Sonnet Drive-By

Having now read all 154 of the sonnets, I can confidently say that you have probably already heard the good ones. You know, ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’ (18) or ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds’ (116) or ‘Being your slave, what should I do but tend’ (57). Not, for example, 143, wherein the Dark Lady is represented as running after the Fair Youth like a farmer’s wife chasing a goose around a yard:  

… I thought this crowd might find something amusing in that post. 🙂

The Mathematics of Love

…suppose Romeo is in love with Juliet, but in our version of the story, Juliet is a fickle lover. The more Romeo loves her, the more she wants to run away and hide. But when he takes the hint and backs off, she begins to find him strangely attractive. He, on the other hand, tends to echo her: he warms up when she loves him and cools down when she hates him.

So begins this guest article on mathematical modelling of relationships.  I got an extra kick out of it because of the reference to work done at Worcester Polytechnic Institute – my own alma mater, class of 1991 thankyouverymuch. I do think it oversimplifies things, although I have to admit that as as computer programmer and a fan of drama, artificial intelligence and natural language processing, I have long daydreamed about programs that could accurately model and answer questions such as “Why does Juliet love Romeo?” and have it give a half decent response.  Or even better, give it a few key plot points relevant to the relationship, and then have the program sketch out the rest of the story.   (I could go into detail about work done by Roger Schank on story generation, if people are interested… :)) It’s articles like this that suggest one day that might actually be possible.

The Winter Of Our Discontent I’d prefer not to lump myself in with the “troglodytes”, but this post does make me curious.  I think most of the regular readers here recognize the problem with the quote – people take “winter of our discontent” out of context, and never follow up with the “made glorious summer” bit. What I just learned, I think, is that “winter of our discontent” is not a standalone phrase that generically means “period of time when we are generally gloomy and unhappy with how things are going.”  I realize that in order to understand what’s being said in the play itself you have to put them together, but I guess I always kind of figured that it was two separate things – this period of our life is coming to a close because this new, happier day is dawning. What the blog poster argues, which is new to me, is that “winter” itself implies the transition, so it is not appropriate to just use it by itself.  It’s not translated as “This dark time for us is coming toa a close because of this new dude…” but more accurately, “This transition out of  our dark time has been brought about…”  If you look at it that way, it doesn’t make sense to use it by itself. Did I understand that correctly?  Do you use “winter of our discontent” as a period of time, or as the ending of one?

Shakespeare Musicals

Ok, it seems that Shakespeare Musicals are now coming out of the woodwork.  Shall we make a list? Rockabye Hamlet The Two Gentlemen of Verona by Galt McDermott (cowriter of HAIR) The Boys From Syracuse (Comedy of Errors) Kiss Me Kate (Taming Of The Shrew)   What else?  I’m not terribly interested in just coming up with a Google list, I’m sure that already exists.  I’d like to hear people’s personal experiences with shows they’ve seen, or maybe even been a part of.  What’s good?  What’s ridiculous? Oh, and let’s not forget Gilligan’s Island…

Shakespeare For Weddings

I know we just did “Wedding Sonnets”, but reading Bardisms recently got me thinking about all those great couple-liners strewn throughout the works that can be used for so much more than just standing up and doing a reading (ala Sonnet 116). So I’m curious to open it up a bit more broadly.  Think about all the different spots in a wedding where a nice Shakespaere quote might fit : * formal reading to those in attendance * a toast, either before or after the ceremony * well wishes from a guest as the videocamera and microphone are passed around * advice for parents to children * lines spoken directly from husband to wife, or vice versa * notes of thanks from wedding couple to groomsmen / bridesmaids ..and so on. For instance on the card for one of my groomsmen, who I knew would “get it”, I wrote “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, for he who stands with me today shall be my brother.”  I then went on to explain to him my subtle joke – I’d left out the “shed blood” part, figuring there’ll be plenty of that now that I’m married. *badump* So who else has got some good lines?  Pick a context (“advice from father to son”, etc…) and then let us have it.

