Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sorry Anne Francis, But Leslie Nielsen Stars

Surely it can't be true. Leslie Nielsen has died of pneumonia at 84.

Perhaps most well known for the cult classic Airplane movies, and later the Naked Gun series, let us not forget that the man was an accomplished actor with 20 years to his credit before the first of those movies came into being. Scanning through his IMDB profile I see something like 50 TV series with his name on them.

This being the blog that it is I always like to look for a Shakespeare connection, to pay proper tribute. And I think everybody knows what I'm going to link. Let us all enjoy some Forbidden Planet, shall we?

Minor references:

In the TV series "The New Breed", he was featured in an episode called Wherefore Art Thou, Romeo?

Apparently Roger Ebert is quoted as calling Mr. Nielsen "The Laurence Olivier of spoof movies." Appropriately high praise, I think.

RIP, Lt. Drebin.

So, What Play Should I Tackle Next?

Although it's technically true that I've read all the plays (a long time ago I built an educational database of questions about the plays), I wouldn't begin to say that I'm comfortable discussing many of them. So, I thought I'd change that. I was going to save this for the new year, but what the heck, why not start early.

What play should I focus my attention on next? I'll let you define that as you want, keeping something very important in mind - if I start looking at it, I'm probably going to post about it a lot. So you could steer me toward the play you'd like to discuss more. Or you could steer me away from one you don't particularly like.

I won't call this a "play of the month" reading club or anything like that. This is for me. And, by extension, you people :). But it has no particular structure and I don't promise to read all the plays this way.

To keep the voting from spreading too thin, let's limit it to the following set. Sorry if I don't pick your favorite right off the bat, but if it turns out to be a fun project maybe we'll do it more: All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Merry Wives of Windsor, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Richard III.

How's that for variety?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

10 Reasons We Love Sir Ian McKellen

A Shakespeare blog seems as good a place as any to take a moment out for a little Sir Ian McKellen love fest, don't you think? We talk frequently about the greatness that is Sir Ian, but I thought it would be fun to gather all the good stuff in one spot for the rest of the world to appreciate. Let's get started!

10. Impossibly Cool Young Ian Before he was the acting god (and all around fine person) we've come to know and love, Ian McKellen was, well...

....damn! This picture of our man circulated around the net in September 2010 and made more than one net geek rethink what the term "man crush" really means.

9. He's Magneto. What else is there to say? This isn't the greatest clip, but it's the most readily available one. The smile at the end is the kind of thing that put Magneto over the top.

8. Harry Potter is nervous around him. Rumor has it that Sir Ian did get a shot at the Dumbledore role, but didn't think it would be appropriate because a) he was already another famous wizard and b) Richard Harris, who originated Dumbledore's role, thought McKellen was a dreadful actor. I enjoyed this interview where Mr. Harry Potter explains what a day on the set was like when Mr. McKellen showed up and taught them all what being "Important" looks like.

7. He was so good at waiting for Godot, Godot actually showed up. Well, no, not really - but while taking a break from the show he looked so authentic that people were throwing money into his hat. McKellen even went on record to invite the person to the show who threw him a dollar, "And if he insists on paying, we'll knock a dollar off the price."

6. He's Gandalf. Demonstrating his continued dominance of the geek world, he moved from comic geeks to fantasy geeks by becoming the wizard Gandalf. He's even messing with the legions of fans lining up for the next installment in the Lord of the Rings series. When people constantly ask him for updates on the new Hobbit movie(s) he just smiles and says things like "Oh yes, I heard they were making those. No, no one's called me." YOU SHALL NOT PASS! (embedding disabled, darn it).

5. Richard III. I'm trying very hard not to make this a Top 10 Shakespeare Reasons We Love Ian McKellen, since his awesome extends far beyond our little universe. But we have to include his Richard III. Anybody who looks at Magneto and thinks, "Wow, this guy plays an awesome villain" needs to check out his Richard.

4. He's gay. Get over it. Unfortunately that awesome "I'm Gandalf and Magneto" t-shirt turns out to be a photoshop, but that doesn't change the fact that one of the greatest actors of our generation is an out gay man and not shy about it in the least. He does march, he does speak at rallies, and he's got plenty of quotes on the subject that are absolute gems:

I've had enough of being a gay icon! I've had enough of all this hard work, because, since I came out, I keep getting all these parts, and my career's taken off. I want a quiet life. I'm going back into the closet. But I can't get back into the closet, because it's absolutely jam-packed full of other actors.

3. He's best pals with Jean Luc Picard. Having the comic geeks, fantasy geeks and Shakespeare geeks firmly in his pocket, I wonder if maybe his longtime friendship with Patrick Stewart is McKellen's attempt to go after the sci-fi geeks and collect the whole set ;). No, seriously, I'm well aware that Stewart and McKellen were members of the Royal Shakespeare Company together (and highly recommend Playing Shakespeare, where you'll see them acting together years before X-Men). Non-Shakespeare folks may not fully appreciate the awesomeness of this acting duo, who've appeared together on both screen and stage. Here they share a stage in Waiting for Godot:

2. He's Lear. When he's not being a wizard or a super villain, marching in a gay rights parade or scaring Harry Potter, Sir Ian McKellen still finds the time to tackle the Mt. Everest of Shakespeare, King Lear. Every actor wants to put his mark on Hamlet, but it takes a lifetime to prepare for Lear.

Sir Ian McKellen's King Lear is part of our 2010 Guide to Gifts for the Shakespeare Geek!

And the #1 reason we love Sir Ian McKellen...

1. He gives away all his best secrets. In this Extras clip, Sir Ian patiently explains to Ricky Gervais exactly how he does what he does. You want to be Gandalf? Listen carefully.

