Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Great Richard III Experiment Begins

Ok, so, pointers from many directions coming that say we should talk more about Richard III.  I've admitted in the past that this is perhaps the largest gap in my Shakespeare knowledge - I've not seen it, nor read it (at least in any sense other than 20 years ago when I read them all through and have forgotten much).

So begins my quest to add R3 to my list.  I will post here as I work my way through it.  This will no doubt also involve watching the Ian McKellen movie version, which I'm told is outstanding.

So, any tips before I dig in?  I have one big question - how much do the other histories act as prequel to this one?  If I'm about as generally familiar with the histories as I am with this one (and by that I mean, other than a few plot points, not much!) am I going to miss a great deal by just jumping in to R3?  Not that I have the time or patience to go back and read everything, but I am curious.

If you've got favorite scenes or other bits, let me know - I'll mark them for later so I can pay particular attention and generate some discussion topics once I've caught up.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Geek Dad Phones One In

I've mentioned before that bedtime for my 5yr old son often involves my being called upon to whip up a story on the fly.  That story must contain either superheroes, or Shakespeare - his choice, not mine.  Superheroes are easy, he picks a couple good guys and a couple bad guys and I inevitably start with whatever my son did that day.  He got a haircut, Wolverine was getting a haircut.

But then he asks for a Shakespeare story, like he did tonight, and I'm often stuck. He doesn't want an existing story, you see - he wants an adlib.

So here's the version he got tonight:

"One day, Hamlet was out by the water practicing his swordfighting."

"Who was he practicing with?"


"Oh, ok."

"So, Hamlet and Horatio were practicing their swordfighting, and Ophelia came up to them.  "I'm going to go pick some flowers down by the river," she told them.  "Have fun," said Hamlet, and off she went.

A few minutes later they heard a *crack*, a *splash*, and a "Help!"  Ophelia had fallen in the water!  Hamlet rushed to the edge of the river like he was going to jump in, but Horatio held him back. "You'll never save her!" Horatio said, "You'll be swept away too!"

So Hamlet and Horatio called out, "Shakespeare! We need your help!"

"Wait a minute," my son interrupted, "Didn't Shakespeare *write* this story?"

"Yes," I half lied.

"Then how can he *be* in the story?"

"He wrote himself into the story."

"Oh.  Ok."

"So Hamlet and Horatio called to Shakespeare, and *poof* William Shakespeare appeared, with a piece of paper in one hand and a quill pen in the other.  "Shakespeare," Hamlet said, "You didn't write in any way for us to rescue Ophelia."

"Oh," said Shakespeare, "Apparently I didn't. I can fix that!" and he scribble scribble scribbled something onto his paper.  When he was done, *poof* there was a giant tree at the edge of the river, and dangling from the tree was a tire swing. With that, Shakespeare disappeared.

Hamlet and Horatio knew immediately what to do. Hamlet climbed into the swing, and Horatio pulled him back as far as he could go and released.  Hamlet swung out over the river where he was able to grab onto Ophelia's arms and pull her back to shore.

Horatio and Hamlet patted each other on the back, congratulating themselves on saving Ophelia.  Ophelia saw the tire swing and said, "Oooo, where'd you get the tire swing?  I call next!"

"Good grief!" said Horatio and Hamlet together.

The end.

Shakespeare's Standard Deviation (or, How Old You Are)

This weekend my dad challenged me with a question about Twitter. He asked how old the people are who follow a discussion of Shakespeare, with the implicit assumption that it is an older crowd.

So I did what I've been doing lately, to demonstrate the value of Twitter - I asked (on Facebook as well).

89 of you wrote back over the weekend, which is a reasonable number to do some statistics.  [ For the record, I *think* that Stanley Wells of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust follows me, but he did not check in with his age.  Knowing his age (it is public record) I know that it would skew my results higher, but I can't include somebody's information without their consent, so he's not included in these findings.  I can't just pick out one number because I happen to know it, that would skew my random sample. ]


With a minimum reported age of 16 and a max of 55, the average age of Shakespeare Geek followers is .... 30 and a half.  *trumpet blare* 

The standard deviation is 10.4.  If I remember my statistics correctly, that means that 68% of the audience falls within plus or minus a standard deviation from the average - so, 2/3rds of you are basically between 20 and 40.

Now let's have some fun with the Facebook crowd, since I can separate them out.  25 of those 89 results came from Facebook.  Looking specifically at Facebook we have a range of 19 to 48, averaging just shy of 35 (stddev of 9.5, so the range of ages is similar - but a few years older).

So if we take the FB numbers out, that leaves Twitter specifically with a range of 16 - 55 still, but the average age actually drops to 29. 

I find the results interesting, and not just because it suggests that Facebook, once the realm of the college-only crowd, is starting to look a bit old, while Twitter comes up strong from behind.

What this continues to tell us is that Shakespeare remains appealing to a wide array of people.  How often do you get a 16yr old engaged in conversation with a 55yr old?  Not too often!  But obviously something's got them all coming to this common ground.  I love it.

Cataracts and Hurricanoes

I know not everybody's on the east coast of the United States, but I am :).  How'd you spend your hurricane?

