Monday, February 27, 2012

Rosaline, The Movie (It does exist?!)

I wrote about this potential Shakespearean trainwreck of a movie last year, and it appears that nobody's yet put it out of its misery.  Now we're starting to get casting details.

Let's just jump right to the good stuff, since it's hidden in a comment on the original post.  Here is the Amazon summary of the book - the *debut* *electronic book* no less - that this movie is based upon.  This woman's got to have connections in high places.

"Rosie knows that she and Rob are destined to be together. They are best friends, next door neighbors, and the soon-to-be cutest couple in their senior class. Rosie has been waiting for years for Rob to kiss her--and when he finally does, it's perfect. But just before their relationship becomes completely official, Rosie's cousin Juliet moves back into town. Juliet, who used to be Rosie's best friend. Juliet, who now inexplicably hates her. Juliet, who is gorgeous, vindictive, and a little bit crazy...and who has set her sights on Rob. He doesn't even stand a chance.

Rosie is devastated over losing Rob to Juliet. This is not how the story was supposed to go. And when rumors start swirling about Juliet's instability, her neediness, and her threats of suicide, Rosie starts to fear not only for Rob's heart, but also for his life. Because Shakespeare may have gotten the story wrong, but we all still know how it ends."
Am I just getting old? Does that story sound appealing to today's teenagers?  It sounds like one of those wannabe trashy young adult novels that I used to see girls carrying around the high school hallways 20 years ago.  Sweet Valley High, was it?

I don't know what's the worst part of the story - that somebody's butchering Shakespeare in the name of a cheap high school soap opera, that somebody's paying good money to make a movie out of it, or that this woman whipped up an ebook (something that pretty much anybody with a computer can do, trust me on this one :) ) and somehow got a movie deal out of it on her very first try. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Geeklet Montage!

This is probably one of those "you have to be there" stories but I'm enjoying the heck out of it.  I set up my kids with MicroShakespeare on their Kindle devices.  This includes a Shakespeare trivia game.  It's unfortunate that a number of the questions have incorrect answers (as discussed in my review, and responded to by the developer) but it's still a hoot.

So, you have to picture the scene.  I've got 2 little geeklets (the boy, at 5, doesn't quite have the reading skills yet to play properly) wandering around the house shouting out Shakespeare questions to me, usually simultaneously.  You ever see one of those sitcom episodes where the character dreams he's on a game show and you get that scene where it's just question and question being blasted at him, and he answers them all correctly?  That's my house this morning.

"When was the First Folio published?"

"Where do the words Curst be he that moves my bones appear?"

"How many sonnets did Shakespeare write?"

"What was the last play Shakespeare wrote before he died?"

"1623! His grave! 154! The Tempest!"

I'm loving it. :)

Oh, and the best part? The part that they don't even realize is happening?  That's the part where the 7yr old asks a question, and the 9yr old answers it instead of me.  They're learning!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why did the Shakespearean Chicken Cross the Road (Guest Post)

It suddenly occurred to Bardfilm that he had never taken the elementary step of asking Shakespeare’s characters the simple (but telling) question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” That has now been rectified:

Why did the chicken cross the road, Falstaff?

You mean I missed one?

Henry V, why did the chicken cross the road?

Proclaim it through my host that any chicken which hath no stomach to this fight may depart. We would not die in that chicken’s company that fears his fellowship to die with us. We few. We happy few. We brood of chickens!

Why did the chicken cross the road, Tybalt?

I do not know. I hate the bird, as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.

Why did the chicken cross the road, Ophelia?

She . . . she made it? Then there’s hope! Hope! Hope! {Splash.}

Mark Antony, why did the chicken cross the road?

Because she was an honorable bird. So are they all—all honorable birds!

Why did the chicken cross the road, Hamlet’s Father’s Ghost?

Because she escaped me. My general policy, as you know, is to murder most fowl.

Macbeth, why did the chicken cross the road?

Is this a chicken that I see before me, the beak toward my hand?

Why did the chicken cross the road, Hamlet?

