So Does Anybody Want To Talk About The Chinese Guy?

I didn’t really blog about this last week because it’s little more than a “news of the weird” story, but you probably heard about it. There’s a Chinese author who is apparently going to have plastic surgery to look like William Shakespeare. The folks at Reduced Shakespeare beat me to the obvious “Yes but what portrait?!” joke so I’ll give them credit 🙂
What do you think? I suppose people have done crazier things for their art. Interesting that it’s a writer of words choosing to resculpt himself. Bit of a medium switch for him.
I suppose it beats Botoxing your face into an expressionless mask, like many folks do. Ladies. Seriously. If you raise your eyebrows and your forehead doesn’t move, you’ve done too much.

Shakespeare On The Brain (Again)

For many of us this may be just one of those things that’s so obvious because we’re living it, but the neuroscientists are at it again and tell us that reading Shakespeare gives your brain a special little buzz that might actually make you smarter.
I say again because we were on the scene back in 2006 when the first major entry in this genre, Shakespeare Thinking, was released. Of course back then I was just getting started and didn’t get too much discussion going, so maybe we can change that now.
The general idea makes sense. Language has pattern, and structure. Your brain gets into a sort of auto-pilot, knowing without knowing what is coming next. So when sideways everything Shakespeare twists, up your neurons sit and notice take. Do it badly, of course, as I’ve done quickly here :), and like Master Yoda do you sound.
I’ll admit I don’t fully grok what the new research is all about – it all looks about the same to me as it did 5 years ago. But everybody’s talking about it this week (probably not a coincidence that it’s Shakespeare’s birthday week and we all need content), so I’m open to opening up the discussion again.

My Shakespeare Birthday

So, it’s my birthday (let’s hope that, unlike our patron saint, it doesn’t eventually bookend my celebrated life :)). Loyal readers may know that my kids like for me to have a “Shakespeare birthday”, and the meaning of that has changed over the years. My 3yr old used to use the word to mean “thing Daddy likes” so she would inform me that for my Shakespeare birthday she would get me a Shakespeare flower. Love it.

This year the two girls made me Shakespeare cards. Check it out! I love them.

(Click for larger images)

The first one is a computer that says “Shakespeare geek” on it. Or possibly an iPod. She likes to draw computers. Even my 4yr old (soon to be 5!) will draw them on paper at school, then cut them out and walk around like he’s got work to do on the laptop.

The second one, if you can’t quite make it out, is “Shaksbear”. That’s not intended to be a bear, that’s just the way she spelled it when left on her own. He’s even got the lack of hair on top, and the curly bits down at his shoulders. Not bad! I have no idea what model she used, but I’m putting this one up against the Cobbe Portrait and taking it on the road.

My wife told me to make sure I keep these. I informed her that they were heading straight for the web site to be immortalized :).

Hear the meaning within the word.

This one happens to be going around Twitter at the moment. And, as someone on Yahoo! Answers said, “This is quoted 100s of times around the net, but no one ever says where it’s from.” I’ve found similar results in all my searches. Although Shakespeare used the word “meaning” frequently, I can find no combination of meaning along with “hear” and “word” that suggests where this quote might have come from.

I’m still looking for a real source, but like so many other of these Hallmark sentiments, it’s just too simple to ever hope to find evidence for someone who said it first.

The Voice

So there’s a new singing competition show on tv called The Voice. Did you watch? The concept is interesting to me for a very specific reason – the judges listen to the singers with their backs turned, and only after agreeing to have them “on their team” (whatever that means) does the judge’s chair swing around so they can match a face to the voice.
It’s an amusing gimmick for the most part, until the shows says “Now you play along at home” and proceeds to do the next singer without ever actually showing her face to us. So all we get to hear is her voice, and only when a judge picks her do we get to see her face.
I loved that. I think they should do that with all of them. You just don’t have the opportunity in real life to divorce your senses like that. You can tell yourself all day long that looks don’t matter, but you can’t ever prove that until you take looks away.
So, then, what’s this got to do with Shakespeare? We’ve talked before about Shakespeare as audio book, or as radio drama. The idea that people used to go “hear” a play, rather than see it. How it’s all about the verse, and the delivery. So, is it? Ask yourself, honestly, when a character walks on stage in your favorite play and the first thing that you get to do is see him (or her) rather than hear her (or him), do you immediately match the visual to the character and think “Nope, he doesn’t look like an Iago to me.”
I’d like to think that I don’t (though, I won’t contradict myself from above – I’ll admit that I’d never know for sure without an experiment). Iago walks on stage and I just think, “Ok, that’s my Iago. Let’s see what he brings to the text.”
I wonder what sort of experiment we could do to test the idea. A singer might get 3 minutes of song for you to get a sampling of her voice, but an actor can’t very well perform an entire scene without you seeing him. Or can he? How about a mask? Even with a mask, though, you still get a great deal of info about physical characteristics (depending, I suppose, on the extent of the costume).
Here’s a question for the directors in the audience, while we’re on the subject – would you ever audition people like this? Blind, so that your entire perception of them is on the quality of their delivery? If not, why not?

