lists just the 1 item for sale, so I'm guessing not. But maybe coming soon?)

Seriously, this is the kind of thing that kicks the computer geek side of my brain. I've always dreamed of having this sort of semantic engine that could read Shakespeare's work and then spit back out whatever you asked for it (at least, the objective stuff like "When does Hamlet kill Polonius" or "Who is Tybalt to Juliet?"). Just the other day I saw on a mailing list where somebody asked whether you could programmatically solve "The doubling problem" by making the definitive list of all characters who are on stage with each other. Assuming you've got an accurate representation of enters/exits, then yes, you certainly could, I'd think.

More Stage Combat Injuries

We've talked before about stage combat, and the safety of the actors. So I feel a bit obliged to mention stories such as these when they cross my radar. Sometimes Geek readers actually know the people involved and can vouch for their credentials (either pro or con):

McHale, who plays Caesar's friend Proculeius (as well as Ledipis, a friend of Antony, and the Schoolmaster) was sliced in the left calf in a Tuesday night pre-show swordfight rehearsal by John Douglas Thompson (who plays Antony). McHale, who is making his Hartford Stage debut, was taken to the hospital for stitches and the show was cancelled.

The rented stage swords are metal lances and, though dulled, can still inflict harm. Rick Sordelet is the fight director who staged the duels before opening night. A fight captain oversees the rehearsals after that. Director Tina Landau was notified of the accident, said a theater spokesman.

I don't really know how to just the circumstances. "Sliced in the left calf" clearly sounds like a sharp object was involved, but who really knows how the injury occurred?,0,1963723.column

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Read Any Good Tattoos Lately?

I don't pay much attention to tattoos - it seems like everybody these days is rocking some sort of artwork somewhere on their body (though, granted, some represent way, way more commitment than others).

What I do like are tattoos with words. I like to read what a person's chosen to express on their body. Often it is a date, or the name of a family member. But sometimes it's a quote. Those I love. Those tell me something about the person. I once spotted someone with most of To Be... tattooed up his arm.

So I find this article about literary tattoos pretty cool. Look at that Jack Kerouac example. Wow. The article is promoting a book on the subject, so apparently I'm not the only one who finds this particular method of self-expression fascinating.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Batching Sonnets?

Over on the Facebook page (see that big button over in the left nav? Click that), Ashley has a question:

We're getting ready to read the sonnets over at Shakespeare in a Year, and I'm wondering how to split them up into two or three manageable batches. Does anyone have suggestions?

Interesting question. I don't think you can really split them up by Fair Youth / Dark Lady / Procreation in a meaningful way for this purpose, can you? The batches would be lopsided, I think.

I've told her that I'd post the question here, since the primary page gets more traffic than the Facebook page. Feel free to answer on either.

Thank You, Frogdesign

Being in the web business, I get excited when I see headlines go by like "Shakespeare and the Invention of Web 3.0" and other topics that look like they'd tie my two loves together. Imagine how disappointed and frustrated I get when I skim said article and discover that the closest they get to Shakespeare is one "A rose by any other name...." message thrown into the mix. (I saw this one just this morning, as a matter of fact).

So when I saw Print, Real People, and Shakespeare : A Content Strategy I thought I was again in for disappointment. In fact on first skim of the article I saw no Shakespeare mention at all, and dreamed up this ranting blog post.


The answer can be found, as usual, in Shakespeare. I don’t mean that there’s a line from Hamlet that we can lazily interpret to impress the audience. I’m talking about the plays themselves — the performances. Will a video of actors on the live stage ever replace the experience of being in the theater? Not likely. I think most will agree that seeing a live play will always provide a different experience than watching it on a screen — and that it will always be a valued experience.

The article goes on to argue that it is that "real" content of a print publication, something you can hold in your hands, that will forever give it a premium value over and above purely online content. It's an interesting argument, and I can see his point. Not sure I agree with it, but that's a different story. I just wanted to credit them with actually using Shakespeare meaningfully in their article. Thanks!

The Making Of Romeo+Juliet

Alas, nobody offered me any freebies for the Blu-ray release of Luhrman's Romeo+Juliet (apparently arriving today).

BUT! I think we've found a kindred spirit over at Hollywood Crush, who not only serves up a "making of" clip from the Blu-ray but also gushes all nostalgic about that extra little addition to the already brutal ending:

I mean, I was prepared for their deaths! We all know it's coming. I was NOT prepared for that artful, yet agonizing addition. Cried. my. eyes. out.

Lucky duck.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Words You Didn't Know

This article is almost certainly exactly what it says it is : Shakespeare words you didn't know. Not words you didn't know Shakespeare invented, or cliches that came from Shakespeare that have changed over the years (I'm looking at you, glister/glisten).