Getting Your Pound Of Flesh From Credit Card Companies This article starts out like it’s going to give us a lesson in cliches that come from Shakespeare, but it’s actually about politics and finance.   Technically it’s both, as the author’s point is that people are using the expression “pound of flesh” so much that they’re starting to use it wrong.

But Mr. Barbera warned against overconfidence, saying that Treasury officials thought they would carefully exact only a pound of flesh from Wall Street by letting Lehman fail, helping teach other investment banks not to take excessive risks. ‘But,’ he said, ‘it turned out not to be a pound of flesh that was taken. It was a ton.’

I could see where that would bug me, too. :-/

Rockabye Hamlet

A little glimpse into my evening at home: Wife and I realize that “Don’t Forget The Lyrics”, a show we used to watch, is back for the summer with celebrity editions.  This time it’s Meatloaf and his daughter.  Cool.  My wife during the course of the show will ask, “Is he married to her mom?” which causes me to hit up Wikipedia and find the answer. Lo and behold what else do I find?  That Meatloaf, he of “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”, was actually in a Hamlet Musical called “Rockabye Hamlet.”  I knew he was well trained, and did some time in As You Like It.  But a Hamlet musical? Sure enough, the link above speaks to a recent revival of the 1976 flop.  But read the comments, people who saw it say the loved it:

The original was a trip is all I can say. It was ******* amazing
A then unknown Meatloaf, Beverly D Angelo & others performed the hell out of it.

I am trying desperately to find an audio recording. Then again:

Rockabye Hamlet (1976 – 7) was the most embarrassing nail in the rock musical’s coffin. It was based on Shakespeare’s classic drama about a fictional Danish prince avenging his royal father’s death. Director Gower Champion staged the show like an all-out rock concert, and the result was such an incoherent mess that many found it hard to believe that Champion could have been responsible for it.

List of songs: He Got It In The Ear???   FOUND IT!

Review : Bardisms, by Barry Edelstein

UPDATED September, 2010: Putting my money where my mouth is, I’ve released my own “more than just a book of Shakespeare quotes.” Hear My Soul Speak is a hand-picked collection of over 100 quotations and sonnets specifically chosen for their usefulness in all parts of a wedding, from best man speeches to writing your own vows. Each is grouped according to who might use it (and when), and details about why you might want to use it (the how and the why) are included.

