What Didn’t You Get?

Following up on the Perspective thread, a slightly different spin :

What “high school classic”, that you never read in high school, did you finally get around to reading, only to not see what the big deal was?

I don’t want to talk about what you loved, or how every book you pick up you grok from the first word.  I want to hear about something that modern culture tells you should have meant something to you, and just… didn’t.

Perspective : Catcher in the Rye

We’re a bit of a strange group, we Shakespeare geeks.  We voluntarily seek out and read things that, were we teenagers, our teachers would have had to force us to read, giving us quizzes at every breaking point and asking us all about themes and symbolism.
So having just read Catcher in the Rye 25 odd years after I should have, with no teachers to tell me what it’s about, I find that my perspective has changed. I didn’t love it.  I think it’s a good book, and I can see that it’s trying to tell me … something.  But I’m not sure I fully grasp what.  And, 25 years after the fact, I’m not sure that I can.
Does that make sense?  We’ve often talked about approaches to teaching Shakespeare, and the difference between getting the kids to love it versus telling them to just shut up and do it. But I think there’s a big gap in between those two that isn’t served by that sort of black and white approach. Namely, do you understand it? Do you have questions, do you need help? Most importantly, what does the material mean to you?
As a 40yr old father of 3, Catcher in the Rye to me is an unrealistic, dated story about an annoying 12yr old who has some pretty hefty psych issues, very likely depression and possibly some form of attention deficit disorder.  I didn’t bond with the title character in any way.   I didn’t sympathize with him.  I didn’t get him.
I wonder which is more at fault, the fact that it’s no longer as relevant to me? Or the fact that I didn’t have somebody spoonfeeding it to me?
re: the Shakespeare connection, by the way, we’ll do another post on that one.  I’m not willing to accept that Hamlet gets credit for every angst-ridden teenager with parent issues, unless we want to go all Bloomy and just say that Shakespeare invented the human.

The Original Klingon

I’m sure most geeks know that Shakespeare translations have been available in Klingon for years.  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard about anyone trying to perform it in Klingon, however.  They’re just doing selections (Hamlet and Much Ado), but still, it could be interesting to watch.  I wonder if they’ll be dressed up in Klingon garb? By the way:

The company will speak the verse in both English and Klingon with the lines in iambic pentameter.

Iambic pentameter defines how it is written, not how it is spoken.  If they’re saying that the Klingon translation is also in iambic pentameter I’ll be impressed, but I also expect that it’ll be about as poetic as the typical syllable counting that goes on with most people that any 5-7-5 poem counts as a haiku.

Pitch The Sequel

Wow, the ideas are just flying fast and furious tonight.
Mark made me think of this one on the “Who Would You Be?” post when he mentions Miranda and Ferdinand getting back to Milan and breaking up once Miranda gets to see just how many people this brave new world really does have in it.
You’re in an elevator with a big time movie producer.  You’ve talked his ear off about what plays you think deserve a movie treatment, but he’s not interested. He wants something original. He ponders aloud whether the market would be there for a Shakespeare sequel.  Without missing a beat you pitch him …. what?
Tell us the play, and give us a concise summary of the sequel.
This has been done before.  I’m pretty sure I remember somebody did a play Fortinbras about the new ruler of Denmark who is now haunted by all the ghosts from the previous play.  (I’m not really counting the movie Hamlet 2.)  Somebody’s also got a book project in the works, not sure if there’s a movie, that follows up Macbeth and ties in the storyline of how Fleance (you know, Banquo’s son? who escaped?) returns to become king.

Going To The Well Too Often

I wish I could think of these conversation starters during the day when everybody’s awake and not at 11pm on a Friday night when everybody’s gone for the weekend. Give your best example of Shakespeare using the same “bit” in multiple plays.  A “bit” is any sequence lengthy enough to be more than coincidence (“Ah me” or “by my troth”, for instance, don’t count). For instance, having heard it again in Much Ado that makes 3 different times I know Shakespeare used this joke: “Is that your daughter?” /  “Her mother told me she was.” Taming of the Shrew. The Tempest (where Prospero says it to his own daughter), and now Much Ado. Possibly more that I just haven’t spotted. This isn’t just “when does Shakespeare repeat a sequence,” but how often can you find where he does it? Can anybody find something that he repeats more than 3 times?

