Valentine's Day Is Coming

Once, a coworker asked me if I knew any good love quotes from Shakespeare.  Apparently it was his anniversary and he was working on something for his wife.  I asked him to be more specific.  While there’s plenty of love to be found in the works, there aren’t too many happy marriages :).  (I think we ended up with something from Romeo and Juliet). Anyway, as Valentine’s Day approaches I thought I’d go coming for some of the more obvious Cupid references.  At first Sonnet 153 leapt right out at me, but then I saw Sonnet 154.  I’m not a big student of the sonnets, so maybe somebody can explain this to me?

SONNET 153 Cupid laid by his brand, and fell asleep: A maid of Dian’s this advantage found, And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep In a cold valley-fountain of that ground; Which borrow’d from this holy fire of Love A dateless lively heat, still to endure, And grew a seething bath, which yet men prove Against strange maladies a sovereign cure. But at my mistress’ eye Love’s brand new-fired, The boy for trial needs would touch my breast; I, sick withal, the help of bath desired, And thither hied, a sad distemper’d guest, But found no cure: the bath for my help lies Where Cupid got new fire–my mistress’ eyes. SONNET 154 The little Love-god lying once asleep Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand, Whilst many nymphs that vow’d chaste life to keep Came tripping by; but in her maiden hand The fairest votary took up that fire Which many legions of true hearts had warm’d; And so the general of hot desire Was sleeping by a virgin hand disarm’d. This brand she quenched in a cool well by, Which from Love’s fire took heat perpetual, Growing a bath and healthful remedy For men diseased; but I, my mistress’ thrall, Came there for cure, and this by that I prove, Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love.

Are those not almost the exact same sonnet?  I don’t really have the attention span here at work to dissect the whole thing, so I’m going to assume that the ending is fundamentally different for each, but the setup’s certainly the same, isn’t it?  Cupid falls asleep, the nymphs come and steal his little bow and arrow and shove it in the water to cool it off.  Only instead of cooling it off, it produces a hot spring that men come to soak in.  153’s ending makes clear sense – Cupid see’s my mistress’ eyes and that is enough to light his torch again, and the cure for the poet’s ills is not the hot bath, but his mistress’ eyes as well.  But what’s 154 mean?  He went to the bath to try to stop thinking about his mistress, and it didn’t work for him?  

Romeo killed…Benvolio?

I’ve mentioned before that a friend of mine teaches Romeo and Juliet.  We had dinner this weekend, and I asked her how the class was going.  “Well,” she said, “I never knew that Romeo killed Benvolio.  I saw that on a test I was grading today.”I didn’t pester her all through dinner since I know she doesn’t love to talk about Shakespeare all night.  But it’s got me wondering.  I wasn’t there.  I don’t know what leads up to such an answer.  But why would a student give that answer?  I figure it’s pretty unlikely that they’ve misunderstood the story so much that they think that Benvolio was killed by Romeo.  More than likely they know that Romeo killed somebody (that’s probably how the question was asked, who does Romeo kill in Act III), and they blanked on the name.  They then think of all the names they can remember and pick one that sounds right.  That’s not necessarily a problem of understanding, that’s a problem of recall.  The name Tybalt doesn’t stick in the head the same way that Romeo/Benvolio/Mercutio do.  Those three also seem to come as a set, their names all sound similar.  But Tybalt’s out in the cold, you have nothing to anchor him to.  I suppose his name sounds a little like Juliet, or Capulet (that trailing T), but obviously not enough.But how do you fix that?  Say that you’re about to teach the class, and you know that at the end of class you’re in danger of getting answers like Romeo killed Benvolio.  What do you emphasize while teaching the story to prevent such mistakes from occuring?