Personally I spent it on Twitter tossing out mostly King Lear jokes, with the occasional Tempest thrown in for good measure.  So many Lear comments, in fact, that at one point Sunday afternoon I took a bit of a nap on the couch and had this weird dream where I was some sort of guest speaker for this crowd that had gathered outside, after the hurricane.  I was directed to a podium with a microphone, and had no prepared comments, so I opened with "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!"  Of course even in my dream I can never remember the next line (I always want to say "spitfires and hurricanoes"), so that's all I've got.

For the obligatory "Replace a word in the title with Irene" game on Twitter we had A Midsummer Night's Irene, Much Ado About Irene, Irene's Labour's Lost, and Twelfth Hurricane, or, What Irene Will.

Then came a wide variety of stuff, some of which I think will make good t-shirt material :) ...

I Survived Hurricane Irene and all I got was a drunken butler, a jester, and a fishy smelling mooncalf who tried to steal my laundry.
NC police report multiple complaints of an elderly gentleman claiming to have caused the hurricane, to seek revenge on his enemies.
 During the storm, keep an eye out for a rambling naked fellow and his fool. He's had a bad day, give him a cup of tea.
Oh, and lastly, for your entertainment, I found this interesting collection of three separate interpretations of the "storm scene" from Lear. It's called "Choices", and whoever made it has overlaid some text on each version - why did this guy swing his hands like that? why did this one choose to emphasize a certain word, or pause in a certain way?  It's all questions, there's no real analysis, but it's still interesting.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Actor, Poet, Playwright

I saw a discussion the other day where somebody argued that Shakespeare was these three things - actor, poet, playwright - specifically in that order. In other words he was an actor first, a poet second, a playwright last.  I don't think he meant chronologically, either.

I disagree.  I think that while he may have gotten involved in the theatre as an actor, he certainly found himself as a poet shortly after and then spent the rest of his career putting poetry on the stage.  Nobody ever speaks of Shakespeare's name among the great actors of his generation.  He was no Burbage or Kempe.  He acted, sure, and he started out as an actor. But I don't think it's accurate to say that he was primarily an actor.

Thoughts? This is another spin on the old, "Did Shakespeare really know he was that good, or was he just doing whatever it took to pay the bills?" argument.  Discuss.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Knock, Knock

Ok, people, we need some Shakespeare knock knock jokes.  After all, the man invented the form, right?  Fill in your own Hamlet or Macbeth reference, your choice :).

Feel free to make one up on the spot, that's what I spend most of my time on Twitter doing.

"Knock, knock."
Who's there?
"Earl of Oxford.
Earl of Oxford who?

That's my only real entry thus far that meets the appropriate form (i.e. you could actually tell it to somebody who plays their part correctly).  Others, that do not fit the form:

"Knock, knock."
Who's th....oh, hi Lavinia.  Doesn't it hurt your head to do that?

"Knock, knock."
"Knock, knock."
"Knock, knock."
Darnit didn't we hire a Porter who's supposed to get that? Has he been drinking again?

What else ya got?

The Tempest Was A Musical?

At least, that's our story of the morning

"Academics have wondered for years why music is quite so central to the play," said Holmes. "I have always felt that it reads like there is something missing. There are gaps in the text and character development is cut short. It has a reputation as an underwritten play, although it seems clear that extra text has not been cut or lost."
Holmes points to unexplained musical references in every scene and his theory has been supported by the distinguished Shakespearean Stanley Wells. "I would want to see the evidence, but this sounds possible. I can quite believe The Tempest might have been conceived as a musical entertainment," said Wells, who has edited Shakespeare texts for Oxford University Press and chairs the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Why not? They're right, there's an awful lot of music references in the play (Caliban's "Be not afeard..." speech being a particularly powerful example).
Last year (or whenever it was), Julie Taymor put an awful lot of music into her Tempest film - including lifting the "Journeys end in lovers meeting" song from Twelfth Night.

Speaking of Twelfth Night, what other Shakespeare plays would make good musicals?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Oh Look, It's Ophelia. Hey, Ophelia.

Twitter user ScottySheldon brought up a new game yesterday - best "intro" in Shakespeare.  At first I thought he meant "best opening lines" which has been done to death. But that's not what he meant.

What he meant was, a character enters, and some other characters says "Oh, hey Ophelia."  Well, technically, someone says something like "Oh look here comes Ophelia" and then Ophelia enters.

That, I don't think I've seen before.  All the plays are ripe for the picking -- any character, any play, how is that character introduced?  Lots to choose from.

Off the top of my head I think I might point to "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes" as an introduction for Macbeth's entrance. I like it so much that I once did a whole post about just that one line.  The way it introduces Macbeth, a human being, as "something"?  Not someone - some *thing*.  Something inhuman.

Should we count Orsino's "If music be the food of love..." line?  It's not like he's technically introducing himself, but as far as the language of the stage goes, this is certainly his introduction to the audience.  You immediately know what sort of character he is when he starts out like that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review : The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare

Score one for my mom, who has apparently been paying attention when I talk.  A few weeks ago she handed me Arliss Ryan's The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare , which she'd picked up at a yard sale for fifty cents.  "I saw Shakespeare and thought of you," she told me.  I enjoy that this is the response to Shakespeare people in my life have, "Oh Duane would like this."

