Tom Hanks Is Falstaff. Discuss.

Have you heard the news?

No, not that Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson have been associated with The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles’ Simply Shakespeare event since 1990.

This year, Hanks and Wilson will actually be taking part in the production, something they’ve never done before.

Even better?  Tom Hanks is playing Falstaff.

How do we feel about this? Is that a good role for him?  Has Hanks ever played anything other than a purely lovable good guy Jimmy Stewart type?  Can he do Falstaff? I know the man’s got acting credits up one side and down the other, but I’m not sure that he’s ever performed Shakespeare. Is Falstaff the first role you want to attempt? Is it too much of a role to ask of anybody?



What If Claudius Was Innocent?

Here’s a thought that came to me over the weekend.  What if the “ghost of Hamlet’s father” really was an evil spirit that was just trying to cause trouble? What if Claudius didn’t really kill Hamlet’s father?  How would the play change?

Other than Claudius’ actual words (“a brother’s murder”), how much evidence is there that he admits to his crime?  If we snipped that bit out could he just as easily be dealing with guilt over the “crime” of marrying his brother’s wife?

More importantly, what does this do to the character of Hamlet?  We go through the entire play assuming that Hamlet is doing the right thing, and Claudius is the bad guy. What if it was reversed? What if we really didn’t know? Or, even better, what if we knew (somehow) that Claudius was innocent, and that Hamlet spends the play chasing the wrong guy?



Sir Patrick Brings The Shakespeare

Sir Patrick Stewart as Oberon

So you’re putting together the Motion Picture Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards ceremony, and you need a big name to host.  Why not geek cultural icon, Professor Xavier and Jean Luc Picard himself, Sir Patrick Stewart?  A match made in heaven.  Sir Patrick, who seems to always be in the mood for such sport, is game for the event.

And what does he do? He brings the Shakespeare.

I love it.  It’s a small thing (he ad-libs Puck’s “If we shadows have offended…”) that many people probably saw as a throwaway line. But we know better.  We know that over four hundred years ago, before CGI and special effects were a thing, Shakespeare was in the business of putting dreams on stage.


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The Ultimate Shakespeare Hoodie

So, I’ve got the chance on Amazon Merch to make hoodies. But before I just jump in and blindly start copying designs from t-shirts and then waiting 90 days of no sales before they get de-listed, I thought I’d do some market research. Let’s design the ultimate Shakespeare hoodie and I’ll see if I can’t make it!

First of all, do you wear hoodies?  (I’m going to get tired of saying hoodie in this post, I’m pretty sure.)  I’d definitely like to add one to my collection. Unlike t-shirts, where they’re cheap enough that I don’t mind buying half a dozen, I can’t wear t-shirts all year round. Plus I can’t really wear them to work. But a hooded sweatshirt is always something you can layer on top of regular clothes, weather and environment depending.

Do you like stuff on the front, or the back, or both?  Something smaller in the front, in the typical “pocket” spot?

What kind of image do you want?  A picture of Shakespeare?  Which one? Stylized or classic? Some other image, something iconic like a skull, a sword, a quill?

Or would you prefer words?  An actual Shakespeare quote, or something more “catch phrasey”?

I’d love to get a discussion going in the comments. What kind of Shakespeare hoodie do you wish existed?





Lear’s Shadow


A rehearsal room, dark. Enter JACK through the curtains, directly from outside as we see cars driving past.  He rolls a single, lit incandescent lamp to center, and opens the curtains. We see folding tables on which sit copies of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.  JACK picks one up and starts swearing.

Enter a younger man, STEPHEN, on the phone and holding a neck brace. He’s clearly been looking for JACK and is relieved to find him.

Thus opens Lear’s Shadow, written and directed by Brian Elerding, which I had the pleasure of watching yesterday at Mr. Elerding’s invitation.

