Friday, November 25, 2011

On Vacation

Hello loyal readers,

Just a quick note to let everybody know that I'm taking the family to Disney World this week, so there won't be too much by way of blog posts.  You may spot me on Twitter however!  You never know where you'll spot a Shakespeare reference.  (Everybody knows about the Macbeth reference in Beauty and the Beast, right?  Ask Bardfilm to tell you about it while I'm gone. :)

See everybody when I get back!


P.S - I'm taking an audio version of Richard III with me to listen (and follow along!) on the plane.  If I make it through that, I've got Midsummer right behind. Got to start working on my teaching debut next month!

Email Book Giveaway CANCELLED

Hi everyone,

So, I did just like I said, today's Black Friday and I sent a note out to my email subscribers announcing the start of my book giveaway.  I previewed it by sending it to myself, and off it went.

And then I promptly got a response back from one of my readers saying that they got garbage - a paragraph of text, and then nothing.  No mention of book, no links, no nothing.

When I got my actual copy (I am, of course, subscribed to my own list for just these purposes :)), I got the same junk.

I've contacted the support people for the list server asking what the heck.  Unfortunately this means that, at least for now, I've got to cancel the giveaway. I have no idea when I'll be able to generate a functional email.

I completely understand if people signed up specifically for the giveaway and now want to unsubscribe. I can see how this would sound like a scam for collecting email addresses, but it's not. 

Sorry for the inconvenience.  My timing was pretty lousy, of course, trying something on such as weird semi-holiday.  Oh, well.  Lesson learned.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pink Floyd + Shakespeare = #ShakesFloyd

Once upon a time, Bardfilm challenged me to do a Pink Floyd / Shakespeare mashup game.  It's actually much harder than it looks once you realize that most casual Pink Floyd fans are only really going to recognize "Another Brick In The Wall", "Money" and "Dark Side Of the Moon."

Here's my best shot at it!  Who's got more?  I did my best to keep them all in tune, if you want to hum them to yourself :)

  • All in all it was all just chinks in the wall.
  • Well (not!) shone, dark side of the moon!
  • One of these days I'm going to cut you into little pieces! And then maybe bake you into a nice pie, serve you to your mom.
  • Hush now baby, baby, don't you cry. Mother's gonna dash all your brains out for you.
  • Good morning, Chair your honor; the crown will plainly show my daughter who now stands before you, was caught red-handed saying, "Nothing." Saying "Nothing!" in a most ungrateful manner - this will not do.
  • Crazy, toys in the attic, Lear is crazy, truly gone fishing. They must have taken his kingdom away, crazy!
  • Now there's a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky. Shine on, you blinded Gloucester.
  • You are young and life is long, and there is Claudius to kill today.
  • Ducats, get away.  Make a good loan, interest pays, you're ok.
  • The lunatic is on the heath.
  • Careful with that axe, Titus!
  • Emilia tries, but misunderstands (wah-oooo),
    She's often inclined to steal somebody's hanky til tomorrow...
  • You'll lose your mind and play
    Free games for may
    See Ophelia play.

Baron Munchausen, John Neville, Has Died. (Or Has He?)

I'm a little late on this one so I'm sure that most Shakespeare fans now know that legendary Shakespearean actor John Neville has died at 86 from Alzheimer's.

Since Mr. Neville's got too many Shakespeare credits for me to even mention (see the article for the highlights), instead I'll remind people of Terry Gilliam's wonderful The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, a fantastic tale in which you're just not quite ever sure whether the good Baron (played by our Mr. Neville) is ever really dead after all ...

Flights of angels, Mr. Neville.  RIP.

End of Year Book Giveaway Starts Friday

'Tis the season for Shakespeare Geek to get a bunch of new Shakespeare books for Christmas.  This year I've decided to make some room on the shelves by giving away a bunch of my old ones.

Please note that these are my own books, sometimes purchased with my own money and sometimes review copies that I've received in the past. Either way, I want to make sure everybody understands that they are not brand new.  I won't bother giving away anything that's got major damage, of course.  I'm just talking about usual wear and tear, the occasional smudge on a page or fray at the edge of a book jacket sort of stuff.

Still interested?

Ok, here's how it's going to go down.  I'm both announcing and giving away these books in the email newsletter.  Starting Friday I will announce via email what book I'm giving away next, and anybody interested in that particular book will be asked to reply to that email saying so.  From everybody that replies, I will choose a winner and send off the book.  I don't yet know how many books we'll do this for.


1) Sign up for the email newsletter.  You will receive a confirmation email that you will have to click, so please don't forget that step.  My email blasting software will consider you "unconfirmed" if you don't do that second bit, and you won't get future email.

2) Be on the lookout for email from me.  I don't yet know what I'll call it, but expect something obvious like "Shakespeare Geek Book Giveaway".  I'm still going to be half asleep from the turkey.

3) Unlike many email blasted newsletters, this one has a "write back" function that I plan to use.  If you are interested in possibly winning the current book, write back and say so.

4) In your reply, please take a moment to give me some feedback on how else you'd like to see the email feature used.  I can't afford to give stuff away every week, you know!  Would you like to see original email-only content, or a digest of what's gone on in the blog?  Let me know!

5) Each giveaway will last about a week, depending on how badly the holidays mess up my schedule.  Details will be in each email.

6) US RESIDENTS ONLY.  My apologies to my international friends, but if I'm going to make this a regular feature there's just no way that I can afford to open it up to international shipping costs.

Any questions?

