Random Shakespeare Sightings

Sunday night in a house with three kids can be chaos.  The boy is in the tub, the oldest is fretting over a test she has in biology in the morning, and my middle child is curled up in bed with my wife trying to find a show to watch.

“Daddy, come quick! Shakespeare!” they yell.  I’m busy quizzing my daughter on the relationship between apocryphal and deuterocanonical books in the bible, and my son wants to show me a cool bubble experiment he has concocted.  But eventually I break free and make it into the Shakespeare room.

A lady, who I recognize, is talking about Shakespeare.  But oh what is her name? That’s going to drive me crazy. I know I know her.

Then it switches. “Oh, well, I know that guy,” I say, looking past the scruffly beard and mustache and the very recognizable eyes.  “That’s Ralph Fiennes.”

“THOR!” my daughter exclaims.

I’m not sure where she got that.  “Really?  No, he wasn’t in Thor.”  (It just dawned on me writing this that she’s confusing him with Tom Hiddleston.)

“VOLDEMORT!” she tries again.

“There you go.  Yes he was Voldemort.”

Cut back to other lady.  *snap* “I know who that is, that’s Julie Taymor! Duh, obviously.”

My wife and daughter look at each other like Daddy’s gone cuckoo.

I pull myself away from the screen to deal with other children, but make it back to another guy I recognize.  It’s Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey, who I actually haven’t seen do much Shakespeare.  I mistakenly associate him with the scientist in the Thor movie, but with a little IMDB help I realize I’m confusing him with Stellan Skarsgard.

Turns out the show was “Shakespeare Uncovered“, season two episode one. I know of the show but haven’t really followed it, so somebody enlighten me – did season two just start, or is that an old re-run we stumbled across?

My Reputation Proceeds Me (and I Love It)

My company’s got about 100 people in it. That doesn’t mean I’ve met or interacted with many of them.  As a pretty solid introvert I’m not one to just start conversations, or introduce myself to people first.    I probably know you and what you do, but chances are unlikely that we’re going to sit together at lunch unless I’m there first and you sit down.

Anyway.  Yesterday at work one of the guys from downstairs, who is firmly in this category, is suddenly behind me.  Turns out that a random test email broke one of our filters and he was trying to chase down who’d created it.  Since it had football words in it he came to me / my boss, since we both follow football and are involved in pools and fantasy.  But no, it was not us who had created the test email, so we pointed him at another football fan on our floor who might be his culprit.

As he was leaving I said, “If you ever get one that’s a Shakespearean character, that’s probably me though.”

To which he replied, “Well, yeah, we know that.”

(What’s funny is that’s the second time that’s happened.  Even the people who I’ve never spoken with know me as the Shakespeare guy.)

Can I Get A Cape? I Think I’d Look Good In A Cape

This morning in the kitchen at work I was talking politics with the CEO, and Shakespeare came up. Why? Because he acknowledged the Shakespeare stickers on the front of my laptop.  He said something about Shakespeare hundreds of years ago already having said some wise things about all politicians.  I said that just recently I’d forwarded around an article comparing Joe Biden’s advice to Hillary Clinton, and Shakespeare’s.

Then it got interesting.  He told me that one of his (four) daughters is in college, and she’s studying Shakespeare, and that *he* (her father, my CEO) was assigned homework.  They’re studying Hamlet’s girlfriend’s father’s speech – what’s his name?


Right, Polonius. He has that whole soliloquoy about neither a borrower not a lender be or however it goes, and we’re supposed to write back with what advice we sent out kids off to college with.  And here I am thinking, “What else can I say? This guy said it pretty good!”

That was about the end of that conversation, but it got me thinking.  Later in the day, when he was back at his desk but his door was open, I knocked, and here’s what I said:

In case I haven’t made it obvious, I always thought it kind of goes without saying, but if you, or really anybody here, if your kids ever have Shakespeare homework or ever need any kind of help with the subject, you absolutely come and you get me. The idea that there might be kids that don’t get it, while I’m around and could help them? That bothers me.  I can’t have that. When it comes to homework I might not always have the answer that they need, because usually the teacher isn’t asking questions about your gut feeling or your personal interpretation of the play, they want the academic answer that comes straight out of the textbook, and I don’t always have that. But in that case what I do have is thousands of followers on social media, many of whom are PhDs and academics who do this stuff full time and know a lot more than I do, and I can ask them and then I can play middle man and I can translate. Then we all learn something.

Shakespeare Man!

