Serif or Sans, That Is The Question

Calling all font historians!

So, my brother’s decided to take up calligraphy / penmanship as a new hobby. Every morning he posts to Facebook in new fonts, inks, etc.. practicing his skills.  Today he posted a “typewriter font,” which I thought interesting because I just imagined him manually adding in the little serifs on each letter. I went looking into the history of the word “serif” (and by extension its partner “sans serif”, literally “without serifs”) and discovered that it’s apparently as recent as 1813?

I quickly fired up my First Folio (because who doesn’t have that on hot key?) to look at the font used 190 years earlier (attached).  Look at that!  Serifs everywhere.

Of course this is simply a case that “they didn’t call them serifs back then,” I get that.  What I’m wondering is, circa Shakespeare’s time, did the printing presses even have a concept of “choice of font”?  When would serif versus sans serif have even entered the picture?

…I just had a horrible thought.  Can you imagine if they’d printed the original First Folio in … <shudder>  Arial?



Review: Will, Episode 4

SCENE : The “Will” writer’s room.  BILL sit lazily about, staring at the ceiling, drumming fingers, periodically crumbling paper and tossing into a wastebasket.  DAVE sits in a corner, reading.

DAVE: (looking up)  Hey, do you  know what swive means?

BILL:  Swive? Nope. Why?

DAVE: (showing book) Because it says in this Shakespeare glossary that it’s another word for the F-bomb.

BILL:  So?

DAVE: (devious smile appearing) Don’t you get it?  If we didn’t know about it, neither will the censors!  So we can fill this week’s script with stuff like “Shut up and swive me now” and “They can go swive themselves for all I care.”

BILL: That’s genius.

Last week was all about how many naked buttocks they could show, this week is apparently archaic swear words. I can’t make this stuff up.  (For the record, my searches indicate that Shakespeare himself never used the word.)

“But what about the torture?” I hear you asking.  “I’m not here for the language and the nudity, I want to see blood spattering for no reason!”

Well then fear not, I have good news!  There’s actually what I thought a funny scene where our resident psychopath (Topcliffe, is it?) is fishing.  “Ha!” I thought.  “Fishing.  Shakespeare. That’s funny.”  (“Shakespeare” is actually a very popular manufacturing line of fishing poles.)

Hahaha, it’s all fun and games until somebody gets a fish hook embedded in his chest. Topcliffe then picks up the fishing rod (still attached, mind you) and starts walking away.  I think, nay hope, that he’s going to now lead the poor soul away like a leash.  Nope.  Just goes ahead and rips it right out of him.

Grossed out yet? Later we’ll see him actually hung from the ceiling by giant hooks in his back.

Sometimes I wonder why I watch this stuff.  Seriously.

There’s almost no actual Shakespeare in this one.  He’s riding on the popularity of Two Gents, but everybody keeps calling it a “tragicomedy” and saying how much they like the dog, and Will wants to be taken seriously.

He’s got some good lines about why he wants to write – to explore why we love and why we fight and what it means to be human. That’s the good stuff, that’s what I want to hear about.  But it’s pretty brief.

Of course we drop a few random lines, Marlowe talks about how it’s not his fault that his life’s not going so great, the fault lies in his astrology. This of course is wide open for “The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves,” or maybe ” Additionally we meet Sir Walter Raleigh, who has been to America, and describes it as “Brave new world with such stuff in it.”  You get the idea.


~ Leave a comment

Shakespearean Collective Nouns

Once again, Bardfilm offers a guest post for our edification—or, at least, for our amusement.

The English language offers a host of interesting collective nouns. You can describe a lot of geese as a gaggle of geese. More than a few whales make up a pod of whales. When you see tons of crows around, it’s natural (and fun) to say, “A murder of crows was on the neighbor’s back tree this morning.”
But what if you have a lot of Hamlets running around? How do you refer to the twenty-three Lady Macbeths you saw auditioning last night?
Here’s a list for exactly those instances. Think how useful (and fun) it will be to say, “I’m not looking forward to auditions. There’s a whole scrub of Lady Macbeths out there!” Without much more ado, here they are:

Shakespearean Collective Nouns

  • An innocence of Desdemonas.
  • A sack of Falstaffs.
  • An assignation of Bottoms.
  • An ide of Caesars.
  • A jealousy of Iagos.
  • A wherefore of Romeos.
  • A vengeance of Hamlets.
  • A fahrenfoul of witches.
  • An obscurity of Pericleses.
  • A gurgle of Ophelias.
  • A torrent of Lears.
  • An equivocation of Porters.
  • An infinite variety of Cleopatras.
  • A platitude of Poloniuses.
  • A poke of Gloucesters.
  • A scrub of Lady Macbeths.
  • A discontent of Richard IIIs.

