Shakespeare and Long-term Illness

Hermione livesWe recently discovered that a family friend has cancer. Luckily (happily? thankfully? not sure what the word is to use there) it is a reasonably treatable one with a life expectancy measured in decades.  But, you know.  Still.

That got me thinking. If her husband asked me over a beer, “So, what’s Shakespeare got to say about this?” I don’t know how I’d answer. For years I have spoken about finding the answers in the works of Shakespeare, how the entirety of human experience and emotion can be found within the pages.  “If you’ve ever felt it,” I bet you could find me saying, “Shakespeare wrote about it.”

Pretty sure Shakespeare never mentioned cancer.

So let’s talk about it.  I’m trying to think of places where a character is ill and not going to get better. Or perhaps a more reasonable comparison might be, “Knows that he is going to die before his time and there’s nothing left to do about it but contemplate what that means.” What about the characters around them?  The woman I’m thinking of is a wife and mother.  The journey they’ve been put on isn’t just for her and her husband, her kids are part of it as well.

Technically there’s the king in All’s Well That Ends Well, but that doesn’t really count – he gets better.

Hamlet is really one long contemplation on what life is all about, but it’s not really what this post is about.  Hamlet’s father’s murder is not the same thing – being taken suddenly is not the same as having a long time to prepare for it coming.  I suppose if we had Polonius or Ophelia say a single word about what happened to Ophelia’s mother, there could have been something there.

The Winter’s Tale?  I don’t have time to go through the text right now but if Leontes believes his wife to be dead, taken from him before her time, doesn’t he have some thoughts on the subject? True she ends up coming back to him, but at the time he thinks she’s gone forever.

Are there no examples of a sick character? Surely the idea of, “You are sick, and you are only going to get worse until you finally die” was a thing in Shakespeare’s time, regardless of the name they attached to it.  Did Shakespeare give us any characters in that situation? I suppose in a time of plague that was a pretty depressing topic, but he mentions it in places like Romeo and Juliet so it’s not like the subject was totally off limits.

Getting back to the original premise, I’m open to discussion on the idea.  If a friend of yours was suddenly confronted with their own impending mortality (or that of a loved one), what comfort can Shakespeare offer?

 

 

 

Looking for Pink Unicorns? Click Here!

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  My daughters (the middle one in particular) are girly girls and whenever the evil Starbuckian Empire came out with a hipster drink that was a pink sparkly unicorn, they had their mother and I running around town trying to find one.  Nobody drinks the thing, of course – I hear it’s gross – they just need to take pictures with it for Snapchat.

We struck out, it was sold out everywhere we went.

Now I Will Believe That There Are UnicornsSince I was looking for new t-shirt designs anyway, we designed our own “pink unicorn” (although it is available in different colors). Everybody here knows The Tempest is a special play in my house, not to mention a special bond between my daughters and I.  I’ve often used “Now I will believe that there are unicorns” as an example of my favorite Shakespeare quote, dating to long ago when I was in college and we (well, the drama group) did The Tempest. For three days, I was enchanted. While I translate it to people as more of a Shakespearean, “Well! Now I’ve seen everything,” I personally think of it more as an acknowledgment that you never know what wonders the universe will drop at your doorstep, so always keep your mind open to the possibility that a unicorn could walk around the corner.

I hope everybody likes it.  I was getting so tired of dark on light and light on dark, I wanted to try something bright and colorful that my girls would like.

Netflix Some Shakespeare (and Chill)

I love when people make lists for me of what Shakespeare stuff is available for streaming.  IBTimes has 8 options to enjoy, with or without some company. Although in fairness, 5 of them are actually on Amazon Prime and only 3 on Netflix.  Come on Netflix, step yo game up!

Shakespeare in Love is probably the most obvious choice (if you haven’t already seen it a dozen times).  There’s that newish Romeo and Juliet with Hailee Steinfeld from a few years back. Shakespeare in Love I tried that one once, but couldn’t get past the joust at the beginning. You remember that part in the original text, right?

If you like the older stuff, Amazon’s got the Helen Mirren / Judi Dench A Midsummer Night’s Dream from 1968, and a WWII Hamlet that I’d never even heard of.

