Songs Inspired by Shakespeare

It’s a topic we speak of often, and everybody seems to love it, but nobody to my knowledge has ever made a definitive list of “songs inspired by Shakespeare” because, quite frankly, how do you define that? Do you need lyrics from the text? Character names? Plots?
365 Days of Shakespeare doesn’t attempt to answer these questions, she just offers her top 10. I link because there’s a couple in there I’d not heard of!
No Rufus Wainwright in the mix, by the way, but that may go back to “how are you defining this”. Putting an entire sonnet to music isn’t really the same thing as rewriting a Romeo and Juliet story. I have both the Dire Straits and Indigo Girls’ versions of Romeo and Juliet in my playlist, and she’s right, the Indigo Girls version is much better.

Gielgud, In Spite of His Othello?

Stanley Wells was asked who, in his opinion, were The Ten Greatest Actors. I like how right off the bat he dismisses Burbage, not because he wasn’t any good but because frankly we simply have no evidence. He starts with David Garrick, for which there is plenty.
My title comes directly from Wells’ blog, because I have no idea what it means. Did Gielgud do a famously lousy Othello, or something?
The rest of our favorites – McKellen, Dench, Jacobi, Branagh, Scofield… all make the list. Who, in Wells’ opinion, is the greatest? He does say, but I won’t steal their thunder. You have to look for it though, because he drops an understated “for me he is the greatest” in the middle of the article and you’ll skim right by it if you’re in a hurry.

Are You Angry?

Disclaimer: Yes, JM, this post is inspired by you ;). But I hope that’s not a bad thing, and I hope what I’m about to say opens up some conversation. I am going with an idea, here, not trying to paint you into a corner and most certainly not trying to put words in your mouth. Fair enough?
I think that everybody here would like Shakespeare to have a larger presence in the world around us. What exactly that means will probably be different for everybody, but I hope that this is at least a fair statement. If there was more Shakespeare in the world, we’d be happier. True?
So, then, are you angry that we don’t have that? The current state of education, the movies, the pop culture references, the badly misquoted lines that become cliches … do those things bug the living daylights out of you, to the point where you can’t be happy until you live in a world where they’re fixed? What standard do you hope to achieve? Are we aiming to recreate Shakespeare’s world, or to integrate what he gave us into our own? What’s the difference between integrating and diluting?
For me, personally, I don’t get angry about it. Sometimes I get disappointed, sure. And I do throw a minor tantrum when people use “wherefore” to mean “where”, but only people who should know better. If a coworker pulled that nonsense I would correct the mistake, gently. If somebody puts up a television commercial where Juliet says “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” and Romeo says “I’m over here, yo!” then yes, I’ll get a little more upset about that because they should at least have some level of quality assurance.
But in general I’m happy to see Shakespeare in the world wherever I see him, and encourage more. Bring up Shakespeare around me and you will have to walk away, because I won’t stop talking. Seriously. I’m ok with that. I will go see Gnomeo and Juliet, and I will tell all my friends to go see it. Maybe here on the blog I’ll pick it apart, but I’d much rather see a bunch of my children’s friends all go to see it, than to keep it from them because of the aforementioned wherefore/why problem.
Very important to note, though, is that I’m not in the business. I don’t do Shakespeare for a living, and I think that could easily be the key difference. I don’t have to write grants to get my Shakespeare projects funded, only to see them turned down so the money can go toward other, lesser projects. I’m not out of a job if my kids’ school cuts the budget for the arts. As a parent I’d do what I could to complain, sure. But I’d also have the option of taking them to more theatre on my own, at least. I wouldn’t have to worry about where my next paycheck is coming from.

Happy Tenth Anniversary, Kerry!

Ten years ago tomorrow, September 30, I won the game. I asked, she said yes, and now I get to be the happiest geek in the world because I get to say stuff like “That thou didst know how many fathom deep I am in love!” to a real person, in real life, and really mean it. People wonder why I love Shakespeare and wish that everyone else did? Because Shakespeare knew, man. If you can feel it, Shakespeare can give you the words to express it. A heaven on earth I have won by wooing her.
Last year I introduced Kerry to the site and we showered her in quotes. This year I went a little mushier, and wrote her a sonnet. I was going to include it here, but I’ve taken it out. It’s a gift to her, and if she wants it shared then that will be her choice.

A Shakespeare Stimulus?

Whenever politicians talk about education, at least here in the US, they focus on Math and Science. We’re falling behind on math and science, we need innovation in math and science.
What if they said Shakespeare instead? Or, more generally we’ll say, “The Classics”. I’d say Literature in general, but I’m not really interested at the moment in promoting new literature, I want to talk about improving the standing of existing literature.
Imagine a world, hypothetical though it may be, where the president announces a couple hundred billion dollars to be allocated toward advancement of Education in Literature. I’ve grown up to be president, and I want to live in a country where any four year old who knows the plot to Cinderella also knows the plot to Midsummer, and every parent could answer questions about it.
The actual numbers don’t matter, just assume that there’ll be enough that programs could be implemented on a national scale. Ignore the politics of “it would never pass”, “it would take longer than my lifetime”, “all the money would be wasted” and so on. We all know the unfortunate reality. These thought experiments are supposed to be fun :).
How would spend it? What would the title of your grant request be? Would you spend it on elementary education, or high school? Would you fund more new theatres? If you suddenly got a green light to focus on making people appreciate and understand Shakespeare more, how would you break it down?
I’ll start with an easy one : seed money for people who make movie versions of Shakespeare’s works. We already have all the superhero, horror, sequels and animated 3D movies we need, why not a sudden surge of Shakespeare films? While it’s true that this would not do wonders toward advancing actual education of Shakespeare (i would expect most of the projects to be more “mass market” than academic), but it would get the brand recognition out there and get people more appreciative of the body of work they may not even realize exists.