This week I was tasked with writing a little chatterbot for my company’s product as a quick demo.  So naturally my thoughts turned to Shakespeare, and what one would do with a Shakespeare Bot.  Well, sure enough, the universe is small this week and ShakespeareBot showed up in my RSS feeds.  Of course I had to play with it a little:   You Say: why did romeo kill mercutio
Shakespearebot: Romeo is ashamed of himself for letting Mercutio do the fighting and when Tybalt returns Romeo kills him Not bad!  I was trying to trick it (since we all know Romeo didn’t kill Mercutio, right?) and it doesn’t seem to have gotten confused.
You Say: why does hamlet say country matters to ophelia
Shakespearebot: Perhaps it is just fate.
What’s the first thing people do with chatbots?  See what happens when you type nasty words, of course :). You Say: well that was certainly a canned response
Shakespearebot: Interesting. I thought it was too.
You Say: did gertrude know that claudius killed her husband
Shakespearebot: I’m not certain whether I can give an accurate reply or not.
You Say: oh booo. that’s a very commonly asked question. I was curious to see what level of abstraction it understood.  “Does Gertrude know” is perhaps the most commonly asked Shakespeare question that I’ve ever seen – not counting “what does wherefore mean”.
Shakespearebot: Ugh. I only hear that type of response less than five percent of the time. Perhaps you have a commonly asked answer.
You Say: what is the plot of timon of athens
Shakespearebot: Generic story: Situation…characters…crisis…resolution.
You Say: what is the plot of king lear
Shakespearebot: Generic story: Situation…characters…crisis…resolution.
I thought maybe it could do some plot summary. You Say: how do rosencrantz and guildenstern die
Shakespearebot: I did not know rosencrantz and guildenstern die does. Oh well. 
You Say: i hope somebody is monitoring your chat logs so they can fix these problems
I used to run a natural language search engine in a previous life and we monitored the logs so that we could keep modifying the responses. Shakespearebot: Why do you hope for somebody is monitoring your chat logs so they can fix these problems
You Say: in what act does hamlet say to be or not to be
Shakespearebot: Have you tried another program?
You Say: is that a hard question? I wasn’t trying to trick it, I thought that was a fair question.  The response I get back makes me think that it’s programmed to watch for wise guys :).
Shakespearebot: That depends.
You Say: hamlet act 3 scene 2
Shakespearebot: To be, or not to be: that is the question”. – (Act III, Scene I).
You Say: ah, there you go. i was close.
Now, see, that’s a good answer.  I wonder what it was in what I said that made it respond like that?  If it was coincidence it was a very good one.   Shakespearebot: So you understand. Good. “There you go again.”–ReaganWhere were you close?
You Say: who are lear’s daughters
Shakespearebot: Is lear’s daughters some specific person you are asking me about?
That’s a good question.
You Say: who is cordelia
Shakespearebot: A character from King Lear
You Say: we’ll end on that note
Shakespearebot: Anytime soon?
You Say: adieu, adieu. remember me.
Shakespearebot: What were we talking about again? Don’t worry undefined I won’t forget you.   So, it’s cute.  It does actually spit out some valid answers to carefully phrased questions.  Unfortunately when it goes into “Eliza” mode (where it just tries to modify and spit back what you just said) it easily turns into gibberish.  But that’s nothing new, all the chatbots do that.  

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I’m not sure I know what a “Bard-a-thon” is, but it sounds like fun.  A free, round-the-clock public reading of all Shakespeare’s works.  The thing is, it’s in Alaska.  There is a call-in number, though.  I’m tempted to call in just to see how it works – do they give you a part to read?  Do you get to hear a recording back of how your part fit in with everybody else’s?  Or is it a live thing where whoever is on the phone at the time is told, “You’re Anthony, we’re in Act II Scene 3, go!” Anybody ever been to this thing?  Anybody involved with it watching for links and want to chime in with more info?  Sounds pretty neat.  

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Shakespeare Tarot Cards

Anybody ever wondered what Shakespeare Tarot cards would look like?  Wonder no more.  Pretty cool.  I used to be able to read Tarot cards way back in college, but I typically couldn’t keep a straight face long enough and usually ended up telling people as I read the cards, “You realize I’m just doing a cold reading, right?  I mean, you just told me not 5 minutes ago that you’re having trouble with your boss at work, so of course I turned up a card that says you have problems with a person of power over you.”  The fact that no one cared, and still listened to every word I said, was troublesome to me.  

