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?

 

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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.

 

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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”

 

 

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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.

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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!

 

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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!)

 

 

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Manly Shakespeare

Ok, a site called Art of Manliness offers up an article entitled, “20 Classic Poems Every Man Should Read.” Will Shakespeare be on it?

That’s an easy one, because I wouldn’t be writing about it if he didn’t show up.  But which Shakespeare makes an appearance?  Any guesses? Let’s say it’s a sonnet (it is).  Which one shall be anointed “manliest”?

Sonnet 29, “a lamentation on the loss of fame and fortune [that] ends with a meditation on the love that he has for his beloved.”  Does it, as the article suggests, conjure up similar themes with It’s A Wonderful Life?  Never really thought about that.

I’m ok with it.  I don’t have strong knowledge of the sonnets in general, other than the most popular dozen or so that we always talk about – is there a better choice?

Also – this list is good.  It’s weird to see the juxtaposition of “manly” and “poetry” but it works.  There’s some stuff on the list that I’ve never read, but now I want to, and that’s about the best praise I can give a list like this. Whitman makes the list, but not with “O Captain My Captain”.  Longfellow’s here too, but not with the “Wreck of the Hesperus” or “Hiawatha”.  Kipling, too, without “Gunga Din”.  So it’s not like they just went through and picked the easy ones.  Some actual thought went into this list.

 

 

 

 

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First, Let’s Kill Tybalt

Without Tybalt, would there be a Romeo and Juliet?  My preferred interpretation of the “ancient grudge” is that it’s on its dying days, if not for Tybalt single-handedly keeping it alive.

  • The Prologue tells us, “from ancient grudge break to new mutiny.”  I’ve always taken this to mean that during the play we will see the grudge reignited.
  • Sure, the opening scene is a fight between Montagues and Capulets, but it’s also a comedy scene, isn’t it?  None of the four (I just realized, Balthazar is in that scene but doesn’t appear to have any lines?) comes off as a genius.  It’s all talk, and doesn’t turn into a fight until, you guessed it, Tybalt shows up.  Tybalt’s not there, maybe they exchange some heated words and go on their way.
  • Also worth pointing out here is that not only is the Montague (Benvolio) trying to stop the fight, he tries to reason with Tybalt to do the same. He doesn’t just attack Tybalt.
  • Enter the heads of both families – both men wielding (or calling for) their swords, but both women holding them back and talking to them like they’re idiots for even thinking about it.  Nobody assumes that either Lord Capulet or Lord Montague is going to join the fray, it’s just posturing to not show weakness in front of the other.
  • So, maybe without Tybalt escalating this one, we don’t need the Prince to lay down the law because they’ve thrice disturbed the peace.  Who knows, maybe it was Tybalt instigating it every time?  The Prince wants to speak with Capulet first, so maybe he’s planning to say “Dude, what are you going to do about Tybalt? He’s the trouble maker here.”
  • Next time we see Lord Capulet:  “’tis not hard, I think, for men so old as we to keep the peace.”
  • Then there’s the masquerade ball.  Who calls out Romeo?  Tybalt.  Lord Capulet doesn’t care, and even yells at Tybalt for ruining the party.  Imagine if Gregory or Sampson from the first scene was the one to bust Romeo.  Lord Capulet says don’t worry about it, they say fine, they don’t worry about it.  But because it’s Tybalt, we get what reminds me of the scene from Karate Kid II where the constipated uncle learns his lesson but the hot-headed nephew can’t get over losing his honor.  “NOW……TO YOU……I AM DEAD!
  • Of course we know what comes next. Tybalt comes seeking Romeo to avenge the stain on his honor, and whether Mercutio drew first or not, the body count climbs and the rest is history.  Very different from the Karate Kid II ending.

So, what’s your position on the grudge?  If there was no Tybalt, would the story still play out the same?  Somebody else would simply step into his shoes and, like any other sci-fi time travel story, whatever was destined to happen will still manage to happen?  Or is the story really all about Tybalt?

 

 

 

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Hooked on Shakespeare

Both dead.Challenge:  Can we come up with “hooks” for Shakespeare?