Well, it was going to cross the road, but halfway across it began to think, “If I cross this road now, while it is a-praying, won’t the road end up going to heaven?” so it turned around and headed straight back. It struck me as pretty reasonable.

King Lear, why did the chicken cross the road?

To die, insane, having lost everything.

Why did the chicken cross the road, Rosalind?

To get to the Forest of Arden! But to get there, she had to dress as a rooster.

Antigonus, why did the chicken cross the road?

She simply exited, pursued by a bear. Wouldn’t you?

Macduff, why did the chicken cross the road?

Did you say all?

No, just the one chicken, Macduff.

O hell-kite! All?

No—listen. It just a joke. One chicken, one road.

What, all my pretty chickens and their dam at one fell swoop?

Oh, nevermind.

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.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Android App Review : MicroShakespeare

So, I'm always on the lookout for new and interesting mobile Shakespeare apps. Even more so since I switched from Apple to Android, because my kids' Kindle Fires run Android and if I can find Shakespeare apps for those, then, well, score.

Brand new on the scene is MicroShakespeare, where you get an animated talking Shakespeare character who laughs and dances when you touch him, and swings his arms dramatically when speaking his quotes.  Cute.

The app itself contains :

  • touch Shakespeare to have him recite a quote.  That's probably the main purpose and the thing everybody would use this for.  I haven't yet explored whether he's only got the most common quotes that we all already know, or if the database is bigger than average
  • a "test your knowledge" game.  More on this in a bit.
  • a mini-biography of Shakespeare (pointless for this crowd, really) which is just a page of text.
  • a "magic 8 ball" feature where you're supposed to ask a question and then shake your phone, and have Shakespear give you an answer. Amusing, I suppose, if you like such things.
It's quote clear that they have an engine for generating these things, and there's a whole line of "Micro-" famous people that you can get.  I assume that there's just a little database they're filling up with trivia questions and famous quotes.  Then they get a designer to whip up an animated version of the famous person, and presto, new app!

Let's get back to the game, which I find the most interesting part. You're asked 10 multiple choice questions and then given your score out of 10. I did keep getting new questions, so that's good. That means I can play until I've seen all the questions.  Unfortunately, if you get one wrong all it does is say you got it wrong - there's no spot where it tells you the right answer, and most importantly why that one is the right answer.

My problem is that I think it's getting some of the answers wrong.  Maybe I'm having a senior moment, but could somebody please tell me whether I'm understanding the following questions correctly?

  1. A question asks how many of Shakespeare's original manuscripts exist, and it tells me that the answer of "none" is incorrect.  Is there a way to interpret that question so that the answer is more than zero?
  2. A question asks when all of Shakespeare's plays were performed, and the answer of "daytime" is considered the correct answer. But didn't Blackfriar's and its candles allow for performances at any time?
  3. A question asks which play contains the line "A horse, my kingdom for a horse."  Tells me that Richard III is not the right answer.
For the asking price of $1.50 it's a cute thing for Shakespeare fans to have.  I'll probably see if I can contact the developer to ask about the questions, once one of you good folks tells me that I'm not losing my mind.

Then again, given that I learned of this app just this week within days of its launch (because someone named "RK" posted a comment on an old Android post of mine), I'm going to assume that the guys that wrote it are trying to get the word out and may actually see this post.  If so, hello developers!  The game's only been out for a few days and even though the market says it's been downloaded less than a few dozen times, it's already got multiple 5 star (and only 5 star) reviews.  That makes it pretty obvious that you are writing your own reviews (or having friends do it).  My favorite is how all 5 reviews were all posted from a Samsun Galaxy devise.  That's one heck of a coincidence!  You may want to tone it down a bit and try to generate some real positive reviews from real users.  Just a suggestion. :)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Man In His Mirrors : Schizoid Projections of Richard III (Guest Post)

Our guest post comes from Robert Fripp, author of  Dark Sovereign: the tragedy of King Richard the Third that William Shakespeare should have written. "Dark Sovereign," the first play in four centuries written, fluently, in Shakespeare's English, counterattacks Shakespeare's interpretation. Robert was the series producer of CBC-TV's investigative series "The Fifth Estate" for a decade before becoming an author, an independent television producer, and a copywriter for companies working in fields of technology. 