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Cracking the Sonnet Code

Anybody want to read 200 pages of PDF that claim to “crack the code” of Shakespeare’s sonnets?  Maybe summarize for the rest of the class?  I don’t have time for this.  Here’s a sample: In other sonnets, the doubled (and multiplied) code words may reveal new, autobiographical details, other identities, and evidence of Shakespeare’s sense of humor and the depth of his language play. In addition, Sonnet 52 is found by the same doubled word and letter code to be a Summer Solstice sonnet. If we count back to Sonnet 1, we arrive at May first (our calendar). If we count ahead to Sonnet 126, we arrive at September third. If we assume that Sonnets 40 and 133 are contemporaries, both revealing when Will first admits that the youth and the dark lady are having an affair, we can give them both the date of June ninth. Then, Sonnet 127, the first dark lady sonnet, becomes June third (along with Sonnet 34), thus starting one possible twenty-eight day (14 times 2) lunar cycle within the 126 day (28 times 4.5) summer solar cycle of the youth’s sequence. If any year is referred to, it might be 1592, but Shakespeare probably wrote and revised the Sonnets over the twenty-year period (1589—1609) that spans the main years of his wonderful career as a dramatist. A more complex view of this great sonnet sequence than any of us has to date is called for.   The author is Peter Jensen, Instructor of English at Linn-Benton Community College.  The link is directly to the PDF, I do not have a link to a hosting HTML page.  

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Neil Gaiman and Shakespeare

Like all good geeks I’m familiar with Neil Gaiman, mostly through Good Omens but I do have Anansi Boys on the shelf waiting for my time.  What I did not realize is that he’s got enough of a Shakespeare background to a whole section of his Wikipedia page.  I’ve only ever heard about “Sandman”, never read it, but knowing that Shakespeare himself shows up in 3 episodes, one dealing with the inspiration for The Tempest, I may have to go seek those out!  

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Dream Theater : Pull Me Under

Via LiveJournal I caught this reference to a song by Dream Theater called Pull Me Under that is apparently about Hamlet.  Consider me intrigued!   Hmmm…I’d like to know where the original poster got the reference, because the only lines I can find that are not totally generic are these:

I’ll take seven lives for one
And then my only father’s son
As sure as I did ever love him
I am not afraid   Anybody else got good songs based in Shakespeare that we might not already know about?  

The Crime of the Crimea

Just found this.  Not sure if it’s going to be entirely posted online, or if it’s an ebook in the making or what.  But I spotted the Shakespeare references and grabbed it 🙂  Maybe the author will spot the link and chime in.  I notice that happens sometimes ;).   The Crime of the Crimea — A Swann and Parker Novel In 1882, on the stage of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon the much loved actor, Henry Donaldson, is brutally murdered. But is there more than murder afoot? Enter Detective Inspector Herbert Merriman Swann, an ex-cavalry officer and New York cop, and his trusty number two, Detective Sergeant John Parker, a young policeman with a bent for science, who, like Swann is also a fine marksman. Just a handful of years earlier, in 1879, Swann and Parker had been responsible for creating the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at Scotland Yard; so what were they doing in the relatively quiet backwater of Stratford-upon-Avon? Quiet that is until the murder of Donaldson opens up a stinking, squirming, can of worms.  

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Arthur and the Invisibles

For the curious, the easily missed new movie “Arthur and the Invisibles” is apparently loaded with Shakespeare references.  I was surprised to discover that.  The opening code that the kid has to solve on his way to the treasure is supposedly a Shakespeare quote: “Some words hide other words”, or something like that.  The problem is that I can’t find anything close to this quote in any of my Shakespeare sources.  Anybody recognize it?  I find it hard to believe that they’d make up a quote and call it Shakespeare, that’d be pretty amateur.  (Although it is signed ‘Will S’ and one character says, “Who’s that, Socrates?”) Later, a battle weapon is launched in the form of two small animals named Romeo and Juliet.  Something about their love for each other and their need to be together being a powerful force.  I thought it was interesting, but unfortunately at this point my kids were getting too squirrely (it’s a fairly scary battle scene for a 4yr old), so we ended up leaving. Has anybody seen this movie?  Is there more Shakespeare?  Do they come back later and say the “Some words hide…” thing isn’t really Shakespeare after all, and that’s why it says Will S and not Shakespeare? 🙂  

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