The Royal Wedding

So, apparently there is an event happening this week that has the entire world buzzing – other than my birthday. 🙂 I speak of course about the Royal Wedding, which has had my wife glued to the television every time they mention the latest detail about whether the oddsmakers have William actually crying during references to his mother, or just getting a bit misty.
Anyway, it seems like we could find a Shakespeare spin on the subject. Correct me if I’m wrong in this, but Shakespeare never actually put a wedding on stage, right? That’s what my research told me when I was working on my book. It being a sacrament and all, it would have been pretty blasphemous for him to portray the actual ceremony on stage and look as if he was making light of a solemn event.
He did, however, talk *about* weddings. Many times. Much Ado About Nothing has that great “Ok, now let’s all go get married once the play is over” scene. Taming of the Shrew has its “Did you hear how Petruchio wrecked the wedding?!” third-person account. There’s Romeo and Juliet‘s quickie. And of course, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has the greatest wedding reception ever.
I have a couple of things I’d like to accomplish in this post. First, can we come up with the definitive list of when Shakespeare did the “talk around the wedding” thing, as described above? I’m looking specifically for opportunities where it’s implied that a wedding takes place, either offstage or immediately after the play. It’s the ones that happen during the play that are the most interesting, as they really call attention to the whole question of why Shakespeare never showed weddings. How should we count The Tempest?
Second, how would you add some Shakespeare to William and Kate’s wedding? I’ve been keeping an eye out, and so far I’ve seen no Shakespeare references at all in any of the public material (i.e. the invitations, speeches and so on). There may yet be some, who knows. But if you were one of the wedding planners, how might you sneak some Shakespeare into the mix?
( Seriously, I’m hoping that somebody associated with this media event manages to make a Shakespeare reference, because the minute that happens a few million people are going to start googling for Shakespeare wedding quotes and yours truly is sitting on the front page for several variations of that search :). Fingers crossed! )

So, How Was Your Weekend?

Another Shakespeare Day come and gone, and as unfortunately prophesied, I did pretty much nothing. I was online in a read-only capacity for the most part, and I did mark a bunch of stories that I’ll be posting throughout the next few days. This is just me checking in to see how everybody’s weekend went? I realize it was Easter as well, of course, so hopefully everybody who celebrates that particular holiday had a good one!

Birthdays, Including Shakespeare's

So, my son’s birthday is coming up – May 4. As such, he’s begun a countdown. Every day we get questions like “Whose birthday is next?” and “How many days til my birthday?”
Driving home from a mini-vacation yesterday I got to engage in this priceless little conversation:
B: “Is my birthday is next?”
Me: “Well, Daddy’s is next, then yours. I suppose that Shakespeare’s birthday is technically next.”
B: “Are you going to Shakespeare’s birthday party?”
Me: “You know, I almost did. We were thinking about going to Washington D.C for vacation, and if we were down there then yes, we would go to Shakespeare’s birthday party. They have a big building there that is all about Shakespeare, and they would have a party.”
B: “Will any bad guys be invited to Shakespeare’s birthday party?”
Me: “Bad guys? I don’t think that he’d want any bad guys at his party.”
B: “You know, like Macbeth…?”
Me: “No, I don’t think that Macbeth will be going to Shakespeare’s birthday party. Would you like Macbeth to come to your birthday party?”
B: “No.” *beat* “I would invite Hamlet to my birthday party.”
He has promised me that next year he wants a Shakespeare birthday party, because party themes are oh-so-crucial when you are this age. My middle daughter has at times listed off the next 5 themes for her birthday parties. I keep telling him that none of his friends would understand a Shakespeare party, but who knows, we’ll see if he still thinks of it next year. My problem is that I’m well aware that they do this sort of thing because I think it will make me happy, but no matter how cute that is, I would not steal my kids’ birthday party just for a little more Shakespeare.

Shakespeare Movies On The Radio

You heard me right!

This weekend marks what may have been Shakespeare’s 447th birthday, and Classical 105.9 FM WQXR – the #1 classical music station in the country – is celebrating with MOVIES ON THE RADIO. Shakespeare’s dramas have been adapted to film many times, and an impressive range of composers have contributed to those movies.

This Saturday at 9pm, WQXR host David Garland will present a selection of Shakespearean film scores in honor of the great Bard of Avon.

Featured pieces include:

·         Romeo and Juliet by Nina Rota

·         King Lear by Dimitri Shostakovich

·         Much Ado About Nothing by Patrick Doyle

·         Kiss Me Kate (based on “The Taming of the Shrew”) by Cole Porter

·         …and more.

Tune in at 105.9 FM or to join host David Garland for “Shakespeare at the Movies.” For full program details, visit

I’m not a big classical music guy myself, but surely there are folks reading that would enjoy this. Once upon a time I would have worried about radio reception, so it’s nice to see that they’ll be streaming it over the net as well.

Shakespeare's Birthday Eve

Just a sad reminder that with Shakespeare Day coming on a weekend this year, not to mention the Easter holiday weekend, I will be away from the computer and busy with family obligations and thus have no celebrations planned. I am relying on all of you, my dedicated Geeks, to carry the torch and spread the good words. If you get a chance, please send me links and stories and I’ll try to post a recap when I can. I almost certainly can’t send anybody any traffic during the big day, but it’d be nice to have a summary of all the good stuff that went on while I was off collecting colored eggs.
Happy Shakespeare’s Day Eve, Everyone!