Sorry Anne Francis, But Leslie Nielsen Stars

Surely it can’t be true. Leslie Nielsen has died of pneumonia at 84.
Perhaps most well known for the cult classic Airplane movies, and later the Naked Gun series, let us not forget that the man was an accomplished actor with 20 years to his credit before the first of those movies came into being. Scanning through his IMDB profile I see something like 50 TV series with his name on them.
This being the blog that it is I always like to look for a Shakespeare connection, to pay proper tribute. And I think everybody knows what I’m going to link. Let us all enjoy some Forbidden Planet, shall we?
Minor references:
In the TV series “The New Breed”, he was featured in an episode called Wherefore Art Thou, Romeo?

Apparently Roger Ebert is quoted as calling Mr. Nielsen “The Laurence Olivier of spoof movies.” Appropriately high praise, I think.
RIP, Lt. Drebin.

So, What Play Should I Tackle Next?

Although it’s technically true that I’ve read all the plays (a long time ago I built an educational database of questions about the plays), I wouldn’t begin to say that I’m comfortable discussing many of them. So, I thought I’d change that. I was going to save this for the new year, but what the heck, why not start early.
What play should I focus my attention on next? I’ll let you define that as you want, keeping something very important in mind – if I start looking at it, I’m probably going to post about it a lot. So you could steer me toward the play you’d like to discuss more. Or you could steer me away from one you don’t particularly like.
I won’t call this a “play of the month” reading club or anything like that. This is for me. And, by extension, you people :). But it has no particular structure and I don’t promise to read all the plays this way.
To keep the voting from spreading too thin, let’s limit it to the following set. Sorry if I don’t pick your favorite right off the bat, but if it turns out to be a fun project maybe we’ll do it more: All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Merry Wives of Windsor, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Richard III.
How’s that for variety?

10 Reasons We Love Sir Ian McKellen

A Shakespeare blog seems as good a place as any to take a moment out for a little Sir Ian McKellen love fest, don’t you think? We talk frequently about the greatness that is Sir Ian, but I thought it would be fun to gather all the good stuff in one spot for the rest of the world to appreciate. Let’s get started!

10. Impossibly Cool Young Ian Before he was the acting god (and all around fine person) we’ve come to know and love, Ian McKellen was, well…

….damn! This picture of our man circulated around the net in September 2010 and made more than one net geek rethink what the term “man crush” really means.

9. He’s Magneto. What else is there to say? This isn’t the greatest clip, but it’s the most readily available one. The smile at the end is the kind of thing that put Magneto over the top.

8. Harry Potter is nervous around him. Rumor has it that Sir Ian did get a shot at the Dumbledore role, but didn’t think it would be appropriate because a) he was already another famous wizard and b) Richard Harris, who originated Dumbledore’s role, thought McKellen was a dreadful actor. I enjoyed this interview where Mr. Harry Potter explains what a day on the set was like when Mr. McKellen showed up and taught them all what being “Important” looks like.

7. He was so good at waiting for Godot, Godot actually showed up. Well, no, not really – but while taking a break from the show he looked so authentic that people were throwing money into his hat. McKellen even went on record to invite the person to the show who threw him a dollar, “And if he insists on paying, we’ll knock a dollar off the price.”

6. He’s Gandalf. Demonstrating his continued dominance of the geek world, he moved from comic geeks to fantasy geeks by becoming the wizard Gandalf. He’s even messing with the legions of fans lining up for the next installment in the Lord of the Rings series. When people constantly ask him for updates on the new Hobbit movie(s) he just smiles and says things like “Oh yes, I heard they were making those. No, no one’s called me.” YOU SHALL NOT PASS! (embedding disabled, darn it).

5. Richard III. I’m trying very hard not to make this a Top 10 Shakespeare Reasons We Love Ian McKellen, since his awesome extends far beyond our little universe. But we have to include his Richard III. Anybody who looks at Magneto and thinks, “Wow, this guy plays an awesome villain” needs to check out his Richard.

4. He’s gay. Get over it. Unfortunately that awesome “I’m Gandalf and Magneto” t-shirt turns out to be a photoshop, but that doesn’t change the fact that one of the greatest actors of our generation is an out gay man and not shy about it in the least. He does march, he does speak at rallies, and he’s got plenty of quotes on the subject that are absolute gems:

I’ve had enough of being a gay icon! I’ve had enough of all this hard work, because, since I came out, I keep getting all these parts, and my career’s taken off. I want a quiet life. I’m going back into the closet. But I can’t get back into the closet, because it’s absolutely jam-packed full of other actors.