I thank her for the gift, and based on the cover art I assume that it is a young adult piece of fiction that I can hand over to my daughters.  Nevertheless I decide to read it.  It does not go past me that a) I blogged about this as a new arrival in February of this year, and b) it's still got it's $15.00 price tag on it from Borders, and my mom found it for 50 cents.  So I do not have high hopes for a book that tumbled so quickly out of sight.

I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised.  First of all it
is not young adult.  It does not take long at all for Mistress Hathaway to meet young Master Shakespeare, and all sorts of things are being unbuttoned and unlaced very quickly.  My kids aren't seeing this one anytime soon.  So forget the young adult thing, this is more of I guess what you'd call a "historical romance."  (Although I am left wondering, since the book basically starts with them getting married when Anne was what, 28? Why is there a young teenage girl on the cover?)
Once I realized what I was reading, everything fell into place.  This is to be your classic "behind every great man is a woman" story.  Will Shakespeare, forced into a loveless marriage and unhappy with his life in Stratford, runs away to London to make a name for himself.  What does Anne Shakespeare do?  Why, follows him of course.  Leaving her children to the care of the Shakespeares, forever loyal Anne (who continually repeats her mantra that she married for life) packs some belongings, hitches up her skirt and heads off to London as well.

What happens next?  Why, she writes Shakespeare's plays, of course. :)  I'm only half kidding.  Using the story that she is Shakespeare's sister, not his wife (thus allowing both of them many freedoms a married couple would not have been allowed), she quickly gets a job copying scripts for him, which turns into a job (unknown to anyone else) helping him edit and, soon, write the plays.  How many?  I won't spoil it.  In this book's world, her contribution is ... not small.

I am very pleased with the amount of detail that's gone into the biographical portions.  All of the details of Shakespeare's life that I would expect are accounted for - Greene's Groatsworth, the back story behind the sonnets, Marlowe's bar fight, the night time raid on the Globe, Hamnet's death, etc... The author appears to have done some research.

The downside, however, is in the treatment of the plays. It looks pretty obvious to me that the author took her own opinion of the plays, and pasted that over her storyline.  Falstaff and Hamlet are their greatest creations (makes you wonder what role Bloom played in the research, doesn't it?), while King Lear gets nary a mention, other than to say that it's the saddest of the lot, and is part of a comedy sequence involving Shakespeare trying to figure out how to make it rain in his theatre.  Most of the later plays are dismissed as "not our best work."  Coriolanus is singled out with "no one will be quoting that one in twenty years."  And it is a fairly obvious modern woman who heaps her scorn upon Two Gentlemen of Verona, and not a historically accurate Anne Hathaway.  The author may hate that one, but the words she put into Anne's mouth seemed pretty out of place for anybody that pays attention to more plays than just "the big ones."

Oh, and the Dark Lady of the sonnets gets completely brushed off, which to me screamed simply that the author didn't want to take a stand on that one (or, did not have the research to do so).  From her perspective, she knows that her husband has women on the side, so if he writes about one in particular in his sonnets, so what is it to her?  The only obvious thing here is that the sonnets are supposedly autobiographical. Take that how you please.

Another disappointing bit is that she seems to just plain get bored detailing how the plays came to be.  They start out strong, and there's good back story for why the Henry plays were written, and in that order.  But it's not long before the plot chugs along as quickly as "Oh, the new Scottish king likes witches, does he?  Here, let's bang out Macbeth" or "I'm feeling a bit jealous today, oh look there's a new Italian story on the market nobody's done yet let me just run home and whip up Othello."  But even then, later in the book the two Shakespeares will bemoan that they'll only be remembered for "the great ones like Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello."  Other than with Hamlet and Falstaff (and maybe a little Romeo and Juliet), there is very little time spent on "Wow, we wrote a masterpiece that will be spoken of for centuries to come."  It's all just "Shakespeare became a successful playwright by giving the audience what they wanted."

It is an entertaining book, don't get me wrong. I want my wife to read it. I think it's written for a very specific audience.  Clearly a romance novel.  Anne, the ever loyal wife stuck in a loveless marriage, tries everything to make it work.  But darn it she's still a woman, she still has needs, and she finds ways to fill those needs.

This is an good book not precisely for a Shakespeare fan, but for someone close to a Shakespeare fan.  You want your family and your friends to get the details of Shakespeare's life? To share a little bit of your passion for the subject with them, without boring them to tears or talking over their heads?  That's where a book like this comes in.  The details are basically right. I would much rather have somebody start with this book and explain to them where the story is not historically accurate, than for them to fall victim to any number of Authorship theories and have to start them over from scratch. This book knows that it is fiction.

Pick it up and give it to a loved one, like my mom did, and like I'm going to do.

A Personal Milestone, Achieved

A funny thing happened today on Twitter. I've now (at least, at the moment!) got more followers than the Folger Library.

