No, They're Not Digging Him Up.

I’ve avoided this week’s “Shakespeare may have smoked pot” story because, frankly, it doesn’t interest me all that much. Not only is it not very new (link to a story from Nov 2000 – about the same guy, even), but it’s being reported horribly. Once you wade through all the ridiculous articles ranging from “Dude, Shakespeare smoked bowls??” to “Of course Shakespeare smoked pot, haven’t you ever seen Midsummer Night’s Dream?” it seems that everybody’s reporting the story as “Dig him up to see if he smoked pot.”
The problem is, they’re not digging him up.

If given the go-ahead, Prof Thackeray will use scanning equipment to create a 3D image of the bard.

Prof Thackeray said: ‘We are confident that we could complete our work without moving a single bone.’

I suppose the only interesting question to me is, what if they did conclusively find evidence that Shakespeare was smoking something while he wrote? Would that change your opinion of him at all? Just as importantly, how do you think it would change the world’s opinion? Do you think there’s any possible way that people would suddenly begin to dismiss him because of that? Or, from the opposite angle, would that be the single greatest vote in favor of marijuana legalization in the history of the drug?
I guess there are interesting questions after all. 🙂

We Have Our Romeo

Haley Steinfeld’s Juliet now has her Romeo – and his name is Douglas Booth. Looks like a Romeo. Got a bit of a young Leo DiCaprio thing going on. I don’t recognize any of his other credits.
For some reason, the article’s description of Romeo amused me:

“…the coveted role of Romeo, an accomplished swordsman and adept lover…”

Really? I never really thought about Romeo’s swordsmanship, and just always figured that his victory over Tybalt could just as easily have been a lucky shot, given the circumstances (a vengeance-crazed Romeo against a mostly-all-talk Tybalt?). Calling him an accomplished swordsman sounds more like a description of the Hamlet/Laertes duel to see who was better.
And “adept lover”? That makes him sound like something of a Don Juan character with a lot of notches on his belt, doesn’t it?
Who writes this stuff? And who felt obliged to add that kind of color to the story, as if people didn’t already know it? Doesn’t the whole “fall in love despite the bitter rivalry between their two families” thing pretty much sum it up for most of the planet?

Cracked, on Shakespeare’s Filthy Jokes

Saw the headline and immediately assumed they’d go straight for Malvolio’s “C’s, U’s and T’s” joke. But no! They go for the F bombs.

Actually, I never really thought of it. We all know that Shakespeare could be filthy when he wanted to, but how often did he go for the F word? The examples that they give in the article (“what is the focative case? I’ll firk him!”) had never really stood out to me.

Twelfth Night Giveaway!

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to review Wayne Myers’ The Book of Twelfth Night, or What You Will: Musings on Shakespeare’s Most Wonderful (and Erotic) Play [review can be found here]. Since it spends so much time describing famous productions of the play, I suggested that it needed some pictures.

Well, Wayne happens to be a follower of the blog, heard and agreed with my comments, and I’m happy to report that the latest edition addresses this very issue! I’m looking at a brand new copy with over a dozen pages of Twelfth Night images. Very cool!

I’m also happy to announce that the author has generously donated some copies for us to give away! And, since we’ve just launched Shakespeare Answers, this seemed like a golden opportunity to cross promote.


1) Create an account on Shakespeare Answers, if you do not already have one.

2) Answer this question. This is so that people interested in entering the contest can all be counted in one place. If you don’t know the answer, wait a moment, someone else is bound to (even if the author needs to give a little help…) Repeat answers are allowed, you don’t have to be the first one. This is just a place to check in.

3) Contribute to the site in at least three (3) additional ways. This could include asking a question, answering one, or commenting on someone else’s question or answer. The more you interact with the site, the higher your reputation/karma score gets. (Higher scores will not increase your chance of winning).

4) The subject does not have to be Twelfth Night – but if you *do* have a question about Shakespeare’s “most wonderful (and erotic) play”, then the author himself may be the one to answer it!

5) Contest ends on midnight Friday, June 24.

6) Three (3) names will be chosen at random from eligible entries received. Winners will receive a copy of the latest edition of Wayne Myers’ book. (As always, we must be able to notify you if you win, so please use a real email address when you create your Answers account, as this is what I’ll be using to contact you.)

Any questions?

