Has Anybody Seen Hamlet’s Ghost?

By that I mean Hamlet’s Ghost, a new film by Walker Haynes.  I just saw it scroll past on my FIOS On Demand. I’d never heard of it!  It appears new – their Facebook page says that it just became available this past week, which would explain why I never heard of it – but the IMDB page dates it 2015, so I guess it took a spin on the festival circuit first.

A modern Shakespearean actor must travel back in time to confront enigmatic forces from the past and future.

You had me at Hamlet.  But I’m still trying to figure out how much Shakespeare is actually in this.  Here, check out the trailer (which is dated two years ago and looks like the director put it together on his Commodore 64, but maybe he didn’t have much budget left at the time…):

So there’s a swordfight on stage.  Is that it? Do we even see Hamlet’s ghost? I’m happy to check this out, but I can tell you right now that I’m in it for the Shakespeare so if there’s not much, I’m going to be disappointed.

Also, does anybody else get a strong “young George Clooney” vibe from the director / star, Walker Haynes? I don’t believe I’ve seen him in anything else, George Clooney is the name that keeps leaping to mind as I watch.

Be the players ready?

The credits list Gertrude, Horatio, Laertes and Polonius, so that gives me hope. Where was everybody else? I clicked “See full cast” and discovered Claudius, Osric and Fortinbras.  Can’t find Ophelia anywhere, though.

Hey here’s a fun bit of trivia!  Hamlet’s ghost (or, at least, “The Ghost”) does show up!  The actor is someone whose credits include apparently long-running full time work as a transcriber for Shark Tank, and production assistant for The Real Housewives of Orange County. Guess the actual amount of acting experience needed for the ghost wasn’t too high.

Seriously, though, has anybody seen this yet? Is it worth seeking out?

Hamlet's Ghost

Shakespeare via Portal

Ok, this is pretty cool.  You want to perform Shakespeare.  So does your buddy, only he’s 1600 miles away.  Not a problem! Coventry University and University of Tampere in Finland have created a giant window where the actors can see each other.

In a world of Facetime and Google Hangouts I suppose the underlying technology is not that exciting, but the application is very cool.  CoulProspero, Miranda and Ariel from The Tempest by William Shakespeared I do the same thing with my iPad?  No, not really. We’re talking about full body images, right there on the stage.  Imagine if Sirius Black fell through the curtain in whatever Harry Potter book that was, only now he’s standing there looking out at you from the other side, and you can have a conversation. Neat!  I suppose I could have come up with a more apt Shakespeare reference, but J.K.Rowling’s the one that gave us that easy example :).

What are the practical limits?

The article made it sound like one side was doing the performing and the other was doing some critiquing, but the video shows them interacting in the dialogue.  But that of course begs the question of physical interaction.  Does the whole thing go out the window when you’re supposed to run the virtual player through with an unbated and envenomed blade?

Maybe we could use it for ghosts, or other ayrie spirits? How about Caesar’s ghost, or Hamlet’s father?  I guess I’d have to see it. What’s coming to mind is that if it’s just a flat plane, can you only see the actor straight on?  How do you meaningfully project that to the audience?  I suppose we could get to the point where we put it on a little remote control scooter and drive it around the stage (there are iPad robots that do exactly that), but would that be ridiculously corny?  Maybe if we just embed it into the back wall and then treat it like part of the scenery?  I’ve never directed a Shakespeare production, I’m just brainstorming randomly.

How would you use this?

What do you think?  If you had this technology, Shakespeare directors, how might you use it?  (Obviously it’s a new thing and we don’t know the limits of it – so assume there aren’t any!)

A Light Heart Lives Long

Saw “A light heart lives long” today and immediately thought, “Nah, that doesn’t sound like Shakespeare.”  Did some quick googling and it looks like something more in the “old Irish proverb” category (“Maireann croí éadrom i bhfad.“)

But guess what?  If we allow for the words to evolve a little bit over the centuries, however, look what I find in Henry IV Part 2, Act V, Scene 3:

A light heart lives long, a merry heart lives long
Light, merry, same difference.