Anybody can write a book of Shakespeare quotes – just get a Complete Works and a highlighter marker and go to town.  It takes a real Shakespeare Geek like Barry Edelstein to produce Bardisms, a guide to not only *what* to quote, but *how* and *why* to quote it.
This is great stuff.  Quoting Shakespeare properly is about more than just searching for keywords, after all.  It’s not like Shakespeare mentioned the commute to work, or college graduation, or changing diapers, yet it’s not hard (with a little imagination) to find quotes relevant to each of those.
The author goes a bit “meta” ( is that only a computer geek expression? ) by organizing the book itself according to a Shakespeare quote – in this case, the ages of man.  Perhaps you need some quotes about the birth of a new baby, or a lullaby to sing to your own children (my own ears perk up at that one).  Or maybe a toast for a wedding?  A coworker’s retirement?  Edelstein has you covered.  And everything in between.
The bit that perhaps we Shakespeare geeks can appreciate the best, though, is that Edelstein doesn’t just offer quotes.  He doesn’t just explain when and why to quote it.  He actually gives lessons on *how*, from proper pronunciation to which words you might want to swap out to fit the occasion (boys for girls, and so on).  It is a workbook not just in spotting a good phrase, but being comfortable enough with it that you might really bust it out at that retirement party, and not just keep it stuffed in your pocket scribbled down on a cocktail napkin.
Respect the source material!  I love that there’s a section, right in the introduction, that covers the topic.  It’s not necessarily important that the context of the play fit the situation you need – after all you’re probably attending a graduation, not a coronation – but it is crucial that you understand the words coming out of your mouth.  I remember when I wanted to put that “I will swear I love thee infinitely” quote on my wife’s bracelet and it was very important to me to understand whether that was heartfelt or sarcastic.
Edelstein’s step #1 to properly quoting Shakespeare is “Know what you’re saying.”  Amen, brother.  He goes on include “stress the juxtaposition of opposites”, the swing between high poetry and simple prose, “heightening agents”, scansion and metre, and watching syllables.  Truthfully if somebody picks up this book because they’ve got a specific event and they need a specific quote, I don’t expect they’ll spend much time in this section (and honestly perhaps that person needs more of a generic reference book like I described in the first paragraph).  But for those of us who want to deeply appreciate the source material, those of us who understand that we’re quoting it in our daily lives because of the infinite depth of Shakespeare’s words, I think we’d love it.  Maybe you can memorize a couple dozen quotes on your own, and maybe with Edelstein’s tips you can double or triple that number.  More Shakespeare is a good thing.
There are times, I’ll admit, when Edelstein goes so far off the geeky scale he makes me want to turn in my own credentials.  I may enjoy singing Sonnet 18 to my kids at night, and I might drop the occasional “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” in answer to when am I going to cut the lawn, or a “When the wind in southerly Daddy knows a hawk from a handsaw” when the kids tell me I’m being silly.  But it never occurred to me that I might have a quote from Winter’s Tale (“You gods look down, And from your sacred vials pour your graces Upon my daughter’s head”) ready and rearing to go as the first words my children heard upon their birth.  When they’re crying I don’t whisper anything about coming to this great stage of fools.  Maybe one day I’ll turn into that level of Shakespeare geek, who knows.
But when he uses the line “She must have change, she must!” (Iago, Act 1 scene 3) on the occasion of diaper changing, and then goes on to suggest that “One of the ways Shakespeare manages to speak to all occasions is by virture of having survived long enough to address them” and “that speech’s applicability to the present circumstances is what truly counts,” then I think he might go off the deep end a little teeny bit.   I have to say, when I read that it brought to mind people who see Jesus in their morning toast.   I love Shakespeare, but just because he turned a phrase with the word “change” in it does not mean that he was offering up wisdom on diaper duty.  (I’m also reminded of the poster who came in looking for some Shakespeare to use as a command phrase for his dog, and everybody came up with “Cry Havoc!”  – but that doesn’t mean that Shakespeare was making a statement on dog obedience, does it?)
Overall I have to say I’m loving this one, especially the easy organization into life events.  Need something for a wedding?  Got it covered – and not just Sonnet 116, thank you!  He also brings in some Tempest, Cymbeline, As You Like It and others.   Or maybe it’s not an occasion where you’ll get up to speak, maybe you’ll just write a little note to someone in need of comfort.  The section on grief and loss is particularly moving, given how much of Shakespeare’s best work was in tragedy.  I was curious if a certain passage would be in there, and it was – King John’s “grief fills up the room of my absent child, lies in his bed, walks up and down with me…” speech.  I hope to never have occasion to use that one, either for myself or anyone I know.  But man is it powerful.
Summing up?  I want to find people to talk to and occasions to talk to them just so I can have an excuse to talk like this.  I want to be the kind of guy, like Edelstein, who can bust out the Shakespeare at the drop of a hat.  At any given time I can pull a couple out of thin air, but not nearly the level that could be possible with the help of a book like this.

James Earl Jones. White House. Othello. Video I am linking this before I’ve even finished watching it. 🙂

“When I found out that I had a chance to come to the White House to deliver two or three minutes in the realm of poetry I immediately thought of Dr. Seuss…or William Shakespeare.  And then I remembered how Jesse Jackson had so well acquitted himself with Green Eggs and Ham-you remember that, do you? – so I decided best I stick with Shakespeare.”