Who Would You Be?

Here’s another open-ended question for discussion over the weekend. I remember being at a party once, back in the college days, playing the “If…” game from that book where everybody was asked a hypothetical question and had to give a truthful answer.  The question was, “If you could be another person for a day, who would you be?” The guys chose Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Gates, among others. When it came to my turn I answered, “My brother, because I’ve lived with him all my life and really have no idea what life looks like from his point of view.”  Everybody, my brother included, found that lame.  Oh, well. So here’s my version of that question : If you could be one Shakespearean character for the duration of the play, who would you be? I don’t mean play the role – I mean pretend that the play is reality and be that character.  When the play ends, or when you die, you turn back into yourself. Part two: There’s a couple different ways to approach this. You could either think that you’ll remain aware of who you really are, and basically wear the character like a puppet, trying to change the play the way you want it to go…or you could take more of a backseat and basically just watch how it plays out with no real control, but a better understanding of why certain things happen.   Make sense? For me I can think only in the second sense – it doesn’t make sense for me to think “change the course of the play.”  I’m trying to think of who I’d be, though, because if this were some sort of funky carnival ride I could see myself getting back in line again and again.  Maybe take Jaques for a spin, see what his deal is. I don’t think I’d feel much need to see what Benedick is all about (getting back to earlier Much Ado discussions), though I might take Prospero out for a drive and see once and for all whether he changed his mind or if he was always in complete control of what was going on. Maybe that’s a spin on the question – which character keeps a secret that you’d like to learn once and for all?  Maybe find out whether Gertrude knew?

Who Else Do You Read?

As I’m working my way through Catcher In The Rye (and not enjoying it) I was struck with a good question for the weekend: You’re a Shakespeare fan, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.  What other authors, modern or classic, do you or have you read that you feel … how can we say this… give Shakespeare a run for his money?  What do I mean by that? I’m trying to decide. As I read Salinger I’m trying to find parallels with Shakespeare, in character or theme or plot or something. Not finding much.  So I’m wondering if there’s some author out there that I might read where you could clearly say “Ok, see, this guy is roughly following the tragic hero model, here’s where his flaw becomes his downfall…” That sort of thing.  Am I making sense? Some other author that crafts characters or stories that you’d feel comfortable drawing a comparison to Shakespeare. I used to work with a guy who was Hemingway Geek to my Shakespeare Geek.  His job was much harder because Hemingway’s work is not in the public domain, so there’s no way that he could just search across the Complete Works like we do.  But we had many conversations about similarities between the two.  Personally I don’t see it, Shakespeare as a playwright was driven by plot and dialogue and Papa Hemingway could write 50 pages about a guy standing in a river by himself catching a fish.

Ado! Ado!