Nope, this is words that you almost certainly never saw before. That is, unless you've played one of these parts or, you know, study this stuff for a living.

How about Gongarian? Or maybe crants, or tranect?

I'm sure I've skimmed over all of them (crants is apparently in Hamlet) and never really thought much about it. But I've certainly never heard of any of the ones listed. Your mileage may vary (hence, "almost exactly what it says", since I'm sure a number of you have in fact seen at least some of these words).

Like Shakespeare

Something occurred to me this weekend, while mowing the lawn.

How come when a movie actor wants to portray his project as having quality, he'll say that it's like Shakespeare (I'm thinking of the Spiderman reboot, although there are other examples)... but if you went up to the average moviegoer and said "Hey, you want to go see a Shakespeare movie?" most of them would look at you like you were crazy? It's as if "like Shakespeare" means "very good", but "actual Shakespeare" means "I won't like it."

My theory is that it has to do with our own lack of confidence in ourselves. We've all been taught that Shakespeare is the pinnacle of literature. The best of the best. So to compare yourself to such a high standard inherently puts you up there near it, at least. And that's pretty good.

But, at the same time, we also think that Shakespeare is therefore out of our own reach. That it is too difficult for us to understand. We fear that we will not be able to appreciate it, to discuss it and offer our opinions afterward. So pre-emptively we decide that just wouldn't like it to begin with.

That makes me sad. People want "like Shakespeare". But they're afraid of actual Shakespeare, because they don't think they can handle it. I wonder how to bridge that gap?

Macbeth : A Love Story

This article is little more than the announcement of a particular show, but I like the way they spun it. This particular interpretation will focus on the Macbeths as one of Shakespeare's great romantic couples.

“Our director Iam Coulter kept telling us she wanted Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to light up every room when they walk in. They’re dynamic, they’re sexual and they’re very much in love,” says Konchak.

What do you think? I know we've discussed Shakespeare's best couples in the past, but sometimes it's fun to revisit topics for the new geeks.

Are the Macbeths an example of a wonderful couple, or are they incredibly dysfunctional?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Top Twenty Shakespearean Faux Pas (Guest Post by Bardfilm)

The author of Bardfilm thought it would be fun to compose a guest post here at Shakespeare Geek. And I thought it would be fun to let him! Here we are, then:

Bardfilm's list of the Top Twenty Shakespearean Faux Pas:

  1. Inviting Lady Macbeth to a dinner party and constantly telling her where she can wash up.
  2. Inviting Macbeth to a dinner party and constantly saying, "What a great Banquo!" instead of "What a great Banquet."
  3. Asking Henry V "Whatever happened to Richard II? We hardly ever see him around anymore!"
  4. Telling Rosalind she looks just like a boy actor playing a girl pretending to be a boy acting like a girl.
  5. Asking the two noble kinsmen which one is the noblest.
  6. Casually mentioning to Mcduff that your wife and children weren’t butchered by a desperate megalomaniac.
  7. Inviting Claudius to see Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap with you.
  8. Trying to compliment Hamlet by referring to him as “The Great Dane.” He hates that.
  9. Shouting “No! It’s your imagination!” whenever Macbeth starts on that “Is this a dagger?” nonsense.
  10. Answering all of Hamlet’s rhetorical questions in a sarcastic tone of voice (viz. “What’s Hecuba to him? He dated Hecuba in high school!”).
  11. Standing in the way of Richard III’s ascent to the throne.
  12. Offering Othello a handkerchief after he sneezes. It’s kind of like offering Lady Macbeth a moist towelette.
  13. Singing the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” when Lavinia (from Titus Andronicus) is in the room.
  14. Slipping a fake spider into the martini glass of Leontes (from The Winter’s Tale).
  15. Referring to Gertrude as “Hamlet’s father’s brother’s wife.”
  16. Requesting the pianist at a bar to play “We Don’t Need Another Hero” when Claudio is right there.
  17. Showing up at a social occasion wearing the same cloth-of-gold of tissue dress as Cleopatra.
  18. Serving Caesar a salad . . . over and over again . . . every single time he comes to your place.
  19. Proposing marriage to Isabella—even though you know she’s almost finished taking her vows to be a nun.
  20. Asking King Lear about his 401(k).
Our thanks to kj, the author of Bardfilm. Bardfilm is a blog that comments on films, plays, and other matters related to Shakespeare in a relatively-informal manner.

Welcome Guest Blogger : KJ from Bardfilm!

If you hang out at all on Twitter and follow the Shakespeare crowd, you've no doubt seen Bardfim's hysterical lists with names like #ShakespeareanWWEWrestlers ("The Big Show-within-a-Show"!), #ShakespeareInBed (If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done bed!"), and many others that have long since scrolled out of my ability to search them.