Funny how life’s changed in the decade I’ve been doing this.  I used to cringe to open my mouth about Shakespeare because I always just assumed that whoever was interested enough in talking to me about the subject would by default also know more about the subject than me, and I was always worried about saying the wrong thing.  Somewhere along the line I embraced that. I don’t have all the answers, and I never will.  When I don’t, I ask, and then I learn, and maybe I’ll have the answer next time somebody asks me.  Because chances are very good that the people asking me questions don’t ever get a chance to ask questions of the Shakespearean professionals that I have access to at this point.

What I do have is a deep seated belief that Shakespeare can be experienced and understood by everybody, and that doing so makes life better, and that when I’m able to help that mission in any way I can, it makes me very happy indeed.

How Far That Little Candle Throws His Beams

I’ve got a question for you.

I’m going to assume, since you’re reading this, that you like Shakespeare.  Maybe you’re a theatre geek in general, or maybe like me you’ve got no particular connection to the theatrical world, you just love Shakespeare’s work.  You’ve probably got a bunch of it memorized, too, if by pure repetition if nothing else.

So here’s my question.  How many friends have you got that you talk about Shakespeare with?  Sure, if you’re in a theatre group in the first place the answer to this question might be obvious.  But what about your friends, your family, your coworkers? If your life is anything like mine, most folks you encounter have little more than a passing high school knowledge of the man and his work. Most will never bother to learn any more than that, because they’re adults now and their time for being told what they have to learn is over.  There’s bills to be paid and fantasy football teams to draft.

Why can’t we change that?

Why can’t we introduce Shakespeare and his work to children from the time that they’re born?  Fine, there’s plenty of stuff in Shakespeare that’s over the head of most college students, let alone toddlers.  Dr. Seuss wrote propaganda cartoons during World War II, too.  But I’ll bet we can all quote Cat in the Hat.

How great would the world be if everybody you ran into on a daily basis was as familiar with “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where ox-lips and the nodding violet grows” as they are with “One fish two fish, red fish blue fish?”

“To be or not to be” and “Wherefore art thou” have tipped over into cliche, but wouldn’t you love to hang out with somebody who not only recognized “Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises,” but could complete it with, “sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not?”

Shakespeare is poetry.  Children learn language through rhyme and poetry.

Shakespeare painted pictures with words.  Children learn words through association with images.

There’s absolutely no reason why somebody can’t take Shakespeare’s poetry and Shakespeare’s pictures and put them in the hands of new parents to read to their children from day one. You know what happens when that happens?  Those kids like it. Those kids ask for it. Those kids want more.
Most importantly, those kids grow up with Miranda and Ariel and Titania and Oberon in their brains right next to Winnie the Pooh and Piglet and the Wild Things and the Lorax and Alice and the Mad Hatter…

Before that little candle can throw its beams, somebody has to light it, and that is precisely what Erin is trying to do.

I know I’ve bugged you all about this already, but her Kickstarter deadline draws near, and she hasn’t hit the goal yet, so she still needs help.  Back this project.  Get this book into existence. I don’t care if you’ve got kids.  Mine aren’t going to read this.  But I backed it. Because I want others to be able to read it. Imagine one day going to the store (if they still have bookstores!) and seeing Shakespeare in the baby book section. Even better imagine buying it and giving something you love as a give to someone you love.

Maybe Angelina Should Try More Shakespeare?

When I heard that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have filed for divorce it wasn’t that interesting to me.

Then I heard the rumor that they’re divorcing because he’s having an affair with Marion “Lady Macbeth” Cotillard, and now we’ve got something to talk about!

In case you missed it, here’s our review of the 2015 Macbeth starring Cotillard and Michael Fassbender.

Although Pitt and Cotillard are apparently working together on a new project that hasn’t come out yet, who knows? Maybe he saw her in that and liked the whole Shakespeare vibe.  I can’t find any Shakespeare in Pitt’s biography, but I do see that Gwynneth Paltrow, who went on to win an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, claims that after he broke up with her she was almost too distraught to audition for the role (item #10).

Perhaps Brad never knew that Ms. Jolie has some Shakespeare in her past as well?  No, I’m not talking about Cyborg 2 or Hackers, both classics in their own right.  Nor do I mean her epic Cleopatra project that was the star of the Sony email debacle a few years back.

I’m talking about Love is All There Is, a 1990’s Romeo and Juliet re-telling set in an Italian restaurant in the Bronx.  Angelina plays our Juliet.  It also happens to be available in full on YouTube.

Please share and enjoy:

(Trivia — looks like Paul Sorvino is in this, and then again in Romeo+Juliet just a couple of years later.  Apparently as a palate cleanser. :))

Three Projects To Get Excited About

When I read a headline that the Actors Hall of Fame was bringing back Shakespeare classics after 20 years I thought, “What, something like the Criterion collection? DVDs?”  Nope, I’m completely wrong. They’re doing multiple ground-breaking things that look crazy exciting!