Dungeons and Shakespeare? Shakespeare and Dragons?

Cool find of the day (and by find I mean, “The inventor emailed me and told me about it” :)) is Play Extempore, a combining of Shakespeare with Dungeons and Dragons.

From the Game Manual (which, right now, can’t be read on OS X due to a font issue but I think that’s being fixed):

To play this game you will need someone to act as the Playwright, or gamemaster, and at least four Players. The Playwright runs the game. He chooses the genre that will be played or rolls for it (see Genres) and gives the play a title. He chooses the game’s setting or rolls for it (see Setting), performs the non-playing characters (NPCs—see Minor Characters), and sets the storyline according to the genre being played. He can also act as a Chorus to move the action forward in time or geographically.

The idea is to stage an improvised 5 act play. Players get character sheets just like in a D&D campaign.

I immediately sent this to an old friend who is both an active D&D player, as well as a working actor. His response (via IM):

“This is hysterical! I love it. random monologues! And duels and battle of wits! Fun.”

Looks like a work in progress (a teaching tool, recently released for free and looking for feedback). So if you’ve got a handful of Shakespeare geeks that you hang out with, take it for a spin. Or maybe a roll? Let us know how it goes!

The IMDB Shakespeare Quote Game

I’m always looking for new angles on our favorite topic. Today while hunting around for new Shakespeare movies (I did not find any, I think we’re all caught up), I did find out that I can search the Internet Movie Database’s list of quotes from movies that contain the word Shakespeare.
This is fascinating to me, because it’s not quotes from Shakespeare movies, and it’s not people in movies quoting Shakespeare plays. It’s people in movies who used the word Shakespeare. In whatever context they needed.
So sometimes you get, “Shakespeare said blah blah blah.”
Other times you’ll get, “What are you, frickin Shakespeare over here?”
Sometimes you’ll get very large quotes, or very large paragraphs about the subject. It’s always different.
And that’s what fascinates me. Here in one shot is a way to cut across dozens of movies that you may have never seen, pull out a single reference, and then work backwards.
So there’s the game. Flip through the quotes a bit. Find a quote from a movie that you’ve never seen, that makes you say “Ok, now I want to see this movie to understand where this quote came from.” Maybe because it’s just a weird enough quote that you have no idea, or maybe it’s because the quote sounded so good that you can’t wait to see it the way it was intended.
Although it won’t make me run out and get the entire season on DVD, I can’t resist pasting this quote:
Full House (1987 TV Series)

Episode: Michelle Rides Again: Part 2 (1995)Duane here is a Shakespeare freak. Aren’t you, my little Hamlet-and-cheese?Duane, you’re into Shakespeare?

🙂 Yes, Yes I am. Had they only said “geek” it would have been that much more awesome.

Old News? Shakespeare Reading Lists

Ok, who new that Google News actually allows you to search “news” from up to 20 years ago? I just had to type in Shakespeare and start poking around.
Here’s the first interesting article I found, showing the most popular required reading lists for high school (broken out by private, public, Catholic).

I don’t think there are many surprises (Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet show up on every list), but it does remind me a bit of our Catcher in the Rye discussion from a few weeks back. What was required reading when you were in high school?

I never read Scarlet Letter, Of Mice and Men, or Gatsby. But I did read some Thomas Hardy, I don’t see him on the list. And some Kafka, Hemingway and a few others.

Patrick Stewart as Macbeth – Oct 6, on PBS

I’d like to come up with a snappier title for this exciting news, but I’m going to be out of town and thus I’m rather jealous.  We all saw Patrick Stewart and David Tennant do Hamlet earlier this year (well, on television. Those of us not lucky enough to see the live version).  Now we get to do it again, this time with Stewart’s Macbeth, which will be previewed on PBS October 6.

They’ve got a preview up:  http://www.pbs.org/arts/gallery/shakespeare-three-tragedies/macbeth-preview-video/

It looks …. weird. I get a strange sort of “Sweeney Todd” vibe, and I’m not sure why.

No word yet on whether Stewart also plays the ghost of Banquo ;).   (Inside joke).  But I swear, if he shrugs when Macduff says that he was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped, I’m taking him down.

Seriously, this is awesome and I will no doubt DVR it (I’ll be on a cruise for my anniversary that week).  What I will miss that was so fun the first time was “live tweeting” it.  Some geeks do it for award shows, some for sports events. Shakespeare geeks? We live tweet PBS Great Performances.  I feel like Frasier Crane’s brother Niles for some reason.

Anyway, set your DVR now so you don’t forget!