Thanks for everything, Sir Ian! And I do mean everything!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Sale! 75% Off!

dicksee_300.jpgIn celebration of the upcoming long weekend (don't know about you folks, but I've got Thursday and Friday off for Thanksgiving and will likely not be getting too much posting time in), I wanted to do something nice for everybody. Starting right now and lasting, oh, probably through Sunday when I get back to the computer again, the PDF version of my book Hear My Soul Speak: Wedding Quotations from Shakespeare is on sale for an amazing 75% off! That makes the price just $1.99!

So if price was holding you back, now's your chance to snatch up the freshman offering from that literary genius the world knows as Shakespeare Geek (who also happens to write his own promotional material. :) ) Get them now and say you knew me when.

Important note! This discount only applies to the PDF version, I do not have the mechanisms available to me (at the moment) to offer a similar program for the Kindle/iPad/Nook versions. Sorry about that. If you're looking for those formats and will only buy in those formats, please drop me a note and I'll more aggressively pursue pricing options on those platforms.

For more information you can check out the book's site at There you can take a look at the table of contents, sample material, reviews and all that good stuff. Just remember to click the PDF buy button in order to get the special Thanksgiving discount price.

Seriously, though, thank you to everybody for making this site what it's become. i may mope occasionally about what's wrong with Shakespeare in the world and why we can't all make a living at it, but it's precisely because this is the kind of thing I'd want to do with my life if I could. Not act or teach or write, necessarily, but do exactly this - immerse myself in it, let it flow into and around me from all directions. Take in information, broadcast it back out, interact, evolve, repeat. Every now and then I go back and read posts I made 5 years ago and look at how much I've learned, how much my opinions have changed over the years, and it's not the Works doing that, because they haven't changed much in 400 years. It's all of you, making this community something very special. Thank you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The DaVinci Michelangelo Question

When our kids study history they'll no doubt hear about great works of art throughout the centuries - the Mona Lisa, the Sistine Chapel, the statue of David. It's a fairly safe bet that most students, regardless of what they are studying, will be exposed to these works are part of their general education, yes?

At what point do we start quizzing them on the kind of brush strokes that were used, and why? Or the political and economic climate at the time they were created?

If you're a student of art history, then sure. if you're destined to become an artist yourself, then absolutely. But for the most part, isn't it important to understand that these great pieces exist, have a little bit of an idea about who created them and how and why they came into existence? Do we really need to analyze them into the ground from the moment we expose our kids to them?

You see where I'm going with this, right? How come we make them dissect Shakespeare until they hate it, then? A great deal of their education in this arena goes strictly to the items I mentioned, no doubt - understanding its existence and some concept of why it is important and how it came to be. Fair enough. But I monitor homework question sites. Most of the questions are of the "Compare and contrast the themes that Shakespeare expresses through specific use of anaphora in the following scenes and cite examples....." blah blah blah.

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill on this one? I've been thinking a lot lately about Shakespeare as a lesson in history, rather than in literature, and this is the idea that struck me this morning. Should we teach Shakespeare as part of history class?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Come On, Dictionary

[Argh, I hate this client, it eats my posts and I never know until somebody tells me.]

I think everybody remembers that dreaded day this summer when Sarah Palin didn't know how to spell repudiate, and the world exploded. Trust me, I remember it well, I was on vacation and woke up to about 10,000 messages telling me that Palin had compared herself to Shakespeare. A book even came out of all the ShakesPalinisms that were spawned.

I would happily forget the whole thing. Except that the New Oxford American Dictionary has made her nonsense word the Word Of The Year, thus continuing to demonstrate the uselessness of dictionaries. I'll leave it to Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers to eviscerate her, and them, the right way.

Shakespeare 101, on Prezi

I don't know what Prezi is, exactly, but I like the idea behind this presentation on Shakespeare's Biography. It's as if someone laid out a whole bunch of index cards on a big screen, some text, some graphics, and then played connect the dots with them. The player/browser walks you through the cards in the intended sequence, but be sure to click the X inside a circle (next to the Play button) which will bring up the entire map at once and yet you jump around.

I'm not linking this for the quality of the Shakespeare info. It's ok, and even covers some info that's often overlooked (like the deer-poaching story, or the fact that when people speak of Shakespeare "inventing" words, that doesn't really mean what you think it means). But it's also pretty light on everything else, and never really mentions any plays at all, just timeline stuff.

What's interesting to me is the potential for something like this. Play with it first, so we can discuss it. Got it? Ok, good.

Imagine this thing on an iPad. You're using your fingers, getting in there and driving your way around Shakespeare's life. Now like I said, this particular sample is pretty shallow - but imagine a really deep one that went into all the plays? Or even better something that had a certain amount of wiki to it, where people could continually comment and add ideas? It's easy to write one sentence that says "Shakespeare had twins Judith and Hamnet, and Hamnet died at 11." But think about all the different places throughout Shakespeare's work where you could link possible examples of how his son's death impacted his work.

Imagine it interactive! This was apparently created by a teacher, for his class. So why not have something in there were students could post questions back to the teacher? Or have homework where they have to create their own branches?

I love stuff like this that's got obvious educational potential.

Congratulations, Shakespeare's Pizza!

Even though it constantly gets in the way of my Twitter streams :), I don't mention Shakespeare's Pizza (Columbia, MO) that much.There's two reasons for that. First, I don't know exactly what it has to do with *our* Shakespeare. I mean, I don't talk about the music group Shakespeare's Sister much either.

Second, I'm totally jealous that people in Missouri get to actually say stuff like "Hey I'm going over to Shakespeare's to get a beer," and I don't. :( A we have in Boston is stinkin' Cheers, and that's been off the air for ages. ;)

But, seriously, Shakespeare's just won Good Morning America's Best Bites : College Edition competition. So not only do they have the best name, like, ever, but they've got a dedicated following and apparently pretty killer food to boot. Congratulations!