Sign up now!  Once the giveaways start I will NOT NOT NOT be announcing every single book in a new post!  If you're not getting the emails when contest announcements go out you will NOT know about them!

Want a HINT?  The first book I'm giving away is one of the very first I ever reviewed (2008), but I can find references to it going all the way back to 2006.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Stratfordian Overreaction to Anonymous (Guest Post)

Many Shakespeare aficionados and Shakespeare scholars have expressed outrage at the recently-released Anonymous, which attempts to propose that William Shakespeare did not write the plays written by William Shakespeare. The film has initiated responses ranging from careful scholarly correction to mild annoyance to vituperative vitriol. Bardfilm’s reaction has, for the most part, been moderate, but his demands to substitute the word “Shakespeare” for “Oxford” in most instances represent the typical Stratfordian overreaction. Still, here’s Bardfilm’s list of proposed changes to ordinary English expressions in light of the claims of Oxfordians:

The comma that some style guides recommend putting after the penultimate item in a list (a.k.a. the serial comma) shall be henceforth known as the "Shakespeare Comma" instead of the "Oxford Comma."

The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford shall be henceforth known as “The Seventeenth Earl who Failed to Write the Plays of Shakespeare.”

The genetic cross of Cotswold with Hampshire Down sheep shall be henceforth known as "Shakespeare Down Sheep" instead of "Oxford Down Sheep."

The city of Oxford in Oxfordshire, England shall be henceforth known as the city of Shakespeare in Shakespeareshire, England.

Those wide, baggy-legged trousers shall be henceforth known as "Shakespeare Bags" instead of "Oxford Bags."

The British automobile produced from 1913 to 1971 shall be henceforth known as the "Morris Shakespeare" instead of the "Morris Oxford."

The shirts made from that basketweave fabric shall be henceforth known as "Pinpoint Shakespeare" instead of "Pinpoint Oxford."

The type of shoe having shoelace eyelets beneath the vamp shall be henceforth known as “Shakespeare Shoes” instead of “Oxford Shoes.”

The magnificent, extraordinary, incomparable dictionary used to find some of the terms on this list shall henceforth be known as “The Shakespeare English Dictionary” instead of “The Oxford English Dictionary.”

A “flattened paper tube inserted between the spine of a book and its cover to strengthen the spine and allow the book to be opened flat more easily” (cf. SED) shall be henceforth known as a “Shakespeare hollow” instead of an “Oxford hollow.”

The “kind of punch containing calf's foot jelly” shall continue to be known as “Oxford punch.”

The delicious and delighful coarse-cut marmalade originally manufactured in Shakespeareshire shall be henceforth known as “Shakespeare Marmalade” instead of “Oxford Marmalade.”

And, perhaps most importantly . . .

The place where boviform mammals cross a stream shall be henceforth known as a "shake speare" instead of an "ox ford."
Our thanks for this guest post to kj, the author of Bardfilm. Bardfilm is a blog that comments on films, plays, and other matters related to Shakespeare.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Germaine Greer on Shakespeare's Marriage

Long-time readers might remember when I reviewed Germaine Greer's book about Shakespeare's wife. Well here she is a few years later, in a short and sweet article that paints a positive picture of Shakespeare's married life.  Ms. Greer is quite happy in the belief that Shakespeare came back home to his family every year during Lent when the theatres closed.

The article then switches to a discussion of Hindi movie plots, which completely threw me.  I only stayed for the marriage bits.

Clearly Unbiased Vatican Claims Shakespeare As Catholic

They didn't mention this at mass this morning, but the Vatican is now claiming there is "little doubt" that Shakespeare was, in fact, Catholic.

Forgive me while I butcher the history for newcomers, but we're talking about England in a time shortly after Henry VIII and the whole "What do you mean I can't have any more annulments?  I quit the church!!" controversy.  So the England that Shakespeare born into was, officially, Protestant.  As such, rumors have always been rampant that there were secret Catholic societies constantly trying to sneak in, murder Queen Elizabeth, all that good stuff.  And, of course, both sides want to claim Shakespeare as their own.  I remember when some sort of document supposedly written by Shakespeare's father was discovered, which clearly proved that at least he (the father) was Catholic. Whatever happened to that, was it proven to be a forgery?

What I can't figure out is, what's changed? Their argument appears to go back to the whole idea of Purgatory in Hamlet (something that's been right there in the text for 400 years). The Vatican says that Purgatory is a Catholic concept, therefore Shakespeare was Catholic.  Ok, fine - but, again, why suddenly now declare that? 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Guest Post Policy

Lately I'm getting lots of requests to do guest posts.  Most often these come from generic cold-calls of the form "Hi I'll write an article on whatever you want and then I want a link back to my site" and the like.  But every now and then a fellow Shakespeare author makes a more honest request.

So I thought I'd write up my thoughts on the subject such that I could link to them later and maybe answer some questions.

My Thoughts on Guest Posts

1) I'm not against guest posts.  Not only is KJ from Bardfilm a regular contributor, but I've gotten some posts from Carl Atkins (catkins) as well, and I remember Alexi did a cool "ask the director" piece. (One of these days I plan to pin down JM and get him to write me something which I will then TL;DR into unrecognizable oblivion.)

2) The point of a post above all else is that it should be interesting content to the Shakespeare Geek audience.  Look, I'm in the web business for my day job, I know full well that every "building traffic 101" guide says "Do guest posts! They'll create links back to your site!" The problem is that nobody properly understands this strategy and ends up a) writing an article solely for the purposes of generating links, and b) highlighting random words inside the article so that there'll be more stuff to click.  This is what those "I'll write whatever you want me to write" people expect to get away with, and it's why I never take them up on it. It is very jarring to the user experience, and I can't see how any regular reader doesn't look at it and say "What the heck, is this article here just to get me to click on stuff??"

