How Shakespeare Changed My Life : RIP Earle Hyman

You may have already heard, but Earle Hyman, perhaps most known to modern audiences as the grandfather on The Cosby Show, passed away this weekend.

But did you know, other than the occasional Shakespeare skit on that show (for which, we point to Bardfilm), that Mr. Hyman was in fact an accomplished Shakespearean actor?  Here he is, from 2016, talking about How Shakespeare Changed My Life.

Rest in peace, Mr. Hyman. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Also, how did I not know about this series?!  Looks like there’s a good 50 episodes of famous people talking about nothing but Shakespeare.  I know what I’m doing over Thanksgiving break!

 

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Hello, New Friend!

A few weeks ago one of the senior managers at work told me, in casual converastion, “We just hired somebody you’re going to like. He’s got Shakespeare on his resume.  First time I think I’ve seen that.”

“Cool,” I reply.  “What roles? What company?”

“I didn’t ask,” manager says, laughing.  “I was more interested in his data science experience.”

“Nonsense,” says I, “Everyone you interview has data science e

xperience. How often do you get to talk about Shakespeare?”

“I’d rather talk about data science!”

Later that day, the CEO himself swings by my desk to say, “Guess what?  You’re gonna love this, we hired a Shakespeare guy.”

“Cool!” I say, “Any idea what he’s played, or where?”

“Didn’t think to ask,” says the CEO who is now walking away, truly a “drive by” moment.  Then I hear him call out, “Oberon?” from the staircase.  But that’s the end of the conversation.

Since the hiring manager and the CEO noticed the Shakespeare and thought to bring it to my attention, I’m wondering whether somebody will bring this new hire around to meet me when he arrives.  We’re growing fairly rapidly at this point, maybe 2-4 people a week (for a 100 person company that’s a pretty good rate!) so individual meet and greets are rare.

At one point I meet a new manager, grey haired gentleman, older than me.  I wonder if it might be him. But he would have seen the Shakespeare stickers on my laptop, and doesn’t make the connection, so maybe not.

I should just wear a t-shirt that says, “Ask me about Shakespeare.”

I’m at my desk a few days later when I hear behind me, “Is that Yorick?”  I turn to see a different new hire, who I’ve already met, pointing at the skull on my desk.  (What, you don’t have a skull on your desk?  I could take the easy way out and claim it was a Halloween decoration that I haven’t taken down yet, but I also went as Shakespeare for Halloween, so I’m just keeping it.)

This is my new Shakespearean friend.  He’s a much younger guy, I’m guessing probably late twenties?  Quite tall.  I ask what roles he’s played and he tells me, “Gloucester. Macduff. Oberon.”  Damn, not too shabby!  We talk briefly about the Tempest, which he tells me he’s interested in but not too familiar with, because he hasn’t yet had the chance to play Prospero. He hasn’t been with a professional company, he’s talking purely about high school / college experience.  Still, though – the opportunity to play that many major Shakespearean roles? That’s a lot of Shakespeare. I can only hope my kids get that kind of opportunity.

No clue how often Shakespeare will come up in the hallways. I’m very self conscious about boring people with my favorite topic, so I tend to let it come up organically and then jump in, rather than always being the one to bring it up. Now I know there’ll be at least one other person who gets my jokes!

 

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Pirates at Play

This isn’t really much of a Shakespeare story but I’ve been starved for content lately.

This weekend my family was on a mini-vacation and saw a sort of travelling Pirates museum, sponsored by National Geographic, about the wreck of the Whydah.  As you might expect, I spent the time looking for Shakespeare references!  But alas, the time frame here was more 1700’s, so not a lot of Shakespeare to be found.

But I did find this funny story:

Pirates even performed plays on ships. The Whydah crew staged a play about a mock pirate trial called The Royal Pirate. A group of crewmembers, the worse for drink, missed the first act. They stumbled in — clueless that a play was being performed — just as one of the actors was being sentenced to death for piracy.

Outraged, they leapt to his defense, throwing hand grenades and drawing their cutlasses, breaking the actor’s leg, taking the arm off the playwright, and killing a member of the audience.