A MidSummer Night’s Dream will be produced as a state of the art family animated film, with the addition of new songs and dances from established and emerging artists. The film will be released globally in midsummer 2018.​

All my children’s lives I’ve wanted “start of the art family animated film” versions of Shakespeare.  I just hope this one hasn’t got gnomes in it.

The Taming of the Shrew will be produced as a 10 hour miniseries for broadcast/streaming, and will also introduce the next generation of characters in the lives of Petruchio and Katherina.

I’ve seen rumors that at least three major television networks are doing some version of a Shakespeare series, including a Romeo and Juliet sequel. The idea of a mini series is an interesting one, because you can tell a determined story arc without worrying about having to create ongoing material for several seasons.

Romeo and Juliet  the classic story of young love will make history by airing ‘LIVE’ on mobile and social media around the world starring today’s most popular young stars from film, television and music.

Since joining Twitter back in 2008 I’ve been inundated with every possible combination of live tweeting the plays in “text speak” from various accounts behaving in the persona of the individual characters, and I’ve never liked it. I’m at least curious what “airing live on social media” means because I am interested in the advancement of the technologies to do that, however.

Should be very interesting to keep an eye on these projects!

More Strange Than True: Yay! More Midsummer Movies!

Look what I found in my browsing today!  Behold More Strange Than True, coming soon to a cinema near you (assuming you are in the UK):

After beheading her husband, Queen Titiana takes over the mystical woods where lost souls and ghouls wander about confused in this surrealist film inspired by William Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

First thought:  “Wait, did they spell Titania wrong or did they do that on purpose?”  It’s listed that way as well in the credits so I guess it’s Tie-tee-AH-na instead of Tie-TAY-nee-ah.

Second thought: “After beheading her husband…” who the…what the…..huh?

I’m not quite sure what to expect out of this one, but I think Bardfilm is going to have a field day if this summary from the director is any indication:

Writer/Director Ben Rider originally intended to adapt A Midsummer Night’s Dream into a musical. He abandoned the idea when he decided his vision to interpret the play as a post-modern homage to German Expressionist cinema, particularly the works of German filmmaker F.W. Murnau, mixed with the stylistic films of Guy Maddin, such as Archangel (1990), would be better suited to the surreal elements of Shakespeare’s writing.

What? Who? How?  Is Death going to ride in on a bicycle with his scythe hanging out of a grocery bag like a baguette?

Anybody in the UK recognize any of these names, or their work?

The World Needs Shakespeare Baby Books

This blog started in 2005, when my first child was just barely three years old.  She’s now entering high school and has two younger siblings.  They’ve grown up with Shakespeare.  It goes without saying that if I could have found age appropriate Shakespeare material for them since birth, I would have been all over it.  True there was that short lived “Baby Einstein” series that had a “Baby Shakespeare” offering, but that was really just random poetry and nothing especially Shakespeare.

My kids are grown now and reading Shakespeare on their own, but I think about all the new and soon to be parents out there that are in the same situation that I was, that maybe want some Shakespeare stuff for baby, and aren’t finding it, but don’t have a great soapbox like I do 🙂

So that is the reason I’m very excited about this Kickstarter for Behowl the Moon,  a “board book” based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and aimed at ages 0-3.

It’s important to get the word out about a project like this.  It’s not the kind of thing that goes straight to viral and makes its goal in half an hour.  At the time of this post they’re about 1/3rd of the way there, and I seriously hope that they make it.  I keep saying my kids are too old, but as my pal Bardfilm reminded me, one day I’ll need something to read to the grand babies.  Can you just imagine?  Passing our love of Shakespeare down two generations?  I just can’t even.

Projects like this seeing the light of day pave the way for other projects to do the same, and the world gets more Shakespeare for all ages, and before you know it there’s generations of geeklets growing up with love, rather than fear, of the greatest writer the world has ever known.  Who says you can’t change the world? Go big or go home.

I know that money’s a funny thing and not all of us have the kind of disposable income we wish we had.  But I also know that I’ve got well over ten thousand followers, all with friends and family and followers of their own, so take a moment and hit whatever version of the “share” button you prefer and keep spreading the word! Let’s push them over their goal and get this thing made!

Behowl the Moon: An Ageless Story from Shakespeare’s MSND

Review : Heuristic Shakespeare with Sir Ian McKellen

This review is all kinds of late, given that the app was released back in April for Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary. But an app this complex takes time to review properly, and.I wanted to do it justice. I really, really wanted to like this app. I just don’t, and it makes me sad.

