Atlanta Needs Money

Every year around this time, The Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta holds their fundraising drive.  This year they’re heading for $50,000 having been promised a matching gift that would bring them up to $100k.

The Tavern is very highly regarded for their “original practice” style, and we’ve spoken of them often here on the blog.  One of their staff, Ann, has been a regular contributor in the past (though I’m not sure if she’s still hanging out with us).  If you’ve got some bucks to donate and want to support Shakespeare, Atlanta can certainly put your generosity to good use.

New Merchandise Now Available!

Every time I showed my wife the t-shirts I was making she’d say, “I don’t like big stuff on the front. Why not make just a little Shakespeare up in the corner, like an emblem? And then put something big on the back if you want.”

Worth a shot.

I’ve added three new shirts, all in the same basic style – a white-on-dark image taken from the Chandos portrait that I use as my logo. The image really only works in this scheme – I’ve tried dark-on-light but it doesn’t look good. Please note that “Customize” button – all of these are available in all men’s and women’s styles and colors (just dark ones).

The difference between the three is in the text:

So there you have it. Hopefully my wife is right and people do like this more understated “small on the front” style.  Note that there is nothing at all on the back of these shirts.   Enjoy!

Chicken and Egg Shakespeare

This question has been explored by greater minds than my own, but let’s talk about the … universality? … of Shakespeare.

We know that modern audiences tend to appreciate a story with even the hint of a Shakespeare plot line : West Side Story.  Ten Things I Hate About You.  Lion King.   “Hey,” people tell each other, “Did you know that’s based on a Shakespeare story?”

Thing is, we also know that Shakespeare simply rewrote existing stories.

So if you remove Shakespeare’s words and retreat back to the story, where does the inherent value and appeal come from?  Do we like it because we associate it with Shakespeare and therefore lift it up more than we might? Or are we looking at the deeper story that predates Shakespeare, that caused even Shakespeare himself to say “Hey, that’s good, I should borrow that.”

Take Romeo and Juliet.  We know that Shakespeare rewrote that one.  He added characters and changed some stuff around.  So what if we staged the Romeo and Juliet story today, without those additions? Would it still work? And if it didn’t, would that be because it wasn’t as good a story until Shakespeare got to it? Or has the Shakespearean version become so ingrained in our brains that if we recognize it as “not Shakespeare” then it’s just not as good?

Where Are You On The Interpretation Spectrum?

OK, I’ve tried to write this post 4 times now and it never seems to get where I want it to go.  Let’s try again.

Whenever an interesting question comes up where Shakespeare didn’t necessarily make it clear what he meant, people start to split up.  Some folks dig into the text, and others move away from it and into pure conjecture.

So I’m imagining a line. On the far left is “perfect Shakespeare”.  As if we jumped in a time machine and travelled back in time 400+ years so that we could see, and thus mimic, exactly what Shakespeare meant and said and why he meant and said it.  Of course we’d have to actually go back and live there for a little while to get the right frame of reference, we couldn’t just pop in for a show, but you get the idea.

On the other hand is pure interpretation.  Or at least, pure in the sense that you’ve retained only the essence of the original, to the point where maybe “inspiration” is a better idea.  West Side Story comes to mind, or Lion King.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is an interesting case, because on the one hand it’s entirely the imagination of Stoppard, but he’s weaved it beautifully into the original source material. 

So, where do you put yourself on that spectrum?  Would the time machine be interesting to you? Do you care at all about West Side Story sorts of production that have no actual Shakespeare content? What’s your opinion on each end?

I’m somewhere closer to the “inspiration” side than the time machine side.  I think that for Shakespeare to have remained relevant for this long, the important part has to lie more in the common core than in the details of what that specific audience would have known going into the show.  I do like source material. That’s where I draw the line.  If ya ain’t speaking lines that Shakespeare gave you, then have a nice day and go wait over there. I’ll enjoy you, but you don’t get to be in the same camp as those that use the source.  Make sense?  Take Shakespeare in Love.  Obviously, most of the lines in that movie are not in their original context.  Don’t care – they’re still good lines.

It’s not that I don’t like the lessons in Elizabethan history.  They’re … interesting.  But when the lesson becomes “To understand Shakespeare you have to understand the following,” I start to lose it.  I don’t *want* that to be true.  I want to be able to meet someone who’s never heard of Shakespeare and say “Watch this” and know that he can still come away seeing the genius.  You may understand it more if you study it, but that of course is true of everything.  When it’s presented as an obstacle to understanding, that’s when I camp myself on the side of the folks that don’t and possibly never will know or care about that stuff.  And then I go searching for as much of that core/essence that I can find, and share it with those folks.

Ophelia’s Imaginary Flowers

I like when I have questions about a particular scene in Shakespeare, and it turns out that there is no answer. That means I didn’t miss something :).  In this case the question was, “Does Ophelia hand out real flowers corresponding to what she says, does she hand out something like sticks or other generic thing that she’s only imagining are flowers, or is she holding nothing at all?”

I posted on the question and got two answers – “I’ve seen both” and “It depends on the director.”  The second came from … ahem … Stanley Wells.  Why he’s following me on Twitter I have no idea, but it gave me a thrill.

So, let’s talk about it, since it’s not a simple answer.  I think that most folks agree that the flowers she describes are not a random assortment.  Each has a meaning, and thus a message.  If it is staged that she gives out the actual flowers, I personally think that would ruin it. She still had enough wits about her to find the flowers and then deliver them like secret messages to their targets, like some sort of fish wrapped in newspaper ala the Godfather?  I don’t think so. 