Kids, Huh? Whaddya Gonna Do.

Been watching the early seasons of The Muppets via Netflix. Last night:

The Phantom of Muppet Theatre: "I played Hamlet! I played Othello!! I was killed on opening night."

Kermit the Frog : "Who killed you?"

Phantom: "The critics."

<cue laugh track>

My kids? "Daddy, Othello! Hamlet! Shakespeare!"

I like that they recognized Othello, because we don't talk about that one much at the house. Hamlet they'd recognize, though, sure. I should break out the board game, they'll get a kick out of that.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Julie Taymor's Tempest Costumes : Yes, Those Are Zippers You See

I had no idea what Shakespeare in Studs was when it came through my newsfeeds so I skipped it at first. Turns out it's a Wall Street Journal piece on the costume design for Julie Taymor's upcoming Tempest movie!

When the initial images were starting to circulate and they ended up on one of the computer-geek boards I frequent, it didn't take people long to say "Zippers? Are those zippers I see on those costumes? Pretty sure they didn't have zippers back then!" (Bonus points to the guy who responded, "You do realize that there's magic and fairies in this too, right?")

The zippers were deliberate. A lot of thought (and not a lot of budget!) went into the costumes.

The film had a limited costume budget, a relatively small $200,000. Ms. Powell sewed zippers on costumes herself during filming on the rocky Hawaiian island of Lanai. "I don't always do that," she says, "for anyone who's reading this and wants to hire me."

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Business of Shakespeare

I'm wondering if we can get some discussion started on this topic. I probably shouldn't be posting it on a Friday afternoon, but like so many other "rules" of working the web, I tend to go with where my attention span leads me.

I don't think it would be a surprise to anybody if I said that "If I could make a living out of doing the Shakespeare thing, then yeah, sure, I'd certainly go for it." The question then becomes, "What exactly is the Shakespeare thing?" And that's where I'm a bit stuck, because I'm really over here carving out my own niche. I don't act or direct it. I don't teach it. I'm

I have skills, though. I'm quite the competent computer geek, and I'd like to think I'm a fairly competent writer as well. And I think it's safe to say that after five years of doing this, even though I have no real "academic cred", I know at least a little something about my subject matter.

So I often (and I do mean often) ponder, how can I combine those things? I read business books and listen to entrepreneurial podcasts all the time. I'm listening to several as we speak. The lessons tend to be the same.

Lesson One : People will pay you money if they think it will make them money. This comes in many forms and includes things like "if you save me time, that will save me money." But in general there's a whole big market out there for people to write "Succeed in Blogging Now!" and "Get Rich Slowly!" and all sorts of other items that clearly fit this pattern - if you buy this from me, then you stand a better chance of making more money because of it.

Lesson Two : Easing the "Pain Points". This one is a little trickier, because it basically says that a given group of people will pay money to change something that they don't like about their current situation. They won't make any money on their own, and probably won't save time (since that tends to be directly related to money), but they'll pay money anyway for the peace of mind factor. I think that golf is a great example here. No matter how much money you spend on golf, you're never going to make money (unless you're a golf pro, of course). But that doesn't stop people from spending a fortune on everything golf related you can imagine. The same with weddings, and so on. There's just certain things that people say "Yes, I'm willing to spend money to get what I want."

So, where does Shakespeare fit in? I can't see the business of Shakespeare, from where I sit, as having anything to do with the first lesson. Yes there are people that "do Shakespeare" for a living, so theoretically there are products that you could produce that would make their lives more productive. Therefore we could assume that these professionals would pay for those products. But that market's not really about Shakespeare, is it? It's about the business. Would a Shakespeare actor's iPhone application be basically the same thing as any other actor's iPhone application?

Lesson Two is more intriguing to me. I know that I, personally, have a pain point - my kids' education. I want my kids to know and love Shakespeare, and I work hard to achieve that. So I assume that there is another market of people out there in a similar situation - they are willing to pay money to increase the quality of their child's education. Maybe not many of them are specifically thinking about Shakespeare, though.

There's also the pain point group of "students who want the answers to their homework." That audience has been addressed many times over by Sparknotes and the like and, quite frankly, they don't have a lot of money. :) But still, it's a valid audience to target.

What about you? We all have Shakespeare in our lives, in one form or another. What sort of business needs are there? What application, or web site, or service or book or magazine subscription do you wish existed?

Yes, I'm trolling for ideas. :) I have many, but ideas are a dime a dozen. Market is everything. Never build a product and say "Is there a market for this?" because if there's not, you just wasted all your time and resources. For a long time I've been taking the "build it and they will come" stance to my Shakespeare Geekery, and I'd like to think that it's done pretty well. But no way am I on a course to ever make a living at it, and that's why I'm looking to hedge my bits with a little bit more traditional business thinking.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Does He Or Didn't He?

Quick question for y'all. I've dug one of my old projects out of mothballs where I look at how people ask Shakespeare questions. And something's come up that intrigues me. When speaking of "Shakespeare", do you use present or past tense? In other words, would you be more likely to ask

Why did Shakespeare use iambic pentameter?


Why does Shakespeare use iambic pentameter?

From my research, the split seems to be fairly even. As a language geek it bugs me because technically only one is supposed to be correct - the past tense one. The man's dead, after all, he's not still using iambic pentameter.

The problem goes back to that ambiguity that's come to be associated with the word. When you say Shakespeare are you referring to the man, or to the body of work? It's sort of funny that when people speak of him being timeless, they really have just no idea how far that idea goes. In situations like this we've essentially made the man himself immortal, taking the works to be something we have in the present day while still describing them as if Shakespeare's right here with us, having just written them.