3) What's in it for the guest?  Hey, I'm not against links.  I just think there's places where they belong.  "This post was written by X from site Y<---link."  Or, "For more information on this topic, please see previous articles of mine here, here and here <--- link, link, link."  See any of the past posts by Bardfilm for an example of how it can work.

4) I'm not in it for reciprocal links, and I'm not going to say "You can post on my site if I can post on yours."  If you've got good content that will be valuable to my readers I'm happy to provide you some exposure.

5) If for some reason you think that there is value on me writing something for your site, please go ahead and make that a separate invitation.  I'm open to the idea.

Want to guest post for Shakespeare Geek?

* If you're already a regular contributor in the comments, you can pretty much just send me something you've written and I'll very likely post it.  I appreciate the contribution to our community and would welcome the opportunity to show that by providing you some more direct traffic.

* If you're new to the site, pitch me an idea and tell me a bit about your credentials for writing the article.  As mentioned above, I have no real interest in the "I can write on anything you need" crowd. I'd much prefer to hear from people who are already writing about Shakespeare from their own knowledge of the subject, and want to get some more exposure to their work.

* Even if the idea sounds good and you write the article, I cannot guarantee that I'll post it on Shakespeare Geek. Sorry, but this is for my own protection.  While I might like the idea, the resulting article might just turn out poor.  If this does turn out to be the case there are other ways I can help out (such as Twitter traffic to the article posted directly on your own site).

* Guest posts will get some extra attention on Twitter/Facebook, to drive their traffic better. A popular link on Twitter will generate hundreds of clicks.


Right now I'm very interested in information that puts Shakespeare in context relative to what we know today.  For example, what was Shakespeare's relationship to the Pilgrims (if any)? Would he have known about them, would they have known about their work, is there evidence that they loved or hated his work?  Similarly, this morning I heard a reference to astronomer Johannes Kepler who lived at the same time as Shakespeare. What discoveries were being made around that time, what would Shakespeare have known about them, and how did they affect his work?

Resources for teaching Shakespeare, particularly to younger children, is always a winner.  Real-life experience doing so would be awesome.  Video?  Great idea.

I recommend staying away from the heavy academic stuff.  That's not the audience here.  Point back to it if you like on your own site, but use this space to give the high level summary.

I'm also not terribly interested in one-time events that most of the audience will never have the opportunity to experience. So while I'll accept book reviews (since people can go get the book), I'm not too keen on reviewing individual performances at the local playhouse unless they're doing something really extraordinary.

Thanks for listening this far.  Hope I haven't turned everybody off, and there's some folks out there ready to pitch some ideas!

Baby Daddy Jokes? Always Funny.

When people tell me that Shakespeare language makes no sense, and ask me for examples to prove otherwise, I'll sometimes bring them to a joke just to demonstrate that stuff we still say today, Shakespeare said 400 years ago.

In The Tempest, when Prospero decides to tell his daughter Miranda about her true past, he says, "Did you know that your father was Duke of Milan?"

"Are you not my father?" she asks, confused.

"Your mother told me I was," replies Prospero.

Nice thing to say about Miranda's mom, bro. :)

I've learned over the years, however, that Shakespeare loved this joke.  Taming of the Shrew:

VINCENTIO Art thou his father?

Pedant  Ay, sir; so his mother says, if I may believe her.

And just today I realized that Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing tells the same joke, and takes it up a notch!


You embrace your charge too willingly. I think this
is your daughter.
Her mother hath many times told me so.
Were you in doubt, sir, that you asked her?
LEONATO Signior Benedick, no; for then were you a child.

Wh...wh...ummm.... so, wait. Am I reading that wrong, or does Leonato not only tell the "I don't know who my wife was sleeping with" joke, but then follow it up with "You were too young, Benedick, so I know it wasn't you who impregnated my wife?"

Non-Weddings in Shakespeare

This question came up again this morning - why doesn't Shakespeare ever write an actual wedding ceremony into any of the plays?

The simple answer (historians, fill in the details for me) is that he wasn't allowed. Marriage was a holy sacrament, a big deal, and having actors depict one would have been considered sacrilege.  The Master of Revels wouldn't let it happen.  Although, what the punishment would have been I don't know - would it just get edited out, or would even attempting it have been a swift trip to the Tower?

Anyway, this post is not about that. I started to list in my head all the different ways that Shakespeare gives us "everything but" the actual ceremony.  I'm sure I'll miss a few, but we have:

  • The "eye witness testimony" in Taming of the Shrew where we get to hear, but not see, how Petruchio ruins his own wedding (made very confusing by the fact that most movie versions just go ahead and turn this first-hand account into an actual wedding scene).
  • The "wedding that doesn't happen", in Much Ado About Nothing.  "Do you, Claudio..." "You're a whore!"  "Eeeek! *faint*" *chaos* ...
  • The "rehearsal dinner" scene (well, that's what we'd call it, but for Shakespeare we'll call it the "scene before the wedding") also from Much Ado, which ends literally with a bunch of people saying "We're going to get married, but first, let's dance!"
  • The Reception.  Midsummer Night's Dream, of course - a wedding reception scene so hysterical that while I was researching my book I actually found a bride who was trying to get her bridal party to act it out.
  • The "does it still count if the marriage is performed by a non-human entity?" dodge.  Well how would you describe As You Like It, where the goddess Hymen comes down to bestow her blessings on the new couples?
  • The "blink and you'll miss it, oh look we're married now" wedding.  I don't think that Romeo and Juliet is the only example of this, but it's the most obvious.  High school students for generations try to figure out where in the play that Romeo and Juliet get married, because for the life of them they can't find that scene.  That's because it happens between scenes, kids.  One scene, not married.  Next scene?  Married.
What am I missing?

