Shakespeare Gifts?

UPDATED December 2010 – Check out the latest Guide to Gifts for Shakespeare Geeks!

Every year about this time there’s something Shakespearey on my christmas list — videos, books, little bobblehead action figures. This year I thought I’d see if I could get my wife a little something Shakespeare in return. She’s not the sort of fan I am. She’s not, in general, into the whole theatre/literature scene pretty much at all. So I’m a bit stumped about ideas. I’m looking for tips.

Jewelry is a clear choice, she’s a big fan of jewelry. But not something gimmicky like little Yorick skull earrings or something. Shakespeare’s Den has an interesting selection – I like the Moebius Strip bracelet, though I wish it was a better sonnet :). And the Romeo and Juliet pendant was nice. I just thought of something – she does wear a charm bracelet, it would be nice to put a little Shakespeare something on that. But alas it’s a gold bracelet and it seems like all of Shakespeare’s Den stuff is silver.
A nice piece of clothing would also be an option, but harder to come by without being gimmicky and having Shakespeare on it just for the sake of branding (like the ubiquitous tote bags, etc…) The sonnet scarf is a neat idea, but I’m not sure I love the design.
What else? Somewhere I can’t remember I saw an engraved R&J photo album which was nice (the wife’s big into memories and photo albums) but it was like $150, which struck me as a bit crazy for a photo album.
So, what else is out there? How do you put a little Shakespeare into somebody’s life?

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Shakespeare Error Messages

Maybe it’s just the geek in me, but I thought “If Shakespeare Wrote Error Messages” worth a link:   Brevity is the soul of wit; too many arguments. ‘Tis nothing to you, for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so, except for that bad command or file name. Fie, thy grief is a fault to heaven, a fault against the dead, a fault to nature, and a fault of segmentation. Something wicked this way comes — oh good, permission denied.    

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Romeo and Juliet : Police Log

Continuing on the Romeo and Juliet theme, here’s another question.  We all know about the “ancient grudge” between the Montagues and the Capulets.  The play starts out with a fight between them.  One of the great stylized moments of the Luhrman version was the closeup on the guns and how they were all different “brands” of “sword”. But something I’ve always wondered is, just how violent are they toward each other?  We know that they’ve “disturbed the streets” what, three times previously, the Prince tells us?  But are we talking about glorified shouting matches, where neither side is really interested in doing anything more than flaunting their manhood?  At the start, the worst we get is a thumb biting.  And even then, whoever it was (Sampson?) has to ask, “Is the law on my side if I say Aye?”  So we see that while he hates the Capulets, he doesn’t want to get in trouble, either.  Swords come out, Benvolio attempts to beat them down, and then Tybalt joins the fray.  We get the feeling that this has all happened before.  What I’m wondering is, had it not been stopped, would someone have gotten hurt?  Is it really violent, or just walking that edge?
Another thought — Montague’s first words to Benvolio are, “Who set this ancient quarrel new abroach?”  That could be interpreted as meaning that the two families have not been clashing in the streets lately, that things have been settling down.  The Prince doesn’t say that they’ve disturbed the streets three times in the last month, after all.  Later, Capulet mentions to Paris, “Tis not so hard for men as old as we to keep the peace.”  So maybe this ancient grudge is actually nearly forgotten, before suddenly being thrust back into the spotlight.   What I’m wondering is, when Mercutio and Tybalt are killed, what’s the reaction of the crowd?  How would a third party look upon the news story the next morning?  Is violence just a part of daily life, and these were just two more stupid kids who ended up dead?  Or do we have a case where it’s understood that yes, they hate each other, but it’s all talk, nobody gets hurt.  Then, when somebody does finally get hurt, it has that much more impact, like “Holy cow, Romeo, what did you do???”  Did Mercutio enter into the sword fight with Tybalt without ever thinking that he might actually get hurt?  Did they not think that they were playing a life and death game?  This sort of gets back to the idea from an earlier post about maturity levels and how old these kids are.  They can act grown up, they can play with weapons like they were toys, and probably are in the habit of doing exactly that.  But then the violence finally tips over the edge, and that’s when everything comes crashing down. Dare I say it?  Momma always said, it’s all fun and games until Mercutio gets it in Act III. 🙂  

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Romeo and Juliet : How old is Romeo?

There’s a simple question. Sure, we all know that Juliet is 13, the Nurse comes right out and tells us. And often I think that we then make the leap and assume that Romeo is 13 as well.

But that’s hardly true, is it? Would that imply that Mercutio, Tybalt and Paris are also all about 13? Surely it was the case that men simply chose younger wives (Capulet is much older than his wife, is he not?), and actually we can assume that Romeo and the others are what, maybe late teens, early 20’s?

Romeo and JulietIt wouldn’t stage well these days to point out that age difference, of course. I can just imagine R&J being closed down because it promotes pedophilia or something. But honestly I’m cool with it (the age difference, not the pedophilia!)  The more I read the play, the more I appreciate that Juliet is the most mature person in it. That she’s 13, surrounded by people generations older than her, is quite impressive. I don’t need to make her older to justify anything, and I don’t need to make Romeo younger to get it to balance out.

Romeo can be older and still be rash and impetuous. Juliet can be young and be the smart one. Better than trying to imagine 13yr old Tybalt saying, “I hate the word as I hate Hell….”