So it looks like we can give Shakespeare credit for this one after all! It’s a drinking song.

Now, whether or not he’s the first one to say it, that’s a whole different story. But we’ll let all those Instagram and Pinterest posters get off easy this time.


ShakespeareGeek.com is Dead. Long Live ShakespeareGeek.com!

Hello, world!  If you’re seeing this, that means I’ve gone ahead and pulled a trigger that I’ve had my finger on for several years now.  When I started ShakespeareGeek.com back in 2005, I used the free service known as “Blogger”.  If anybody’s been around with me that long you might even remember that the original name was “Such Shakespeare Stuff” and we lived at http://suchshakespearestuff.blogspot.com.

Fast forward 10 years and almost 3000 posts and it had gotten a little cramped.  The rules for what makes up a good web experience changed on us, and I found it frequently hard to keep up. Which, in turn, made it more effort for me to put out the content I wanted to at the level I wanted. Which ultimately resulted in less content, which made me sad, and the downward spiral would continue.

But on the flip side we had lots of people linking to us, and for some queries ShakespeareGeek.com is on the first page of Google results, and that is not something you just walk away from!  So I’ve agonized over the decision for a long long time about when to switch from Blogger to WordPress.  I didn’t know what would break, or how much effort would be required to fix it.

That’s like saying I can’t ever move to a new house because some dishes might break, or I’ll forget which box holds my spare phone charger. Sometimes you just had to make it happen.

Once More, Dear Friends, Once More

And here we are!  Thank you all for taking the ride with me for so long.  It seems like only yesterday I started the site because I had no one to talk to about Shakespeare, and wanted to light a little candle and see how far it might throw its beams.  And just look at us now.  There’s over ten thousand people watching on Twitter and Facebook for this site alone, and many of them are running their own little corners of the Shakespeareverse.  Talk amongst yourselves, make some friends. I bet you have a lot in common :)!  Who knows where we’ll all be ten plus years from now?

So once again welcome to the new ShakespeareGeek.com.  My apologies if some stuff broke while I get my house in order and start unpacking the boxes.  I hope you all like the new place!

ShakespeareGeek.com original banner
June, 2005 – February, 2017

The Island of Misfit Shakespeare

How was everybody’s Christmas?  Man it’s feeling pretty neglected here lately.  Ye Olde Blogge is starting to look old.  I think it’s going to be time for a change in the new year.

But!  Tradition does have it that I share my Shakespeare christmas with everybody and I’m not about to let that stop.

Let’s start out with the twins.  I’ve actually had Shakespeare stickers on my work laptop since last year (I posted about a year ago during my “decorating your life” phase). But I’ve got another identical machine for personal use, that has to date been naked.  No longer!


Ah, that’s better. Now they match.   If you can’t quite read it, the new one is the one on the left and has the “Some are born great…” quote from Twelfth Night.  It actually came as a big white sheet sticker as if they wanted me to cover the whole front with it, but I didn’t like that so I carefully cut the good bits out and just used those. You can’t quite see it in the picture but my son pointed out that the Apple logo behind it glows right through, and looks very cool.

Last year I got some Shakespeare pajamas that I wear every night, so as Christmas approached I told my wife directly, “This, I like this.  More like this.  You know, in case you need ideas.”

This year I got two, and I love them both for how wacky they are. First is a colored shirt with a Merchant of Venice image and quote:

So far so good!  The quote is on the back:

I laughed out loud at the obvious mistake. Everybody sees it, right?  For a second I wanted to double check the text to make sure I wasn’t missing something obvious (good tip for arguing politics on the internet – always be willing to entertain the possibility that you might be mistaken), but I was not.  “villains’s”.  It’s as if the creator got halfway through the shirt and said, “Wait, is it s-apostrophe or apostrophe-s?  I can’t be arsed to go look, just do both!”

My daughter said, “We should return it.”

I said, “Are you kidding?  It’s stuff like this that makes these conversation pieces! I love it.”