There’s also some documentary stuff, including Shakespeare High that I remember for years ago but have never sat down to watch. Might have to check that out.  Something for everybody!

Review : Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Loyal readers know I’ve got a soft spot for The Tempest.  I worry that I sound like a broken record saying that. So even though my book review queue is backed up well beyond my ability to ever get through it, I said sure, go ahead and send me Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey.

I wish I could say I liked it, but I just can’t. First of all it’s written in that “I want to sound Elizabethan” manner of speech which ends up being more grating than anything else. The author’s got a particular fondness for the word “mayhap”, to the point where it would sometimes appear multiple times on a single page of dialogue. Does she think that sounds like Shakespeare? I checked – that word does not appear in Shakespeare.

The story itself is interesting, starting with Miranda and Prospero’s attempt to catch Caliban.  So we get to see Caliban being taught language, and learn what he knew about his mother, and how she died, and the role Setebos played in their lives.

It’s clear from the beginning that Prospero is the bad guy in this story. As a savage, Caliban had his freedom to roam the island.  But as soon as Prospero decides to civilize him, he is their servant, locked in his cell and only given limited amounts of freedom as a reward for good behavior. It only gets worse from there.  We also learn that Caliban would rather Ariel remain trapped in his tree. He’s there for a reason as far as Caliban is concerned and bad things will happen if Prospero frees him.  Prospero doesn’t care,

We also learn that Caliban would rather Ariel remain trapped in his tree. He’s there for a reason as far as Caliban is concerned and bad things will happen if Prospero frees him.  Prospero doesn’t care, invoking the name of Setebos to break Sycorax’s charm and create his own to bind Ariel to his service.

None of that would be a deal breaker for me.  I didn’t love the “if I say mayhap enough times I’ll sound like Shakespeare” approach to the dialogue, but it was a reasonable retelling of what happens in the story.  I should mention at this point that my daughter saw the book, recognized the characters, and asked if she could read it – before I was finished with it.  I had a bad feeling about that – this is, after all, spun like a romance novel – but I trust my kids, and told her that if it becomes inappropriate I expect her to tell me and give it back.

Fast forward a few days when she returns from school with a look of horror on her face, hands the book back shaking her head and saying, “I should not be reading that.”  She later tells me, “When you get to page two fifty it’s disgusting.”

I never made it to page two fifty because around page one seventy it becomes a Blue Lagoon story.  Everybody know what I mean by that?  Fourteen-year-old Miranda gets to learn in great detail about her first period.  She has no idea what’s happening. Neither does her friend Caliban. Fine. I’ve actually argued in the past for sympathy for Caliban, because biology is a hell of a thing that you can’t always control, especially when you don’t know what’s happening.

Cut to the scene where Miranda’s taking a bath trying to get the blood off, while Caliban watches (without her knowledge).  Caliban who goes off into the forest and, to put it the way Ariel puts it after catching him, commits the sin of spilling his seed on the ground. Even better, Ariel then blackmails Caliban by threatening to tell Miranda and Prospero about it. So there’s now this ongoing sexualization of Miranda that’s entirely the invention of the author, because there’s none of it in the original.

 

Yeah, I’m out.  I can’t go on to what I know must ultimately be sex scenes between them, and knowing that my daughter read it before me doesn’t help at all.

If nothing I said above bothers you, you might find that you like this one. But I just can’t.  The characters are too special to me, and you can’t do that to them. The Tempest for me is a fairy tale about a long lost princess stranded on an island with her sorcerer father, who meets a prince and falls in love and first sight, who takes her away to live happily ever after.  I know there’s more to it than that, and it can be looked at and interpreted many ways. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!

 

Where Is Polonius?

A discussion came up on Reddit the other day about how Hamlet can be so concerned over the fate of Claudius’ soul (and whether he goes to heaven or hell), while being engaged in a revenge murder himself. Shouldn’t he worry about his own soul?

But I took the question in a different direction. I’m wondering about Polonius.  Hamlet has just gone to great lengths to explain to the audience why it’s not cool to kill a man when he’s praying:

Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven;
And so am I revenged. That would be scann’d:
A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.
O, this is hire and salary, not revenge.
He took my father grossly, full of bread;
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May;
And how his audit stands who knows save heaven?
But in our circumstance and course of thought,
‘Tis heavy with him: and am I then revenged,
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and season’d for his passage?
No!