My 4yr old Hamlet

Working on my computer at home yesterday, my 4yr old son comes running into the room. He's been on the family computer, playing what they call The Shakespeare Game, an animated flash thing we've talked about before where a modern actor dressed like Shakespeare asks process-of-elimination questions about characters until you finally guess the right answer ("The character I'm thinking about was not a friend of Romeo." So, cross out Mercutio. You get the idea.)

Anyway, 4yr old comes flying into the room to announce, "Daddy Daddy Daddy! I'm playing the Shakespeare game? And the question was Hamlet? And I got the right answer!"

"Great job!" I say. "High five!"

The boy delivers an acceptable high five, and then without missing a beat leaves his hand up in the air almost as if holding Yorick's skull and says, "To be....or not to be. That is the question." And then runs back into the room to play more.

I love my house.

...And Geeklet Messes Back.

[ Context : Messing With Geeklet. ]

Although I'm sure she didn't do this on purpose, I can't help but note the timing given that I was messing with her head at dinner last night.

It's time to run off to school, which among other things means the mad scramble to make sure that we've signed her homework. She never says "Checked my homework and seen that I did it", she just always says "Sign." So I inevitably say, "I haven't seen that you did it, go get it." I'm supposed sign in this organizer book that they call a "reminder binder". Cute.

Anyway, while I'm waiting for her to get it I notice that in the tip of the day cartoon there's a man looking through binoculars made up of two big overlapping circles, and is a Venn Diagram reference. As geeklet comes back in the room I say, "Wait, you're doing Venn Diagrams already? Really?"

"What?" she says, pulling down the book to look. "Oh, yeah. Last year. But Daddy, look what it says? 'To Venn or Not To Venn, That Is The Question.' Shakespeare."

So now they're pointing out Shakespeare references to me???

Messing With Geeklet, Part II.

Well, now that I realize my post had no body, Alexi's comment makes much more sense. Let's try that again, shall we?

Over dinner, the 8yr old is telling me about her day. "Daddy, guess what? We read a book at school today called The Woman With A Dead Bird On Her Head. And guess what genre it was?" Apparently they've just learned about genres, and she's digging this idea.

"Historical?" I ask.

"Nope," she says.

"Pastoral comical?" I try.


"Tragical historical comical pastoral?"


"I give up."

:) I'd like to think that somewhere around high school when she finally gets around to reading Hamlet in the original, she's going to get to Polonius' introduction of the players and finally get that. ;)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Screw Chekhov. And His Gun.

For those who don't follow the comments, I figure I'd promote this interesting question because it's a real head scratcher:

There were certainly guns in Shakespeare's time. But in any of the plays, did Shakespeare ever write a stage direction requiring that one be fired? We can't find one. Why would that be? If it's a simple matter of safety - they didn't have prop guns and you didn't want to fire a gun in a closed theatre - then the next logical question would be, Did any of his contemporaries write in shooting stage directions?

(*) Chekhov's Gun is the literary rule that says, "If you hung a pistol over the fireplace in act 1, you need to fire it in act 2." Shakespeare apparently never fired them, so did he bring them on stage at least?

Most Hated Characters in Literary History

So if you saw a list called The 50 Most Hated Characters in Literary History, and you knew it was tagged Shakespeare, who would you expect to find?

I suppose we could debate what exactly hate means, and for that matter what exactly literary history means, for that matter - but for the purposes of this list lets just call it "characters that audiences love to hate."

Did you guess Iago? That was easy.

Well Shakespeare shows up in 3 spots, so what are the other two? I have to admit, I wouldn't have guessed. I don't think I'm particularly surprised, but those aren't the ones I would have picked.

Bikini Shakespeare

So, somebody sends me a link on Twitter yesterday, and I see that it's a video of bikini girls reciting Shakespeare while eating popcorn. Declaring it a bit NSFW I save it for later.

I come back later, only to discover that it's been taken down for a "spam/scam/deceptive" complaint. No idea what that means, I've never even seen YouTube use that excuse. Made me sad. If there's one person that needs to see this, it's me. For science, you understand. Research.

Good news, though! It's back. Check it out, and I'll see you in a couple of minutes.

Every now and then you think that the universe is so small that somebody's on the other side of it, creating something solely for you, you know? Somebody out there loves me :). It is so corny (popcorny, even! ha!) it's stupid. But that's sort of the point. You should see me here on the couch, watching the video with my wife sitting next to me, cringing and screaming every time they mispronounce a word while alternately commenting that this one's got no hips, and that one's got a fake rack.

The gimmick appears to be something to do with The Apprentice tv show for the Popcorn, Indiana product. If you don't feel like watching the video, by the way, the girls keep pausing in their soliloquoy to wolf down handfuls of popcorn. Oh, and their bikini tops are made out of popcorn. :)

Now the only thing that makes me sad is that it's clearly labelled "1 of 4" and I can't find the other 3 parts. :)! Maybe it's going to be a series? A geek can dream. Can I put in a request that for the next one they do the mudwrestling scene between Hermia and Helena from Midsummer?

Messing With Geeklet

[ Well, that was annoying. See updated post for the real story. ]

Romeo and ... Brittney? All Right.

These names - Romeo and Brittney - kept coming up on my newsfeeds over the last couple of days. Given how overused the name Romeo is these days, and attaching no special significance to the name Brittney, I skipped them. Most of them.

Turns out that Romeo and Brittney is to be a new "literate teen comedy" in the style of Ten Things I Hate About You (which, as we know, was based on Shrew - and was also quite a success, spinning off it's own tv show).

Karen Gillan has landed a lead role as a time-travelling Juliet in David Baddiel's directorial debut, Romeo And Brittney.