At the other end is the idea that she’s got nothing – that she’s delusional, and imagining that she’s holding the flowers. This makes far more sense. She wants to speak her mind to the queen and king, but she’s unable to do that. So she imagines herself picking these flowers and being bold enough to walk up and hand them out. She’s not, of course.  That’s the point.  Hamlet can handle it, she can’t.

Know what I just noticed? Maybe I’m stupid for never seeing this before, but …

  • Hamlet’s dad?  Dead.  Killed by someone he would have thought to be a trusted friend/family member. The person he’d naturally turn to, his girlfriend, has basically dumped him. 
  • Ophelia’s dad? Dead.  Killed by someone she would have thought to be a trusted friend/family member. The person she’d naturally turn to, her boyfriend, is essentially stolen from her given that he’s the one that killed her dad.


  • Hamlet probably had no strong relationship with his uncle Claudius before this. So while it is a shock to be sure, as any murder would be, it’s not that “my whole world has been shattered by this news” order of magnitude that, say, Ophelia experiences.
  • Hamlet has at least one friend, Horatio. Ophelia has nobody.
  • Hamlet, the prince, has got the whole castle wondering what’s wrong with him and how they can fix it.  Ophelia’s own father thinks he knows everything about his daughter, and thus pays attention to nothing.

Is it really any wonder that she lost it?

He…he…he….*wrecked* it? BURN HIM!

We’ve done many stories about certified lunatic Raymond Scott who stole a First Folio, then waltzed back into the Folger Library and said “I found this, can you tell me if it’s authentic?”  “Why don’t you have a seat over there,” said Folger in their best Chris Matthews impression.

Well the idiot’s getting his day in court yet again, and now we learn that he actually mutilated the book in a moronic attempt to somehow disguise it:

Raymond Scott, 53, ripped the binding, boards and pages from the 1623 Shakespeare First Folio before claiming to have discovered it in Cuba, Newcastle Crown Court heard.

So much about this story makes me angry.  To steal anything is bad enough. To steal a nearly one-of-a-kind item, that much worse.  To then deface it, because you’re too stupid to realize that every smudge on every page of the book has been micro-catalogued, and changing page 1 does not mean that pages 200-300 are not exactly the same?  That’s criminal. On top of that the guy has totally make a mockery of the whole system, showing up to court in various silly costumes, usually climbing out of a horse and carriage or some other ridiculous means of transportation.

Send him to jail, fix the book as best we can, and let’s move on.

Behold The Theatre Truck!

Taking a cue from Elizabethan times, a troupe of actors is wandering around Cambridge, MA putting on plays anywhere they can find the space and the audience.  Only they’re wandering in a truck.

The Momentum Theatre Company are my new heroes for their Theatre Truck which does literally what I just said, they’ve built a portable “actors’ jungle gym” that reminds everybody of a Transformers robot.  And their first show?  “A very physical interpretation of The Tempest.”  Awesome.

[ Found via Facebook, courtesy Jim W.  Thanks Jim! ]

Nazi Shakespeare

This topic came up in our discussion of foreign languages last week, and I thought it reduced down nicely to a topic that anybody could weigh in on. Allow me to snip from Wikipedia for a moment:

Weeks after Hitler took power in 1933 an official party publication
appeared entitled Shakespeare – a Germanic Writer, a counter to
those who wanted to ban all foreign influences. At the Propaganda Ministry,
Rainer Schlosser, given charge of German theatre by Goebbels, mused
that Shakespeare was more German than English. After the outbreak of the
war the performance of Shakespeare was banned, though it was quickly
lifted by Hitler in person, a favour extended to no other.

While the Nazis were banning all “foreign influences”, Hitler himself gave Shakespeare a pass, something they did for no one else.

My question is this – how do you feel about that?  Does it say more about Shakespeare, or about the Nazis? Is it possible that there is a germ of something in Shakespeare’s work that reinforces what the Nazis believed in?  Or is the other way around, is there something so universal in Shakespeare’s work that it still managed to touch whatever shred of humanity might still be buried inside them?

I suppose there is a third option, which seems the most likely the more I think about it — that the Nazis were just very, very good at corrupting whatever they wanted to say whatever they needed.  Just because they found idea that they liked in Hamlet does not in any way suggest that Shakespeare meant for them to be there.  Or is that just hindsight, protecting our literary idol?

Thoughts?  Is it even possible to have a rational discussion about Nazis?

Off-topic : Bye-bye, Day Job.

Sorry for the interruption, folks.  Some of you may have seen me note on Twitter that I was laid off from my day job on Friday.

On the one hand this can be a good thing. There’s plenty of Shakespeare-related stuff that I want to do and just never have time for, so maybe in the coming days I’ll actually get to some of that.

On the other, let’s be realistic – there’s nothing I can do with this site, even under the most generous of circumstances, that would pay my mortgage and health insurance. So I need a day job.

Thus my interruption and temporary plea.  If you happen to know of anybody in the Massachusetts / New Hampshire area, your company or otherwise, hiring folks in the “software architect” space, particularly the Java/Rails flavor, please hook a geek up and send me details.  I’ve got 20 years of experience as a professional software engineer, web and otherwise, and have touched more modern technologies than I could name (it would be shorter and more accurate to just say “all of them”).  Please do not just send links to your friend-who-is-a-recruiter, I have plenty of recruiters on the case already. What I need now are the leads that are more often filled by word-of-mouth that never make it out to the agencies.

Thanks very much! 

On a related note, just because the site isn’t my main source of income doesn’t mean that your generosity goes unappreciated.  My sincere thanks to the people that have been hitting that Tip Jar button and those buying merchandise! I shall do my best to invest it all back into improving the site’s quality and adding new features.

Ok, back to Shakespeare.  Have I said thanks?  Thanks!