Feel free to add your own options in the comments below. I know you’ve seen one too many Juliets—how would you describe them as a group?

Our thanks to kj, the author of Bardfilm. Bardfilm is a blog that comments on films, plays, and other matters related to Shakespeare in a relatively-informal manner.


This “Best Of” article originally appeared December 2010.


~ Leave a comment

How Does Shakespeare Make Your Life Better?

I call it our mission statement:  “Dedicated to proving that Shakespeare makes life better.”

I know what I mean by that.  But I can’t always articulate it (mostly because I have so many different ways to answer that).  Want to play a game? Complete the following sentence:

Shakespeare makes my life better because …

… it makes me feel connected to more people than I would ever know otherwise. Guy takes a picture of my “Mercutio Drew First” t-shirt last week. Made my day.  Why? Because I know that he knows enough Shakespeare to get the reference, and knows that his daughter will get the reference, and found it important enough to share with her.  Awesome. Something I did just touched two strangers.

…you learn and you teach at the same time. My friends, family and coworkers think of me as the Shakespeare guy, deferring all Shakespeare related topics and questions to me, and assuming I have all the answers.  And I enjoy that, because to the extent that I have the answers, I love to talk about it – if people around me learn more about Shakespeare through me?  Super. The world’s a better place.  But my online friends for the most part know more about Shakespeare than I do, so the roles are reversed. I spend more of my time listening and learning from them.  I’m totally ok with it being both. I’m always open to learning what I don’t know, and sharing what I do.

…knowing Shakespeare is like adding salt to food when you cook. It doesn’t make things taste salty, it makes thing taste more like they were supposed to taste in the first place. It intensifies the flavor that was already there. Shakespeare intensifies the way I feel about things, because I know that somebody else has already managed to put those feelings into words, and I can use those words to communicate what I’m feeling with other humans who are also feeling the same thing.

Who’s next?


~ 1 Comment

Should We Just Write Our Own Will Show?

Slings & Arrows
“He set The Tempest in Nazi Germany!”

Early indications are, though some of us may be more optimistic (read: clinging to hope) than others, nobody really thinks the new “Will” show is all that great.  And we can forget completely about Still Star-Cross’d, which ran out of Shakespeare material in the first episode.

What would you want in a Shakespearean television show?  What could they have done, that would have made the show “must see tv” in your universe?

For my part, I think I wear it on my sleeve – give me the text.  Start with people saying Shakespeare’s words, and I’m already about 70% there.  It doesn’t have to be the actual character of William Shakespeare.  It could just as easily be high school students.  The important part would be in the delivery.  The words have to come from a place of sincerity.  It would be too easy (especially in the high school case) to go more for cliche and mockery. I don’t want that.  I want lightning bolts to shoot up my spine every time somebody drops a line I recognize.  

Beyond that, I love it when the meta story echoes the text.  Go ahead and tell a Romeo and Juliet story while actually reading/studying/performing Romeo and Juliet, I’m ok with it.  Granted it’s a little overdone.  So do it with King Lear instead. But don’t abandon the text for the story.

I think that Slings & Arrows is as close to ideal as I’ve yet seen.

I don’t really need the historical accuracy stuff.  Elizabethan England was not a glamorous era, based on what I’m learning.  The prettier you make the show look, the more people will tell you it looks like a Renaissance Faire.  The better looking your actors, the more discussion we can have about the lack of dentistry and personal hygiene, not to mention plague.  But who wants to look at sick ugly people every week?

What about you? What’s your must have ingredient for a Shakespeare show? Do you want the biographical stuff?  Or the more fanciful Dark Lady theories? Historical accuracy? You prefer Shakespeare as a character or would you rather see a story about Falstaff?



Will #3 : Oh, Sylvia!