Speaking of Shakespeare and weddings, everybody knows that I wrote a book on the subject, right?  Hear My Soul Speak : Wedding Quotations from Shakespeare brings together all the most romantic things Shakespeare ever wrote, explained and organized for all your wedding needs - the proposal, the vows, the best man's / father of the bride's toast, you name it.  Even if you just want something cool to sign in the guest book.  Available now for Kindle and all e-reader formats!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shakespeare Homework (#shakeshw) on Twitter

If you're not a user of Twitter, there's not going to be much here for you.  Just letting you know up front. :)

I'm sure I'm not the only Shakespeare geek on Twitter that runs periodic searches on Shakespeare terms, looking for people to help.  Often this is student who seem to tweet all day long while in class, complaining about their homework.

The problem is that there's no good way to spot the Shakespeare homework.  If you just search "Shakespeare" you get, well, everything.  And if you search "English homework" you get plenty of hits, but no way of telling if it's Shakespeare related.

So, following up on idea that came directly from Twitter, I'm proposing to all my followers out there that we start using and circulating the #shakeshw tag to represent Shakespeare homework questions. I recommend that tag because you want to leave as much room in the 140 characters as possible, and the words "shakespeare" and "homework" are too darned long.  "Bard" is shorter, I know, but I don't expect that a lot of students will make that connection. 

I know that most of *us* aren't going to be doing Shakespeare homework - what I mean here is, spread the word. All you teachers out there who want to encourage your students to use Twitter as a positive resource (and not just to have people tell them the answers), encourage them to use the tag.  When you do spot a question through any other search means, re-tweet it using this tag. Especially if you don't know the answer to the question - somebody else that follows you might.

Everybody that's interested in helping kids with their questions? Follow the tag.  None of us is on constantly - but I'd bet that if enough people watch for the tag, we can get some pretty darned good coverage.  When I pitched this idea on Twitter a few weeks ago, a whole bunch of people were lining up asking how they could help.  Well, here's an effort in that direction, let's see if we can make it work.

Who's with me?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Romeo + Juliet : The War

Just about a year ago I spotted the news that comic god Stan Lee was associated with a graphic novel adaptation of Shakespeare entitled Romeo + Juliet : The War.  At the time I wrote, simply, "Want."

Well, lucky lucky me tripped into a complete pre-release copy (digital only and heavily watermarked), and just read it cover to cover in one sitting :)!   Yayyy!   Love.

This telling takes place on "a planet you recognize...yet in many ways, you don't." It is a war-torn planet, populated by two super races: The Montagues, a race of cyborgs (half human, half machine) and the Capulets, a race of genetically engineered superhumans.  They were both bred and created for the same purpose - defeating a common enemy.  Once that task was complete, they turned on each other. As far as the "two households both alike in dignity" and the "ancient grudge" go, I buy it. 

(Let me just break in here on myself to mention that, in the introduction, it says "Respectfully based on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet".  I like that.  None of this "We all know that original boring story blah blah we think our version is better" stuff.  Respect.  Carry on.)

The story they tell is a bit different from Shakespeare's, as retellings often are (see our West Side Story discussion for more on this topic). This version, like many others, significantly plays up the violence.  Every Montague hates every Capulet, major characters included.  Romeo and Benvolio are both right in the mix and ready to draw Capulet blood at every opportunity.  There is no Lord Capulet moment where he says "It is not so hard for men as we to keep the peace."

This is a common approach (heck, even Gnomeo and Juliet did it) but I think it takes much of the depth out of the story.  I much prefer an interpretation where the grudge is basically old and buried, and it is only recently "broken to new mutiny" by guys like Tybalt who refuse to let it go.  I think that's important character development there.  Just making everybody bloodthirsty doesn't really do it for me.

Anyway, soapbox off.  The rest of the story elements are there - the party, the meeting, the secret wedding, the over -hasty marriage to Paris, Friar Laurence's plan.  I will say that it takes a very different turn right in the middle (during the Mercutio/Tybalt confrontation) which is definitely in line with their world building, even if it is not exactly what Shakespeare wrote.  For as much as I don't love some of the liberties that storytellers take with my beloved source material, I do have respect for those that can stand confidently in *their* story and carry it through to the end. The ending is satisfying, based on how they get there.

I'm always torn when digging into a work like this, because my brain says, "Yay! Shakespeare content!" and then I start reading and three pages in my brain says, "Wait a minute, this ain't Shakespeare." I don't really know what I want as a solution to that problem. Sometimes the retelling will sprinkle in direct quote. There's not too much of that here.  The goal seems to be, "Retell what Shakespeare said, and say it in a way so that the reader knows what we're doing, but not so that it looks like we just tried to flat-out translate the original into modern text line by line."  Does that make sense?  Keep it close, but not too close.

Sometimes they try too hard. Every single time there's an opportunity to say "Ha, the Montagues are clearly the good guys and Capulets the bad guys!" expect there to be somebody who is quick to point out that the Montagues are just as guilty. They really hammer home the whole "these two sides are exactly alike" thing. We get it. Don't let us develop our own feelings for these characters or anything - tell us exactly how we have to feel.