King Richard III presents the modern world with two distinct and different images. They sit at opposite ends of a spectrum displaying every aspect of human personality, from good to wicked, with shades of grey between. More than five hundred years after Richard’s death, the image that most people know is the misshapen psychopath dreamed up by Shakespeare. The Bard launched this villainous creation in “The Tragedy of Richard III” in 1591, when it was useful propaganda for the House of Tudor. For over a century Tudor monarchs had wished to distance themselves from the House of Plantagenet that came before. They especially wished to severe connections from the last Plantagenet ruler, King Richard III.

In the 1940s the actor Laurence Olivier added a severe, Quasimodo-style disfigurement to the theatrical character of an already damaged king. A decade later, in 1955, Olivier transferred his crippled persona from stage to screen and the ghoulish character took on a permanence that has endured for more than sixty years. Kevin Spacey’s recent impersonation is but the latest cartoon of this unflattering creature to creep or limp across world stages.

Where did this disfigurement originate? Shakespeare borrowed it to great effect: Early in Scene 1 he has the king describe himself as: “Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time / Into this breathing world, scarce half made up, / And that so lamely and unfashionable / That dogs bark at me as I halt by them…”

But Shakespeare was not the first to invent or to invest in a damaged Richard III. Sir Thomas More had described the king in unflattering terms eighty-five years earlier. Sir Thomas, a man of deeply conservative religious views, was applying to Richard's person the biblical metaphor that physical deformity might be a heaven-sent affliction imposed to punish sins of character. This notion goes back at least to Boethius (d. 525) in the Christian era. In the Bible it crops up in Leviticus 21.17-24, and thence carries forward to Psalm 51.5 (A.V.). The Tudor chronicler Raphael Hollinshed borrowed his “Richard” image from More.

That is how many scraps of ill-met scholarship found their well-chewed way into Shakespeare. In Paul Murray Kendall’s authoritative biography, “Richard the Third” (1975), the author describes Shakespeare’s play, “The Tragedy of Richard III” thus: “What a tribute this is to art; what a misfortune this is for history.”

So, how about that second distinct image of King Richard III? Richard was a Northerner. He spent several of his boyhood years as a squire, learning his military skills at Middleham Castle in the North Riding of Yorkshire. It was there that he met his future wife, Lady Anne Neville. At one point in “Dark Sovereign” he reminds her: “’Twas in your father’s house I learn’d to war. / Remember wi’ yourself, how I bethought was to play David / in Golias’ armour; and whilst did you, a little golden girl, / sit out and pick pied daisies.”

Together they shared the risks of childhood: “In younger, foolish-witty years, we ventur’d out / on the River Youre to stand on the ice, hearing it so crack / whose strength had soon yielded to hurl us down. / How thin the ice; how deep, how swift the torrent runs below. / Shall he be resolute, that is so unresolv’d?”

For almost a decade Richard served as the military commander for his brother, King Edward IV, along the Scottish border: “I that am young in years am old in hours of service. / I am to Edward shield and general captain / in the office of a wall against the Scot.”

When Richard’s father and his younger brother were killed in the battle of Wakefield, it was Richard who led a family delegation to York to remove their heads and butchered bodies from spikes around the city walls, and to give them decent burial.

And when King Edward IV died, it was to York, not London, that Richard went as his first port of call in his time of crisis.

For much of his short life, Richard demonstrated the fidelity advertised by his motto, “Loyalty Binds Me.”