Then what about poor Polonius? His sins are all still on his head. He’s basically an innocent man when Hamlet runs him through.  True he didn’t kill anybody like Claudius did, he’s probably not got any mortal sins working against him.  So where do we think he went – heaven, or hell?  Or purgatory? Probably the third, he probably gets the same deal that Hamlet’s father got, ironically enough.

What I’m wondering, though, is what Hamlet thinks.  He seems to be concerned only with himself:

I do repent: but heaven hath pleased it so,
To punish me with this and this with me,
That I must be their scourge and minister.
I will bestow him, and will answer well
The death I gave him.

It’s not all about you, Hamlet. He doesn’t seem to care about the fate of Polonius’ soul.  Am I missing something?  Hamlet’s distraught when his father’s ghost tells him about being doomed to walk the earth a certain time.  It seems as if Polonius has just been sentenced to this same fate.  So Hamlet’s got no sympathy for him at all?

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!

Attention Playwrights! The Search for the Next Shakespeare Begins!

American Shakespeare CenterA couple years ago the Oregon Shakespeare Festival made a bold move by commissioning 36 playwrights to translate the works of Shakespeare into modern English.  I honestly can’t tell you how it went, as I didn’t follow the project.  I’m not interested in your project if your premise is that Shakespeare has to be rewritten.

American Shakespeare Center is putting their own more interesting spin on this game, announcing this week that they will be commissioning a modern canon of 38 “companion pieces” to each of Shakespeare’s works. What constitutes a companion piece?  Straight from the Artistic Director Jim Warren:

We’re not looking for a retelling of Shakespeare plays. We’re looking for partner plays that are inspired by Shakespeare, plays that might be sequels or prequels to Shakespeare’s stories, plays that might tell the stories of minor characters in Shakespeare’s stories, plays that might dramatize Shakespeare’s company creating the first production of a title, plays that might include modern characters interacting with Shakespeare’s characters, plays that will be even more remarkable when staged in rotating repertory with their Shakespeare counterpart and actors playing the same characters who might appear in both plays, plays that not only will appeal to other Shakespeare theatres, but also to all types of theatres and audiences around the world.

The ambitious project stretches for the next twenty years and will pay out a million dollars in prize money.

I remember back in college, probably after being inspired by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, I tried my hand at a similar piece I called Ophelia’s Song. The premise was that Ophelia was in on Hamlet’s feigned madness, only it wasn’t feigned, so as he went insane in his own peculiar way, so did she.  They would speak in modern English during the original scenes, and then switch back to original Shakespeare dialogue for the “real” scenes.  It was never produced, but it was fun to write.

So, who’s going to enter?

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!

Review : Ryan North’s Interactive Hamlet “To Be Or Not To Be”

I realize this one came out several years ago, but I’m pretty sure I never reviewed it. If you haven’t heard of it, have you heard of those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books?  Where you’d get to the end of a page and it would say things like, “To talk to the pirates turn to page 19, to hide and hope they don’t catch you turn to page 25”?  It’s that.  The great thing about the ebook form is that everything’s just clicks now, which makes the format that much more flexible.  You can go crazy with the different paths through the book and not worry about producing a paperback that’s 500 pages.

You have to know, right from the start, that this is going to be mostly original material, rather than follow the plot.  How can it be otherwise? Every time you choose to do something that a character didn’t do in the original, North has to supply his own version of events.

With that in mind, you can “play” as Hamlet, Ophelia, or even Hamlet Senior. I first chose the latter thinking it to be a joke – you get one page in and find out you’re dead – but the author’s better than that.  You’re now the ghost, and you get to play the book that way, going on adventures, checking in periodically to see how your son is doing on his quest, all that good stuff.

It’s actually quite fun. There’s a lot of the author’s attitude in here, and the fourth wall is just a pile of rubble.  He is speaking right at you the whole time, asking you to double check your choices, scolding you if you don’t follow directions.  It’s great fun.