(I’m going to try reviewing every episode of Will on TNT as they come out. If something doesn’t seem right this week, it’s because last week they actually ran 2 episodes.  So this is second week, third episode.)

This week’s episode does not bode well (bode Will?)  for fans of the text.  For fans of naked guys, absolutely.

You know the theory that Marlowe is gay?  Not really a theory in this show.  Marlowe is naked for much of the show, and surrounded by lots of other naked dudes.  Not knocking the lifestyle, just saying that’s not what I’m here for, and I think they’re trying way, way too hard.  It’s not even that naked Marlowe wakes up, strategically draped by another naked guy. Or that he leans over the balcony and yells to the other six naked guys, “Time to leave, I have to go to work.” Later there’s a full on naked orgy, with Marlowe in the middle demanding that he be serviced.  Can we get back to the text, please?

The actual interesting plot line opens with Will being way too confident in his abilities and knocking out a random play that sucks.  Everyone tells him, even Burbage’s daughter who is normally on his side.  It takes him a little while to accept that he’s still new at this and needs to learn to improve his craft.  Specifically, he needs to do so, daughter tells him, by stealing from other people.  “Everybody does it, even Marlowe.’

Off they go to the bookseller to find source material, end up stealing a book, getting caught, and then … nothing happens. I found that relatively pointless, other than to set up as a cute little bonding adventure between Will and, I really should go look up her name.  Alice?  For a universe that started out showing us torture, you now have someone catch a thief red handed and play it for comedy.  Make up your mind.

Anyway, now we get to the stuff that’s cribbed right from Shakespeare in Love as this girl acts as Will’s muse, helping him alter his ideas into the lines we know and love.  It is not until I hear them change a character’s name to Sylvia that I can finally relax and think, “Ok, cool, they’re doing Two Gentlemen of Verona. The universe is back where it’s supposed to be.” Hence title of this post, by the way 🙂

Shakespeare in Love
The comparisons are obvious, but the competition isn’t even close.

I hope that we can fast forward a little bit and get to some of the material that typical audiences know. It’s going to be cliche as all heck for we geeks to have to sit through Romeo and Juliet like it’s a new thing, but I think that’s part of the reason why the show is so weak now.  There’s nothing for the regular audience to recognize.  They don’t know their Two Gents from their Two Kinsmen. Once we get to writing Hamlet and Lear and Othello (if we get that far!) then maybe we can settle in to having some episodes center around what the actual Shakespeare actually did, and not all this made up nonsense.


~ Leave a comment

Sexy Shakespeare? Sigh.

I suppose this was inevitable, what with “Will” on TNT premiering this week.  Somebody’s gone and created a list of the Sexiest Shakespeares.  That is, portrayals of Shakespeare as a character in television and movies.

Joseph Fiennes. Shakespeare in Love.

Any other questions?  Seriously, I was most curious about how many entries this list might have, after Shakespeare in Love and Will. Would the Black Adder version make the list? How about Upstart Crow?  Yes and no, respectively.

I didn’t know about half the movies in this list, and a couple of them look interesting.  An imagined meeting between Shakespeare and Cervantes? That could be cool. I wonder if Cardenio was a major plot point?

I don’t think it’s fair that Dr. Who gets two entries.  They didn’t even include Shakespeare in I Dream of Jeannie. I could swear there are other sitcom “conjured William Shakespeare by mistake” plotlines out there as well, aren’t there?

Aw, man – I started compiling a list (remember Robert Reed as Shakespeare in a Fantasy Island episode?) but it looks like somebody beat me to it.

Will Kemp (nice name) in “Miguel y William”



~ 1 Comment

Review : WILL

I wish I had more time to review this, but I barely had time to watch it.  So I’m going to try and hit the highlights, and we can talk about it.

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.

Alas, television producers don’t have nearly enough faith in modern audiences to allow for that.  Instead it’s set against a backdrop of such gratuitous language, sex and violence that I’d be embarrassed to share it with anybody, and almost turned it off fifteen minutes into the show.  Think I’m exaggerating?