The Scottish beauty, best known for playing Doctor Who's feisty companion Amy Pond, will play a high school teenager from New Jersey who finds herself travelling back in time to "mythical 13th-century Verona" in William Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet, reported Deadline.

That could be cool. I love the whole Dr. Who connection, what with David Tennant and all.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review : Two Gentlemen of Lebowski

Two Gentlemen of Lebowski hit the scene in January 2010, and we were there. In it, Adam Bertocci masterfully retells cult movie The Big Lebowski as if it had been written by, well, you know who.

So in a true demonstration of just how quickly an online hit can go from viral to print, I hold in my hands the paperback version of the book which Simon and Schuster were nice enough to send me in thanks for my early support of the project.

I've sat here for awhile, reading it front to back, trying to decide how I'd review this one. Then I wondered, what am I doing? If you've got interest at all in this project, you've also probably got the movie memorized. And chances are that you've already read, or at least skimmed, the online version.

But here's a little secret that I'm not sure I should admit -- I've never seen the movie. Gasp! It's true. I started it, once. I know the bit about the rug. And some early scenes in the bowling alley where John Goodman pulls a gun on somebody because his toe went over the line. That's about it. So that put me in what was probably a fairly unique situation - reading the Shakespeare version as if it were the original. It helped that I could picture Jeff Bridges as "The Knave", I'll tell you that.

If you know the movie and you've read the online version, why should you get the book? For the annotations, mainly. They've done this one up like a traditional text, with the script on one side and a full page of footnotes and other annotations on the facing page. That means that Mr. Bertocci not only had to map the entire plot of the movie into a Shakespearean script, but he had to backfill all the notes as well. Pay attention, because often those are the best part!

7. lance: euphemism for penis; see also most nouns in Shakespeare.

Many variations on that theme, as you could imagine. :)

Is the original movie on Netflix streaming? I'm thinking I'll watch the whole thing now, this book in hand, and see how it works out. Somebody should do an audio book, and then we can play the old Wizard of Oz / Dark Side of the Moon game where you put on the video, turn the sound down, and play the audiobook in sync with it. That'd be cool!

Ernie and Bert Are Dead

Oh my god how is this dated 2005 and I've not seen it? Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, done with Sesame Street characters. Tis just a textual piece - a script - not a video. But, still!

Curtain opens to show OSCAR standing on a balcony, staring glumly at a HAWK and a HANDSAW. A brass weathervane on the balcony is spinning; it stops at north-north-west for a moment, but ends up pointing southeast. ERNIE and BERT join OSCAR on the balcony.

BERT: Are you Prince Hamlet?

OSCAR: No, I'm a merchant from Venice.

ERNIE: Where's Venice?

The weathervane spins back to north-north-west.

OSCAR: Of course I'm Prince Hamlet.

BERT: Prince Hamlet, we have a question for you.

ERNIE: We hear you're having a bad month. We were wondering why that is.

OSCAR: Why am I having a bad month? You. have to ask why I'm having a bad month? Count von Claudius took away my trash. All of my lovely stinking trash. My whole foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.

Love it.

Shakespeare Was Gay! O Noes!

When I spotted this 11 Points article (via Reddit) that claims "11 Pieces of Evidence That Shakespeare Was Gay," I thought, "Oh, lord, here we go again." And at first read I thought, "Wow, terrible article with horrible points."

Then I, you know, actually read it. And I'd like to think that this was the author's whole point. First of all it's a humor site. Second, his point is pretty plainly "Look, I have to make a pretty ridiculous leap before any of these can be considered evidence of anything, but the fact that I'm presenting them as research shows that people have, in fact, tried to make exactly this case with exactly these points."

All the typical points are there -- he didn't love his wife, the sonnets are all about his love for another dude, too much cross dressing, you've heard them all before. A couple were new to me, though, like the urban legend that in the "original" Hamlet, the first letters of the last lines spelled out "I am a homosexual"? Come again? Given that there's really no such thing as a single "original", I'd still like to know what word supposedly started a line with the letter X.

Anyway, thought I'd post it and give the author a little acknowledgement for apparently being on the right and sane argument of the "We'll never know for sure, and really, does it even matter?" debate. It's an entertaining bit when you realize you're not supposed to take it seriously.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bodycount, Part 2

Ok, the Bodycount game seems to be a clear win for Titus. So here's version two of the game: which *play* has the highest onstage bodycount? The rules for this one are easier - how many bodies hit the floor? Note - dying offstage in this version does not count (Mercutio) unless your dead body is brought back on stage for some reason (Cordelia). So to kj's point in the earlier thread, you can talk about the legions of dead all you want, but unless they're lying at your feet, they don't count. Somebody needs to go from on their feet to on their back.


While watching a commercial for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's new movie, which looks like some sort of weird cross between "Falling Down" and "Death Wish", I got to wondering about one-man killing machines. Specifically how people tend to joke about Hamlet being the bloodbath where everybody dies at the end. But, really, Hamlet only deliberately kills Claudius, no? He wounds Laertes, sure - but he didn't know about the poison at that point. Likewise he sends R&G to their doom, but he's not the one to pull that trigger. And Polonius, well, I suppose Polonius counts, but he was technically an accident. So we'll mark Hamlet's bodycount at 2, since even though he killed the wrong person, it was certainly his intent to kill somebody.

So, then, here's the question. For onstage, mortal injury of another character, who has the highest body count in all of Shakespeare? I'm saying "onstage" on purpose, because the question really has more to do with how much killing the audience sees. So Macbeth's murder of Duncan and the guards, for example, wouldn't count.

Tybalt/Mercutio is why I called it "mortal injury". Wounding somebody who then dies off screen? That counts.