As far as the visuals go, the artwork is just beautiful (and I think they know it).  On numerous pages you'll think that you're looking at a scene out of Terminator, The Matrix, or some other hugely successful science fiction movie that jumps immediately into your brain. They have a very clear idea for the world they want to show, and pull it off brilliantly.  Frequently there's a shot of nothing but the landscape, just to show how impressive it looks. Honestly if there wasn't a gigantic watermark across my copy, there's a handful of pages that would be gracing my laptop's wallpaper right now.  (UPDATE - They have downloadable wallpaper on the website!) There are a bunch of places where it's overly violent for my taste, and a number of fight scenes where it's hard to tell what's going on, but I think that has more to do with me looking at it primarily as a Shakespeare fan and not a comic fan.  I'd bet that the comic aficionados in the crowd wouldn't mind it at all.

You know what? I said that it looks like a movie. I think that if somebody tried to tell this version of the story as a movie, it could be pretty awesome.

I can't wait for this to come out for real. Although there is plenty of bloodshed (and a surprising scene of near nudity which I think was completely gratuitous) I would almost certainly let my kids read it.  Well, at least my oldest.  I'd probably call it borderline PG-13, as there's a very definite "Romeo and Juliet, now married, are in bed together" moment that's hard to talk my way around. Relatively speaking I'll take the gratuitous almost-naked scene if we could leave out the almost-naked-and-in-bed-together scene.

Be on the lookout for this one!  Coming out officially in "late 2011", but I don't have word yet on when exactly it will be available. I find no listing in Amazon, not even for pre-order, but that doesn't prove anything.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Apocryphal Shakespeare

We don't often discuss the authorship question here (at least, until there's a major motion picture on the subject :)).  But author Sabrina Feldman contacted me directly and sent me preview copies of her new work, so I felt it polite to at least provide some info and links.  I have not been through the argument, nor do I consider myself informed enough to have a strong opinion.

From the website:

During his lifetime and for many years afterwards, William Shakespeare was credited with writing not only the Bard’s canonical works, but also a series of ‘apocryphal’ Shakespeare plays. Sty­listic threads linking these lesser works suggest they shared a common author or co-author who wrote in a coarse, breezy style, and created very funny clown scenes. He was also prone to pilfering lines from other dramatists, consistent with Robert Greene’s 1592 attack on William Shakespeare as an “upstart crow.” The anomalous existence of two bodies of work exhibiting distinct poetic voices printed under one man’s name suggests a fascinating possibility. Could William Shakespeare have written the apocryphal plays while serving as a front man for the ‘poet in purple robes,’ a hidden court poet who was much admired by a literary coterie in the 1590s? And could the ‘poet in purple robes’ have been the great poet and statesman Thomas Sackville (1536—1608), a previously overlooked authorship candidate who is an excellent fit to the Shakespearean glass slipper? Both of these scenarios are well supported by literary and historical records, many of which have not been previously considered in the context of the Shakespeare authorship debate.

For more information, please visit

I believe that Sabrina is following the blog, by the way, so if you have comments or questions about her work please feel free to post them, she might respond!

Monday, November 07, 2011

What, Me Teach?

Ok, so, ready for the followup from this story about meeting my 2nd grader's teacher?

It appears that I get to put my money where my mouth is.  My daughter came home last week with a report that I am to email her teacher and let her know when I can come in, and how much time I need.  Apparently I get up to an hour to talk on the subject of Shakespeare.  Details to be worked out.

So....HELP!? I know I've got folks in the audience that have done this (or similar), and I'm looking for tips.  I know that I can easily (easily!) speak for an hour on my favorite subject, to any age group.  What I want to do, though, is to get some structure onto it so that it's a repeatable experience. I want to go in knowing what I hope to talk about, and why, and they see how it goes.

Here's what I figure so far, from my own experience with my kids, and going into their classrooms:

1) At least some time on biographic stuff.  Who was Shakespeare, when did he live, and so on. They need context, and I think the whole "400 years ago" thing is important for setting the stage.

2) If there's a play to focus on, it'll be Midsummer.  While I have my own fondness for The Tempest, I've been convinced that Midsummer remains the best introduction to kids who have likely never experienced this stuff before.

3) I very desperately want an excuse to get them out of their seats and reciting/acting some stuff.  They won't get it (nor will they sit still!) listening to me talk for an hour, no matter how fascinating I am. ;)

I would love to walk in with scripts all prepared (rewritten and toned down to their level, of course), push back the desks, assign roles and start walking through the play.  I'd love that like you wouldn't believe.  Like, I've dreamed about doing that since I first had kids. But if this is a one shot deal and I've got an hour, I don't think we'll get very far.  We'd be lucky to get through one walk through.

Option 2 is for me to play narrator and describe 3/4 of the play, stopping periodically to have a couple of the kids act out a particular scene.  This right now for me is the most likely, if I can find the balance of which scenes to act out.

Another option is to do more of a "medley" of Shakespeare's greatest hits, and let the kids take turns reciting from a whole variety of scenes - the balcony scene, the Yorick scene, and so on.  I fear that might be too confusing because they wouldn't get to settle in on the plot and character of a single story.

What have you got for me?

(It's worth mentioning that later in the year I may be called upon to do this same thing with my 4th grader's class, in which case I would have a bit more options due to their more advanced reading/listening/comprehension skills).

P.S. - 2nd grader in this case means 7 years old, roughly.  4th grader is 9 years old.  I often forget that my audience extends outside the US, and I was asked to clarify over the weekend.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Hey Baby, Want To Bump Euphemisms?