I know, Twitter is pretty much the very definition of trivial, people telling other people what they had for breakfast.  And I know that celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Lady Gaga number their followers in the millions.
But at least for a moment, at least for our tiny little Shakespearean corner of that universe, I've potentially got more people listening to me than to the Folger itself.

Think about that for a second.

This is no dig at Folger, not by a long shot.  They are who they are, after all - the center of the Shakespeare universe (* at least in the US - Stratford may have some commentary on that subject).  They use Twitter less than I do, and they use it for different purposes (although they do, frequently and generously, re-tweet many of the silly games that Bardfilm and I come up with).

And here I sit, a computer engineer without even an academic background in the subject, with a following that surpasses theirs.

It's moments like this that make me fascinated by social media.  Why do I have more followers? Is it because I use the service more?  I don't think that's it.  I've got maybe 6000 tweets. I'll show you people that have 20,000 and still only a fraction of the followers. I think it's because I am deliberately going out and reaching as *wide* an audience as I possibly can, using Shakespeare as my vehicle. 

There's an audience of Shakespeare lovers.  No doubt.  I count myself among them.  When I see a search engine I always type "Shakespeare" first, to see what I get.  It doesn't take long for all of us to find each other and share the love on all these different networks.

What I'm going after is every single person who even *recognizes* Shakespeare.  I make Shakespeare jokes.  Lots of em.  Today, during the hashtag "Once you're married you can't..."  I wrote, "...poison your husband and marry his brother."  I honestly don't know how many people recognized it as a Hamlet reference and how many just thought it something funny for a married person to say, but that little quote alone brought in over 100 followers.  Surely they see the Shakespeare in my name, ShakespeareGeek. They have to know what they're getting into, right? :)

I guess what I'm trying to say is that when you look at the Folger (or the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, or Stanley Wells, or any other big names in the Shakespeare game), and the people who seek them out and follow them, you think "That tells me something about that person.  That person likes Shakespeare."  When you look at the folks who follow me?  I want you to think, "That says something about Shakespeare."  The appeal is universal, and I'm looking to prove it every day.

Thanks to everybody that's joined in the Twitter fun!  If you haven't yet, what are you waiting for?

Shakespeare Flash Mob - Forming Now!

I've always wondered if people did these!  I know it's short notice, but Theatre All Around out of Manchester, NH is doing a Shakespeare flash mob later this week.  They appear to be in desperate need of some bodies (as in, "if we can't get enough people we can't do it at all"), so if you're in the neighborhood, get in contact and see if you can help them out!  You can be "on book" so no need to worry about memorizing on short notice.  You just need to be a willing body.

Friday, August 12, 2011

She Didn't Call You Because...

Flying solo this time, I spotted the #shedidntcallbecause tag on Twitter and the rest, as they say, is history.

She Didn't Call You Because...

  • stabbed her dad.  She's out picking flowers to make herself feel better.
  •  ...Friar Laurence buried her alive, and she's got no cell reception in the tomb.
  • ...yo, seriously, her dad is crazy. Thinks he's a wizard. Said he'd chain you up and turn you into a slave if she talked to you again. 
  • ...she's washing the blood off her hands and dropped the phone in the sink.
  • wrongly accused her of getting pregnant by your best friend, and she had to go into hiding for 16 years.
  • ...she said to tell you she was going to go play with her pet snake.
  • called her a whore and broke up with her. On your wedding day. Who does that?
  • ...all you were offering was mac and cheese, and Titus invited her over for pie.
  • may have put the roofie in her drink, but she went home with some other ass.
  •'ve got a pillow over her face.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Starring Mrs. Peacock as Gertrude

Seriously, folks, if you're not following the fun on Twitter, you miss out on cool stuff like this.

You know it's going to be a fun (and unproductive!) day when you arrive at work, fire up the computer, and see that BardFilm (aka KJ) has started in on a new Twitter hashtag game he calls, "Shakespeare described in Clue Terminology."  If you've never played Clue this game will probably make no sense to you, but basically it involved guessing the solution to a mystery in the form of <character> in <the location> with <the weapon>.  
Here are some of the best. I wish I could get a cut-and-paste out of Twitter in a useable way so I could credit everybody with every line, but that would truthfully take me an hour to format properly.  Instead I've left them all anonymous - including KJ's and my contributions - so it's fair.  If you click that link up there you may still see some traffic on Twitter, but it does scroll off after a while which is the main reason I want to get the results documented.