I’ve imagined an app like Heuristic Shakespeare forever. A true multimedia creation that allows you to explore Shakespeare’s work in the way that works for you. Do you want to read, or watch video? Do you want it paraphrased and explained to you, or do you want the original text? How about both? How about actors like Sir Derek Jacobi and Sir Ian McKellen reading the text to you? I think that alone is part of the genius of this app. They’re not acting it, this is not a performance. They’re reading it like an audio book – but, this being an iPad, there’s still video. So it’s like the greatest Shakespeare talent of our generation is your own personal tutor, reading alongside you.

The problem that there is just oh so much packed into the app, that the interface is a mess. Half the time I find myself just pressing random buttons, never sure what comes up next. Sometimes I’ve got the text, sometimes I’ve got a character map telling me (with little thumbnail faces) which characters appear in which scenes. Oh, wait, now it’s a modern English translation. Hold on, now I’ve got essays and videos *about* the play.

I love that all of this stuff is in there. Imagine it, you’re on a particular scene you’ve always liked. First you have Sir Ian reading it to you. All the hard words are highlighted and footnoted so you an always pause and make sure you understand what’s being said. Do you understand what’s happening in the scene? Flip to the modern translation and get a quick refresher. How has this scene been performed? Click somewhere else and you get a historic list of famous performances, complete with images. If you’re into the academic side (maybe you’re doing your homework), there’s also a mode where you can learn all about character development and themes and all that fun stuff your teacher requires that sucks the life out of just sitting back and enjoying the show 🙂

I have a perfect example of my frustration. I’ve mentioned several times that our greatest Shakespeareans can read the text along with you, in video, right? I lost that. I cannot find it, and I want it. I can get audio, but my video has disappeared. I don’t know if it’s a bug in the app where it’s legitimately no longer showing me an option that it’s supposed to, or if I’m doing something wrong, or what. And I think my regular readers probably know that I’m not exactly a newbie at this stuff. If I can’t figure it out, something’s wrong.

[UPDATE – I found it!  The videos only appear when the app is in portrait mode.  I was reading in landscape.  Very happy to have found my videos again.  Of course, my iPad is in a keyboard case so it’s much more convenient to keep it in landscape but I guess I’ll live.]

This app needs to exist. It’s the closest I’ve ever seen to the ideal Shakespeare browser. If I recall it’s on the expensive side for a mobile app — did they want $5.99 for it? But if you told me that’s the “player” price and that I can add content for additional plays at a lower amount, it’s a no brainer.

I just hope that they rethink large parts of the interface. I don’t know how, exactly, but it needs something. This is an app that even has a built in “What level of detail would you like?” feature so that it can be enjoyed by amateurs and scholars alike, so you’d think that a great amount of effort went into the design of the interface. Unfortunately I think it all went into trying to cram in as many trees as possible, and they lost track of the forest.

I Think I Resent This Article

I’ve often said “The mission is working” when random friends and coworkers bring me Shakespeare references.  I smile and think, “I’ve had an impact on this person’s life. If they didn’t know me, they would never have recognized and paid special attention to that Shakespeare.”

So it was when my coworker Bryce tapped on the aquarium-like glass wall of my cubicle this morning, holding up a copy of the Wall Street Journal emblazoned with a huge First Folio image.  I immediately waved him over.

Conspicuous Consumption for Shakespeare Junkies

I don’t know how to describe the tone of the article, but I don’t like it.  “It’s called one of the rarest books in the world,” it begins, “but it’s not – not by a longshot.”  After all, 233 copies exist and “more are always turning up.”
If you cringe at the term “bardolatry” you’re going to have a conniption over “bibliographic fetishization” that “can’t be explained in rational terms.” Because, you see, most modern editions of Shakespeare don’t even follow the First Folio, because it’s so full of printing errors. The theory that all the punctuation and spelling choices are Shakespearean directorial choices is a “dubious” one at best, you see, because Shakespeare died before the FF was published and no original manuscripts exist.
It goes on like that, questioning whether there’s any scholarly purpose for the Folger collection to even exist, and making it a point to let the reader know that Charlton Hinman’s implausible theory of five compositors is “nothing of cosmic importance” and can only lead to the conclusion, “So what?”
I feel like the entire article is trolling us, and I’m not going to respond. I’m going to forget the author’s name (which I have not bothered to include here), and will promptly forget it myself in the morning.  If Shakespeare makes life better, as we believe, I hope the author is happy with his average life. He doesn’t understand what he’s missing.
No, you know what? I’m not going to end there.  I’m going to remind my readers of the time I got to see the Most Beautiful Book in the World, and something a different co-worker said to me:

“You look so happy!” she said. “Look how happy you look! It must be amazing to be that passionate about something that it can make you that happy.”

The author of this article will never understand that.