Nor was that loyalty restricted to his family and Yorkist allies in the Wars of the Roses. As Governor of the North of England, Richard had taken measures to support, and to represent, the poor. When he became king, he translated that concern into his first, and only, Act of Parliament. At that time, the French expression for dusty-feet, piedpuloreux, translated into a Scottish and English noun describing itinerant peddlars as “piepowders.” Richard’s Act I overhauled the “Courts of Piepowder” which arbitrated market trading disputes. “To every of the same fayres is of right perteynyng a court of Pepowders to mynystre to theim due justice” (1483, Act I Richard III, c. 6, para. 1). None of this fuels the weird image created by Shakespeare’s fevered imagination for Tudor preejudice.

Never forget: We are talking English history here. Controversial events that took place centuries ago are still sitting front of mind. Ancient regional interests project the same grudges, now; accents, county borders and points of view still anchor differences. Richard lll’s North, running from the City of York to the Scottish border, has little sympathy for the creature dreamed up in the effete and distant South by Shakespeare.

In September 2011, a woman who had read my play, “Dark Sovereign,” wrote to me from Portugal Cove, Newfoundland:

“My father, who was born in [the northern town of] Leicester, raised me to be a Ricardian,” she wrote me. “Dad’s grandmother was from Yorkshire, and Dad never got over being given a 'clout' at the age of seven when he came home from school and told her all about Richard Crouchback.”

The writer then reminded me that twenty years ago I had advertised a limited printing of “Dark Sovereign” in a British magazine. Her father happened to see it, and, because he was coming to Toronto to visit his daughter, he bought that magazine with him. Landing in Toronto he asked his daughter to drive to my door where he bought himself a copy of “Dark Sovereign.”

In common with that Richard III supporter, a great many people in the North of England believe that Richard was a benign ruler and a fine, upstanding man. When you open your mouth in a pub anywhere near the City of York, be careful what you say.

Robert Fripp is the author of “Dark Sovereign: the tragedy of King Richard the Third that William Shakespeare should have written.” Fripp wrote “Dark Sovereign” with clockwork precision in English as it was available to Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Read two full scenes at and 19 pages on Robert Fripp's URL.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

They Do Understand! I'm So Happy!

In a completely unrelated thread over on Reddit about what movies piss you off for their inaccuracies, somebody brought up Romeo and Juliet (odd, really, in that his complaint was about the actual story and not about any sort of inaccurate movie portrayal).

Anyway, check out the thread that follows off that comment, where not one but multiple users get into discussion about the role of Fate, lust, parents (and adults in general) not doing their job to protect the children from their own young stupidity, and others. 

I love how spontaneously a thread like that just pops up out of nowhere. I spent so much time on answer boards going over the same questions about the Queen Mab speech and the foreshadowing of death that it's nice to see people on their own explaining what the play means to them, even if they didn't like it and/or disagree with how it was taught to them. Yay!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Update / Correction re: Shakespeare in Love Winners

Hi Everyone,

When I chose winners for the Shakespeare in Love DVD giveaway I ended up picking the names Colin, Becky and Daanando, which I announced.  This however was a mistake on my part -- Daanando had made an entry and then wrote, lower, "Sorry, didn't see rule #4, take my name out of the hat."  So I have to assume that means he does not live in the continental US, and thus I have to retract that announcement.  Both Colin and Becky have contacted me and their DVDs will be sent shortly.

However that leaves a gap to fill for this third one, and ironic1, you're my winner!  I actually already checked his Blogger profile and he's in the continental US, so assuming that he sees this and wants his prize, please get in touch with your mailing address so I can send your prize.

My apologies to Daanando. Hopefully one of these days I can offer prizes on a larger international scale.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Review : Shakespeare in Love on Blu-ray

Is there anyone out there who reads a blog like this one and who hasn't seen Shakespeare in Love? Well I know you haven't seen it in shiny new high definition Blu-ray, because it just came out this week :).

In case you haven't, let me recap a bit.  Joseph Fiennes (yes, Coriolanus' brother) plays a Shakespeare we never really think about -- a struggling playwright with a serious case of writer's block.  Worse, all he's doing is banging out whatever he can sell for some quick coin.  He has no grand plan, he's just scraping out a living in the shadow of men like Christopher Marlowe.  The play he's working on right now?  "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter" which of course becomes Romeo and Juliet.