  • It was Iago on the Island of Cyprus with the Handkerchief. 
  • Claudius in the Orchard with the Vial of Ear Poison Thingie.
  • Titus in the kitchen with the pie. 
  • It was Richard III in the Winter of Discontent with the EVERYTHING.
  • Claudio at the Wedding with the Accusation of Infidelity. 
  • Ophelia in the river with the flowers.  (too soon?)
  • Gertrude on the Riverbank with the Alibi! 
  • It was Juliet in the tomb with a happy dagger
  • Friar Laurence in the tomb with the poorly executed plan.  He gets credit for a two-fer.
  • Timon in the Cave with the Misogyny.  
  • Claudius in the duel with the Laertes. (Think about it. :) )
  • Oberon with the Love Juice in the Bower.   [Sounds naughty, but isn't.]
  • Shylock in the Courtroom with the Scales. 
  • Caesar, in the senate, with the failure to heed soothsayers. 
  • Antony at the Base of the Tower with the Ill-advised Credulity. 
  • Brutus in the End with the Ides. 
  • Henry in the Field with the Agincourt.  
  • Helena, in the bed, with the questionable morality.
  • Richard on the battlefield without a horse
  • Oliver in the Forest of Arden with the Deus Ex Machina. 
  • Cornwall in Gloucester's Castle with the Regan.  
  • Cordelia, in the Beginning, with the Nothing. 
  • It was Romeo at the Party with the Best Pick-Up Lines Ever. 
  • It was the Oxfordians in the Conspiracy with the Stupidity. 
  • It was Oxford in the Anonymity with the Education. 
  • Cassius, in his tent, with the Pindarus
  • Iago in Othello's ears with words
  • It was Paulina in the Winter's Tale with the Sixteen-Years-of-Deception.
  • Falstaff in the Pub.  That's all.  

Tuesday, August 09, 2011


Twitter brought us an interesting discussion today over what the most "under rated" Shakespeare play is. For those that weren't following, here's the summary:

takes a stand:  "Hamlet. Yup, it's SO good that it's STILL underrated."

(who, by the way, posed the original question!) would like Coriolanus to get "more notice", for Volumnia.

For the curious, my own answer to the question was Richard II. Although I did offer the caveat that I think that every play that doesn't get all the attention should get more attention :).  Something about R2 makes me think that people see it first as a history, second as a sort of "lesser Richard" (what with R3 being such a big deal), when in actuality it's this poetic masterpiece that you only get exposed to in school if you're very very lucky.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Vhat in Ze Name of Mars?

Quick question.  All's Well That Ends Well takes place in and around France, right?

So why does everybody keep invoking Roman gods?  Diana and Mars are mentioned frequently.  Was this story still supposed to be taking place in a time where Christianity hadn't kicked in yet?

I know that Lear had this problem of mixing up his gods, but wasn't his story a fairly ancient one?

Review : All's Well That Ends Well, Commonwealth Shakespeare 2011

My first time seeing All's Well That Ends Well!  Good night for it - the rain held off, and we got the best seats we'd ever had (in the "tall chair" section, right up against the edge of the VIP section, who all have low chairs).

It's an amusing little play, kind of all over the map.  They open with a huge funeral scene looking like something straight out of New Orleans the way everybody was costumed.  Bertram has flung himself across the coffin of his father, and is eventually the last to leave the service as people come and remove the chairs around him.  It's a nice idea, but ... at any point in the rest of the play is there any mention of his relationship to his father? At all? Other than "This guy's dead," what is the purpose of that extended scene?

Let me see how I do with the plot, for those that don't know it:  Bertram's father has just died.  He is taken in as a ward by the King of France.  Bertram's mother, the Countess, has a ward of her own, Helena, whose father was a famous doctor.  Helena loves Bertram.  (When the Countess says "Think of me like a mother," thus making Bertram her brother, Helena's all, "Ewww, no, can't do that. That's nasty." So they have a bit of a go-round on whether she can be a mother-in-law instead.)

Anyway, the King of France is deathly ill, and convinced that nobody can cure him - if only the famous Doctor so-and-so (Helena's father), was still alive!  Sure enough Helena comes and says, "I have my father's medicine, I can cure you."  She offers a deal that if she cures the king, she can marry anyone in his kingdom.  Done and done - she cures him, then promptly picks Bertram.

It's at this point that we discover that Bertram is a pig. He doesn't think she's good enough for him, being just the daughter of a doctor.  I do love a good scene in Shakespeare where somebody pisses off a king, because it never ends well (hello, Cordelia?)  The King at first gently hints to Bertram, "You know what she did for me, yes? She cured me, you know that, right?" and then more sternly, "It is only her title you don't like - and I can change that."  But Bertram's having none of it, and has no interest in marrying Helena.

For the briefest moment here I felt sympathy for Bertram, for one simple reason - if he really has grown up in the same house as this girl, and his mother really does think of her like a daughter, then maybe he sees her as a sister?  In which case, even a king saying "Marry your sister!" would cause you to disagree with the command.

Anyway, Bertram grudgingly agrees to marry Helena, but is then promptly convinced by his cowardly friend Parolles to run away and join the army (an honor that was previously denied him).  And so he does, sending home a note to his mother and "wife" that says, "As long as a wife in France, there's nothing for me there.  It's a big world and I'll keep as much distance as I can."  He also writes (paraphrased), "You never got a ring or a baby from me, so until you have those things, we're not married." 

What comes out of Helena next, surprisingly, is a speech that sounds like something from Les Miserables where she blames herself for all of this, and that if he dies in battle, it will be all her fault.  I liked it, I thought it was very telling about the character, but like many things it seemed to come out of nowhere, and then never any followup.