We quickly learn that something bad has happened, though what we do not yet know. Jack is bruised, Stephen is trying to get him back into the neck brace, so those are some obvious clues. More telling, however, is that Jack – our director – seems to have no real idea where or when he is. He doesn’t know what play they’re rehearsing (hence his anger at seeing Romeo and Juliet scripts) or why no one else has shown up for rehearsal.

Stephen’s job is to keep Jack talking until Rachel (who Stephen was speaking with on the phone) can bring the car around. They reminisce about other plays they’ve done together, before landing on King Lear.  Jack keeps re-realizing that the scripts are wrong, and doesn’t know the date. Stephen takes it upon himself to walk through the play with Jack.

For the next hour the two debate the finer details of Lear – what scenes and lines can be cut, how to deliver certain lines, where to “start” so you have “somewhere to go”.  If you love being a fly on the wall during conversations like this (as I do) you’re going to greatly enjoy this. I do not fancy myself an actor, never have, so I like to watch them work at their craft without trying to put myself in their place.

Of course none of this is random, we’ve got a man who has lost his memory and has clearly had some tragedy befall him doing what amounts to a one man show about a man who has lost his memory upon which many tragedies fall. It’s a reminder that while King Lear may have been written five hundred years ago it could also have happened yesterday.

Though I’m watching this as a movie it reminds me of going to theatre back when I was a younger man. It’s a bare stage two man show, just dialogue, no real plot to speak of other than toward the ultimate answer to the “What happened?” question (which we may or may not receive).

If you believe that Shakespeare makes life better, even when it brings tears rather than laughter, then of course you’re going to like this. It’s very reminiscent of when Slings & Arrows did Lear, a connection the director and I already spoke of.  “There’s no way I wasn’t influenced by Slings & Arrows,” he wrote.  That’s intended as high praise.  I’m not saying “This is trying to be Slings & Arrows,” I’m saying, “I’d watch an entire season of this like I’d watch a season of Slings & Arrows.”




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Step Aside, Holinshed?

Maybe I should sit behind my computer 12 hours a day?

The New York Times this week has an interesting (?) story about a possible new source that Shakespeare may have consulted while writing. Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter, who of course have a book coming out, used plagiarism detection software to spot similarities between Shakespeare’s work and “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels” by George North.

I guess my first reaction is….ok, yes? And? Perhaps that’s a bit on the defensive. You see the words “plagiarism” and “new source” and you immediately think that it’s going to be yet another authorship issue.  That’s not the case here. They’re simply saying that they’ve uncovered (so they believe) another publication that Shakespeare would have used as reference material.

If it turns out to be true, examples can be found in Richard III, Henry VI 2 and King Lear, among others.  Neat.

I think the authors’ case was severely undercut by the Times, however, with the inclusion of this paragraph:

Mr. McCarthy, 53, works behind three computer monitors on the dining room table of his home. Supported financially by his wife, a biotechnology executive, he spends 12 hours a day or more at his computer.

That makes him sound like a conspiracy theorist, doesn’t it? Pounding away at mysterious algorithms, looking for patterns, until they eventually uncover a world-shattering secret that will, of course, make him fabulously wealthy?

Assuming this is an accurate discovery, is it a big deal?  Shakespeare already had his sources – Holinshed, Ovid, etc… – so what would change if we added a source to that list?


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You Learned From Who That Ears Are What Now?

Reading The Idiot by Elif Batuman, and this odd sentence went flying past:

I knew from Shakespeare class that ears were sexual.

Ears, you say?

I’m sorry, what?  I love that I’ve been doing this for almost thirteen years now and I can still find new things to talk about.  I’ve definitely never heard the argument made that Shakespeare sexualized ears, nor can I immediately think of any examples where this might be the case.  (Checks Sonnet 130 just in case … eyes, lips, hair, cheeks….nope.)

All that comes to mind is, “Lend me your ears!” which makes me imagine an audience shouting back, “We’re using them right now, give us five minutes!”

But seriously folks.  Have I overlooked something obvious? What could the author possibly be talking about?