I don’t know that you’re ever really finished with a book like this.  Since it is technically a book and not a game or app, your reader will give you page numbers. Mine tells me that there are about 1200 pages.  In theory, you should visit all of them, but I’m not so sure.  I’m fairly convinced that the author has written one or more entirely separate stories as easter eggs for people who just randomly flip through the pages (because, since it is a book and not an app, he can’t stop you).

If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to give this one a chance. I see on his author page that he did a Romeo and Juliet as well, I think I might have to add that one to my collection.

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!

What Are We?

Bardfilm and I were having an interesting conversation yesterday about the great divide (from where I sit) in the Shakespeare Universe.  If you are not a professional Shakespearean (mostly thinking of academics and researchers, though I would have to say that full-time directors, actors, etc… would also count themselves among this group) … what do you call yourself?  How do you explain your relationship to Shakespeare and his works?

From what I have seen, academia prefers to refer to us as “fans”. If you are not a professional, you are a fan.

Fans
“Woo! Play Hey Nonny Nonny!”

 

I hate that.  I am a fan of Pink Floyd.  I have not spent the last twelve years of my life writing thousands of posts about how Pink Floyd makes life better. I did not tell my kids The Wall as a bedtime story growing up. I do not have an ever-growing shrine to Roger Waters on my desk at work, and I don’t celebrate David Gilmour’s birthday like it’s a near-religious holiday.

I have invested a great deal of my life, and the lives of my friends and family, in Shakespeare. People that know me know more about Shakespeare because of me.  But for all of that, the way I am to describe myself (and those who feel the same way I do) as …. fans?

For fun I grabbed a random thesaurus entry for “fan” and here’s what it gave me to work with:

adherent, beau, believer, booster, boyfriend, buff, bug, cat, devotee, disciple, enthusiast, fan, fancier, fiend, follower, freak, girlfriend, groupie, hound, junkie, lover, nut, partisan, patron, rooter, suitor, supporter, swain, sweetheart, wooer, worshiper

You know what dawns on me is missing from that list?

Geek.

I didn’t originally pick that word because of my computer background.  It’s not supposed to be “The geek who is also into Shakespeare.”  It was more about a healthy obsession with learning everything I could about the subject. What Wikipedia has to say about the word isn’t bad, actually:

The word geek is a slang term originally used to describe eccentric or non-mainstream people; in current use, the word typically connotes an expert or enthusiast or a person obsessed with a hobby or intellectual pursuit, with a general pejorative meaning of a “peculiar person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual, unfashionable, or socially awkward”.[1]

I think I agree with almost all of that.  “Expert” is clearly tricky in this context because by definition we’re not trained professionals. Am I an expert? Are you? Who’s to say?  But we can all probably agree on enthusiast. Obsessed?  Check.  I think Shakespeare qualifies as an intellectual pursuit. And I’m even ok with the pejorative stuff – peculiar and socially awkward?  Well, yeah, I was that before I got into Shakespeare!

How about you? What do you call yourself when it comes up?

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!

The People Behind The Shakespeare

Over on Facebook, Dana asked a good question, and I didn’t have an answer.  He asked:

Do you know of any books or articles that have attempted to identify the real people behind Shakespeare’s characters?

He cites the example of Jaques (As You Like It) possibly being modeled on Jacomo Francisci, a soldier of fortune under Sir William Stanley.  I suppose the other more obvious example would be that Polonius (Hamlet) is supposed to be William Cecil, Lord Burghley.  I also saw a theory tFalstaffhat Falstaff (Henry IV) might have been at least partially based on Robert Greene, he whose wit is worth a groat.

I’m sure that each of these has some degree of evidence and plenty to dispute.  Dana’s interested in the subject and wondering if anybody’s collected them into a single work?  It seems like an interesting topic.  Anybody know of something published?

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!

Are We Ready for Prime Time Shakespeare?

Tis the summer of prime time Shakespeare!  TNT has announced that July 10, 2017 will be the premiere of their new series Will, chronicling the (fictional) rockstar life of up and coming playwright Will Shakespeare:

They’ll be playing catch up, though, because over on ABC, Shonda Rhimes imagines a sequel to Romeo and Juliet called Still Star-Crossed, which premieres May 29:

Which are you more excited for?  Which do you think has the better chance of surviving?

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!