Normally when somebody mentions a hook today they’re talking about music, and that short repeated musical phrase (possibly not even words) that gets stuck in your head.  Chances are when you hear the song again on the radio you don’t even recognize it the first few times until you hear the hook and you say, “Oh, yeah, this is that song, I love this song.” Know what happens, though?  You recognize more of the song each time.  You pay attention to the words. Before you know it, you can recognize it from the opening notes.

But the actual definition, at least according to Google, is

a thing designed to catch people’s attention.

So I’m wondering if we can’t come up with a hook for Shakespeare’s various plays. I saw a teacher complaining earlier that he’d given the students No Fear Shakespeare and yet still found himself having to translate that for them. I thought, “We’re doing this backwards. We hold the text up to be the Holy Grail and then we say let me make it simpler for you, let me make *that* simpler for you, let me make that simpler for you…” and all the materials are in that context of “Here’s how far removed you are from the actual good stuff.”

Let’s change the perspective.  Can you reduce Hamlet down to a single sentence?  I don’t want to summarize all the elements of the play. What I want is the students’ attention. I want them saying, “Sounds interesting, tell me more.”

I have this image like something out of a movie, the harried English teacher walking down between the desks while the kids sit on their phones, throw paper airplanes, and generally ignore him. The teacher is holding a copy of the complete works.  He gets to his desk, turns, and slams the book down on his desk to get their attention.  And he says …  what?

Sure, he could go with, “Two households!  Both alike, in dignity.  In fair Verona where we lay our scene.” And if you’re like me lightning bolts shoot up your spine because that happens every time. But he doesn’t have a classroom full of Shakespeare geeks, and he needs to hook their attention some other way.

“Girl meets boy at party. Two days later they’re both dead.”

“Hamlet’s dad is gone and he wants to kill his step dad.”

“The only person that knows Macbeth just killed his boss is Macbeth’s wife, because she told him to do it.”

“Everybody knows Beatrice and Benedick love each other, except Beatrice and Benedick.”

As I write these I realize it sounds like click bait, but I don’t want to call it that.  Clickbait implies trying to trick the user into looking under the covers for something that’s not really there. But everything I said above is true. I *want* my students to be interested in what happens next.

Anybody else got some good ones?  The goal is to have a list of great starters that any teacher of Shakespeare could use to kick off a new lesson.

 

 

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With All My Heart

If you’re a geek in the more traditional sense of the word, sometimes you look at the works of Shakespeare as one big text file and say, “Ooh, let’s look for patterns.” If you were to take a course on natural language programming, chances are very good that one of the first lessons will be in parsing Shakespeare for what are called n-grams, or “phrases of N words that always appear together.”  This is how autocorrect works, it looks at what you’ve already written and then says, “Statistically, what do I think is typically the next word?”

But being Shakespeare geeks as well, we can then work backward and look at the context for when and where and why he used them. This post is just one in what’s hopefully a series of interesting discoveries using this technique.

For my fellow programming geeks – here’s the github source I found to get started!

Disclaimer – raw text processing has lots of issues.  Special character and line breaks and headers/footers all get in your way and have to be stripped out.  In one version of this test the phrase “a midsummer nights dream” ranked very highly and I thought, wait, no it doesn’t.  That’s because one of the sample text files had used the title of the play as a header on every page.  Very hard to strip that out if there’s no real markers to identify it.  So, take these results with at least a few grains of salt.

The longer the n-gram that less data you get, which makes sense because you’re going to get fewer hits.  So typically you see 2 or 3 words (bi- and tri-grams, respectively).  But Shakespeare’s a bit wordy and you tend to get things like, “I pray you” or “I know not” which don’t give you much to work with. So I expanded to look at 4 and 5 word grams. Quads and quints?  Not sure what they’re officially called.

My quad-grams give me plenty of the usual hits: “I know not what”, “I do not know”, “I do beseech you,” … but one of them appears significantly more than the others (30% more actually), and it is where I got the title for this post.

With all my heart.

Lovely.  Now can you guess which play uses it the most?  I’ll give you a hint.  Merchant of Venice uses it 4 times, Othello 5, but this play uses it 6 times.

I’m not giving the answer here, I want to see what people guess.  It’s not one I would have expected.  I wonder if it has something to do with when the play was written relative to Shakespeare’s career. Maybe he had a tendency to repeat himself or use simpler go-to phrases earlier in his writing? Is that a hint?

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