Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Impostor Syndrome

Do you know what impostor syndrome is? You can probably guess. It's that feeling you get when you have every right to claim some level of authority on a subject (say, almost ten years of posting almost three thousand articles) and yet you can't shake the nagging feeling that every time you say something, someone is going to pop up and say, "No, you're wrong! You don't know anything, what makes you think you have the right to talk about this subject?" Maybe you've spent your whole life surrounded by people who listen to you and say, "Wow, I didn't know that," and ask you questions about your chosen subject, to which you happily provide answers. All the while you're thinking, "Surely they're about to tell me that everything I've just said is wrong."

I struggle with this like you wouldn't believe. When I originally started this site I believed that I'd either (a) attract a group of people who knew about as much as I did about the subject, and we'd learn from each other, or (b) attract a group of people who didn't know much, who would learn from me.  What I got was (c) well-learned people who do Shakespeare for a living, who have been schooling me ever since.

But knowledge is a funny thing. One day you don't have it. And you realize you don't have it (you know what you don't know) because someone gives it to you.  Which US president visited Shakespeare's birthplace and wrote in his letters that he felt the fee they charged was outrageous?  Have no idea?  Thomas Jefferson. Congratulations, now you know. If you didn't really care, you'll probably forget it after you finish reading this post. But if you're interested in the subject and hear it repeatedly, you'll realize that you actually remember it now. What's the difference between what you know and what you remember?  Not much.  If you remember it, you know it. (I'm not talking about remembering an incorrect fact, of course.  I'm talking about remembering information where previously there was none.)

I often forget what I know. I'll stumble across a "new" fact, only to later discover that it was new to me three years ago when I first blogged about it. I hate that. Makes me feel like my knowledge of the subject is not growing, and will remain forever at its plateau. Which, in turn, makes me always think I know about as much as I knew ten years ago.

I had occasion recently to document what I know about Shakespeare.  Open new document, create new list, start brain dumping. A few hundred bullet points later I start to think, "Dang, that's a bigger list than I thought." My confidence inches up just an eentsy bit.  Who said plateau?

I think that the key to defeating impostor syndrome is to be aware of your own limitations. Someone can know more than you, without making your knowledge wrong.  Don't think of it as being corrected, think of it as becoming more informed on the subject.  That's what I've been doing for ten years now. Only now am I beginning to get comfortable with the idea that I can actually converse on this subject, and not just be the guy waiting for someone to tell me I don't know anything.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


No, seriously.  I'm talking about the 1980's sitcom, Cheers, set in Boston's Bull & Finch Pub. When I'm bored and need sound in the background I'll often turn on Netflix to stream old sitcoms like this, and earlier today we heard the Cheers theme song on the radio.

Anyway, I'm watching the pilot when Diane (eventually the love interest) comes in with her current fiance, Professor Sumner Sloan, and they are discussing how they got engaged.  Sumner paraphrases whatever he might have said and Diane corrects him, saying, "Actually, what he said was 'Come with me and be my love, and we will some new pleasure prove.'"

"Ooo!  Shakespeare!"  said I.

"Donne," said Diane.

"WTF?" quoth I.

"I kinda figured you were done when you stopped talking," says Sam the bartender (or some other pun on the word Donne, I stopped paying attention after the Shakespeare drive-by).

I wondered for a moment if they said Donne just for the joke.  I know this is Shakespeare, I have a CD ( When Love Speaks ) with Annie Lennox singing it. To the Google!

Oh look, we're both right.

The line definitely appears in The Passionate Shepherd To His Love, which is credited to Marlowe. And it's most definitely in John Donne's The Bait   (both available at the link above). Slight textual variation, Donne's line is in fact "some pleasure" while Marlowe went with "all the pleasures". Marlowe actually came first, but Diane is quoting Donne's version.

But what of Shakespeare?

This line comes from the fifth verse of Sonnets to Sundry Notes of Music, most of which (such as this entry) are incorrectly attributed to Shakespeare.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Maybe His Face Is On The Bus

Ok, this probably doesn't deserve a blog post of its own but I think it's hysterical, it wouldn't fit on Twitter, and I block Facebook when I'm trying to get work done (even if, as now, that work is Shakespeare research).

I found the following conclusion on a page of facts about our dear Shakespeare:
William Shakespeare is one of the most identifiable icons of England. Others include members of England’s Royal family, Westminister Abbey, Big Ben, and red double-decker buses.
(Spelling is as I found it.)

I'm glad to see the world's greatest poet and playwright made the top five!  The mind boggles at the logic that went into choosing that particular list.  The Queen? Princess Diana?  William and Kate?  Nah, just make "members of the Royal family" one item.  But then we only have four items, and it should really be five.  I know, how about those big double-decker busses!

One of, indeed.


Ok, I'm going back to work now. Lunch break over.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Shakespeare on the Road

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is hitting the road! In celebration of Shakespeare's 450th birthday they've come over to the United States with plans to sit in on 14 different Shakespeare festivals over the summer.

In my neck of the woods they'll be coming to Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass on August 17.  Of course I've already got plans that weekend :(. Why can't I learn about these things months in advance?  And why can't they come into Boston instead? I'm 20 minutes from Boston, I'm over 2 hours from Lenox!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Orange Is The New Shakespeare?

I'm a big fan of Netflix's original series, both House of Cards and Orange is the new Black. Kevin Spacey, star of the former, has been on all the talk shows saying how it is basically Richard III. Well, more to the point how he based his character on R3.