  • We watch a man’s intestines pulled out.  Another has what I believe was some sort of hot poker shoved down his throat.  Great, we get it, we live in a world where to go against the crown is to risk torture.  But you could just as easily have said “you risk losing your head” and had the same effect. Unless you want an audience turned on instead of off by that sort of thing. If I wanted that I know what channel Game of Thrones is on.
  • I’m not a prude and I realize that the later the hour, the more sex is allowed in these shows.  But as I told one friend, “I didn’t realize that people were allowed to get that naked for that long.”  Seriously, it made me wonder whether they were going in and digitally erasing bits, because there’s literally nothing for them to strategically hide anything behind.
  • If that’s not awkward enough for you, there’s a side plot involving a prostitute and her little brother who is desperately trying to make enough money to get her out of that life.  Just to hammer the point home, we’re treated to a scene of him hiding under her bed while she services a client. The icing on the cake is when he takes out his knife and starts cutting himself, so we’re quite sure of how emotionally messed up he is.  Tell me again what the show is called and how any of that has anything to do with Shakespeare?

We could get into the details about the storylines and characters, how much they’re playing up the Catholic/Protestant thing, and whether or not we’re supposed to like Marlowe (I don’t).  But that’s my summary for now.  When it’s about Shakespeare, it’s got me.  Just about everything else, I’m disappointed and embarrassed for the people that made it.


Bucket List : Ask Me About My Shakespeare Shirt. Check!

Spent my daughter’s birthday wandering through Boston with the family, so of course I’m wearing my Mercutio Drew First shirt :).  “Gotta advertise when you get the chance!” I tell my daughter.  She laughs and says, “I think that every time when I’m running! I wear my shirt and I just imagine people seeing that it’s got Shakespeare on it and thinking, There goes Duane’s daughter.”

Anyway, we’re in the North End for lunch, and I’m waiting for the ladies when a man asks me, “Can I take a picture of your shirt?”

But of course!  I sit up straight, do what I can to suck in the gut and hope I don’t look too much like Comic Book Nerd from the Simpsons.  “Thanks,” he says, “I have to send that to my daughter, she’s really into Shakespeare.”

“I made it,” I tell him.  “It’s available on Amazon.”

He asks, “Really? Do you have a business card or something?”

I tell him no, but I’m easily googled as “Shakespeare Geek,” and that there’s a whole bunch of us, there’s a lot more shirts, we’re on Facebook,


Twitter, all of that.

He says he’ll have to tell his daughter about us, and thanks me again.  After he left my son, tells me, “Oh my god you have such a big smile on your face since he came up to you.  Your face wasn’t even in the picture.”

“Not why I’d be smiling,” I told him.  “I’ve always wanted somebody to ask me about my shirt, that’s why I wear it!  Not to mention that’s totally a blog post.  Just in case he does tell his daughter, and she does google us.”  So, if she happens to be here doing exactly that, hi there 🙂  Here’s the Amazon page with all the shirts currently available.  But check back in the fall because I’m adding more all summer!

That’s one for the bucket list.  The next two are:

  • See a complete stranger wearing my merchandise.
  • Have somebody actually recognize me as Shakespeare Geek.

Should either of those happen, you know I’ll be writing about it here!


~ Leave a comment

I Only Knew Three Of These

There’s never a shortage of Top 10 lists I could re-blog, so I try to limit it to the ones where I find some unique value.  Here we get to talk about 10 Shakespearean Stories in Modern Fiction.

This one caught my eye because I can see that they’re using a photo from the recent Lady Macbeth movie.  From what I understood, there’s almost no actual Shakespeare in that one?  Does anybody know one way or the other?  I thought all it really took from the original was the name.  But extra special Easter egg points if you click through the book shop link where you’ll see that the translation was handled by a Mr. McDuff.  Love it.

I’m also intrigued by The Diviners, a Canadian novel from 1974 that’s supposed to be loosely based on The Tempest?  I’ve truly never heard of that one.

For the curious, the three I knew where A Thousand Acres, The Tragedy of Arthur and of course Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. I feel like it’s cheating to even include that one. 🙂

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

I’ve heard a lot about Shylock Is My Name but never read it.  The others on the list are complete mysteries to me.  I’ve heard the term “Withnail and I” over the years but I’m not sure I ever knew it’s supposed to be Hamlet?

If there’s some gold in this list that I’m missing, enlighten me!




(Extra special thanks that there’s no f$%^&*ng Lion King on it, too!)



~ 1 Comment