Enter Viola, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, who for a change is madly passionately in love with Shakespeare's work rather than Marlowe's.  So much so, in fact, that she dresses up like a man for a chance to play a role on his stage.  See what they did there?  A movie about Shakespeare that has a girl dressing like a boy?  A girl named Viola? You have to love it already. ;)

Shakespeare develops a strong bond with this character of hers (who goes by Thomas Kent), and it's only a matter of time before Shakespeare meets and falls in love with Viola as well (breaking from the Orsino parallel), putting her in that odd...well...Viola-like state of being in love with the man she works for, who happens to think that she's a boy.

How will it all end?  It's a mystery! :)

The movie is just beautiful on all fronts.  The costumes are beautiful, the scenary is beautiful (both even more so in high def like this). The script is beautiful (if the name Tom Stoppard doesn't mean anything to you, it should!), the pacing is beautiful. There's an amazing sequence where Shakespeare and Viola are going over lines in bed together, intermixed with Viola as Thomas Kent on stage delivering the lines in public.  Later, when the play begins, we keep cutting back to several interest parties who are racing to put a stop to it.  What will happen? Will the show go on? You'll find yourself gasping every time the Globe audience gasps.

Of course, like all these movies I have my standard complaint - I don't care about the not-Shakespeare parts.  There's a whole story about how Viola has been betrothed to a random nobleman weasel whose name I don't even remember, and other than as an obstacle I just don't care anything about him. When Shakespeare's not on screen and there's nobody doing Shakespeare lines?  I might as well hit fast forward for how much I'm paying attention.

There's some special features on the disc, although I'm unsure if they are new for Blu-ray or were on the original DVD release.  I watched "deleted scenes" (not a blooper reel, just scenes that did not make it in) and listened to the audio commentary track from "the whole gang".  I'm not used to doing that, that was weird.  I kept thinking "Stop stepping on the lines!" :)

In the end, though, I was serious when I said I expect that most of my audience has seen this movie.  The question is whether you want to add the Blu-ray edition to your collection. Right now Amazon looks like they have it for about eight bucks, so why wouldn't you?

Friday, February 03, 2012

What Should He Do Next?

I hope that you've all see impressionist Jim Meskimen's Shakespeare video where he goes through Gloucester's Richard III speech in no less than 25 celebrity voices.

Did you know that he just released a part 2?

So.  Funny thing happened last night. You may have seen on Twitter posting these links with wild abandon, trying to drum up some notice (and doing a good job of it, given the references from people like talk show host Craig Ferguson).

Well I managed to get his attention when he posted a blog comment here (Hi, Jim!) and he asked for ideas on what Shakespeare he should tackle next.  Got any good ideas?  The Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like It came immediately to mind.

But then I thought, I wonder if he's limiting himself to soliloquies?  It'd be great to see him do an entire scene of half a dozen characters, all interacting.  True it wouldn't showcase the 20+ voices he manages in the sample clips above, but it would be a new angle on the material.  Especially if he could get creative with the video editing and be in a different costume for each character :).

If you had Mr. Meskimen's ear, what would you like to see him do next? It might just happen!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Shakespeare in Love Winners Announced!

Hello Everyone!

As promised, Happy Groundhog's Day!  And I'm here to announce the winners of our Shakespeare in Love on Blu-ray giveaway. 

The winners are ...  Daanando, Colin, and Becky! Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to everyone for playing.

If the winners could please contact me with your mailing address I'll get these DVDs shipped out as quickly as possible.

- D

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Coriolanus : The Shooting Script

So they asked me, "Would you like a copy of the shooting script for Ralph Fiennes and John Logan's movie Coriolanus?"

"Sure," I said. I don't know what a shooting script is.

It might be Mexico City. Or Chechnya. Or El Salvador. Or Detroit. Or Baghdad. Or London.

This Rome is a modern place. It is our world right now: immediately recognizable to us. Elements of classical and brave public monuments are lost in a sea of brazen advertising billboards, neon shopping plazas and drab super-highways. Splendor and squalor sit side-by-side.