The Adventures Of Will And The Boys

Recently I spotted The Enchantress of Numbers, a novel about Ada Lovelace. If you’re unfamiliar with that name, she’s often credited as being the first computer programmer because of her relationship with Charles Babbage, inventor of the Difference Engine (often heralded as the first modern programmable computing device).  As a lifelong computer geek and now the father of two daughters, I’m always interested in the stories of women in science and engineering, so this was a no-brainer.

I would say that I don’t usually like historical fiction, because it’s exactly that, fiction. Where’s the pleasure in reading about stuff that didn’t happen to people that really did exist?  I started to say to someone, “It’s not like I’m seeking out Shakespeare historical fiction either…” but then I realized that I quite liked that Will television series that was on this past summer:

When Shakespeare, Kemp, Burbage and the other “moderately historically accurate” characters are on screen, I am enraptured. I could watch it all day.  I’ve been telling people it reminds me of the recent “Jobs” movie starring Michael Fassbender, which was basically two plus hours of a universe centered on Steve Jobs.  To the degree that this show will be a universe centered on Shakespeare and his circle, you won’t be able to tear me away from the television.

I’ve never actually read anything like that.  The only Shakespeare fiction I know is usually young adult stuff to introduce my kids to Shakespeare.  People travel through time to meet Shakespeare, or people discover a long lost Shakespeare manuscript. At least once I think I read something from Anne Hathaway’s point of view.  But never “Will and the boys.”

So I’m asking. Does anybody know of historic fiction that’s set around Shakespeare, Marlowe, Ben Jonson and their fellows? Ideally something that’s not completely young adult, but I’ll take what I can get. Something that attempts some degree of historical timeline accuracy, but I’m totally ok with filling in the missing pieces.

I may turn out to hate it, who knows. But it dawned on me that I might also love it.  Anybody got something that fits the category?



Which Play Do You Wish You Had Studied?

Richard III? Never read it.
Who’s this guy?

I’m in the middle of a book right now, The Idiot by Elif Batuman, and while I can agree that it’s a very well-written book that deserves that praise it’s getting … I’m not enjoying it.  It feels like homework.  If I was back in college and this was required reading? Fine.  I can read some chapters and then come to class ready to discuss the relationship between Selin and Ivan.  But I’ve been out of college twenty plus years, I read things because I want to, not because I get a letter grade.

I was thinking about what to say to my book club at work and my first thought was, “I’m not about to go reading War and Peace for fun, either.” Then I thought about that for a second and realized, “But for me, King Lear is pleasure reading.”

We often talk about the difficulties of reading Shakespeare and trot out the old “see the play!” cliche.  But what about actually sitting down to study a play? How many of us get the chance to do that once we’ve left school?  I suppose if you’re active in a theatre group you can do that, but I’m certainly not. Most of my friends (barring my online following) barely get my references, let alone have interest in discussing the symbolism in The Tempest. I feel that once you’ve missed your window to study certain pieces of literature, you’re unlikely to get another shot at it.  (In my adult life I also went back to read Catcher in the Rye and, more recently, The Great Gatsby.  Both had that same feeling of, “Ok, I can see why this is good, but … I don’t love it.”)

Most of us probably have easy access to all the plays (the text, at least) and can read them at will.  But which did you *study*? Where a group of students sat with a teacher and went through the deeper intricacies of the play?  More interestingly, which *didn’t* you get a chance to study, that you wish you did?

For me, it’s Richard III.  Never seen it live, and can only say that I’ve read it in the sense that twenty-five years ago I read all the plays.  Never “studied” it, and certainly never had anybody walk me through the finer points.  I feel a gap in my understanding of Shakespeare’s works as a whole, because of that.

Who else? Tell us in the comments which play you want to go back and study like somebody was going to quiz you on it.




Every Night Is Now Trivia Night

HQ Trivia. Everybody’s doing it.