I think the visual is hysterical, though I can’t imagine how that worked in reality.  Just how drunk were they that it never dawned on them that they were watching a pirate trial on a pirate ship where judge and jury were all their fellow pirates?

 

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Happy Halloween! Or, How Could They Not Get This?

For years I’ve thought about dressing as Shakespeare for Halloween.  I knew that the key would be letting my beard grow out so that I could shave it into Shakespeare’s iconic shape.  I wouldn’t want to do something attached or painted on.

This year I decided to go for it. I’ve never been especially interested in created a ruff (despite plenty of instructions online for how to do it), but I knew that Chandos had a very simple collar, not much more than you might see on a regular dress shirt.  I started analyzing the portrait.  Basic black shirt? Check.  Big white collar? I must have an old dress shirt that I can wear underneath.  Couple of white strings it looks like, danging down the center, some sort of lacing.  That’s easy as well, even if I just get a shoelace.

I can’t do much about the hair, but I let it grow as long as I could.  It starts to get wild on the sides, but I end up looking more “nutty professor” than immortal bard.  I had enough to work with that I could do the beard.

I expect people to not get my costumes. So I like to bake in hints. I got the idea to print myself up a name badge that included the Chandos portrait, so people would literally have the image in front of them to compare.  I found a template online and filled it out how you’d expect – William Shakespeare, Poet/Playwright, 4/23/1564.  Bonus, I could use the white string around my neck to hold it, like a lanyard.

I also decided I needed the earring.  Nobody thinks of Shakespeare with an earring, but I figure they’d notice it immediately on me, and then they’d double check the portrait to see, and it would be like an anchor to make the whole thing work.

Ready to see the final product?

I’m biased, so I can’t tell how close I actually came.  At the last minute my wife suggested I dye my hair brown (rather than grey!) which I think helped a lot, and allowed me to emphasize the moustache more.  I think I could have done better with the collar.

How’d it go at work?  I’m a little surprised more people didn’t get it.  Very glad I did the name badge because once people saw that, it was obvious.  I kept telling people, “This had to be the most telegraphed costume in history, I’ve literally been carrying a picture of it around for the entire two years you’ve known me.”

Extra credit to the one guy who, immediately upon seeing me, said, “Honestly, how often have you dressed like that?”  That dude gets it.

Somebody asked what my options would have been for pants (I opted for jeans, and kept the costume to just the top).  I repeated Bill Bryson’s story from his Shakespeare book:  “Shakespeare deniers will claim that there’s no evidence Shakespeare owned any books, therefore he must not have owned any books. To that I say, there’s also no evidence that he ever owned any pants.”

What did you dress up as?  Let’s see some pictures!

 

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Tae Kwon Ado About Nothing

A few years back I wrote about Decorating Your Life with Shakespeare.  I’ve never been the kind of outgoing personality that will walk up to somebody and make conversation (or even introduce myself).  But if I’m a walking billboard for Shakespeare, and people want to start the conversation by asking me something?  Then they’ll have a hard time shutting me up.

Saturday I’m at my son’s martial arts class waiting.  It’s one of the more informal classes, a glorified practice session. The head instructor isn’t even there, but his right hand man is.  And his right hand man has time to interact with the parents.  For my part, I bring my laptop and do stuff.  See earlier note about socializing. 🙂

“You got new stickers,” the instructor says to me.

“What?”

“Your laptop.  I noticed you’ve got a new Shakespeare sticker on your laptop.” My laptop has a Chandos picture and the “Some achieve greatness…” quote, a gift from my kids last year. That’s my personal laptop.


I laugh.  “Nope,” I say, reaching into my backpack to pull out a second laptop, that also has Shakespeare stickers on it.  That’s my business laptop, and it has silhouette characters of Shakespeare and Hamlet .

The other parents move to see, so I turn around and show them off, one in each hand, feeling especially geeky.