I'm not familiar enough with each of the tragedies to count up accurately. Who wins? Richard? Titus?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Ages of Man Game

Here's a subject I've often given thought to here and there, and it clicked with me today that it would make an interesting topic of discussion. Sometimes Shakespeare tells us exactly how old a character is - Juliet being 13 coming immediately to mind. But what about when he doesn't? "How old is Romeo?" and "How old is Hamlet?" are two of the most popular queries on the site.

So, here's the game. Pick a character whose age is undetermined, and discuss how a change in age would effect the play. Macbeth, for instance. Is he a 20-something up and comer who is immediately thrust into the King's good graces, and cracks under the pressure? It's apparent that the Macbeth's have had and lost a child, after all - something that coul be indicative of a new, young marriage. Or is he a 40 or 50 something who's been toiling away for the decades, who finally worked his way so close to the top that it takes only a little nudge from the witches to make him think he can have it all? (I know, if we assume Macbeth is supposed to be a real person we can figure out what age he's supposed to be. But I don't recall any specific evidence from Shakespeare where he tells us how old the man is?)

Once upon a time I asked this question about King Lear's Kent, because I thought that an age difference there would be fascinating -- is Kent a young man standing up to the king, or is he the king's lifelong faithful servant who can't stand by and let such an injustice pass? Unfortunately, as show in the original post, Shakespeare does tell us how old he wants Kent to be. So we're not allowed to muck too much with that one.

Any takers?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Edwin Booth, Hero

Cracked is always, always good for the laughs. Especially when they do Shakespeare.

So naturally when their story about The 5 Most Mind-Blowing Coincidences Of All Time leads off with Edwin Booth, I had to post it ;).

For more on Edwin Booth do not miss Prince of Players, an entire movie about the man with Richard Burton in the starring role.

Charles Emerson Winchester. The Third.

Ok, who remembers M*A*S*H? What's David Ogden Stiers been up to since it went off the air?

Turns out he's a rather accomplished Shakespearean. Right now he and some other celebrities are working a production of Much Ado About Nothing to support the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles.

Check it out. Always nice to visit with names from our nostalgic past.

Trivia time! Remember any good Shakespeare references from MASH? I remember one episode, I believe it was the one where a wounded Hawkeye (Alan Alda) has been taken in by a Korean family who speaks no English, and is awaiting rescue. He of course entertains himself (and us) for the entire episode with one large monologue, which includes him limping around the hut and busting out the opening speech from Richard III.

Surely Charles Winchester had some Shakespeare references during his time. I know he made many classical music references, and "Sonnets from the Portuguese" played a crucial role during several episodes toward the end of the series, but I can't specifically remember any Shakespeare.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

When Did Shakespeare Begin Writing?

Every now and then I find a question in my travels that makes me think, "You know, I never really thought about it." Such is the above question.

We know about Shakespeare as upstart crow in 1592, so presumably he was known in playwriting circles at that point. But that's about it, and that tells us nothing about how exactly he honed his craft. When did Shakespeare begin writing? Did he get married, have kids, move to London, and *then* decide "Hey, I'll try this playwriting thing"? Or was it always a lifelong ambition, and somewhere lost in time there are notebooks full of the scribblings of an 8yr old William, trying to out ideas? At what point does the greatest writer in the English language realize that he wants to be a writer?


Shakespeare SEO

SEO, for those not in the business, stands for "Search Engine Optimization" and is shorthand for "the bag of tricks you use to get your site listed high in Google search results." If you're in the web business, you live and die by your SEO. And many of the people that hang out here have their own web sites. So I thought it might be fun to open up a thread on people's own SEO experience and tricks.

Some questions:

* Do you follow your search engine statistics, so that you know how your traffic is finding you?

* What key words do you score well on?

* What key words do you score lousy on, and wish you did better?

* What efforts are you making to improve your positioning?

For my part, I score very well (#1 Google spot) for "How old is Romeo" and assorted variations (how old was romeo, how old are romeo and juliet ...). This is a very specific question, yes - but it's also a very popular question, and #1 spot always gets you a nice bit of traffic. How'd I get that spot? I think it has a great deal to do with the amount of comments on that page, causing the keywords to show up over and over again. So it's more than just the post title, although a good match on the title also has a lot to do with it.

I pretty much own the "Shakespeare geek" search results, but that's to be expected. It's a pretty unique phrase, and I'm all over the net with it. It's not perfectly unique, though, and there are other generic "geek" sites that will periodically do Shakespeare content ("Gifts for the Shakespeare Geek", "Shakespeare for tech geeks" and so on). But in general I'm happy with being clearly identified in that top spot. I'd like to think that if somebody's searching that, they're looking for me. Or if they didn't know I existed, then they'll be glad they found me.

But what about the big traffic? Shakespeare as a keyword by itself is too big to tackle with just a little ol' blog like this. The subject's been around too long, and too many large-scale sites have had too much time with too much content. That search will be forever filled with the likes of Wikipedia, MIT and others.

I'd love to get some second level traffic, though. I score pretty well on "Shakespeare blogs" but not as well as I'd like, primarily because while people might search for "blogs", that's not a word you typically use to describe yourself. Want a quick lesson in SEO? Search Shakespeare blogs and then search Shakespeare blog. Note the differences.

One of the frustrating side effects of SEO, particularly with respect to our chosen topic, is that time is not a major factor. Many of the results you'll find are updated infrequently, and some have stopped altogether (i see sites that have not been updated in over a year). For people like me who try very hard to get up content every day, it's annoying. I understand it, I just don't like it. :)

Ok, that's enough from me for now. How is everybody else faring in the google wars?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Best" Speech?

Here's the thought that spurred the post: It's Shakespeare Day (April 23, duh) and though you're surrounded by people that know you to be a Shakespeare geek, it's not a typical Shakespeare environment. Your day job, perhaps. A coworker approaches you and says, "So, quote something." You stand on your desk in a Dead Poet's Society moment and quote .... what?