Books like The Shakespeare Stealer

Hi gang,
This topic has come up, in general, over the years. This time, though, I’ve got a specific twist in mind. Susan uses The Shakespeare Stealer to introduce her 6th graders to Shakespeare – in 7th and 8th grade her kids work on an actual Shakespeare play (last year Henry V, this year The Tempest).
So, here’s Susan’s question : We’ve done Shakespeare Stealer 5 years in a row now. Do you know any other good fiction novels, appropriate for middle school, that would serve as a good introduction to Shakespeare? If it ties in to The Tempest, bonus!
(It dawns on me that I should pick this book up for my kids. I don’t know why I haven’t yet.)

Hamlet! A Game in Five Acts

I’m always on the lookout for Shakespeare games, particularly those that would help introduce my kids to Shakespeare. Well, not introduce, since I’ve done that – but, games that will allow them to learn more about Shakespeare without having to already have a high school education, you know?

Hamlet! A Game in Five Acts looks promising (although it does say 12+). If I understand the game correctly, you have an ending in mind, and you try to manipulate to play to achieve your ending. I already dig that. Plays with the whole “bloodbath ending” idea while still suggesting that most of the elements of the original will still be in there, somewhere.
So, for instance, you might get an ending card that says “Ophelia married to Hamlet. Horatio dead.” (I made that one up). You have to figure out how to make that happen. If Ophelia ends up dead, you can’t win. Each turn in the game is a Scene, and within each Scene your characters can perform Actions to make the play go their way. So for instance an action might be “Ophelia commits suicide”, *but* the requirement for that action is “Ophelia is insane.” So before you can play that action, you need to have played other actions that cause Ophelia to lose sanity points. “Hamlet rejects Ophelia. Ophelia loses 1 sanity point.” You get the idea.
Somebody buy this so I can learn more about it :). With that 12+ rating and a price tag of almost $20 I can’t bring myself to do it. My oldest daughter may be able to figure it out but with the 5yr old still not knowing how to read yet, I have to focus my game purchases on things that can be played on family night.
That is, of course, unless the author of the game happens to be listening and wants to send me a review copy? Hint hint hint! Anybody know this Mike Young fellow? 🙂 I’m sure there’s value in hearing about my 5/7/9yr olds successfully playing his game, no?

Shakespeare's Dad's Business

I think most of us know, at least superficially, the story with Shakespeare’s dad. He was a successful businessman and local politician, until something happened that brought it all tumbling down. He even stopped going to church, possibly for fear of being held accountable for his debts? I’ve forgotten the details, but I”m sure I’ve read the gist of the story in many biographies. Probably involved in wool-dealing (a crime at the time?) and usury (lending of money with interest).
Well, here’s a page that breaks down his “crimes” in pretty spectacular detail. His business partners, his court appearances, all broken out and explained. Amounts, and what they meant (“21pounds for 21 tods of wool?”). Additionally there’s details about exactly what John Shakespeare’s crimes were, and which things were technically illegal but still done on a wide scale (such as loans with interest).
Lots of data here for somebody who’s interested in the subject and may not have already had it. Looks to be from a paper published in 2009, so if you’re on top of things it may be old news. But everything is carefully footnoted so if you’re in a research mood, you could have a field day with this one.