So when I saw this piece on why you need to read Shakespeare to understand Orange Is The New Black (or OITNB for short) new (second) season, I was all over it.  The idea put forth (using Macbeth as an example) is that in Shakespeare's world, there is a natural order to things. When something comes in to disrupt that natural order, there is chaos while the world attempts to correct itself and restore order.  That is season 2 in a nutshell, and I agree completely with the article's argument.

WARNING - that article is 100% spoilers. You'd better finish season 2 before you read it.

Searching for Romeo

When I spotted the summary of a story focusing on Rosaline I thought this must be an update on the upcoming movie about Romeo's "ex-girlfriend".

Nope! "Searching for Romeo" is a new stage musical that tells....well, basically the exact same story. Why does everybody go for Rosaline? She's not even technically a character, she's a name. It's easy to say you're walking in Tom Stoppard's shoes, but at least Shakespeare gave him some Rosencranz and Guildenstern to work with. Stoppard didn't, for example, invent a new character for Paris' mother.  (Yes, Searching for Romeo offers us Paris' mother.)

For some reason the article decides to pull in Ophelia, which I thought was interesting.  Spinning off a play about Ophelia is more in the Stoppard vein, I'd say.  (Personally I even tried my hand at writing such a play back in college.  The premise was that Ophelia was in on Hamlet's feigned madness, and they were both having a good joke at the expense of their respective parents, until Hamlet really does lose his mind.)

What I don't understand is the author's summary of Ophelia's existence:

Curiosity has long surrounded Hamlet's love Ophelia, who dies after speaking about 170 lines in a play with more than 3,800. 
"She just seems to go mad out of nowhere," said Emily C.A. Snyder, who directed a production of "Hamlet" in which she give Ophelia more time onstage to create a stronger connection with the audience.
Ms. Snyder missed the part where Hamlet went crazy, said he never loved her, killed her father, got banished to England.  Out of nowhere? Really?

Let's have less invention of Rosaline and other characters, and more exploration into Ophelia's character. I'm all for that idea.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Starring Toronto Mayor Rob Ford as Falstaff

Too easy. 

When I spotted a reference in one of my news items suggesting that the mayor's story was Shakespearean, I thought "Oh this will be good, somebody's actually going to argue about how tragic the whole thing is."  Nah, they just went with the big jolly drunk angle.

That's not to say there's not some smirks to be had in the article:

"Falstaff from Shakespeare," McCaig said in a telephone interview. "He's very Shakespearean or operatic. He's our modern tragic hero..."  They do know that Falstaff isn't a tragic hero, right?

"It's a timeless story. Actually, it's been written 100 times -- it's this rise to greatness and then a huge, huge fall due to your own weaknesses. God, this story has been written 100 years ago, you know what I mean?"  Sure, absolutely, written 100 years ago.  That's why you earlier compared it to Shakespeare, who was writing 450 years ago.

All in all, the musical looks like an even better train wreck than its subject.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Dream, in Sign Language

Summer is the season of Shakespeare in the park, and I can't possibly write about all the stories that come across my newsfeed. However, I wanted to give a special shout out to this Rochester production of A Midsummer Night's Dream:

Haggerty describes this "Midsummer Night's Dream" production as "history-making." A senior lecturer in the theater department at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Haggerty is directing the play with a double cast of hearing and deaf actors — 33 people in all. Each role is played by a voicing actor, who has a signing (American Sign Language) actor assigned to him or her. So there are two languages in use onstage simultaneously: Shakespeare's, and American Sign Language.
While I certainly think that this is a step beyond "have a translator standing at the edge of the stage", I think this is the more "history making" part:
The fairy characters communicate in sign language, because they cannot speak to the human characters. But they do sign to one another what it is that the humans are saying. Among themselves, the fairies sign to each other, and voiced actors reenact what the fairies are thinking and signing for the audience.
So then if I understand it correctly, the sign language translation is actually performed by the fairies (who, presumably, are going to be onstage throughout the play)?  And that the fairies' lines will be signed first, and then "translated" into speech by the other actors?  I love how that idea equalizes the two languages.

For more information: 

Cirque du Soleil Does Shakespeare

I'd seen the commercials for Cirque du Soleil's new show Amaluna, but I had no idea it was their interpretation of my favorite play The Tempest!

Set on a mysterious island governed by goddesses and the cycles of the moon, the story of Queen Prospera (Shakespeare’s Prospero), a shaman with magical powers, unfolds. The queen conjures up a great storm in preparation for the coming-of-age ceremony of her daughter, Miranda. The storm leaves a group of young men, led by Prince Romeo, shipwrecked on the island. An epic romance between the prince and Miranda ensues.
(I admit, "Prince Romeo" is a bit cringe-worthy. You kept Miranda and Prospera but felt it necessary to not only change Ferdinand, but to borrow from a completely different play?)

Playing in Boston now, but only through July 6 so I can't possibly get there. If it comes to your part of the world, let us know how it is!

For more information : 

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Julie Taymor's Dream Is Coming

Julie Taymor is about to bring us more Shakespeare. She's finished filming her stage production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and hopes to show it off at the Toronto Film Festival (which is where we got our first look at Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing, if you recall).

Thoughts? I hear the stage version was quite good. I guess this will be like Christopher Plummer's Tempest or Sir Ian's King Lear? She says that we'll see the audience, all the special effects will be live as they were on stage, and so on.

I've only ever seen parts of her Titus. I think that her Tempest has grown on me over the years, even though I was initially quite disappointed in it.  I'm anxious to see what she does with Dream.