The second one is even better, and it’s all visual:

Man, Shakespeare does not look like he’s having a good day.  I pondered aloud, “Why is he cross-eyed?” and our neighbor offered, “Because he’s trying to look at the things he’s juggling?”  Good idea.

“Is he wearing Chuck Taylors?” another asked.  I didn’t even realize.  He is indeed.

What I noticed is what he’s juggling. There’s the comedy / tragedy masks, that makes sense. And a sword, fine, lots of Shakespeare scenes have swords.  The skull, that’s gotta by Yorick.

But … a lizard?  For the life of me I still cannot figure out why he is juggling a lizard.  He looks like Quincy, Jason’s pet lizard in the comic Foxtrot.

I know it’s a week+ late, but how was everybody else’s Christmas?  I also got a gift certificate to Newbury Comics and am looking to grab the Deadpool/Shakespeare crossover whenever I can find it.  Anybody get anything cool?

The Satirical Rogue Says That Old Men Have Grey Beards #NoShaveNovember

Well I didn’t write a novel, but I can say I reached the end of No Shave November!  Sometimes it’s nice to just set yourself a personal motivational reminder that I can actually set my mind to do something for 30 days (or in this case, not do something) and actually follow all the way through with it.  Maybe for next month I’ll try taking the stairs every day? 🙂

Thinking about shaving it down into something Shakespeare style, but I’ve never managed to make that work in the past and I end up getting rid of it.  Droeshout style has almost no beard, while Chandos when you look close goes all the way up the jaw line, which isn’t a great modern look either.  I guess we’ll have to see!

Seriously, though, go check out No Shave November and maybe share some links or donate some money. If you already did, thanks!

Your Loss, Beatrice.

“Lord, I could not endure a husband with a
beard on his face: I had rather lie in the woollen. ” – Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing

Every year around this time I like to take part in “No Shave November,” otherwise known as “Woohoo I don’t have to shave for two weeks!” followed by “Oh my god is it December yet this itching is going to drive me crazy!”

Seriously, though, sometimes it’s nice to have a cause and try to do something meaningful:

The goal of No-Shave November is to grow awareness by embracing our hair, which many cancer patients lose, and letting it grow wild and free. Donate the money you typically spend on shaving and grooming to educate about cancer prevention, save lives, and aid those fighting the battle.

If I count Facebook and Twitter I’ve potentially got over ten thousand people that might see this post.  Maybe some of you might find it a cause worth supporting.  I don’t really register and create my own page and that sort of thing, because it’s not really about me. If you’re in a position to donate and would like to do so, that’s awesome. If you’re not, then maybe you can share this post so more people see it. There’s lots of ways to help.

Thanks for your support!  I’ll update again later in the month!

Horatio’s Big Moment

I may have mentioned that I did not, at all, like Horatio in Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet. It wasn’t just the over the top hipster characterization. He just didn’t … do, anything.  He’s a nonentity in almost all of the play.  When we see him in the unusual scene one he’s little more than a messenger with something very important to say, who is dismissed by Hamlet before he gets to say it.  Later it almost seems like he’s heading out of town, having given up Hamlet for dead.

Except for one scene.  Hamlet’s back, he’s relayed the ridiculous story of how he escaped the pirates, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are No More.  This takes Horatio a second to piece together, or maybe it just takes him a second to work up the guts to say it, but:

So Guildenstern and Rosencrantz go to’t.

Why, man, they did make love to this employment;
They are not near my conscience; their defeat
Does by their own insinuation grow:
‘Tis dangerous when the baser nature comes
Between the pass and fell incensed points
Of mighty opposites.

Why, what a king is this!

He yells that last line at Hamlet.  I think it’s the only time he raises his voice.  Took me by surprise, actually. But I liked the interpretation.  Hamlet is in the middle of justifying how he’s left two “friends” to their death and that he doesn’t think twice about it, and Horatio has to say, “LISTEN TO YOURSELF! Were you supposed to be king? Is this the kind of king you would have been?”