The plot gets a little twisty here and I can't say I followed it all entirely.  Helena says that she's going on a pilgrimage - and somehow rumor circulates that she's died.  I don't know where that part came in.  So Bertram either has a wife, or...has a wife who has died? When he starts talking up the ladies of town (Diana in particular) I got lost.  If they know he is married (they do), then yeah, he's a rat for cheating on his wife.  But if everybody thinks that his wife is dead, is he still a bad guy?

Helena, it turns out, has arrived in town and has spoken to Diana and her mother about her history with Bertram.  Specifically about Bertram's "ring and baby" thing, which she has taken as a challenge.  They come up with the famous "bed trick" where Bertram thinks he's going with Diana (to whom he has given his ring), only it is Helena (pretty sure that's known as "rape" these days).  Badda boom badda bing, everything works out in the end - Helena's pregnant with Bertram's child, she managed to get his ring from him, so he says "Ok, fine I'll marry you."

I don't know if it was the production or the source material, but most of the comedy seemed to fall flat.  Poor clown Lavatch got nothing from the audience at all.  Parolles, played by the same guy who did Bottom for Commonwealth a few years ago, felt like he was really trying to force something out of the material that wasn't there.  The funniest bits came from the Countess, who as the mother character could get an easy laugh of of the slightest eye roll or arched eyebrow, and the King.  The funniest line of the night came in the final scene when it is discovered that Diana is wearing a ring that belonged to Helena, given to her by the king.  He is demanding to know where she got it:

Thou hast spoken all already, unless thou canst say
they are married: but thou art too fine in thy
evidence; therefore stand aside.
This ring, you say, was yours?
Ay, my good lord.
Where did you buy it? or who gave it you?
It was not given me, nor I did not buy it.
Who lent it you?
It was not lent me neither.
Where did you find it, then?
I found it not.
If it were yours by none of all these ways,
How could you give it him?
I never gave it him.
This woman's an easy glove, my lord; she goes off
and on at pleasure.
This ring was mine; I gave it his first wife.
It might be yours or hers, for aught I know.
KING Take her away; I do not like her now;

That last "I do not like her now" was delivered with just the right comic timing, it had me in stitches.

The production, as always, was quite nice.  The costumes were very impressive, from the initial funeral scene to all the hospital attendants to the king (dressed in pure white, top to toe).  All the military men were in uniform.   The stage - with this cool rotating ring in the middle of it - was equally the king's palace, the countess's living room, a tent, a battle ground.  A couple times it even seemed to pass as just some generic street corner.

Was it me or does this play in particular have a crazy amount of back and forth in it?  We see the countess - we see the king - we see the countess - we see the king.  You send a letter here, I send a letter back here...  Once upon a time here on the blog we talked about "split screening" a play, and sometimes I wondered if this would make a good candidate.  What were they sending these letters by, rocket ship?  They kept getting where they needed to go awfully quickly.

As always, glad I got to go, and glad I got to add this play to my list of seen-its.  Not one of my favorites.  I can't really think of anything where I'd point to a particular scene as an example of something.  (Compare The Comedy of Errors, for example, where I've at times used Dromio of Syracuse's description of his fat new wife as one of Shakespeare's funniest scenes.)  When one play is being performed and I catch myself thinking, "I wonder what they're going to do next year?"  I guess that's telling enough. I don't remember thinking that when I was watching their Othello.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

All's Well, The Short Form

Over dinner last night my daughter asked what Shakespeare Mommy and I are going to see.  All's Well That Ends Well.   "What's it about?"

Here's where it gets tricky, because I've never seen and barely read this one.  I've done some quick research here and elsewhere, but it's hardly one that I know well.

So here's the summary my kids got over homemade pizza out on the deck, extemporaneously:

All's Well That Ends Well is the story of this orphan girl who lives with the Countess - she's kind of like a queen.  Now, this girl loves Bertram, the prince, but he's all "Oh, no, you're just a common girl, I couldn't possibly marry someone who wasn't of noble blood."

Well the king gets sick, and because this commoner girl's father was a doctor (before he died), she knows how to make the king better.  The king says "I'll grant whatever wish you want!" and she says, "I want to marry Bertram!"

Well, Bertram is having none of this, he still doesn't want to marry her.  He tells her, "See this ring on my finger?  If you can get my ring on *your* finger, then I'll marry you."  And he promptly takes off and joins the army.

Well, the Countess thinks that this girl (can you tell, I couldn't remember her name at the time I was telling this? ;) ) should marry Bertram, so they hatch a plan.  They get this other princess on their side, and tell her what Bertram said about the ring.  So this princess, who has no interest in Bertram, talks all lovey to him and gets him to fall in love with her instead.  "Here," he says, "Take my ring as a token of my love."

That's exactly what they wanted to happen.  So the princess goes back to the girl and says, "Here's the ring!"

So then she shows it to Bertram and says, "Aha!  Got your ring.  Now you have to marry me."  And Bertram says, "Ok, fair enough, that was the deal, I'll marry you."

It's not your standard fairy tale, but they got a kick out of it. :)

Lucy Does Shakespeare!

I remember this episode!  Lucy meets Orson Welles. She tells all her friends that she'll be performing Shakespeare with him, but he wants to do a magic act.  So, she improvises...

