Shakespeare's Wife : A Review But not by me.  This is Germaine Greer’s book about Anne Hathaway, and quite frankly I have no interest in reading it.  But the reviewer seemed to like it, and others among my readers may like it as well, so here you go. It’s not that I particularly dislike Greer, or Hathaway.  It’s just that this looks like a typical biography. Namely, I expect it’ll go something like this: Everything you know about X is wrong.  Here, let me show you with evidence that I found to support my case while ignoring all the evidence against it. If one person can write a book that says “26 was an incredibly old age for a woman to be married” and somebody else can write a book that says “26 was the average age for a woman to be married”, and both claim to have evidence, which should I believe?  The answer, to me, is that they cancel each other out and I don’t pay attention to either.

Books That Make You Dumb Great example of what you can do with mashups.  These guys looked at the most popular books at every college (according to Facebook), and the average SAT score.  So “Lolita” is popular at schools when an average SAT score over 1300, while “The Color Purple” is popular down at the 850 range. Our pal “Shakespeare” spans the 1050-1150 range, where he’s kept company by A Wrinkle in Time, Anna Karenina, A Farewell to Arms, The Great Gatsby, and others.  Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice also fall in this section, although they both skew higher toward the 1150 mark. Interestingly Hamlet is called out by itself, and drops 100 points to the 1000-1050 range.

Romeo and Juliet : Mad Libs Have I linked to something like this before?  I can’t remember, but it seems familiar.  Anyway, you know Mad Libs, right?  This is the game where you fill in a name, a verb, an adjective…. and then you read the story you produced.  Only in this case it’s Act 4, Scene 5  where the Nurse has found Juliet’s lifeless body. I always thought Mad Libs are funnier if you see the template first, and then deliberately fill in goofy words. 

Why Is Shakespeare So Hard?

I saw this question pop up at the top of my referrer logs yesterday, so I guess it’s popular, so I thought it would be fun to make a post out of it and try to answer the question. My first thought is to answer, “It’s self-fulfilling.  Every exposure to Shakespeare you’ve ever had has been telling you how difficult and boring and irrelevant he is, so naturally from the moment you cracked open the book, you thought “Wow, this is difficult and boring and irrelevant.” Let me put it in perspective.  My daughters, 3 and 5, understand Shakespeare. Do they understand the words, or the themes?  No, of course not, that’d be silly.  But if I asked one of them to recount for me the story of “the girl on the island” they’d be able to tell me that Miranda lived on the island with her daddy, who could do magic, and there was a fairy named Ariel and a monster named Caliban….and so on. My point?  People start in on Shakespeare from the wrong end.  They start with Act I, Scene I, line 1, word 1, and say “Hmf, I can’t understand it, I’m screwed.”   They lose the forest for the trees. I say work it backwards.  Learn the story, by whatever means necessary.  Learn the characters, understand their feelings and motivations.  And then you’ll find that the words are a bit easier to understand. How do you do that?  Well, subscribe to this blog, for one :).  And I’m only half joking.  I could point you at “No Fear Shakespeare” and any other number of books that attempt to translate Shakespeare’s words into more readable modern English, but that’s not my point.  My point is that to understand the stories you have to break it down well beyond the words and get to the characters themselves.  Romeo’s a horny teenager whose girlfriend won’t give it up.  Hamlet’s dad died, and he can’t stand his stepdad.  King Lear wants to grow old and die in the comfort of knowing his children love him and will take care of him.  There are *people* in there, people.  If you’re so busy concentrating on the rhyme scheme and pronunciation of the words, you’re making it too hard for yourself. I could write all day on this subject, but I don’t have time here at work :).  Maybe we can get some discussion going in the comments?  Show of hands, how many people out there think that Shakespeare is hard?  How many think it’s easy?  Why?

Help for Rachel

A long time ago I wrote up a tutorial on iambic pentameter over on my other, family blog.  I still periodically get comments on it.  Like today Rachel asked for help with iambic pentameter, and pointed me to a sonnet she’d written: I wrote back telling her about my new blog and how many this would be a better place to discuss it.  Hi Rachel, I hope you stopped by! If you’re most concerned about the iambic pentameter, your last couplet is probably the closest if you flip a few words: Forgive me, sir, for sins have I to tell.
Repent or not–condemned am I to hell.
There are times and places where you can get away with bending the natural pronunciation of a word (is it “washed”, one syllable, or “wash-ED”, two syllables?) but in general you need it to flow pretty naturally.  I liken it to trying to play music without a beat.  You can’t really do it, you just end up with a string of notes and nothing holding them together.   Your reader needs to find the flow immediately and not be left struggling for it. A few years ago I wrote an Elizabethan sonnet for my daughter Elizabeth’s first birthday, if you want to check it out: I’m no poet, but your original question to me was about iambic pentameter, so hopefully that’s an example you can work with that’s not quite as hard to follow as some of Shakespeare’s.  You can clearly see places where I snipped a syllable here or there to fit the form (such as “e’er”, one syllable, in place of “ever”). Good luck!

Help! Movie Title Needed

For a presentation we’re doing at work, I need the image of a mystery behind a door.  And the first thing that came to my mind is an old movie poster that shows this big dark, mysterious door, and there’s light peeking out around all the edges from the other side.  Standing in front of the door is a little kid in his pajamas, like he’s trying to decide whether to open it. Anybody have any idea what I’m talking about?  My first thought was Poltergeist, and others have said that too, but I can’t find this image associated with that movie.  That movie is famous for the girl sitting in front of the television screen. Another thought was Close Encounters, where the door is open and the kid is watching the space ship land, but I don’t think that’s what I was thinking of. Anybody know what I’m talking about?  It’s killin me! (My apologies for the offtopic post.  I figured my regular readers will forgive me :))

Comcast Commercial

Comcast (the US cable provider) is running a new commercial for their “high speed” service that shows two actors performing the death scene from Romeo and Juliet.  The gimmick is they’re in a hurry, so they rush through it.    They actually seem to stick to script (I didn’t care enough to actually see how accurate they were).  I think it would have been funnier if Juliet actually said “Blah blah, yadda yadda, oh happy dagger….” Not terribly funny, and I have no smart comments, I just felt obliged to acknowledge it :).