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Kit Marlowe got a great death – stabbed in the eye during a bar fight? Faked his own death because he was a spy for the crown?
Shakespeare, on the other hand, likely got a really bad cold. Maybe it was after a night of heavy drinking when his friends carried him home, maybe not.
So, here’s the game – write Shakespeare a better death. You get to change any details you want, including where he is (or isn’t) buried, and when. What kind of dramatic end should we give him? Did he have issues with his daughter’s husband, who had him killed? Did he sell his soul? Did the witches finally come for him?
The more creative (while still remaining about as feasible as any random Oxford theory you’ve heard), the better!
I’ve heard from many regular contributors that ever since I switched to WordPress, commenting has been giving them trouble. As in, it doesn’t work.
I am happy to report that with the help of Erin Nelsen Parekh, they seem to be working again!
In case her name looks familiar, Erin is the author of Behowl The Moon, a Shakespeare baby board book on Kickstarter last year. In fact, some of the swag I got from backing that project is now part of the ever growing Shakespeare shrine on my desk!
Thanks Erin! Sorry for the inconvenience, everybody. Now let’s get those discussions heated again!
A coworker challenged me to participate in NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writer’s Month. If you’re not familiar, this contest challenges writers to create a complete fifty thousand word novel in just thirty days. Technically November is past, but there’s no reason why you can’t attempt the challenge any month you like.
I’m not scared of word count. Most of the time you need me to cut words out. What I can’t do is stream of consciousness for that long. I can’t just start writing and assume that a novel will plop out at the end. I’m a computer programmer by trade, and you can’t just open up a text editor not knowing whether you’re going to end up with an ecommerce site or a mobile videogame.
What we do is start with a framework. Just like a building has a floor, four walls and a roof, the same logic is true of software projects. A video game has backgrounds, sprites, controls, a scoreboard. An ecommerce site has navigation, a shopping cart, buy buttons.
So naturally before I’d attempt a novel I’d ask whether there’s a framework I can start with. See where I’m going with this? Whether it’s The Lion King, Forbidden Planet or West Side Story, there’s clear precedent for taking the minimal plot elements of a Shakespeare play and then rebuilding your own story. I immediately thought of doing something along the lines of The Tempest, although I’ll have to make it a point to stay out of Forbidden Planet territory.
What I was wondering, though, is whether we can make a framework out of all the plays. Everybody does Hamlet or King Lear or Romeo and Juliet. Could you use, say, Coriolanus as your starting point? What would that look like?
Pick a play, and break it down to the minimal plot skeleton. Hamlet, Disney taught us, is any story where the uncle figure kills the king and the son has to take his rightful place on the throne. Romeo and Juliet has been reduced to “two groups of people don’t like each other, until one from each side falls in love.”
Pick a harder one. What’s the framework for A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
I wrote to someone the other day that they could pick a play, pick a character, and then see five productions of that play and learn something new about the character every time.
So today I’m thinking, are there characters for whom that isn’t true? In other words, where did Shakespeare make it most perfectly clear how he wanted the character, leaving the least room for interpretation? So that if you saw a production five times you’d come away thinking that they (the character, not the play) are all generally the same?
It would be easy to go for the most minor characters with the fewest lines, but that’s no fun. I also might disagree with it. Consider Francisco, the guard we meet during the opening scene of Hamlet and never hear from again. What’s his story? Having the fewest lines to work with isn’t necessarily the same thing as having the least room for interpretation. I like to ask people whether they think Francisco saw the ghost. Wouldn’t it make sense? The ghost is walking the walls until someone gets the point and goes to get his son. So maybe other guards saw it as well. But Marcellus and Bernardo have each other to back up the story and say, “Did you see that?” “Yup, I saw that.” Poor Francisco has nobody to believe him. No wonder he’s jumpy.
I suppose the Porter from Macbeth is a good example. He’s got lots of lines to work with, but is there really that much room for interpretation? Either he’s a jolly drunk or a grumpy one.
Can you even have a “major” character and have this discussion? Is it simply true that the more detail we’re given for a character, the more room it opens for interpretation, rather than less?
It is shaped, sir, like itself; and it is as broad
as it hath breadth: it is just so high as it is,
and moves with its own organs: it lives by that
which nourisheth it; and the elements once out of
it, it transmigrates.
What colour is it of?
Of it own colour too.
‘Tis a strange serpent.