While looking at the trivia for Luhrman’s movie, I learned something interesting. Apparently Natalie Portman auditioned for the role of Juliet. But because of her small frame, in her words, “Leonardo looked like he was molesting me.”  The director said the same thing I said above, only backwards — “Leonardo was 21, but could look 18 – and she made him look 21.” In other words he looked too old, not that she looked too young.  So that certainly backs up the idea that you have to cast R&J of roughly equivalent ages to avoid squicking out your audience.


Much Ado About Reworked Shakespeare

So the other day I get an email from the author of Shakespeare Reworked, Roger Tudor, asking me to check it out.  He’s offering, in his words, a “modernised, completely understandable, fully hyperlinked, illustrated e-text version of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ that keeps all of Shakespeare’s original rhythm and rhyme scheme.”  It’s a for sale e-book.  I’m intrigued.  (As a matter of fact Roger and I have been engaged in spirited debate ever since over the supposed religious sacrilege of even attempting such a feat.) Since he was good enough to send me a copy of the PDF, I put it on my PDA and have been reading.  You know what?  I like it.  I really do.  This is not some sort of borderline novelization where he just went off and retold the story his own way.  Nor is it one of those thesaurus-driven translations where he went through the text and swapped out all the hard words for easy ones.  (Have I mentioned how much I hate those?)  Instead he’s endeavored (over 10 years, he tells me) to match rhythm and rhyme as well.  What he ends up with is indeed something that feels very much like a Shakespeare play, only you realize while reading it that it’s easier to understand than you remembered. Example? Shakespeare: Beat.  Alas! he gets nothing by that. In our last
conflict four of his five wits went halting off, and now
is the whole man governed with one: so that if
he have wit enough to keep himself warm, let him
bear it for a difference between himself and his
horse; for it is all the wealth that he hath left,
to be known a reasonable creature. Who is his
companion now? He hath every month a new sworn brother. Reworked: Beat.  Ah yes, but he gets nothing out of those!  During our last
conflict most of his wits limped away, and now the whole
man is managed by a scrap of wit – so that if he has
enough wits about him to keep himself warm, let him
regard it as the single difference between himself and his
horse;  since it is his only sign of superiority, to be
regarded as a reasoning creature.  Who is his closest
comrade now?  Every month he has a new brother-in-
  That’s a quick and easy sample, partly because I’m not intimately familiar with “the good bits” of Much Ado, but also because I’m at work and don’t have time to pore over both texts looking for a better one.  I was going to hunt down Dogberry and the whole “I am an ass” bit, but didn’t have time. The book itself is also heavily hyperlinked ,and sprinkled with illustrations and music references.  Personally, for me, I don’t need that.  If I’m going to read it I’m doing so for pleasure, on my PDA.  Not for research, and not sitting in front of a browser.  But I’m sure I’m not his regular audience. Go check it out, if you’re not grossly offended by the thought of reworked Shakespeare :).  For that matter, I’ll leave with the question that I’m debating with the author:  What’s your position on the subject?  Are the “original” words sacred text that should forever be studied and performed as is, even if the modern audience drifts away and Shakespeare is left entirely in the hands of the ivory tower academics to examine, analyze and debate?  Or Shakespeare merely engaging in what modern authors should as well, namely to take the words and ideas of his predecessors, incorporate his own and keep them in front of a changing audience? My position is best summed up as this : If it is true that the potential audience for Shakespeare’s work has dwindled over the years, it is a failing not of Shakespeare’s work but of our(*) ability to get it out there in front of people.  And by “our” I mean “people that *get* Shakespeare”.  People that know how good it is, and the sort of impact it can have on your life.  I don’t know about anybody else, but I want to share that.  It’s not my profession.  It’s not even something for which I’ve got a great deal of evidence or experience.  I read books by Garber and Bloom and Greenblatt and think, “Good books, but these people have made careers out of studying Shakespeare.  Do they still connect with an audience that …well, doesn’t?” When I find people who claim to not understand Shakespeare, or worse who claim to hate it, that makes me sad.  Where possible, then, I work to better educate people’s understanding of the topic.  I’m pretty sure that I will never point to a reworked Shakespeare and tell somebody “Here, read this instead, it’s the same general idea.”  That very sentence makes me flinch, actually.  If I knew I could hand something something and say “Read this, not only will it make you want to experience Romeo and Juliet for yourself, but you’ll discover that maybe it’s not as alien as you might have thought,” I think that’d be my ultimate desire.  If somebody asked me what kind of Shakespeare book I think I’ll ultimately write, I think I just described it. Anybody else?  

The Shakespeare Chronicles

What’s almost as good as reading Shakespeare?  Reading books about Shakespeare.  Even better, novels about stuff having to do with Shakespeare.  The Shakespeare Chronicles is a new novel by James Boyle that’s released under Creative Commons.  Which, among other things, means that you can download it a piece at a time for free, or get the ebook for $1.50, or get the paperback from Amazon. Your choice! A novel that is part literary mystery, part historical detective story, built around an obsessive search for the true author of Shakespeare’s works. Stanley Quandary is a professor of English and a very ordinary man.  But then he starts to have the strangest and most realistic dreams, dreams that seem to solve one of the greatest mysteries of all time, to expose a conspiracy of silence that is over 400 years old.  They even suggest a way to win back his estranged wife. Of course, he might be going insane… Works for me!  Sounds a bit like The DaVinci Code for us Shakespeare geeks.  I’ve already downloaded my copy.