Even Lucy has to go for the "Wherefore means where" joke.  I'm just ever going to win that battle, am I.

Starring Lucille Ball as...


On this the 100th birthday of legendary funny lady Lucille Ball, I posed the question on Twitter "Which Shakespearean role could she have played?"

You tell me.  Make your case!

Shrew, for Kids

Since the local kids' troupe is doing Taming of the Shrew this month, and since my daughter's name is Katherine, I had a field day explaining the plot of this one to my girls.

"It's about this really awful girl named Katherine that nobody likes," I told them. "Oh, and she's got a little sister who is nice and beautiful and everybody wants to marry her."

Elizabeth, Katherine's little sister, loves this.  Katherine does not. :)  So I'm forced to tell the story the "right" way.  And a funny thing's started to happen .. I'm actually enjoying this story.  In the past I've chalked it up as "Funny, yes, in a slapsticky, look out she just threw a stool at your head kind of way, but generally inexcusably misogynistic no matter how you try to spin it."  But my kids don't know that word.

So, here's how I've been explaining Shrew to my kids.  They've asked for the story several times now.  Liberties are taken! Be warned, if you insist on perfection.

Once upon a time there was a Daddy who had two daughters.  The younger one was this nice sweet girl named Bianca who all the men in town wanted to marry.  But, their Daddy had decided, Bianca could not get married until her older sister, Katharina, got married.  This was a problem because, for some reason, Katharina was all mean and nasty to everybody and nobody wanted to marry her.

Well, along comes Lucentio, and he wants to marry Bianca.  He knows that that's not going to happen until her sister gets married first, so he hatches a plan.  You see, in the old days girls had something called a dowry, which is some money that the dad would pay to the man to marry his daughter.  So Bianca's dad might say "Here, you can marry my daughter, and here's a thousand dollars."  Well, because nobody wanted to marry Katharina?  Her dowry was, like, twenty thousand dollars.

So Lucentio goes to his friend Petruchio and says, "Pssst!  Hey, I've got a challenge for you.  There's this girl in town, Katharina, who nobody can marry.  Her dad's even offering twenty thousand dollars to anybody that can do it!"

Well Petruchio loves a challenge - and he loves the idea of that much money - so he goes to Katharina's father and says, "I'll marry her."

Katharina says, "Oh no you most certainly will not!"

But back then, the girl didn't really have much of a say in the matter, and if her dad said "You're marrying this guy," well then you married him.

Petruchio, though, he had a plan you see.  He spotted right away that the reason she was so nasty to everybody is that nobody had ever really given her a taste of her own medicine.  She always thought that if she yelled loud enough and acted mean enough, that she'd be the boss and get her way.  So his plan was to yell louder and act meaner until she got the point.

And that's exactly what he did.  First thing?  He completely *ruined* the wedding.  When you have a wedding, everybody is supposed to take it all serious, and dress in their finest clothes, and everything? Well, Petruchio shows up to his own wedding *late*, first of all.  Riding a donkey instead of a horse.  With his clothes on inside out.  He's got a snow boot on one foot and a ballet slipper on the other, and three hats on his head.  Katharina, who is trying hard to make the best of it even though she's not happy, growls at him "You're supposed to look nice at the wedding!" and he yells back for everybody to hear "IT'S MY WEDDING AND I CAN DO WHAT I WANT, AND I DON'T CARE WHAT ANYBODY ELSE THINKS!"

And then you know what else?  You know what he did to the priest?  He yelled at him.  Spit at him and everything.  Katharina was just, like, what did you do *that* for?!  Meanwhile this is the girl who a couple of days ago would thrown a piece of furniture at you if you'd looked at her funny.

So Petruchio's plan continues.  He takes her back to his house and announces, "My bride is starving!  Servants, bring us dinner!"  And out comes this wonderful table full of food, and Katharina is just about to dig in when Petruchio starts throwing the food and dumping it all on the floor. "This is burnt!" he yells, and smacks one of his cooks.  "This is too salty!" and throws something at one of the others.  "How dare you try to serve garbage like this to my wife?!"

Katharina keeps saying "It's fine, it's fine! It's not burnt! They did a good job, why are you yelling at them?"

But what she doesn't know is that Petruchio had sent words to the servants and said, "Look, I've got an idea, and I'm going to yell at you - but I don't really mean it.  It's all a big act.  So play along, ok?"

That night, the same thing happens.  Katharina is tired and wants to climb into bed, and Petruchio says "THIS BED ISN'T MADE! These aren't our best sheets!  No wife of mine will sleep on anything but my best!  She would rather sleep on the floor!" and he turns over the mattress and rips up the pillows and feathers go flying all over the place.

Then, there's the dress.  Petruchio's wife simply *must* be dressed in the finest clothes!  So he calls in the tailor, who brings in this beautiful blue dress, absolutely the latest fashion, comes with a nice little hat and everything.  Katharina thinks it is wonderful, and is all excited to have a new dress.  But, sure enough, Petruchio won't let her have it.  He starts beating the tailor and yelling, "How dare you bring this hand me down rag to my wife?! My wife would not be caught dead in this!"