3. He’s best pals with Jean Luc Picard. Having the comic geeks, fantasy geeks and Shakespeare geeks firmly in his pocket, I wonder if maybe his longtime friendship with Patrick Stewart is McKellen’s attempt to go after the sci-fi geeks and collect the whole set ;). No, seriously, I’m well aware that Stewart and McKellen were members of the Royal Shakespeare Company together (and highly recommend Playing Shakespeare, where you’ll see them acting together years before X-Men). Non-Shakespeare folks may not fully appreciate the awesomeness of this acting duo, who’ve appeared together on both screen and stage. Here they share a stage in Waiting for Godot:

2. He’s Lear. When he’s not being a wizard or a super villain, marching in a gay rights parade or scaring Harry Potter, Sir Ian McKellen still finds the time to tackle the Mt. Everest of Shakespeare, King Lear. Every actor wants to put his mark on Hamlet, but it takes a lifetime to prepare for Lear.

And the #1 reason we love Sir Ian McKellen…

1. He gives away all his best secrets. In this Extras clip, Sir Ian patiently explains to Ricky Gervais exactly how he does what he does. You want to be Gandalf? Listen carefully.

Thanks for everything, Sir Ian! And I do mean everything!

Thanksgiving Sale! 75% Off!

Memorize Shakespeare, It's Totally Worth It

dicksee_300.jpgIn celebration of the upcoming long weekend (don’t know about you folks, but I’ve got Thursday and Friday off for Thanksgiving and will likely not be getting too much posting time in), I wanted to do something nice for everybody. Starting right now and lasting, oh, probably through Sunday when I get back to the computer again, the PDF version of my book Hear My Soul Speak: Wedding Quotations from Shakespeare is on sale for an amazing 75% off! That makes the price just $1.99!

So if price was holding you back, now’s your chance to snatch up the freshman offering from that literary genius the world knows as Shakespeare Geek (who also happens to write his own promotional material. 🙂 ) Get them now and say you knew me when.Important note! This discount only applies to the PDF version, I do not have the mechanisms available to me (at the moment) to offer a similar program for the Kindle/iPad/Nook versions. Sorry about that. If you’re looking for those formats and will only buy in those formats, please drop me a note and I’ll more aggressively pursue pricing options on those platforms.

For more information you can check out the book’s site at There you can take a look at the table of contents, sample material, reviews and all that good stuff. Just remember to click the PDF buy button in order to get the special Thanksgiving discount price.

Seriously, though, thank you to everybody for making this site what it’s become. i may mope occasionally about what’s wrong with Shakespeare in the world and why we can’t all make a living at it, but it’s precisely because this is the kind of thing I’d want to do with my life if I could. Not act or teach or write, necessarily, but do exactly this – immerse myself in it, let it flow into and around me from all directions. Take in information, broadcast it back out, interact, evolve, repeat. Every now and then I go back and read posts I made 5 years ago and look at how much I’ve learned, how much my opinions have changed over the years, and it’s not the Works doing that, because they haven’t changed much in 400 years. It’s all of you, making this community something very special. Thank you.

The DaVinci Michelangelo Question

When our kids study history they’ll no doubt hear about great works of art throughout the centuries – the Mona Lisa, the Sistine Chapel, the statue of David. It’s a fairly safe bet that most students, regardless of what they are studying, will be exposed to these works are part of their general education, yes?
At what point do we start quizzing them on the kind of brush strokes that were used, and why? Or the political and economic climate at the time they were created?
If you’re a student of art history, then sure. if you’re destined to become an artist yourself, then absolutely. But for the most part, isn’t it important to understand that these great pieces exist, have a little bit of an idea about who created them and how and why they came into existence? Do we really need to analyze them into the ground from the moment we expose our kids to them?
You see where I’m going with this, right? How come we make them dissect Shakespeare until they hate it, then? A great deal of their education in this arena goes strictly to the items I mentioned, no doubt – understanding its existence and some concept of why it is important and how it came to be. Fair enough. But I monitor homework question sites. Most of the questions are of the “Compare and contrast the themes that Shakespeare expresses through specific use of anaphora in the following scenes and cite examples…..” blah blah blah.
Am I making a mountain out of a molehill on this one? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Shakespeare as a lesson in history, rather than in literature, and this is the idea that struck me this morning. Should we teach Shakespeare as part of history class?