And, why that one? In a situation like that I think of Brando in Julius Caesar, doing the "Friends, Romans, Countrymen!" bit to get their attention. But other than the opener, is that the speech you'd want to demonstrate once you had everybody's attention?

If you're a pro at this, do you choose something that your audience will likely know, or something they've probably never heard?

Not saying I'm preparing for anything in particular :), though I do like to celebrate the day ...

Monday, November 08, 2010

You Got Politics In My Shakespeare!

I don't know what side of the US Political system you fall on, or for that matter if you're in the US at all. Or, if you are, if you care. But I couldn't let this one pass by.

Apparently Fox News is doing to Obama what Iago did to Othello.

Have fun with that.

The Reinvention of Storytelling

Where do you think Shakespeare ranks among the greatest of the storytellers? We all agree that he's got some skills at the poetry, the drama, the character building, the "getting his point across." But how was his story? Many of his plots require some serious suspension of disbelief, no? Or ignoring out outright plot holes?

I've always been fascinated by the core of what "story" means. If you stripped away Shakespeare's words and still told the story, would it still speak to the truth of what it means to be human like the original does? How much of the message is in the words, versus the action between the characters? Obviously there's something there, as people have been "inspired" to run with Shakespeare for centuries, from fan fiction to video games. But if you lose the power the minute you lose the words, why would we keep doing it? Surely there's something in the story itself that Shakespeare put together. Shakespeare borrowed his stories, and built on them. So did he perfect them? Or is that the pursuit we're all still engaging in?

With that in mind let me introduce "The Reinvention Summit", a virtual conference on the future of storytelling.

Reinvention Summit: 2-week Virtual Summit on Future of Storytelling, Nov 11-22, 2010.

We are gathering a new tribe of storytellers: change-makers, marketers, entrepreneurs, and creatives who see storytelling as critical to their work and mission. There’s a star-studded line-up of 25+ speakers with diverse backgrounds to lead teleseminars, interviews, and panel discussions that relate to the future of storytelling as our world goes through reinvention. All sessions are recorded for playback. The online summit includes lots of social networking, collaboration, and crowd-sourcing for those who feel inspired to play. Entry-level pricing starts at just $11.11. To learn more: visit

Disclosure : I was contacted about this directly, but I'm not receiving any particular compensation for it. They do have several "thank you" offers to help get the word out (detailed here) but as far as I can tell, access to those offers is not contingent on posting anything special.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Staging Throne Of Blood

Remember the movie The Producers, which was turned into a stage play, which was then turned into a movie?

Imagine playing that game with Throne of Blood, Kurosawa's legendary film adaptation of Macbeth. Because, you guessed it, somebody's made a stage play out of it.

Scared? Intrigued? Disgusted?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Remember Remember ...

...the 5th of November. You knew what was coming.

Today is Guy Fawkes' Day. There's clearly a connection to Shakespeare, and Macbeth. What's your opinion? How much did Shakespeare know about the gunpowder plot?

Shakespeare Books from 1700s Discovered

Why doesn't anybody donate 300yr old previously unknown Shakespeare books to my local library? That's apparently what happened in Missouri, where the Friends of the Library looked in their donation baskets and found:

  • an 8 volume collection of Shakespeare's work, published by the infamous Lewis Theobald, in 1773

  • a volume of Shakespeare's poetry published by John Bell in 1774

First of all I think a clarification is in order, since keen observers may spot the fact that Theobald died in 1744. So my above paraphrase of the article is a bit awkward - these would have been books that Theobald had edited in his own lifetime, circa the 1720's, that were then reprinted by someone else. At least, that's how I understand it.

Theobald, by the way, is "infamous" for the whole Double Falshood / Cardenio issue. We've mentioned him many times in the past.

Here's something that I hope proves as exciting as it sounds to me - *both* sets of books contain pictures of Mr. Shakespeare. And two different pictures at that! Theobald's contains "a portrait of the artist as a young man" (bonus points to the article's author for that literary reference), and Bell's contains a picture of a middle-aged Shakespeare. I don't think I've ever seen either of them (they are both included in the linked article).

What do we think? This sounds pretty neat to me.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

What's In An Opening Line?

So my publisher,, has been tweeting some great classic opening lines from novels. Whenever I spot this I always wonder if Shakespeare can play. We've talked about best opening lines in the past, but going head to head against the novel, I wonder if it's still a fair fight.

Take the example that caught my eye and made me think of this:

They shoot the white girl first.

That's from Toni Morrison's Paradise, and dang if it's not a pretty powerful opener. I've never even heard of that book, and yet in 6 words I'm here thinking "What the? Who are they shooting? Who's doing the shooting? Why are they shooting?"

I remember some writing advice from Kurt Vonnegut, where he said something along the lines of "Throw away the first 20 pages of your story, you've said nothing." I think this is the kind of line he was talking about. Don't lead up to it, just drop the reader right into the middle of the action and leave them with a hundred questions about where they are and why things are happening.

With that in mind, is a Shakespearean opening line the same thing? You don't have a reader, you have an audience. You don't have a narrator, you have actors. Shakespeare was certainly good at taking time out of joint and sticking 2 hours traffic up on the stage, no doubt about it. The story of Lear's a great example - we have no history at all of their family life, of what happened to the mother, of whether the king was a good king ... and yet we don't really need any of that, either, to still fully appreciate the story. But it's not like in the opening scene you find yourself saying "Wait, what? Where's the mother in all this?"

Which of Shakespeare's openings is in the same camp? "Two households, both alike in dignity..." is a good line, but it's more exposition than action. The same with "O for a muse of Fire!" The latter's perhaps a little better, as you're hopefully left wondering "Ok, who is this guy? What's his deal?"