A&C doesn’t get much love, that I can see. We rarely quote it or reference its plot lines. Hardly anybody reads it at school. And when’s the last time you saw it performed? I wonder why that is? I can’t say I’m terribly familiar with it, having little more than “I read it once, back in college, when I read all the plays” experience with it. I’ve always heard that it’s problem is that it is too big to stage. Thus, fewer people get to see it, and it propagates down the line. People who’ve never seen it don’t tend to talk about it, or recommend it, etc…
I remember studying poetry in high school. William Carlos Williams and his chickens:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Or his poor old woman:
munching a plum on
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand
They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her
You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand
a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her
They are simple, yet so memorable. Both of those were some random lesson on some random day, thirty years ago. Yet when I found this link and this idea I knew exactly which ones to go get.
A new psychology study claims to have determined what makes poetry pleasing, and it’s using sonnet 18 as a thumbnail so you know I was going to click on it. What do they say is the secret?
The sights, sounds, smells. Those are what make the poem leap off the page and into your brain, where it stays. The Williams poems I selected are pretty obvious examples, the first reducing it all down to the red wheelbarrow next to the white chickens. You may ask yourself, “Why are we studying this?” or “What am I supposed to get out of this?” but you can’t deny the image that pops into your brain. I never really knew what to do with “glazed with rain water,” though. That’s just not a visual image for me.
My first that is that sonnet 18’s not really the greatest choice. What images does it paint, exactly? Show me “a summer’s day” or “rough winds” or “his gold complexion dimmed.” I think Shakespeare’s playing the game at a different level than Williams. Those aren’t sensory images in the “sights and sounds” category, those are deeper. Those are more about the experience of something you’ve felt. We’ve all experienced hundreds of summer days, days when it’s too hot or days when it’s too cloudy. We don’t have to paint a picture in our mind’s eye, we just feel it.
Earlier today I was talking favorite sonnets with someone and brought up 29, which I think is another great example. You can’t paint me a picture of “my state from sullen earth singing hymn’s at heaven’s gate” or “troubling deaf heaven with my bootless cries,” but damnit if I can’t feel it in my bones, can’t you? I remember reciting 29 on the fly at work one time and this girl stopped me and said, “What’s bootless mean?” and it so caught me by surprise that I didn’t even have an answer for her. She was thrilled to have stumped me, but I was left thinking, “If you’re stringing it together one word at a time, you’re missing the point. You have to feel it.”
Happy Holidays, everyone! It’s been a long time since I rounded up a Shakespeare gift guide. I’ve been pleasantly surprised over the years to see just how many Shakespeare games are on the shelves these days. I’ve also noticed that when they come up, either on Facebook or Twitter, there’s always a slew of people saying, “I had no idea this existed, OMG!” So why not take the opportunity to get them all together? Some of these I have played, some I have not. In full disclosure these are affiliate links, so if you end up purchasing something that looks good, it helps support Shakespeare Geek.
We have the regular Munchkin game at home, so late last year when I saw a Shakespeare version on Kickstarter I immediately backed it. The game is a fun take on the “dungeon crawl” where you’re one of a bad of explorers trying to arm yourself with weapons, battle monsters and collect treasure on your way to level 10. It’s primarily about the cards – draw a monster who comes with a fighting score, arm yourself from the cards in your hand in an attempt to boost your own fighting score to beat the monsters. The catch is that the rules allow the other players to gang up on you, hurling curses that lower your score, adding more monsters and so on, so it really puts the “melee” into the combat. The Shakespeare version comes with all themed cards, so you might run into “The Head That Wears The Crown” as your monster, a disembodied head that steals your headgear and uses its powers against you. Or maybe you get the “Good Deed in a Naughty World” card where you can undo bad stuff that happened to another player, and gain a level for yourself.
Ok, it’s only partially accurate to say I “have” this, as I used to have it, back in college. I think it’s probably even out of print now, but it is still available on Amazon from third-party sellers. This one’s quite easy to explain – it’s charades. All the clues are Shakespeare quotes. You get to say a part of the quote, but then if your partner doesn’t know it, you have to act out the rest. This one’s great fun for a theatre crowd who is at least somewhat knowledgeable about Shakespeare quotes, because some they’ll get, some they’ll have no idea, and some they’ll wrack their brain to remember how the second half goes. I vividly remember my partner reading, “Even now that old black ram is …” and pretending like I didn’t know the answer because I wanted to see how she acted out “tupping your white ewe.” 🙂 And then there was the kid, I forget his name, who swore that he was the Henry V expert and was waiting for Henry V quotes .. but then when one came around, he got it wrong.