"Why don't you gather those all together into list-posts so that people can find them later?" I asked. Long story short, we struck upon an idea - he posts them here!

Starting today (shortly, as a matter of fact) you'll see Bardfilm's lists showing up here on Shakespeare Geek, and I think the content will be a worthy addition to everybody's experience. If you're not already following his blog, go do so. He deserves the traffic. If you've ever spotted a Shakespeare reference on film, KJ's either already talked about it, or wants to hear about it.

Thanks, KJ!

Without further ado, let's get to the fresh content...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Romeo and Juliet : The TV Series?!

Oh, happy birthday to me. ABC is planning a Romeo and Juliet TV Series? Sure not a new thing -- "warring families" dramas have always been a popular subject. But my kids are getting to that age where they're very excited about being a part of Shakespeare, and having something on tv that they might be able to watch? I'm all for. (I just showed them the Tempest trailer this morning, and they're already begging me to see it ;))

No Twilight Hamlet?

This might be good news, depending on how you feel about the latest trend in Vampire movies. Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the Twilight movie(s?), was supposed to direct Emile Hirsch in her modern retelling of Hamlet, dubbed 'Haml3t'.

Not so fast.

I'm at least a little torn. I want there to be more Shakespeare movies, I said so in our "Shakespeare Stimulus" discussion a little while back. We've got The Tempest coming, and Coriolanus hot on its heels. But I worry about too many overly modernized Hamlets. Why not go do Winter's Tale or something else where you can make your mark?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I won't call this a formal review, but I do want to discuss the book.

I notice that I wrote about Dan Simmons' Ilium back in 2005. It's hard scifi, taking place some 3000 in the future and having a whole bunch of nanotechnology this, quantum that, and lots and lots of worm holes and space ships.

First it's about a "post literate" society that has forgotten how to do everything for themselves, including read. They have no art or culture of any kind. They just sort of ... exist. They are completely dependent on robot "servitors" and alien "voynix" creatures, without ever stopping to question where they came from.

Second it's an advanced technological recreation of the Trojan War, where the gods themselves play a very personal role.

But what makes it fodder for this blog is the two robot "moravecs" floating through space, doing their job...and analyzing Shakespeare during their slow cycles. More specifically there is one moravec, Mahnmut, who has chosen Shakespeare. Another chooses Proust, and still a third the Bible. They have discussions about why their human creators gave them such an interest in human literature, and come to the conclusion that it has to do with the "inexhaustibility" of the source material. After all, these robots are out in space analyzing this stuff for hundreds of years, they can't ever be finished.

Maybe you'll come to this book for the analysis. Moravec Mahnmut has some very interesting thoughts on the sonnets, including a detailed analysis of Sonnet 116 as an angry letter to the Fair Youth, about how the youth has no idea what true love is. (I've not done that justice.)

Honestly, though, this is a small part of the Shakespeare. Once the action really gets going, Mahnmut rarely has time to revisit his sonnets. This does not stop him, and his friend Orphu, from exchanging many many Shakespeare references, however. During one near shipwreck they recite the opening from The Tempest. I loved it.

The author is quite comfortable with his Shakespeare references. I caught one "Never, never, never, never, never" which was an obvious Lear reference (and I don't have it in front of me, but I'm pretty sure there were 5). Surprisingly I have not yet seen the "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport." Seriously - that is, like, the plot of the whole Trojan War thing, there are god characters who flick humans into and out of existence at a whim. It is the very definition of that quote. I thought perhaps Simmons was unfamiliar with Lear, but the never never never thing was surely a Lear reference.

Lastly, did I mention that this whole two-book set ("Olympos" being the sequel) is a giant Tempest story? Prospero, Ariel, Caliban and Setebos are actual characters in the story. Yes. It's hard to fully explain *who* they are, but their relationship is pretty accurate - Caliban's a minor bad guy, Setebos is a major bad guy. Ariel and Prospero are apparently good guys, but in that sort of "I'm looking out for myself, not you" way of being a good guy, you know?

These are some epic, hard sci fi books. Both weigh in at upwards of 800 pages. At times I forgot which planet I was supposed to be on, and at least once I've forgotten what millennium. I am assuming that this is my confusion, and not the author being inconsistent. On that note I will mention that this is one of the worst edited books I've ever read. I read it first 5 years ago, in hard cover, and remember a coworker showing me a blatant proofreading error where, if I recall, a paragraph started out talking about the character of Big Ajax and then in the middle switched to Little Ajax, an entirely different person. Well it's five years later, I'm reading the mass market paperback, and there are seriously dozens of spelling mistakes still scattered throughout (like referring to a spaceship submersible as a "subermisible"). I haven't found such blatant mistakes as the earlier one, but the spelling errors and typos are frequent enough to be annoying.