What about the more active openings? The witches have a good one. "When shall we three meet again?" What do you mean, again? We've missed your first meeting? Who are you and why are you meeting?

Then again, we're talking about a meeting. In my initial example there's a shooting. They're pretty different on ye olde "heart pumping" scale.

See what I'm getting at? Shakespeare had a point, and the man crafted a killer story to make his point. We all get hooked the minute they begin talking, because we know how good the rest of the story is. But imagine sitting down with no knowledge of the story at all, and hearing a Shakespeare opening. Which one's going to hook a modern audience best?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Shakespeare's Long Lost Cousin

So there's a story going around about Reverend Shakespeare, who claims to be the closest living relative to you know who. I was under the impression that there were no descendants of Shakespeare, and we discussed this back in 2007. So, what gives?

He claims to be descended from Shakespeare's first cousin, John Let's talk about that, first. To be Shakespeare's cousin means that this John would have to have been the child of one of Shakespeare's brothers or sisters, right? Technically if he's telling us that the Shakespeare family name has continued all the way back, that would even rule out Shakespeare's sister (Joan), who would have had her name changed.

I actually just found this genealogy page that goes into the details of how the ancestry lays out. I'm not yet sure I believe it.

What do you think? And, is this interesting? I'm torn. It's not like you can lay any claim to his poetic genius - I don't recall brother Gilbert or Edmond banging out any masterpieces in their day. But, still, if proven it's be kind of cool to be a walking connection to history like that.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Shakespeare Slept Here

This is a little bit different, but the author wrote me a nice letter offering his piece Nights In the Past, about staying in places where Shakespeare stayed.

"What what what?" you say, "That's ridiculous, there's certainly no definitive record of such things."

Well, true. And that's why I think the article merits a little credit, because that's exactly what it's about. The opening line of the article, in fact, sets exactly that tone:

It is always important to place emphasis on the adjective "reputed" when referring to events where no written documentation remains - if, indeed, any documentation was ever made in the first place.

(Is anybody else seeing really bad extended-character-set mapping? I've got little question marks all over the screen on my Mac.)

Anyway, yes it's an ad, no I'm not reimbursed one way or the other nor is it a sponsor or anything. I just thought that there is actual information in it, couched in the appropriate amount of context. He could easily have said "Shakespeare came up with the idea for Midsummer Night's Dream here," but he doesn't, and for that respect for our favorite topic, I give the author credit.

Two Panel Shakespeare

Courtesy @PhilRickaby on Twitter we get Two Panel Shakespeare, where comic artist Eric Kim does "all 36 of Shakespeare's productions" (not really sure what that's all about) in two panel comic form. A very neat idea indeed. The project is a book to be purchased, not an online effort, so I'm not really sure how 72 doodles (2 each, ya see?) constitutes a book. The linked article includes an example from King Lear.

(For those in grumpy moods, you may want to pass on this one -- the moral of Romeo and Juliet in Kim's world is apparently "couples should communicate." WTF?)

Henry5 : Sci-Fi Shakespeare

Oooo, this looks interesting. First I'm hearing about this science fiction Shakespeare project:

The company’s website reveals that the project will be directed by Michael Anderson, an experienced DoP-turned-director who’s worked on commercials for Ridley Scott Associates, with a script from Anderson, Andrew Hislop and Steve Wilkinson that will allegedly incorporate aspects of “Henry V” and both parts of “Henry IV.” Wilkinson’s also producing, alongside another Ridley Scott alum Nigel Wooll, a co-producer on “G.I. Jane,” and Stephen Evans, who was Kenneth Branagh‘s producing partner on the seminal 1989 film version of the same play.

What do we think?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Finally, Free First Folios! Fun!

In the past we've spoken of the ideal Shakespeare collection to carry around with you, particularly on a digital device. Well, Oxford University has just provided us a new and exciting offering by providing free EPUB versions of the 36 original First Folio texts:

I've literally just started pulling these down in the last few minutes so I haven't had a chance to really let it sink in. Unfortunately due to the nature of the medium, they've basically translated the original to a usable font and what you end up left with looks like a badly spelled version of what you read in high school.

What I'm still hoping for one of these days is for someone to properly combine scans of the images, with the ability to treat them as text - copy and paste, highlight, search, all that good stuff. But I think that when we lose the original images, where we can no longer see the line breaks and such and fully appreciate the flow of the whole, it's just not the same.

Still, though! A step in the right direction!

Steal and Mutilate Books? Become a Librarian.

The headline when I spotted it read, Book dealer who defaced copy of Shakespeare's First Folio... and I clicked on it, thinking "Please be 'savagely beaten in prison' please be 'savagely beaten in prison.'"


"Working in prison library."

Oh, sure, that makes sense. After all, he's an authority on great literature. :-/

Ready To Get Angry, Sonnet Lovers?

I won't begin to summarize Paul Edmondson's blog post entitled "Extinguishing Shakespeare's Sonnets", you really need to go read it for yourself. In it he reviews Don Paterson's Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets: A New Commentary. And, well..... he didn't like it. And I can see why.

A few snippets to get your dander up before you go read the original. And remember, these are Paterson's words, not Edmondson's:

‘This isn’t a great poem’ (Sonnet 2);

‘Another dull one’ (Sonnet 10);

‘Not much to see here, folks’ (Sonnet 41);

‘I’d cheerfully send this one into the unanthologised dark‘ (Sonnet 68);

... and so on. That's only a brief snip of the examples given in the post, which in itself is only a summary of the larger work. I think Paul actually shows a great deal of restraint in his view - he sounds more sad than angry, that a new collection like this could've been cause for celebration, and instead it is just a bitter disappointment.

(Somebody hold catkins back! The man's a doctor, he's got access to sharp instruments.)