If you think this one sounds familiar, you’re right – it’s a Shakespearean spin on the hugely popular “Cards Against Humanity.” If you’ve not heard of that one, maybe you’ve heard of the children’s version “Apples to Apples”? The idea is that you take turns throwing down a saying with some blanks to fill in, then the other players anonymously offer one of their cards to fill in the blank. The referee (whoever put down the initial card) then decides the winner of each round based on … whatever rules they choose, honestly. Often it descends into the most outrageous combinations available. For example, a starter card might be, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely ________.” You know the answer of course, but it’s not about that, it’s about what cards you have in your hand. Maybe you choose to play, “Cupid’s butt-shaft.” Getting the idea? Not your parents’ card game. Apples to Apples is completely safe, Cards Against Humanity is only to be played by the closest of friends, this one’s probably somewhere in the middle. Doesn’t have to be dirty and offensive…but it can be if you prefer it that way.
I admit I’d never heard of this one until I went looking, and I’m still not really sure how to play it, but just from the look of the cards alone, I want it. Every card appears to be a death, described and quantified. Lady Macbeth’s death, for example, gets a 0 for “Last Words” and a 4 for “Fairness”. Brutus, meanwhile, gets a 6 for Last Words and a 5 for “Gore and Brutality.” Not really sure how you score the game or how you win? But I like that it appears to have an opportunity for education since you’re almost certain to see cards for characters you’re not always intimately familiar with. And it looks like it wouldn’t take much knowledge of Shakespeare to get started.
The One I Still Don’t Understand
When the topic comes up, inevitably somebody suggests, “Shakespeare The Board Game.” But …
which one??? Although the one on the right over there is technically called “The Bard Game”, get it? Even Amazon’s got the title listed as “The Board Game”. In both, you play an entrepreneur who is trying to run a theatre by putting on the best plays. Are these two different versions of the same game? It seems like it, but I honestly can’t tell. The images are different – the “bard” game works you around a path on a board, while the other one appears more card oriented. I wonder if there’s some sort of cool backstory here where it started out life as the same game and then two people went in different directions with it?
That’s All For Now
There you have it, the best of the “games” based on Shakespeare. Did I miss any? I hope to put out a couple of these guides in time for Christmas, and I’d like to do something for “toys” to encompass all the crazy bobble heads and finger puppets that are out there (many of which currently adorn my desk). If you’ve like to see a particular category let me know in the comments!
Obligatory Awkward Self-Promotion
I’m sure most of you know that I do have a line of Shakespeare Geek merchandise available on Amazon now, both short sleeves t-shirts and long sleeve.
I will not be doing a specific Shakespeare gift guide just for t-shirts, mostly because there’s over 100 designs available now.
Of course I’d love to sell many of them, those support the site more directly than the occasional affiliate link. Even if you’re not buying for yourself, maybe send a link to Grandma and Aunt Susan next time they ask you what you want? It’s all about getting more Shakespeare out there into the world. Thanks for your support!
So I was thinking about Hamlet this morning on the drive in to work (what, doesn’t everybody?) I realized that there’s a gap in my understanding of the timeline. Maybe I’m missing something obvious, but this is why I have this site, so I can brain dump random Shakespeare thoughts and have people either learn the same things I’m learning, or else correct me where I’m mistaken.
We all should know the basic plot from high school – Hamlet’s father (“Old Hamlet”) defeated Fortinbras’ father (“Old Norway”) years ago in fair combat, and won some lands from him. Young Fortinbras has a problem with this, and eventually invades Denmark by the end of the play. We also learn from the gravedigger that Hamlet was born on the day that “our last king Hamlet overcame Fortinbras.”
So “the grudge,” for lack of a better term, is as old as Hamlet. Am I right so far? That must mean that either:
Fortinbras is younger than Hamlet, and thus was born after the combat, and is avenging a dishonor that is just entirely abstract to him, or,
Fortinbras is older than Hamlet, so then I ask, how much older? If he’s old enough to remember the combat and to have taken it as a slight to his family honor, he had to be what, ten years old at least?
I might be missing a textual clue that tells me the actual answer. I was just pondering it in relation to how Hamlet (who is supposed to be thirty, by most interpretations) is still relatively whiny and immature. So if Fortinbras is ten years older than that, and still being referred to as “young” and of “unimproved mettle hot and full,” that seems a little strange. How old you gotta be in this world for people to stop calling you young?
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!
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’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!