Come On, Dictionary

[Argh, I hate this client, it eats my posts and I never know until somebody tells me.]
I think everybody remembers that dreaded day this summer when Sarah Palin didn’t know how to spell repudiate, and the world exploded. Trust me, I remember it well, I was on vacation and woke up to about 10,000 messages telling me that Palin had compared herself to Shakespeare. A book even came out of all the ShakesPalinisms that were spawned.
I would happily forget the whole thing. Except that the New Oxford American Dictionary has made her nonsense word the Word Of The Year, thus continuing to demonstrate the uselessness of dictionaries. I’ll leave it to Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers to eviscerate her, and them, the right way.

Shakespeare 101, on Prezi

I don’t know what Prezi is, exactly, but I like the idea behind this presentation on Shakespeare’s Biography. It’s as if someone laid out a whole bunch of index cards on a big screen, some text, some graphics, and then played connect the dots with them. The player/browser walks you through the cards in the intended sequence, but be sure to click the X inside a circle (next to the Play button) which will bring up the entire map at once and yet you jump around.
I’m not linking this for the quality of the Shakespeare info. It’s ok, and even covers some info that’s often overlooked (like the deer-poaching story, or the fact that when people speak of Shakespeare “inventing” words, that doesn’t really mean what you think it means). But it’s also pretty light on everything else, and never really mentions any plays at all, just timeline stuff.
What’s interesting to me is the potential for something like this. Play with it first, so we can discuss it. Got it? Ok, good.
Imagine this thing on an iPad. You’re using your fingers, getting in there and driving your way around Shakespeare’s life. Now like I said, this particular sample is pretty shallow – but imagine a really deep one that went into all the plays? Or even better something that had a certain amount of wiki to it, where people could continually comment and add ideas? It’s easy to write one sentence that says “Shakespeare had twins Judith and Hamnet, and Hamnet died at 11.” But think about all the different places throughout Shakespeare’s work where you could link possible examples of how his son’s death impacted his work.
Imagine it interactive! This was apparently created by a teacher, for his class. So why not have something in there were students could post questions back to the teacher? Or have homework where they have to create their own branches?
I love stuff like this that’s got obvious educational potential.

Congratulations, Shakespeare's Pizza!

Even though it constantly gets in the way of my Twitter streams :), I don’t mention Shakespeare’s Pizza (Columbia, MO) that much.There’s two reasons for that. First, I don’t know exactly what it has to do with *our* Shakespeare. I mean, I don’t talk about the music group Shakespeare’s Sister much either.
Second, I’m totally jealous that people in Missouri get to actually say stuff like “Hey I’m going over to Shakespeare’s to get a beer,” and I don’t. 🙁 A we have in Boston is stinkin’ Cheers, and that’s been off the air for ages. 😉
But, seriously, Shakespeare’s just won Good Morning America’s Best Bites : College Edition competition. So not only do they have the best name, like, ever, but they’ve got a dedicated following and apparently pretty killer food to boot. Congratulations!

Kids, Huh? Whaddya Gonna Do.

Been watching the early seasons of The Muppets via Netflix. Last night:
The Phantom of Muppet Theatre: “I played Hamlet! I played Othello!! I was killed on opening night.”
Kermit the Frog : “Who killed you?”
Phantom: “The critics.”
<cue laugh track>
My kids? “Daddy, Othello! Hamlet! Shakespeare!”
I like that they recognized Othello, because we don’t talk about that one much at the house. Hamlet they’d recognize, though, sure. I should break out the board game, they’ll get a kick out of that.

Julie Taymor's Tempest Costumes : Yes, Those Are Zippers You See

I had no idea what Shakespeare in Studs was when it came through my newsfeeds so I skipped it at first. Turns out it’s a Wall Street Journal piece on the costume design for Julie Taymor’s upcoming Tempest movie!
When the initial images were starting to circulate and they ended up on one of the computer-geek boards I frequent, it didn’t take people long to say “Zippers? Are those zippers I see on those costumes? Pretty sure they didn’t have zippers back then!” (Bonus points to the guy who responded, “You do realize that there’s magic and fairies in this too, right?”)
The zippers were deliberate. A lot of thought (and not a lot of budget!) went into the costumes.

The film had a limited costume budget, a relatively small $200,000. Ms. Powell sewed zippers on costumes herself during filming on the rocky Hawaiian island of Lanai. “I don’t always do that,” she says, “for anyone who’s reading this and wants to hire me.”