Bardfilm tells me that this line can be interpreted as meaning Claudius — agreement with Hamlet, getting back to the original “It was them or me, Claudius is the one that sent me to my potential death” argument.  If that’s the case, then at least in this production Horatio would still be just a sniveling toady.  Hamlet’s told him that he killed two guys and doesn’t care, and Horatio’s all, “Yeah, screw them!  Claudius is the real bad guy here, not you! Let’s go get a scone and an espresso, I want you to read my Nanowrimo entry…”

(P.S. I feel obliged to point out here, for those that do not have the text handy, that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do NOT typically know that they are taking Hamlet to his murder.  I wonder if Hamlet knew that, if it would have given him pause?)

A New (?) Theory About Hamlet’s Ghost

One of the reasons I love Shakespeare is that every time I see a play, I see something that I’ve never considered before.  Beneficial Cinnabun’s version is no different.

Consider the ghost’s appearance in the bedchamber scene.  A standard question on high school exams is, “Is the ghost even real at this point, or is Hamlet insane?  How come we could see the ghost in the first two occurrences, but not this one?”

Coming away from Benvolio Concubine’s version I’m left with a new idea.  What if the ghost is there because Hamlet is screwing up the plan, and he’s here to save him?

It depends heavily on how you play it, but this version of Hamlet (I’m getting tired of thinking up variations for the man’s name) is pretty heavy handed with all of the “Look, seriously, I’m not crazy I’m only pretending” clues.  It goes so far as having Hamlet himself dress up to take part in the play-within-a-play and pour the poison in his player father’s ear, which is about as big an F-U to Claudius as you could imagine.  If that doesn’t say “I know what you did” I don’t know what would.

And now here he is lecturing his mother on “almost as bad dear queen as kill a king and marry with his brother” and everything that comes after.  I imagine the ghost hovering underneath the stones (a joke the “old mole” played for laughs earlier) thinking, “What is this kid doing???”

So he makes an appearance, where he basically yells at his son that he’s doing everything wrong.  He’s invisible to Gertrude, so it’s going to look like Hamlet is suddenly talking to no one.  He comes as an angry ghost, so from Gertrude’s perspective her son goes from yelling at her to apologizing to the wall.  Presto, now she’s back in the “My son is crazy” camp.

One of the big questions is whether Gertrude knows what Claudius did, and/or was in on it.  But either way, she’s still a mother dealing with her son, and as far as I know is very rarely shown to be more on Claudius’ side than Hamlet’s.  So, she’s already sympathetic to his cause.  Maybe she doesn’t know what Claudius did.  Maybe Hamlet is actually convincing her that maybe there’s something to it.   Maybe, if the ghost doesn’t appear, maybe she goes to Claudius and says, “Hamlet was in here muttering all kinds of weirdness about me murdering his father.”  But that doesn’t happen.  The ghosts appearance makes her firmly believe that her son is nuts and needs to be protected from a very irate Claudius.  She says nothing, other than the obvious murder thing.

I suppose most of the scene continues after the ghost disappears, so Hamlet’s got plenty of time to talk sense to his mother.  Or, you could shuffle things around a bit so that all the logic comes first, then the ghost, and then she’s left completely confused as to whether he’s nuts or not.  Lots of potential room for interpretation I hadn’t really considered before.

Review : Benebatch Cumberdink’s Hamlet

Sorry, I should probably spell the man’s name correctly if for nothing else than the SEO I might get, but it just amuses me to no end to spell it differently every time.

Last night, after months of waiting, I got to see the encore performance of B.C.’s Hamlet, presented by NTLive.

While I have some major issues with many of the directorial choices and was often making my Picard “WTF have they done to my Shakespeare?” face, I think that old Ben himself might individually be the best Hamlet I’ve ever seen.