“Speaking of which,” my son says, “How did your Shakespeare costume do at work?”  Spoiler alert – I dressed as the Chandos Portrait for my work’s Halloween party. But you have to wait for tomorrow’s post to see pictures 🙂

This leads to the instructor asking if I have pictures, which I do, and of course now all the parents are interested.  Long story short, instructor ends up putting RSC’s “Hamlet Abridged” on the television (where they normally just run a slide show of advertisements).  I get into a conversation with one of the parents, who happens to be a high school English teacher.  She tells me about how she shows her kids the Leonardo diCaprio version of Romeo and Juliet as well as Zeffirelli, but she has a special love for Gnomeo and Juliet.  I introduce her to Sealed with a Kiss, a movie that most people outside of this blog will have never heard of.  I hope she manages to find a copy!

We only just have time to get into the, “So, how did you get into Shakespeare?” conversation, which has no short answer :), but maybe next time.

 

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You Only Get One Shot

For some reason on the ride in to work today I was thinking about Sir Derek Jacobi.  That’s not even a “the reason is not important,” that’s “No, seriously, I honestly can’t remember.”  I do remember thinking, if I had the chance to interview the man, what would I even say? I hate that fake, “I’m such a big fan I’ve seen all your movies you’ve changed my life” stuff. Other than a clip of his Hamlet I’m not sure how much else I could name.

But then walking to work, for a brief moment, I thought I saw Sir Patrick Stewart. Whether the former led to the latter, I have no idea.  It wasn’t him, but it could have been one of those, “I saw a celebrity at a distance and I had the chance to yell something at him…” moments.  All I could think to yell would have been, “Why did you have Claudius shrug opposite David Tennant’s Hamlet?”  It’s always bothered me.  And I have no idea how I’d yell italics, but I could give it a shot.

I thought that would make a fun game.  Pick one of the modern Shakespeare gods – Sir Ian, Sir Patrick, Dame Judi, etc… You get the random opportunity to shout a single question at them.  Which celebrity and what’s your question?

Don’t throw away your shot!

 

 

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From This Is Us to King Lear

Breaking!  This Is Us star Milo Ventimiglia has sold a “modern Latino King Lear” to FOX pictures.  It’s called Cordelia, and it…

…is a modern re-telling of the King Lear story set to the back drop of a strong Cuban family and the three sisters running the scene in Miami. Told through the eyes of the one daughter who truly loved her father, Cordelia delves into a world of secrets, lies and complex family bonds that are constantly tested but ultimately never broken.

I suppose it could be interesting?  Given the name it almost makes you wonder if somebody heard about the movie that’s coming out and said, “Somebody makes us one of those!”  Hey, that’s how we got Antz before A Bug’s Life, if you remember.  If the movie studios want to compete over Shakespeare adaptations as well as animated features, I’m totally ok with that.

Somebody should totally tap John Leguizamo to play Edmund.  Dude’s already got a Shakespeare resume that includes Romeo+Juliet and Cymbeline.

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And I Loved Her That She Did Not Pity Them

Bear with me for a moment.

I have a very vivid memory of studying Othello in high school, some thirty plus years ago, and getting to this pretty famous passage, where Othello explains how he won Desdemona’s heart:

My story being done,
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs:
She swore, in faith, twas strange, ’twas passing strange,
‘Twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful:
She wish’d she had not heard it, yet she wish’d
That heaven had made her such a man: she thank’d me,
And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story.
And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake:
She loved me for the dangers I had pass’d,
And I loved her that she did pity them.
This only is the witchcraft I have used:
Here comes the lady; let her witness it.

The problem is that I remember reading, “that she did not pity them.”  I couldn’t tell you how or why, it would have been one of those things where teachers photocopy an excerpt out of a book into a few pages and staple them together to pass out to the class.  Additionally it would have been my first exposure to Othello, and I was maybe fifteen years old? So I wasn’t exactly looking to document the citation at the time.

Later during that same class (not literally within that hour – days or weeks later while still taking that same class with that same teacher) I remember seeing the passage again, seeing it as “did pity them”, and immediately seeing the discrepancy. But when I went back to locate the documentation for “did not pity them”, I never found it.