I think that, as a general rule, if you know more about Shakespeare than the average person, chances are that’s also true of a broad number of categories.  You’re likely to be good at general knowledge stuff.  Which also, if you’re like me, means that people want you for their trivia team.  I always hope that Shakespeare questions are going to come up, just to watch the other team throw their hands up in the air in exasperation like ‘Seriously?? He gets a Shakespeare question?!’

If I’m right so far, then is everybody out there playing HQ Trivia yet?  It’s the latest mobile app craze (literally, they don’t even have a site for me to link to) that’s gaining in popularity faster than Pokemon Go.  The catch is it’s free to play, and you win real money.  Got your attention yet?

The app/game’s about as simple as it gets.   They play roughly twice a day, at fairly predictable times – 3pm and 9pm in my experience.  This is a live streamed game.  A video host comes out and talks to you. If you’re not logged on within a couple minutes of the start time, you get to watch but not participate.  As one newspaper article commented, “It’s like the next evolution of what used to be called appointment television.”  Now instead of being on your couch at 9pm on Tuesday to watch Seinfeld, you’ve got to be on your phone, surrounded by your smart friends.

12 questions, 3 multiple choice answers for each.  Get just 1 wrong, you’re out (but then you’ll want to watch the rest of the game to convince yourself that you did in fact know all the other answers). But!  There’s a way you can get extra lives to keep playing. More on that in a moment.

Get them all right, you split the prize with other winners.  That’s the other catch.  The prize, typically $2000, sounds great!  But on average over 200 people are going to complete the game and you’re going to get a share somewhere south of $10.  When you have over $20 in winnings, you can get a real payout of real money.  They’ve also had several special event games where the prize is much higher. I think the New Year’s Eve game was something like $18,000 in prize money.

It’s frustrating as heck, and you’ll spend the entire time saying ‘Why am I doing this?’ but you’ll get hooked just like everybody else.  The process is unnecessarily long — did I say the game starts at 3pm? I meant, “You have to fire up the app at 3pm, and then the game starts … and some point in the future, once their algorithm has determined that the number of people joining has leveled off.”  So you might wait 5 minutes, or 15.  But then, the game st….well, no, not yet.  Because here comes the video host to talk to you!  It’s a game show. They’re cheesy, it’s what they do.  And just like for all game shows he’s going to explain the game as if you never played.  But at least it does add some variety to the game, as it is live (so they’ll do things like comment on the chat window) and sometimes surprising – last night, Jimmy Kimmel hosted.

Eventually though you do get to the game, and being as simple as it is, it’s hard to mess up.  Question with three answers comes up, click an answer within 10 seconds, get told if you’re right or if you’re eliminated.  No special preferences, really only one screen.  Basic basic.  But oh so addicting.

I haven’t actually had any Shakespeare questions yet, though I did have a Harold Pinter one.

Ok, so!  About those extra lives.  That’s how they get ya, as the saying goes.  It’s a referral program.  If you sign up because I convinced you, then you can put in my name (which is, of course, ShakespeareGeek) and I’ll get an extra life – which means, basically, another strike.  There’s no collecting them or anything, no choice.  If I get a question wrong, but I had an extra life, then I keep playing – and my extra life count goes down.  So what I’m hoping is that I’ve intrigued a bunch of you out there to try your trivia brains for a shot at some real money, and you’ll hook a brother up by remembering to add ShakespeareGeek as your referral code.  Of course, once you’re up and running, you can share with your own friends and have them use your name.  Pay it forward, yo.

How Do I Get It?!

Ok, here’s the links.  It’s been out on iTunes for awhile, but only recently showed up for Android.  Sometimes it’s a little buggy on both sides, but in general I haven’t had a problem (my kids use iTunes, I use Android, and side by side they’re near identical).

HQ Trivia Android Link

HQ Trivia iTunes Link

That’s it!  Get to downloading, remember to add ShakespeareGeek as your referral code, and I’ll see you in the next game!



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