Should we cover the good first, or the bad?  I’ll start with the opening, and you tell me.  We open with Hamlet, sitting in what I presume to be his room (although it felt like it could have been an attic), listening to old records and looking through photo albums, presumably of his father.  I *loved* this.  When I try to relate the play to people I always start by saying, “Hamlet is about a man whose father died.” Here we actually get a glimpse of him in mourning, not just in his inky black cloak, but actually going through the motions that you could expect anyone to go through that lost someone dear.  Before the scene is over he will go into a trunk of his father’s clothes and don one of his father’s blazers – but not before smelling it, once again to remind him of his father.  It’s about 30 seconds into this 3+ hour play and you already know exactly what’s going on in Hamlet’s head.  Ever wonder what his relationship was like with his father? No questions here.

I figured ok, awesome start, lights out and we start the show, right?

Nope.  Knock knock knock.  “Who’s there?” says Hamlet.  Says HAMLET.  SAYS HAMLET.  “Answer me, stand and unfold yourself!”  And I’m in bizarro world because Horatio enters and we’re catapulted briefly to … scene 5, was it?  Horatio’s original meeting with Hamlet?  But but but but but but…. where’s the ghost?  So confused.

It’s a bold move to do stuff like that because you have to follow up with it and have it make sense and flow smoothly.  I don’t think that did.  First of all, there’s no reason to introduce Horatio there at all.  He doesn’t do anything.  Second, we’ll later be treated to Marcellus and Bernardo entering with, “My lord I saw him yesternight.”  It’s like they just cut the context and shuffled it around and didn’t even attempt to smooth it over.  Boo.

Couple words on casting?  I hate hate hated Horatio.  If I could think of a way to blend the two words together I would. Horhatio maybe.  Imagine five minutes before showtime, somebody runs up to the director and says, “Bad news, our Horatio’s been hit by a bus!”  “No problem,” says the director, “Run down to the local Starbucks and grab the barista, he told me this morning that he played Horatio once in college.”  Boom, done.  Checkered flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a backpack that he never takes off, which gives him this hunched over sort of snivelly, groveling sort of character like he’s afraid to look Hamlet in the eye. All of his lines are delivered with a constant shaking of his head.  He’s also got some sort of speech impediment or something going on, which becomes more pronounced at the end of the play, where he sounds like he’s got something in his teeth.  It became grating after awhile.

I also hate the ghost.  They deliberately cut all the dialog about describing the ghost’s warlike appearance – I was waiting for the line about “wore his beaver up” because I like to see how Hamlet plays the “Then saw you not his face?” line.  But that’s all gone.  When we eventually see the ghost he’s dressed in normal kingly attire, not any sort of armor.  Fine.  But then he starts talking and oh dear god out comes this heavy accent….Irish, I think?  It was so horribly distracting I didn’t know what to do with myself.  No attempt to make it booming or ghostly or anything.  Or regal for that matter.  He sounded like a cross between somebody’s crotchety old grandfather, and the school janitor yelling at kids for running in the hall. I found it just laughably out of place.  Bardfilm liked it and suggests that he was channeling Olivier.  I don’t remember Olivier’s ghost well enough, so if he was, I missed it entirely.  He sounded entirely like he was chastising his son. Didn’t get much of a loveable father/son relationship, as I think about it.  Remember this is a Hamlet who was smelling his father’s scent on his old clothes a minute ago.  Now he’s getting yelled at.

Those are my two biggest casting complaints.  Claudius I liked – and I could swear I recognize him from other works?  Have to check that out.  Kind of doing that big, puffed out chest thing, like he’s “on” all the time and deliberately trying to present himself like a king.  Even in his delivery, which is why I mentioned above how different the ghost’s was, because the ghost was supposed to be a king as well.  Having said that, he’s pretty one-note the more I think about it.  I did like the paranoia that was coming off of him, though.  Especially after Polonius is killed, all his thoughts turn to “How do I make sure this isn’t pinned on me?”  I don’t recall that from, say, Patrick Stewart’s Claudius.  He was all business and had everything in control up to the end.  This guy seems like he’s always walking a tightrope with it all just falling apart.