After her boyfriend used the expression "bumping uglies," a Twitter follower asked me if our dear Bard had any better euphemisms for...well, bumping uglies.  I put the word out an suggestions started rolling in. I thought it might be fun to collect them here for future reference. Feel free to add ones that we missed!

And hey, let's try to keep it PG-13, I've got kids reading.

  • "Making the beast with two backs."  Technically a Bible one, I believe, but Iago borrows it.
  • "Tupping," as in, "that old black ram is tupping your white ewe."  Iago again.  It sounds more pleasant if you just say "tupping." ;)
  • "Country matters," Hamlet's famous line. Personally I always assumed that this referred to ... ummm entirely different act.
  • "Groping for trout in a peculiar river."  I honestly had to look this one up.
  • "Dallying puppets," anyone?
  • "Raise a spirit in his mistress' circle."  Once that one was pointed out to me I realize that it's just filthy.
  • "It'll cost you a groaning."
What else you got? Anybody got one that actually sounds nice, and not like it comes with a nudge nudge and a wink wink and a "Know what I mean?"

Best of 6 Word Shakespeare

Everybody knows the legend of Hemingway's famous "6 word story" in which he wrote, "For sale: baby shoes. Never worn." Right?

Well today on Twitter, #6wordstories was a Top Trend.  And, doing what we've become known for doing, we went ahead and made that #6wordShakespeare.  As of right now it's still going on (check the link!) but I wanted to jump in and grab some of the best of so they're not lost.  Enjoy!

The Very Best of 6 Word Shakespeare

"Really Cornwall? His eyes? That's gross."

"Woman, get over here.  See?  Tamed."

"Marry me."  "No!"  "Have to."  "Damnit."

"Invited to Andronicus' dinner party. Pass."

"Witches told me to do it."

"Met girl at party. Everybody dies."

"Banished the wrong daughter. Big mistake."

"Don't trust Iago. Don't. Trust. Iago."

"Four youths, one donkey, fairies. Party!"

"Dad murdered, Mom remarried. Life stinks."

"Words, words, words. And more words."

"Haven't slept. Did forest just move??"

"Love you."  "Me too."  Both dead.

"What's in a name? Gang violence."

"No more kings named Henry, please!"

"Invest heavily in marine insurance, dummy."

"Set Kate straight, now she's great!"

"Can't get this damned spot out."

"Tongueless daughter. Angry general. Family dinner."

"Padre? This potion's a bit strong."

Add more in the comments!  I can't keep up!!!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Murder Most Foul : Hamlet Through The Ages

Tell me, what would you do with a book that attempts to capture the history of Hamlet? I'm talking all of it, from the original Amleth story all the way through to screen captures of Ethan Hawke moping about when Kyle MacLachlan watches in the background.

So it is with David Bevinton's Murder Most Foul: Hamlet Through the Ages (Oxford University Press), which surprisingly still weighs in at just under 200 pages.  What do you say to that, Harold Bloom? :)

The author is not just tackling how the character of Hamlet has been portrayed over the years, either. He's truly gone for a complete history of the play in every sense. There's a diagram of the Swan Theatre, which has no trap door in the stage, and discussion about what this would have meant for a performance of Hamlet, which requires one.  How would Polonius have hidden behind the arras? Would he fall through it and back onto the stage, or would Hamlet have to pull back the curtain to see him? What does Hamlet do with the body when he drags it offstage? That's all just in one early chapter. There's depth like that on every page.

These issues may seem trivial, particularly to the theatre-folk in the crowd who have to deal with such details every performance. But this is not a lesson plan in how *you* might stage Hamlet, this is a history of how Hamlet *was* staged. That is what makes it fascinating. There are times you want the plays to be timeless, and there are times when you want to feel connected to their origins.

Jump forward to modern days and Bevington has something to say about all the most popular modern video interpretations. There's a surprisingly lengthy and positive description of Mel Gibson's version (which, according to Bevington, was always intended as an "action movie" Hamlet), and then a story about the disastrous timing of Kevin Kline's production coming out the same year and basically getting lost on PBS, despite its emphasis on "superb performances" and "insightful interpretation". Branagh's, Tenant's and event Ethan Hawke's interpretation also get a fairly detailed examination.

I have to admit, books like this are intimidating to me. They are so densely packed with stuff that I just plain didn't know that I can't get through 3 pages without saying, "I could make a post out of that!"  Typically several times.  I know my style, and this is not the kind of book I sit and read and absorb end to end.  I can't do it.  Instead I'll grab it and flip to a random chapter, knowing that wherever I land I'll learn something new and want to talk about it.

This is a great addition to my reference library, and I thank Oxford University Press for sending me a copy.

Why West Side Story is Not Romeo and Juliet

This discussion came up on Twitter, and I thought it might be good to put it someplace where it won't scroll away in a couple of hours.

Question:  Everybody knows that West Side Story is basically a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet.  Montagues and Capulets, Sharks and Jets.  BUT!  There are some pretty crucial differences.  Juliet lives in WSS, for one.  Discuss the differences, and how they alter your feelings toward the story.  Is WSS an entirely new thing and they can do whatever they want?  Or do they suffer for it, the farther they get from Shakespeare's original?

Nick and Brian Answer Your Whedon / Much Ado Questions!

