Thy Week In Geek : January 23 – 29, 2011

Introducing a new feature that will hopefully go out every Monday, where I summarize last week’s most interesting posts for those folks who may not be stopping by on a regular enough basis, and missing out when they scroll off the main page.
Last week started out slow, with nothing to write about Sunday, and even Monday little more than a personal anecdote about my 4yr old doing Hamlet while he brushes his teeth.
Tuesday didn’t herald much else, other than a revisit with the Alaska Bard-a-thon, a project that I first wrote about back in 2007 that is still going strong.
Wednesday, things started to pick up. I though that Eddie Izzard doing Christopher Walken doing Shakespeare would have been the big hit, but Bardfilm dropped a new list on us – Shakespeare Internet Initialisms – that absolutely eclipsed Mr. izzard. (To be fair, Bardfilm and I promoted the holy heck out of his post on Twitter, and dear Eddie had little to stand on other than the drawing power of Christopher Walken :)). Right in the middle I dropped in a quick post about how to interpret Stephano’s band of would be murderers in The Tempest, but I think my single got lost between those two big home runs.
Thursday had nothing exciting for us.
And then came Friday, where I unknowingly opened up a serious can of Othello worms, first by asking what exactly an “ancient” was and what that means about Iago and Othello’s relationship. That then led to the big controversy of the week about whether Othello really did sleep with Emilia, as well as some side discussion about how the age of a character (when Shakespeare doesn’t tell us) determines how you play it, which in turn led to some stories about actors’ favorite backstories.
And last but not least, don’t miss the final story of the week (which I posted late on Friday) about All The World’s An Ape, the theatre review blog authored by a 14yr old who is trying to see every Shakespeare play in the span of 2 years. He’s seen 28 of them already, including Al Pacino’s Merchant and Christopher Plummer’s Tempest. I’m seriously jealous!
There you have it. If you missed any, feel free to go back an have a look! Comments remain open, and via that Recent Comments widget in the blog sidebar people will see what you write, so don’t feel like the post has scrolled off therefore there’s no more reason to comment.
Also, feedback always welcome. Like this feature? Want it to change in some way? Is Monday a good day? I picked Monday morning because the only other logical time would be either a weekend day, or Friday. Weekends are no good because I’m generally busy with family, plus traffic is very low anyway and nobody’s going to see the recap posts. Friday would be good, but Friday’s also often a very busy post day (see Ape post at 11pm!) so if I tried to summarize the week during the day I’d inevitably miss something.

Shakespeare Karaoke

This looks interesting.

Shakespeare in Action, a Toronto-based theatre company that has been performing in schools for more than 20 years, will launch its virtual lab of Bard-themed activities Thursday. It includes an interactive program in which students are inserted into the scene of a play by reading the lines for the role of Romeo, Juliet, Hamlet, and the like, as they scroll along a computer monitor. Students will also be able to play Shakespeare mad libs, inserting new verbs and nouns into the nearly 500-year-old scripts, or practise eloquent insults such as, ‘Thou churlish fat-kidneyed codpiece.’

Stay tuned. I’ll have to check that out!

Release The Gnomes!

With Gnomeo and Juliet just two weeks away, the press onslaught has begun. Today we have a quick video of Elton John and his partner David Furnish talking about how, by changing the ending, they turned a tragedy into the greatest love story ever told. Ummm… what? Do they think they’re the first ones to think of that?
“Hey David?”
“Yes, Elton?”
“You know, if they just didn’t die at the end, this would be a really romantic story.”

What Antony Really Said

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar paints such a perfect picture of what happened on March 15, 44 BC that we often confuse what really happened with what Shakespeare told us. Did Shakespeare really say “Et tu, Brute?” Did Antony really ask friends, Romans and countrymen to lend him their ears?
Well, apparently we do know the answer to that last part, as Antony’s funeral speech for Caesar was actually documented at the time?! Obviously this is old :), but I’ve never seen so it’s new to me. Apparently the historian Appian wrote down a report (not a direct account) of what was said.

‘It is not right, my fellow-citizens, for the funeral oration in praise of so great a man to be delivered by me, a single individual, instead of by his whole country. The honors that all of you alike, first Senate and then People, decreed for him in admiration of his qualities when he was still alive, these I shall read aloud and regard my voice as being not mine, but yours.’

He then read them out with a proud and thunderous expression on his face, emphasizing each with his voice and stressing particularly the terms with which they had sanctified him, calling him ‘sacrosanct’, ‘inviolate’, ‘father of his country’, ‘benefactor’, or ‘leader’, as they had done in no other case. As he came to each of these Antony turned and made a gesture with his hand towards the body of Caesar, comparing the deed with the word.   

Absolutely fascinating reading.

A 14yr Old Reviews Shakespeare. All of it.

It’s one thing for a 14yr old to like Shakespeare. It’s quite another to review each production to the level of detail that Edward Moravcsik does. But his goal of seeing all the plays? In two years? That’s a pretty lofty goal. You can read about his experiences at his blog, All The World’s an Ape.
He’s on 28 of 38. Or, to his count, “37 (and 3 possible collaborations).” I wonder which of the standard 38 he considers a collaboration – Henry VIII? This kid’s seen Pacino’s Merchant, Plummer’s Tempest….he gets around! I’m jealous.
How did we not know about this young man? Seems like he’d fit in quite well here :).
Go send the gentleman some traffic, and some support. Maybe he’ll follow the links back and come visit.

What's Your Back Story?