I agree with Bardfilm that the first half of this production was significantly better than the second. Perhaps that’s because we saw all the tricks once and then they didn’t work multiple times. They do this cool “everything goes in slow motion” thing during Hamlet’s soliloquies, and the first time you see it it’s very neat.  But it’s not as shocking the next couple of times.  One scene I loved was the “chase” to capture Hamlet after he’s killed Polonius.  I don’t know that it’s always done this way, but this was a full-on “mobilize everyone in the castle, find Hamlet” manhunt, and it was awesome.  The lighting changed, the sound changed, everything.  You really got the feeling that, whether they loved Claudius or not, the whole castle jumped when he said jump.  More importantly, you realize that Hamlet was truly alone and that literally everyone in the castle was against him.  This was brought home (though perhaps accidentally) when he’s captured and I noticed that Marcellus and Bernardo are the ones holding guns on him.  Bardfilm wondered if that might not just be a case of doubling “generic soldiers” but I like my interpretation better, like they are soldiers forced to do their job because the king said so, whether they’ve got personal feelings about it or not.

So, let’s talk about Hamlet as a character. I absolutely loved it.  I believe that the key to understanding the entire play is to get inside Hamlet’s head.  His father’s died, his mother’s remarried, he’s had the crown stolen from him, his girlfriend won’t talk to him and won’t tell him why.  I think that there’s this gap that modern audiences often fail to leap between “I understand the words and know what they’re supposed to mean so I get what Shakespeare wants me to get”, and, “I feel something for that dude, I know what he’s going through.”   You *bought* everything Cumberland Bendybits was putting out there. You really felt like he was going through the anguish.  All of my favorite “minor” scenes hit just the notes I’ve always wanted to see hit:

* “Mother, you have my father much offended!”  It’s not “I’m exchanging word games with you because I’m a smartass,” it’s the tiniest of escape valves to let off the fury he has for her and his complete inability to understand how she could have done what she did.  This is where it’s all going to come out, and that’s just the start.  He’s not superior at this moment, he’s not going to put her in her place, he’s a son desperate to understand how his mother could have done what she’s done.

* The flute scene.  It’s a simple enough scene where he makes R (or is it G?) look like an idiot.  But you feel how truly alone he is in that moment.  These are supposed to be his friends. Sometimes I see R&G interpreted as schoolmates who weren’t really that close because Gertrude doesn’t really have a feeling for who her son’s friends are.  But here they really do look like old friends.  So when he asks “Then what makes you think you can play me so easily?” it’s not “Aha, caught you in a trap!” It’s a real question.  You were supposed to be my friend, but you too are in the employ of the guy that killed my father.

There are some overacted bits to be sure.  His emoting often comes out as screaming, particularly during Ophelia’s funeral.  I still bought it, I just wasn’t as sympathetic to it.  Sure, he’s mourning Ophelia’s death – but he’s also the guy that crashed a funeral unexpectedly and is now trying to story top everybody that he’s got more right to mourn than everybody else.

The ending is so rushed, it made me so sad.  I could have used another 15 minutes, easily.  It goes so fast you can barely tell when somebody’s been wounded.  Horatio’s the one to say “The drink is poisoned!” which was a little weird, I broke out my WTF face again, how does he know?  At least Gertrude (who is supposed to deliver the line) is in a better position to realize it.  But here, she dies as soon as she drinks it.  It’s all chaos.

Overall I loved it and I want  a DVD so I can watch again with my kids. I want to pick apart all the individual delivery of every line.  Many times they tweaked words here and there, which I suspect will make people insane, but for the most part, I was ok with it.  What frustrates me most about that is not always being able to tell when they’ve changed a line, and when I’ve merely forgotten the original line.  I think this was a very approachable production. People laughed in the audience. Often, and not in high brow academic chuckle when you’re the only few people who got the joke.  Everybody got the joke. Most of the time it came from Bibbityboo’s delivery of key lines.

Go see it if you can.  No question.  It’s one to discuss.  Will it become the standard for classroom learning?  Unlikely.  Too much stuff changed.  But will it be a popular choice among larger audiences?  I definitely think so.