Mackers…..James Mackers

Dear Orson Welles, When you need a Scottish accent for a Shakespeare play, don’t fake it.  Just get the man himself, Sean Connery:

  Here’s a guy who’s played nothing *but* a Scottish accent his entire career!  Seems only logical that he would have done the Scottish Play at one point or another. (To be fair, I hear Mr. Connery is actually very good in the recently released Age Of Kings DVD collection.)   “Sean Connery stars in the movie the Highlander, about the eternal Scottish warrior, and he plays a *Spaniard*.  Doesn’t anybody think about this stuff at all?”   -Craig Ferguson

Shakespeare At 40

So, today’s your Shakespeare Geek’s 40th birthday.  Been celebrating on and off for a few days, got (among other, non Shakespeare presents) another Shakespeare action figure as well as the “love quote” pillow which my 5yr old middle daughter had become simply enraptured with when she saw it on a web site back around Christmas.  When I unwrapped it, my older daughter (7) began reading, “Doubt thou the stars are fire…”  so I explained that Hamlet wrote that to Ophelia.  I didn’t get into the whole “ill phrase, vile phrase” thing. Anyway, I got to wondering what Mr. Shakespeare was doing when he was 40.  I found this link: and a few tidbits from the years surrounding:

Sometime between 1599 and 1601 Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, and from Hamlet on, until about 1608 when he began writing the great Romances Cymbeline, Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, Shakespeare’s vision turned to tragedy.  The comedies he produced over the next couple of years are distinctly un-funny, and have been called "problem plays": All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure (both probably written in the period 1603-1604).  Troilus and Cressida (probably written in 1602) is such a problem play that it has perennially confused audiences and critics, and may well  never have been performed in Shakespeare’s life time.  After Measure for Measure Shakespeare’s vision seems to turn unrelentingly to the tragic, with his great string of tragedies Othello (probably 1604), King Lear (probably 1605) Macbeth (probably 1605), Antony and Cleopatra (probably 1607),Coriolanus and Timon of Athens (probably 1606-8).  (These last two plays, along with Troilus and Cressida, surely Shakespeare’s least liked and performed plays).

(Emphasis mine.)  Yikes!  Mid-life crisis, much? If the quality of the blog starts going down, somebody please don’t forget to tag them as “problem posts”.  Just don’t call them “distinctly un-funny” 🙂

Premiering … Cardenio? Kinda sorta not really? My experts probably know the drill, but for the newbies:    There’s been a play that we’ve known about for a while, called Double Falsehood (not sure if there’s a The in front of that) by Lewis Theobald.  Here’s the thing – he always maintained that it was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Cardenio, the holy grail of lost Shakespeare plays. “Ummm…and do you *have* a copy of Cardenio?” people would excitedly ask him at cocktail parties, trying not to salivate. “Unfortunately my dog ate it,” he would reply.  Or the 19th century equivalent of a similar excuse.   Anyway – a little while back (just last year?) renowed Shakespeare scholar Gary Taylor announced that he was backing Double Falsehood’s story, and has “re-adapted” (maybe?) it into The History of Cardenio. If you’re in the neighborhood of Victoria University of Wellington next month (May 2009) you may get a chance to see it.

Would He Had Blotted 1000

"I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honor to Shakespeare that in his writing, whatever he penned, he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, ‘Would he had blotted a thousand." Maybe I’m just slow.  I’ve certainly heard that quote before, and always took it to be an insult, suggesting that there’s plenty of errors where Mr. Shakespeare could have done better. It only just now dawns on me that that’s the point – given how good he actually was, can you only imagine what we would have ended up with if he *had* improved upon all the mistakes and weaknesses?

Shakespeare For Presidents Perhaps the best article I’ve seen yet that dives into what past presidents have thought about Mr. Shakespeare.  We all know by now that Obama loves Lincoln and Lincoln loved Shakespeare, but this article looks in detail at Lincoln’s favorite speeches and his commentary on them as well, and then goes on to examine what other presidents have had to say on similar topics (including Reagan and Clinton). Then we also get a trip through the history of the presidency with mentions of the Shakespeare connection to:  John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, James Garfield, Millard Fillmore and JFK, ending with George W Bush (although it is certainly positioned as an insult in that case). Lastly the author (hey look – Barry Edelstein, I just got his book Bardisms last week!) goes on to make a whole laundry list of suggestions for speeches that Obama might want to use, once he gets around to quoting the Bard in public. Great article.