Here we go!  Last week when news broke about Joss Whedon's no-longer-secret Much Ado Movie, I jumped on the chance to get in some questions with Brian McElhaney and Nick Kocher, two members of the cast (and better known as the comedy duo BriTANicK).  The announcement of that pending interview was the most popular post ever here on Shakespeare Geek!  (Take *that*, Bob Dylan!)  Special thanks for the link love to Whedonesque, who was clearly responsible for most of that traffic :).  And while you're here, why not show a little love for JuliaGiolzetti who initially played connect-the-Twitter-dots and made this whole thing happen? Thanks Julia!

Without much further ado (ha! see what I did there?), here are Brian and Nick's answers. I did my best to group questions into larger, more general topics that they could speak to rather than hitting them with dozens of little yes/no questions. My questions are in bold, their answers in italics.

First off, how did you two get involved with a Joss Whedon project? It's pretty well known that he's got a cast of regulars that show up in all his projects, and I personally have this picture of everybody getting together at his house for a regular Sunday dinner thing when one week everybody shows up and he's got scripts for them.  Am I close? :)  How did you get the call, and how was the project pitched to you?

It was very lucky and a little bizarre how we got involved with this film. Joss had been a fan of our sketch comedy duo, "BriTANicK", on YouTube. He had mentioned us in a blog post he wrote back in the Spring, but had never reached out directly until his assistant offered us these parts out of the blue about a month ago. Basically it was just "Joss is making 'Much Ado About Nothing' and wants you to play these small roles. You in?" And we tried to play it really cool and said we maybe could be interested in that (inside we were screaming like little girls). So without any audition, Joss basically offered the Watchmen to us. Within a week we were on a flight to Los Angeles.

Tell us a bit about your involvement in the process.  You're playing two watchmen.  Did you come in, do a scene or two, and then done? Or was this more of a close-knit effort, where everybody in the cast was part of all aspects of the movie?

One of the best parts about this movie was that it was filmed literally IN Joss's house, and everybody was encouraged to meet, hang out, drink wine, and relax on "set" even when we weren't shooting. Both of us have been on other sets where we've had more lines and spent way less time on them, just because Joss' house was such a great environment to exist in. Everyone was incredibly close-knit(most everyone besides us had known each other for a long time), and it definitely felt like we were all a bunch of excited kids making a project we all loved rather than working on a rigid film set.

Probably the most obvious question is how in the world did you all keep this a secret?  It's not like the announcement came out that he wants to do Shakespeare, or is doing Shakespeare. Instead we got, "Here's our movie," and the world said, "Wait, what?"  Surely you saw the buzz - for those first few hours everybody assumed it had to be a joke.  How long was this in the works? Was this a typical movie  just done in a hurry, or was this really more a case of a bunch of friends getting together for a do-it-yourself effort?  To put it bluntly, since somebody did ask -- did you get paid?

To be honest, I think it was so easy because it all happened so fast. Joss casted it really a week or two before we started shooting and asked everyone to be quiet about it. Once we were on set, he promised that right when the shoot ended(which was only 12 days), he would reveal to the world what we had done. So I think the fact that it happened so quickly and that we knew there was this cool launch plan at the end, we were all really on board with just shutting up and not tweeting for a bit.
The movie definitely wasn't done like a typical film. Joss had stated from the get-go that it was to be more like a "filmed performance" rather than making a film. We shot on three cameras and moved through scenes like the wind. Lighting was minimal, if any sometimes, and all the actors wore their own clothes. It definitely felt like a DIY project, but because everyone is so talented and such a professional, it was like a very very polished DIY project. As for money, a little but really not much at all. But we're pretty certain that everyone there would have done this completely for free if they were asked.

How intimidating was it for you to tackle Shakespeare?  Did you (or any of the cast) have previous Shakespeare experience going into this? I see from IMDB that Alexis Denisof played Tybalt in a tv movie (with Jenny Agutter, who I see is in The Avengers. Small world!). How did everybody else handle the challenge?  A number of people specifically asked me about how Nathan Fillion tackled the role of Dogberry, in case you've got any good stories you can share :)  Does anyone have stage experience? It's certainly got to be different doing a live performance versus putting your efforts onto film for people to critique for decades to come!
Everyone was at varying levels of Shakespeare knowledge and experience, which was so exciting. People like Alexis had done a ton of it and were very well versed, where as a number of people were tackling it, literally, for the very first time. Brian had done some plays in high school, and Nick was classically trained and had performed Shakespeare in high school and college, but neither of us had ever really tackled it professionally.

As for Nathan... What can we say? The man is a power-house. He moves
and speaks as Dogberry with such hilarious gusto it was almost impossible to keep a straight face. When he tells stories it's like listening to Gandalf explain the rings, everyone just shuts up and listens in awe. He's a lot funnier than Gandalf though.
On a similar note, can you tell us a bit about the project's overall approach to Shakespeare? Did Whedon know that he wanted to do *something* Shakespeare, an eventually settled on Much Ado, or did he always know that this was the exact play he wanted?  Is this a period piece, or more modern? I am assuming (ok, hoping) that we'll be hearing Shakespeare's original text - how much attention was paid toward getting that correct? By that I mean, getting both the pronunication and the ...what's the word, pacing? timing? ... as you might experience when going to see a Shakespeare play?  It's not enough to just say the words, after all. There's a way to say them. When it comes to Shakespeare, you know that there are going to be people in the audience who hear and feel every beat between every word, and when something doesn't sit right it's going to stick out like a sort thumb. If the cast and crew themselves were not highly experienced in Shakespeare, were coaches and other experts brought in to help in these areas?
As we understand it, Joss had been toying with doing this play for a while. But as he always said, he had a hard time getting over the fact that the play essentially "was about nothing". Once he finally wrapped his head around what he really loved about the play, which seemed to be the exploration of what mature love really is, it felt like he was just ready to roll. He wrote a screenplay using all original text, only cut down a bit, and decided to set Leonato's estate in his present day house, where the characters use iPads and swim in his pool. Joss was a stickler for lines and pronunciation, and had a very clear sense of the timing he wanted in every scene. There weren't Shakespeare coaches on set, but it felt like Joss intentionally really wanted the actors to bring parts of themselves into the roles. We were directed to play it very down-to-earth and real, much less theatrically than you would see on stage, and I think that let a lot of the actors explore Shakespeare in a totally new way. Some archaic references were cut, but others are played up to hilarious results.
Kenneth Branagh's 1993 film version of this play is still fresh in people's minds (then again, I hang out with Shakespeare geeks). Did that help or hinder this production in any way?  Do Amy and Alexis expect to be compared to Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson?  How about Nathan versus Michael Keaton as Dogberry?