I’m no actor, so any back story I come up with for the characters (just how long were Gertrude and Claudius an item? where is Cordelia’s mom?) is for my own amusement. If you are an actor, then the back story is obviously part of who you (at least temporarily) are.
So, tell us one. Tell us the most interesting or unexpected back story you’ve ever come up with for a character. What came first, the text or the idea? Did you imagine a back story and then find supporting evidence in the text to work off of? Or vice versa, did you get a brainstorm after reading something in the text, and expanded that backward?
It’s a Friday afternoon and I don’t get my best traffic on Fridays so I don’t know how many actors we’ll get to chime in, but I’m hoping to see a couple of different backstory interpretations of the same character. I think that could be enlightening.

The Ages of …. Well, Anyone … Game

Shakespeare clearly states that Juliet is 13 years old (while leaving us to guess about the age of Romeo). He less clearly states that Hamlet is 30, although he could also be 16. I’m sure there are other examples, but those are the ones that come readily to mind.
So, here’s the game. Pick a character, ideally one whose age is not spelled out in the text :), and then pick *2* different ages for that character, and tell how the story might play out differently.
This idea came up over in the Othello’s Ancient thread regarding Iago’s age. On the one hand Iago could be a seasoned old soldier, roughly the same age/experience as Othello, who would make a fairly obvious case for Iago being a jealous rival of Othello’s success. *OR* Iago could be a much younger, minor officer – someone who Othello barely gives the time of day to. That is, until Iago has the chance to say “Welll, I didn’t want to say anything, buttttt…..” and Othello suddenly cozies up to Iago as his new best friend, the new best friend that is that will spy on Desdemona for him. This would explain why Iago so easily blindsides Othello, since he’s hardly on Othello’s radar until it all goes down on stage.
Got the idea? Ok, who’s got one? We do NOT have to dig in and say “Well, yeah, no, according to historical fact that would never have happened….” It’s just supposed to be fun. Pretend you’re the director and for a given actor you’ve got to decide between casting someone of age X or age Y. Which do you pick, and how does that alter the vision?

Othello and Emilia, Sitting In A Tree

One of the reasons Iago gives for his hatred of Othello is the rumor that “‘twixt my sheets he has done my office,” I surprisingly polite way for Iago to say that Othello slept with his (Iago’s) wife, Emilia. (This from a man who told Desdemona’s father that he’d better hurry up and locate his daughter because she was busy having sex with an animal (“you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse…your nephews will neigh at you”.)
So my question is this — I believe, though I can’t quite find exact proof right at the moment, that Othello and Emilia must share the stage at some point. Does Othello ever directly address Emilia? Whether he does or not, has anybody ever seen a production, or considered one, where evidence is given that Iago’s suspicions are correct?
What would such an interpretation do to Iago’s character? Say, hypothetically, that we staged an Othello were it was perfectly obvious that Othello had indeed slept with Iago’s wife. Would that make us sympathize with what Iago is about to do? We already know that Othello is a flawed man, so I’m not sure how much he’d change if we added “lust” to “jealousy” in the list of primal urges he has trouble controlling. It would almost certainly make the whole jealousy thing far more obvious, since he’s got a reason to watch out for men sleeping with his wife.
I hadn’t actually made that connection when I first started this post. *Did* Othello sleep around? Is that why he’s so crazy jealous?

Othello’s Ancient

So here’s a question about Iago, maybe somebody familiar with the history of the play (specifically the military aspect) can answer.
I’d always assumed, based on their number of interactions, that Iago was something of a “right hand man” to Othello. A high ranking officer, who’d been in a position to compete for promotion(1) with Cassio – and lost.
However, when I went looking up that word that Iago is always called – Othello’s “ancient(2)” – doesn’t mean what I think it means. Inconceivable.
“Ancient” apparently means something along the lines of “flag-bearer”, if I’m reading the resources correctly? is that true? Doesn’t that seem like it would be … I don’t know, a fairly minor rank? Independent of the play, if somebody asked me whether flag-bearers were typically friends with generals, I’d have to say “no way”. I guess I’d always just assumed that ancient meant something more akin to how Jean Luc Picard always used to call Riker his “number 1”. Shows what I know. Nobody’s actually trusting what I say here, right? 🙂
(1) Props to the one summary site I visited that told me ancient is “a rank below lieutenant”, one of those answers that is simultaneously exactly right (since we know he was not *promoted* to that rank, he must be below it) and yet completely useless.
(2) On one of those “we’ll sell you a Shakespeare essay” sites I stumbled across, it said that Iago “pretended to be Othello’s ancient”, showing a pretty bad misunderstanding of the character.

I Prithee LOLeth! Shakespearean Internet Initialisms (Guest Post)

Internet Initialisms—LOL for “Laughing Out Loud” or BRB for “Be Right Back,” for example—have been around for a very long time. But Shakespeare has been around even longer. Bardfilm has come up with a number of Shakespearean Internet Initialisms. Use them to raise the tone of your texts, IMs, and Twitter conversations.

Shakespearean Internet Initialisms

SWL = [O, I am] Stabb’d with laughter (cf. modern LOL).

YHPP = Your humble patience pray (cf. modern BRB).

ITGASOMO = In the gross and scope of my opinion (cf. modern IMHO).

IJTO = I jest to Oberon (cf. modern JK).

OMUTB = Once more unto the breech (cf. modern BTW).

IYTUDWNL = If you tickle us, do we not laugh? (cf. modern ROTFL)

IFINTFYOL = I find it not fit for your o’er-looking (cf. modern NSFW).

HHHH = Howl, howl, howl, howl (cf. modern DYJHIW).

IHDASTS = I have drunk and seen the spider (cf. modern BTDT).

TORNAE = These our revels now are ended (cf. modern TTYL).

TITL = This is too long (cf. modern TL/DR).

Our thanks for this guest post to kj, the author of Bardfilm. Bardfilm is a blog that comments on films, plays, and other matters related to Shakespeare.