Shakespeare Plots, Twittered This list is going around Twitter at a furious pace right now, so may have already seen it.  But then I realized that not everybody’s on Twitter :). You know the Twitter drill?  Get your point across in 140 characters.  So somebody went ahead and summarized each play in 140 characters:

H: Mommy issues are just the beginning for a prince with a murdered father and new Uncle/Step-dad. Most everybody ends up dead. HV: Bad-ass Henry V kicks France’s butt with a rag-tag army, many long-bows, and excellent speeches. Henry then marries a French princess.

It’s not entirely a comedy show, most of them are pretty straight forward summaries.  Of course, not wanting to devote characters to the titles, they are all abbreviated down to first letter and you have to figure out which one is which.  Sounds like a different game.

Open Shakespeare Mic Night

Just got back from my first ever “open Shakespeare mic” night in Salem, Mass (thanks to Keri from Rebel Shakespeare for letting me know about it, and thanks to my lovely wife for securing us a babysitter and actually sitting through it with me!) What fun!  At first it was awkward trying to figure out what the deal was – where to sit, how do you get food and/or a drink, etc… but eventually we answered all three, and could sit back and enjoy the performance.  I was pleased that I recognized almost everything, and even caught the occasional mistake :).  That’s not to say by any means that I have the memory for that kind of thing – most of the performers read from script, and I suspect I’d have to do the same thing.  That is, if I had the guts to get up there and do it :). What fascinated me most, I think, was the variety.  I walk into situations like that with the assumption that everybody knows everybody else and has done this 100 times.  But what I saw were people reading directly from script (and getting it wrong), people comfortably off book (but still needing the occasional cue), and confident professionals who looked like they’d done their particular parts 100 times.  I saw kids as young as maybe 10 not only getting into their roles, but saying things like “I couldn’t decide which monologue to do so bear with me while I do both.”  I saw a man with a prosthetic leg remove it so he could do Richard III, and another elderly gentleman do a simple performance of several sonnets that sounded like he might have dedicated them to his long lost love. I tell myself that some day I’ll get up and do something.  Of course, I’m 40 years old (next week) and the closest I’ve ever been to performing is getting dragged up on stage for the HAIR finale in Baltimore. I wonder if there’s more such events like that, or if this was a special birthday-only thing.  I could see myself hanging out at such events.

So, How’d You Spend Your Day?

Confess, fellow Shakespeare Geeks, what did you do for Shakespeare’s Birthday / Talk Like Shakespeare Day this year? Though I found it a bit silly, I did some of my Twittering in my best Elizabethan. Gave away some books to the winners of my Sourcebooks Shakespeare contest. Got a new book, “Bardisms”, in the mail. Tried very hard to make as many posts to the blog as I could (8, counting this one, and the day’s not done yet). Snuck into my coworkers’ offices and put Shakespeare quotes on their whiteboards like a Shakespeare ninja: (misquotes on purpose for context)

For the military boss who never gives up, no matter how bleak the prospects:  “Yet I will try the last.  Before the ground I throw my warlike shield.  Lay on, MacDuff, and damn’d be he who first cries, ‘Hold, enough!’” For the founder of the company, recently bitten by a strange dog in the middle of the office (trust me, a funny story):  “Cry Havoc!  and let slip the dogs of war!” For the young do-it-all programmer who could own the place if he really tried (who also happens to be the sort of skinny young guy who can down 9 pieces of pizza in a sitting and never gain any weight):  “Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look…” For the programmer who never says much, but always manages to deliver twice as much as you asked, in half the time you thought it would take:  “How far the little candle throws its beams!  So shines a good deed in a weary world.” For the “technician” whose just is slowly being replaced by automatic scripts, who sees his role evolving into something new:  “We know what we are, but not what we might become.” In the break room, where we just had a catered lunch complete with cookies, cake…and beer and wine:  “If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked!’

Came home, played Midsummer Paper Dolls with my daughters. Tonight, going to a “Shakespeare Open Mic” night.  No idea how that’ll turn out, but it should be fun! [UPDATE: Typo fix, I did not write “so shines a good dead” on her whiteboard!]

Happy Anniversary to the Master Of Verona! Here’s a story I bet not everybody can post :).  Hope he doesn’t kill me(*), but David Blixt, author of The Master Of Verona and regular contributor to my humble little blog, celebrates his wedding anniversary today, on Shakespeare’s birthday.  How cool is that?  The man’s a professional Shakespearean actor, a published author on the subject (historical novel, to be specific), and he even gets to live a life where he does things like getting married on Shakespeare’s birthday.  So I think that’s quite a nice story for a blog called Shakespeare Geek. :)  He did not, however, name his child Fleance. Congratulations David!
(*) Trained in stage combat as he is, I expect he could only pretend to kill me.  Very convincingly, but still.