Summarizing? There is a lot of Shakespeare in these books, in many forms. You have to wade through a crazy amount of confusing hard science fiction, time travel, worm holes and all that good stuff to get to it. So if that's your thing anyway, you've got to read these. If you're not a hard scifi fan, you will get lost. Guaranteed.

Geeks, Meet NELL

NELL is the Never Ending Language Learner, a project out of Carnegie Mellon that is reading the web and teaching itself about ... everything.

I first spotted the reference here on IO9, but knew I had to post about it when the question got to "What happens when NELL learns English enough to become a Shakespearean scholar?"

Turns out that you can browse and download what NELL's learned so far. So you know what I did next, of course. Here's a link to what she knows about Shakespeare.

The data's obviously still in a very noisy form, with lots of redundancy. But still, you can see patterns emerging. She's 100% confident that he's a writer, and 99.8% confident that he wrote Othello. Notice down below in the "bookwriter" category you can spot names like Jonson, Marlowe and even Bloom.

It's not always perfect, of course - clicking around tells me that it thinks Romeo and Juliet is a location, because there's a "Romeo and Juliet School". I'd be willing to bet that it's not been told about the concept of "play" or "character". Search "Hamlet" and the best match it can come up with is "moviestar actor" for Kenneth Brannagh.

GIve it time ...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tempest Trailer : O R U KIDDING ME? WANT!

Maybe it's because of the special attachment I have to The Tempest, but ... *damn*. This sort of thing is like my Star Wars. Shakespeare with magic and special effects? I can't wait!

The only question in my mind is whether I'll take the kids to see it. And, honestly, if nobody dies a particularly gory death and nobody gets naked, I think I just might!

Re: the trailer itself, I quite like it, except for the "STUPIDITY" tag they stick n there it's really out of place. Fine, you want to say "It's got funny bits", but sticking STUPIDITY among more epic words like TREACHERY and REVENGE just doesn't work.

I don't know what to do with SHAKESPEARE'S FINAL MASTERPIECE. That's maybe kinda sorta not so accurate? But if it helps to put the butts in the seats, let 'em go with it.

I wish they'd made Caliban a bit more monstrous. Ariel appears to get the lion's share of the special effects attention, all Djimon Honsou (sp?) has to work with is a loincloth and some eye makeup.

Update: It's rated PG-13 for "some nudity and suggestive content". Not exactly sure what that means, and will likely have to screen before letting my kids (who, you remember, are as young as 4) see this one.

I'm Back

Hi Everybody!

I'm back from my cruise! Miss me? Anything good happen while I was gone?

No exciting Shakespeare news down in the Caribbean, though I did finish reading a hard sci fi novel "Ilium" that I'll be reviewing shortly, which contains much Shakespeare and has a plot straight out of The Tempest.

I did also give out a bunch of business cards and bore the heck out of my dinner mates by talking at length about Mr. Shakespeare, as I tend to do. I like to warn people to just go ahead and walk away from me or otherwise change the subject, because I won't stop unless you do. They tend to take me up on that. :)


Friday, October 01, 2010

Please Leave a Message. BEEEP.

Hi Everybody,

Just a quick administrative note that I'm going to be on a cruise ship for the next week with no laptop.  What tends to happen in these situations is that posts tip over to less than a couple days, and then when people want to have a discussion they can't because spam moderation kicks in.

In anticipation of this I'll be turning off the "moderation on old posts" switch for the week.  This means that all your posts should show up without my intervention. It also means that a couple of spam posts will probably slip through, so please ignore them. It seemed like a fair trade off.

Ok, that's it for me. I'm not leaving until Sunday morning so you may spot me on the Twitter between now and then, but I wanted to get this note out while I still had access to something that could post.  While I'm gone feel free to browse the merchandise, maybe check out the book.  You know the deal. :)

See ya when I don't get back, assuming I don't get shipwrecked!

Spiderman is like Shakespeare? Someone really said that?

Mensa candidate Andrew Garfield had this to say upon being cast as Spiderman in the latest example of how Hollywood can't seem to get a movie right:

"I think the material is elevated, and it's just as meaningful and just as important as Shakespeare."

I appreciate the desire to give comics some credibility, and arguably they are a part of modern culture (though if we're going to talk about cultural archetypes I'd lean more towards Superman than Spiderman). But Shakespeare? Really? When you're doing little more than starring in a movie about Facebook, and now moving on to a reboot of a movie that's only, what, less than 10 years old?