It is a volatile, dangerous world.

William Shakespeare's Rome.

...but I love it.

What a fascinating way to split the difference between reading the original Shakespeare, and seeing a movie.  Read a shortened version of the text while, as above, somebody paints you an at times spectacularly vivid picture of how they'd like you to imagine it happening.

Even better, the script comes with notes from both screenwriter Logan and director Fiennes.  Why a voiceover for Volumnia in a certain scene?  How will the first encounter between Coriolanus and Aufidius go down?  What image should we open on, and why?  It is better than the movie in this way, it's like jumping right to the DVD release with director's commentary track.  

There are, of course, places where the written word just won't do.  You can write Coriolanus' "You common cry of curs!" line in all capital letters and underline it all you want, but all the reader takes away is "Ok, he's mad."  How mad and how he shows it is up to the actor/director. That's why you need to see the play

The book is short, just over 100 pages.  That immediately reminded me of an old Simpsons episode where Homer met Ron Howard and tried to pitch him a screen play.  "The typical movie script is 120 pages," Howard tells him, "This one is only 17 and several of them are just drawings of a time machine."  In this format and at that length, I read this in about 3 sittings. Crash course in Coriolanus!

This is a bloody interpretation of a bloody play, there's no doubt about that. My wife and kids won't be seeing this one with me, which means I'm not sure if I'll get to see it even if it does come to my area. Should I get to see it, however, I know that I'm going to get that much more out of it having had this script to read first.  I'd love to read more of these.

UPDATED I certainly rushed this one out, didn't I!  Two important details missed.  "They" in this case is (are?) the good folks at Harper Collins / Newmarket Press.  When the offer came up I actually asked whether this publishing of scripts as mass-market books was a new publishing trend and I was told that this is basically what Newmarket's been doing for 20 odd years.  I guess not! :)

Second and perhaps most importantly is the fact that this book is currently available on pre-order from Amazon, as well as on the publisher's website!  It dawned on me after I wrote this post that it sounds like I got some sort of secret behind-the-scenes hookup.  You, too, can read the script.

Everybody Knows It's Free Stuff Week Right?

Just a quick reminder that we're running *2* contests this week.

Today (Wednesday) is the last day for a chance to win Shakespeare in Love on Blu-Ray!

Second, I'm finally rewarding those folks who have signed up for email updates by giving away one of my remaining copies of The Tempest DVD this week.  If you're not already signed up (and why not??) you have until Friday if you want to be entered.  No special requirements, you just need to get the email and then reply to the email saying that you want to be entered.

If you *are* subscribed and didn't get an email announcing the contest, check your spam folder!  I even sent out a second email warning people of this.  So if you haven't heard from me this week and should have, definitely check your junk mail and if necessary sign up again.  You may not have confirmed your initial subscription.

Followup Story - Guess Who I Met?

So, think back a month or two to my stories of almost teaching Shakespeare to my daughter's 7yr old class.  That is, until the principal got wind of it and shut the project down.

So I'm at karate class this week to pick up my son, and the instructor is introducing a new family to class.  My daughters run up to me and whisper, "It's our principal!"  Sure enough, the man that shot me down is now standing next to me watching karate class.

So, I introduce myself :).  It was all nice at first, "Hi, I'm so and so, all my kids are at the elementary school with you ..." and then I gave him context.  "Do you remember a month or two ago Mrs. B coming to you about a plan to do a unit on Shakespeare?"

He thinks about it, and remembers. "Oh...yes, ok, yes, I do remember that.  Was that you?"

"It was!  How ya doin?"

Long story short I was unable in that brief time to convince him.  He felt that it was not age appropriate (I can't remember the exact term he used but basically it was "too advanced for them"), and I countered that I have access to all the best resources in the world and will show him as many studies as he wants to see of teaching Shakespeare to 5yr olds.  But it was clear that he wanted to watch his kid at karate, as did I, so it did not go much farther.

Just wanted to give you folks that conclusion to the story.  Saw my opportunity and jumped on it :)!