Katharina defends him and starts yelling back, saying "It's a nice dress! Leave him alone!" and Petruchio realizes that his plan is working -- this shrew of a girl is now turning into nice girl who defends other people instead of always being mean to them.  And, just like with all his other plans, Petruchio pokes his head out of the room to talk to the very confused tailor, and tells him "Look, sorry about that, I really quite love the dress - we'll take it."

So after a little while they get word that Katharina's sister Bianca is to be married, so they return back home for her wedding.  During the reception all the husbands have gotten together and are joking about their wives, and everybody is picking on Petruchio saying, "Hooo, boy, you got the worst of the lot, huh?  I don't envy you!"

Petruchio proposes a bet.  He says, "I'll bet that my wife is the best one.  How about we all call our wives in, and we'll see which one comes first?"

The other men think this is ridiculous, because they know Katharina, and they know that they've got this one in the bag.  So the first husband says to one of the servants and says "Go, find my wife, and ask her to come here."  Servant leaves, comes back, says "Your wife, sir, says that she is busy and cannot come."

Well, the other husbands think that this is hysterical.  But they still make fun of Petruchio, because they know that his wife is going to give the worst answer.

The second husband tells the servant, "Go find my wife, and tell her I request her to come."  Servant leaves, comes back, and says "Sir, your wife says that if you want her, you should come to her."

This sets the place just roaring with laughter, and the man is totally embarrassed.  Still, though, everybody knows that Petruchio is going to lose this one, and they can't wait to see what Katharina is going to do.  So Petruchio tells the servant, "Go tell my wife I command her to come."

Well, people start taking cover, because nobody has ever *commanded* Katharina to do anything, and they expect the furniture to start flying.  But sure enough, not only does Katharina show up?  She comes in *dragging the other two wives with her*.  Then she launches into this big long speech about what it means to be a good wife and be nice to your husband.

And Petruchio and Katharina lived happily ever after.  The end.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Help Interpreting Richard III?

So, I was just asked for some Shakespeare help on Twitter.  "Modern intepretation of Act 3 scene 2 possible?" asks a follower (who shall remain anonymous in case he didn't want me posting this).

"...of what play?!" I asked, amused.

Turns out, Richard III.  I had to admit, R3 is one of my guilty plays - and by that I mean, I've never seen it and don't know enough about it, and for that I feel guilty.  Had he asked about many of the other tragedies or comedies I may have had a shot, but the history plays have always been my weak spot.

So I turn to you geeks.  What's happening in Act 3 scene 2, and what sort of "modern interpretation" can you come up with (that perhaps hasn't already been done to death)?

Thursday, August 04, 2011

How Much Marlowe?

How often did Shakespeare lift whole lines right from Marlowe's (or others', I suppose) work?  I'm curious.  Currently reading a novel about Shakespeare's life, and Kit Marlowe is a character.  Just this evening I read a funny bit where Marlowe is complimenting Shakespeare on his Henry VI and says, "I particularly liked the such-and-such part.......wait, didn't I write that?"

None of the Above?

Given that it was just asked on Yahoo! Answers I'm going to assume that some English teacher somewhere asked this question, exactly as phrased (because the student cut and pasted it directly):

3. Which of the following best describes Friar Lawrence?

  1. He is a hot-tempered, violent, spiteful man who tends to hold a grudge.
  2. He is a bawdy, funny, high-spirited man who likes to crack jokes.
  3. He is a well-educated, thoughtful, and realistic man who tends to be optimistic.
  4. He is a sly, underhanded, and cunning man who tends to break his promises.
Ummm ... #3? Is that the answer that's wanted here?  He may be the only adult in the play who can think rationally enough to see both sides of Romeo and Juliet's story, but I'm not sure whether that makes him thoughtful and realistic?  After all he's also the guy that said "Hey Juliet, my plan involves you being buried alive, and me rescuing you."

Am I missing something?

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Let's Put On A Show!

Just spotted an interesting question over on Yahoo! Answers, and I think that my crowd over here could generate some interesting content on the subject.

Say that you've got no real acting experience - you're not part of a group, never done this sort of thing before.  You and a bunch of friends get together and say "Hey, let's perform some Shakespeare."

What happens next? What's the checklist?  I'm curious now, since I think there's people in the crowd that may have done exactly this.

What sort of permissions do you need to get?  Even if you just wanted to head on into the town common and start reciting, who has to ok that?  What limits and rules are there?  Is it usually standardized, i.e. you'd be able to find the person at town hall who knows what to tell you, rather than scratching their head at the crazy person asking things no one has ever asked?

What about choosing a text?  If I own, say, the Norton version - can I just head to the photocopier and make a dozen copies of Midsummer to pass out?  (I know the answer to that one, but I want somebody to give me the "right" answer.)

What else?  What details would somebody doing this for the first time miss, that from experience you can tell us?

Monday, August 01, 2011

And Now, A Quickie

You know you're a Shakespeare Geek when.. hear somebody tell the joke about "you're so old you dated Shakespeare's sister" and you think, "Which sister?"