I never really gave it much thought over the years.  But now I’ve got access to a certain amount of resources I didn’t have then. I’ve got professional Shakespeare researchers who can do things like check to see if Shakespeare ever wrote it down that way, or if any editors chose to make that alteration.

So far we haven’t come up with any.  And yet — Googling for the phrase “and I loved her that she did not pity them” turns up some results.  Where’d those come from?  I can’t decide if I find it amusing or upsetting that most of the hits come from quizlets and essay sites.

One of the hits is from a 2015 novel called Vienna by William S. Kirby.  I’ve even gone so far as to write to the man, to see if he remembers why he thinks that’s the line.  I’ll have to update this post if I ever get a response.

I’m mostly documenting this here in case there’s other people out there that have a vague memory of this, as I do. Bardfilm suggested that “an ill-prepared edition” could have made it into use by the schools at some point.  If that’s the case, which certainly seems reasonable if we assume that my memory is not faulty. Maybe some day we’ll know for sure!

 

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Why Some Scholars Hate Romeo and Juliet

or, What Play Can You Just Not Even?

Our pal Bardfilm is mad as hell, and he’s not gonna take it anymore!

He is so over Romeo and Juliet, that he’s decided no more productions for him. It has been plumbed to its depths, we have wrung all possible angles and meaning from it, it has been set in every possible time and space in the continuum. He’s seen enough, he can’t see any more.  In fact, he wants to eradicate it completely. Sort of.

Here’s his proposal. We keep the text, and we can read it whenever (if ever) we want. But if we elected some crazy dictator who’d been horribly bullied in high school for being a theatre geek and takes out his emotional issues by banning Romeo and Juliet from ever being produced again … Bardfilm’s totally ok with that.

Which of the works brings out similar resentment for you?  You’re in charge, you get to declare a complete moratorium on one Shakespeare play never to be performed again.

What’s it going to be? Shall it be Merchant of Venice, so people can stop arguing with you whether Shakespeare was anti-Semitic? Comedy of Errors, so directors can stop worrying where they’re supposed to find two sets of identical twins?  Maybe A Midsummer Night’s Dream so we can stop having kindergarten productions with five-year-old butterfly-looking fairies?

I’m totally going to take the easy road and pick Merry Wives of Windsor. I’ve literally never seen it, nor even read it (except during my brief “read them all” period in college).  But I also don’t know how much it “makes life better,” otherwise it probably would have hit my radar by now.  So, having never missed it, I figure I won’t miss it going forward.

 

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Not By Shakespeare : An Empty Barrel Makes The Most Noise


Last week there was a bit of nonsense in the news when some politician called another politician and “empty barrel” making the most noise.  I do know the names of all parties involved, but we’re not here for the politics so why get into it?  The comment probably would have gone unnoticed, like so many idioms might, if it were not for the fact that woman on the receiving end of the comment immediately said, “That’s racist.”

Many people, myself among them, would be quick to point out that it’s not racist, it’s Shakespeare.  Henry V, Act IV Scene 4:

I did never know so full a voice issue from so
empty a heart: but the saying is true ‘The empty
vessel makes the greatest sound.’

I even repeated on Twitter that Shakespeare is the source of this quote.  But, for the record, he’s not.  It even says so right there in context if I’d been paying attention — “the saying is true”. It was already a saying when Shakespeare wrote it down.

The saying seems to date all the way back to Plato, although I can’t find any specific references as of yet.  Anybody got one, so we can make it official?

What I’m finding interesting is that the more I look into it the more I’m not sure I know what it was originally supposed to mean.  These days it’s used to imply that the people without anything intelligent to say (the empty barrels) are precisely the ones that won’t shut up.  But I’m not sure that’s what Plato would have meant?  I could just as easily imagine it as more complimentary — “The person who is always open to learning new things is the one who will make the biggest impact in the world.”  That’s pretty much the opposite.

There’s supposedly a second half to the quote, “So they that have the least wit are the greatest blabbers,” which would clearly suggest the first meaning is the intended one.  But I learned a long time ago not to simply believe something is true because it shows up in a quotes database on the internet.

Thoughts?

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