So today I got to hang out with Rebel Shakespeare more than ever before.  Not only had they come to my local library, they run a workshop for kids before hand that my 8 and 6yr old daughters attended.  We decided that my 4yr old son was probably just a smidge too young to pay attention for that long.  I also met directors Hannah, who previously I’d only met via Twitter, and Christina. The workshop was cute, and fun. I’d say mine were the youngest there, but I believe another little 5yr old was snuck in as well – I clearly heard the mother ask several times if she was too young, and then finally she joined.  My two tend to be painfully shy for awhile, but the Rebels were incredibly friendly.  Special thanks to Allison Kurpiel (who was playing Beatrice in this show) who a couple of times took my Elizabeth by the hand and brought her into an activity when she was too shy or frightened to do it on her own. The best part of the workshop is actually the play walkthru, where the cast clearly says (paraphrased), “Hi, even though I’m Allison, I’ll be playing Beatrice today.  I’m interested in this guy named Benedick, even though I tell everybody I hate him.” Repeat for the entire cast, and then walk through the plot.  I know that for my kids the actual Shakespeare language is going to go right over their heads, so this opportunity to do what I always do – focus on character and plot – is a great idea, especially and obviously when it’s done by the people who are about to put on the show.  After the workshop I asked my kids, “Who is Beatrice? Who is Dogberry?” and they pointed out the appropriate teenagers who’d be playing the roles, telling me their real names in the process. The show itself was your classic Much Ado.  What do I mean by that?  Well, it’s a fairly straightforward sort of story.  Not a great deal of drama, in my opinion.  Claudio is misled into thinking Hero cheated, we find out he was wrong, everybody lives happily ever after.  Meanwhile Beatrice and Benedick do their little dance of finally deciding they love each other.  There were some good parts – I was particularly impressed with the masquerade ball, given that this is a touring production who quite literally does not know the space they’ll be working in until they walk into it that morning. So to get the entire cast into that space in a choreographed dance?  Not bad. I’ve done enough of these reviews now that my readers should understand, I don’t critique these kids.  They’re doing Shakespeare and they’re taking it seriously, what more can we ask?  Some of them are most likely at their best with the comedies, because it allows them to go over the top with the silly.  As always, Dogberry and his crew were the silliest of the bunch, reading their lines from an upside-down copy of “Law Enforcement for Dummies.”  Verges fell down a bunch, my kids greatly enjoyed that.  Good rule of comedy : fall down, kids laugh. I think Shakespeare invented that. I realized too late that one of their funniest sequences is Dogberry’s great “Write it down that I am an ass” sequence, and had only a moment to wonder whether we’d be doing that scene in front of a bunch of as-young-as-5-year-olds before it began.  To my relief, I didn’t see any little heads whip around to ask Mommy or Daddy what that word meant.  For my part I covered my 6yr old’s ears, but that was more to get my own laugh than anything else (what with my 8yr old sitting next to me hearing everything anyway).  I had an excuse all ready to go, just in case : That’s what they used to call a donkey in Shakespeare’s time.  He called him a donkey.  Didn’t have to use it. How about our stars? I already mentioned Allison, whose transformation is wonderful from the sweetheart she is in real life to the standoffish (and somewhat bitchy) Beatrice.  Seth Finkelstein played her Benedick for this performance. As someone previously cast in more outwardly comic roles, this made for an interesting twist on the character. His was a Benedick not really used to getting the girl, and not quite sure what he was supposed to do now that he was in the situation.  This is very different from when you cast your most handsome leading man in the role, and it’s obvious to the audience that Benedick could (and probably does) get any girls he wants. I wish Rozzie Kopczynski had more to work with as Hero, but there’s really not much for the actress to sink her teeth into (though her big reveal in the last scene I thought came off quite nicely).  In talking to Christine (the touring coordinator) I said, “Someone should give her Viola to work with.”   “She played her last season,” Christine replied.  Hey I could be a casting director! 🙂 Lastly, I was particularly impressed by Joe Boyce as Claudio.  The kid is a natural.   I don’t say that to downplay the performance of any of the other members of the cast, all of whom were doing the best they could.  It’s just that Joe, who I’m told is actually a first year Rebel, had something in his comic timing that nailed everything he was trying to do, both in his physical action as well as how he delivered his lines.  I don’t know much about his story or how he came to the Rebels, but I think he’s got quite a future in this acting stuff if he chooses to pursue it. My kids later told me that the “the sheriff’s assistant, the guy who fell down” was the funniest part.  They lost the Borachio plot a bit, and asked me on the way home what Duncans were.  This confused me a bit until they said “They kept saying a thousand duncans.”  Oh, ducats.  “That means dollars.  He paid him a thousand dollars.” Parts of the story clearly stuck, though, as later that evening their Barbie mermaids had a masquerade ball. Even better I heard my 8yr old work a curse into the story, saying that one mermaid was not allowed to come to the party because “No human house shalt thy enter.”  So it looks like both some plot and language may have rubbed off a bit :).  Then again these are kids who named their dolls Regan, Goneril, Miranda and Caliban so long ago that they don’t even remember doing it. I always love to watch the Rebels do their thing.  If I lived about an hour east of where I do, I’d probably go see all of their shows.  As it is, I find myself wondering what effort it would take to create a branch of my own to expand this great thing that Keri has built.  Everybody should have a program like this to support. Great show, everybody!  Here’s hoping that Stevens Library becomes as regular stop on your tour!