It was definitely part of the decision to film the movie in black and white. Along with a few other reasons, Joss felt that filming in black and white would help differentiate the two films. In terms of the performances, to our knowledge, it was never really discussed. The overall feeling was that we were doing something that felt so interesting and our own, that nobody seemed to be worried about it.
Some general Shakespeare questions:  What's your personal favorite Shakespeare play?   Villain?  Having now had him as a director, in what Shakespearean role do you see Joss Whedon?

Brian: I love Twelfth Night and Midsummer very much, and have become a Much Ado fan through this process. I'm definitely into the less "villainous" of the plays, so I'm not sure I could answer that with enough confidence.

Nick: I'm a huge Shakespeare fan, it's really hard to narrow it down. I'm a big fan of Julius Caesar (I really want to play Marc Antony someday) and Othello, but my favorite scenes are in King Lear and Henry IV pt. 1. My favorite Shakespeare villain is Richard III. 

Joss's Shakespeare character: Henry V, he's charming, fearless, and having worked with him once we would happily follow him into war with France. If Henry V was alive today, Firefly never would have been cancelled.

Many people want to know about distribution. The press release says that it will be ready for festival season, but what we want to know is how and when will we be able to see it? Is this going to be some sort of web release?  Straight to DVD?  Where can a Shakespeare Geek put my name to get on the list for a review copy??

Your guess is as good as ours. This whole thing is an experiment, even for Joss, but we recommend checking back with for updates.

How much does the weight of Buffy/Angel/Dollhouse/Firefly weigh on a production like this?  When Amy and Alexis are cast in the romantic leads like this, do their previous roles together alter how they play it? Or do the actors go out of their way to make every role independent, even though they know fans will make the comparison?

The tension of past work was definitely there and exciting, but with a play like this we really wanted to respect the characters and the text before any thought of how the fans view the actors from past roles. That being said, it was really fun just knowing how much the fans would love all the connections in the Whedon universe, and putting people like Alexis and Amy together again.

I got a few questions about general back stage 
hilarity, bloopers, and other such antics.  What was the work environment like?  A constant struggle to keep a straight face?

Yeah, it was an absolute blast. Filming the party scene turned into an actual, raging dance party by the end of the night. Nathan Fillion kept showing us magic tricks with his iPhone and verbally sparring with Tom Lenk. Riki from Garfunkel and Oates would pick up guitars and just start singing weird little songs. Joss and his wife had a bottle of Chardonnay that was comically oversized that we all popped the last night, only to have Joss drink it from a wine glass that was comically undersized. People would sleep at the house, jump on the trampoline, slide around in their socks... It was work when it was work, but it was definitely play when it was play.

Let me see if I can phrase this question so it makes sense.  It's always been my mission to take the fear out of Shakespeare, and to demonstrate through a wide variety of means that Shakespeare is for everybody.  Bringing Shakespeare to people, rather than trying to bring them to Shakespeare. I'm wondering if this is Joss' way of doing something similar.  Did you get the feeling while filming this movie that everybody was "rising up to the challenge of Shakespeare", or was it more a case of "Hey, let's use this as a way of bringing Shakespeare to everybody."  Does that make sense?  Many actors and filmmakers will express a desire to do Shakespeare as if it is a legitimizing moment, like "once you do Shakespeare you can do anything."  I don't see this crew as doing that, which is one of the reasons I'm so pleasantly surprised that this project just came out of nowhere.

We definitely wanted to show how Shakespeare had such a universal and wonderful story that was so easily accessible to all of us, well studied or not, younger or older. It seemed to be one of the reasons why Joss wanted to cast people from all across the spectrum of Shakespearean experience, and put it in a modern light. The idea that we could all have fun with this text, understand it, connect with it, and gain something from our understanding, and it feels like everyone surprised themselves with how true that turned out to be.

What do you know about future plans for Bellwether Pictures? Can we expect to see more Shakespeare? Are there other projects already in the works (or possibly complete and ready to be sprung on an unsuspecting audience)?

Your guess is again as good as ours!

Before we go, tell us a bit about BriTANicK?  What can I plug for you?

You can see our sketches online at We perform sketch/stand-up/improv monthly at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre in New York City( We are also the voices of Cartoon Network, the ones who tell you what's coming up next. We will come perform near you if you'd like... E-mail our manager, Brad Petrigala, and promise him something nice ( Check out Nick in the upcoming MTV series "I Just Want My Pants Back" and Brian in his tiny role in Jason Reitman's upcoming "Young Adult".


A big thank you to Brian and Nick for doing this!  Go see BriTANicK!