Review : The Tragedy of Arthur

[ Ok, so I’m a little late on this one. I have to admit I was highly confused when, within days of even *receiving* my copy, my feeds were flooded with everybody else in the world putting up their review. How do these people read so fast??” ]
This will make the third book I’ve read on the “What would happen if a new work of Shakespeare turned up?” idea. The first two attempted to be glorified Da Vinci Codes complete with murder, car cases, and twist endings.
The Tragedy of Arthur is very much not that kind of book, and I love it. It is not about finding a lost work like Cardenio or Love’s Labour’s Won. It is about a man named Arthur Phillips (which also happens to be the name of the author) who is handed a previously unknown Shakespeare play called, appropriately enough, The Tragedy of Arthur. The only known copy, as a matter of fact – which means that he would be the copyright holder, and thus in financial control of the world’s most valuable artistic discovery.
But! There’s a catch. Arthur’s father gave him the book. Arthur’s father also happens to be a professional counterfeit man who has spent his life in jail for those crimes. He swears, however, that the book is an original that he really did find, not forge.
What to do, what to do?
I ended up quite loving this book. It starts with the story of the children, Arthur and Dana, as they’re raised by their debatably criminal father, who also happens to be a lifelong fan of Shakespeare. Arthur, the narrator, never really gets into Shakespeare. Dana, his twin sister, takes to it like, well, a Shakespeare geek. Truthfully, Dana is a far more interesting character than Arthur. A struggling novelist himself, Arthur spends way too much of this memoir whining about his relationship with his father and how he’s taking the memoirist’s privilege of making difficult memories seem easier, etc etc etc… Meanwhile, I’d like my girls to grow up like Dana. It is 9yr old Dana who goes to visit her father in jail, and then promptly recites the court room scene from Merchant of Venice loudly enough for the guards to hear. Later in life, when Dana goes through her inevitable teenage rebellion from her father, she does something so unthinkably rebellious that I laughed out loud. She becomes an anti-Stratfordian. (Ok, maybe I take back what I said about my kids growing up like her!) I can just imagine, her poor dad is in prison and their entire conversation is through written letters, and she’s taunting him with her theories about the Earl of Oxford. I think I would have planned an escape.
Is the plot believable? When I heard that it was about a counterfeit-man who claimed to have a Shakespeare play, the ending sounds pretty obvious. Of course it’s fake, right? Well, that’s what’s cool – the book’s not going to tell you. Some of the characters think that it is, some don’t.   
There’s much to geek out over. We learn about how to test paper and ink not just for age but for materials and composition. We learn all about Shakespeare’s word choices, what he would and wouldn’t do, how his early years differ from his later years. We learn about merchandising, and copyright law. Professor Crystal makes a cameo and gets to say cool things like “All the rhymes rhyme in original pronunciation! That’s good!” If you understand who that is and what that sentence means, you’re probably going to love this book 🙂
And then? Here’s where the author takes it over the top. He actually wrote an entirely new, five-act Shakespeare play. You heard that right. The play in question? Is actually included. Obviously it’s not going to pass the ink and paper tests 🙂 but the most hardcore geeks among us can have a grand old time digging through word choice and narrative structure and decide for themselves whether this one could pass for the real thing. I have to admit that I have not yet read through the play (it is not required to complete the book), but I look forward to doing so.
A very refreshing change indeed from the car-chase-laden Da Vinci Code meets Cardenio that I’ve been subjected to in the past. I’m glad I got to read it.

Sorry Folks, No Nude Juliet

Following up on our previous story about 14yr old Hainlee Steinfeld possibly getting naked for her turn as Juliet, the director has confirmed that it’s not happening. The rumor came about because the script – which clearly says “get naked” – had been leaked, so when the 14yr old was cast, it didn’t take long to put 2 and 2 together.
The script was written with a 20yr old actress, the director tells us. Once an age-appropriate Juliet was cast, they went back and snipped all the naked stuff.
I will cut the director some slack for assuming that he was using the gossip mill to generate buzz for his movie with the story. I won’t, however, forgive him for the quote in the original story where he said that he went with a 14 yr old girl for Juliet because “that’s the way Shakespeare did it.”

The 2005 Commonwealth Hamlet Continues to Haunt Me

I have seen Commonwealth Shakespeare in Park on Boston Common for many years now. I have seen their Midsummer, As You Like It, Comedy of Errors, Much Ado, Macbeth, Shrew, and Othello. I want to say I may have even seen them do a Tempest, a long time ago. But there’s one that I missed.

It’s 2005. They’re doing Hamlet. To the best of my knowledge they’ve not done Lear, so I try to explain to those close to me that this is, like, *it*. The big one. The must see. My wife and I have arranged to meet up with friends for dinner at a nice nearby restaurant (Number 9 Park, if you know the area) for the last weekend of the performance. When the day arrives? Torrential rains are in the forecast. I am not missing Hamlet. We head into town, and the rain begins. We’re not even sure our friends will make it in. It is a few hours before showtime, and I am using my phone (which, 6 years ago, was no iPhone let me tell you!) to keep trying the CommShakes homepage to see whether the show has been cancelled, and I see no notice. I call the number, but only ever get an answering machine. It is *nasty* outside. Raining cats and dogs. There is no way there is a show tonight.

But…15 minutes before showtime? The rain stops. Sun comes out. Hurray! I rush over to where the show is to be – empty, of course, except for some stage hands tending to the flooded sets. “I’m here!” I say, “Start the show! The rain’s stopped!”

They looked at me like I was insane. Perhaps, at that moment, I was. My wife (our friends had bailed) led me away as carefully as she might have led a mental patient while I just repeated “But….it stopped raining. Hamlet. It’s not raining anymore…..”

Thus did I miss my chance to see Hamlet in the park. But hey, I’m not bitter! I’ve seen their Comedy of Errors, and that’s just as good, right? Right?? 🙂 I have never again waited until the last weekend to see a show. I’ve even gone so far (the Midsummer year) to see the show once myself first, and then see it again with friends.

My point in rehashing that story is to link to what’s become of their Hamlet, Jeffrey Donovan. He’s now the star of the television series “Burn Notice”, and is coming back into town for a staged reading of a play called “Burn This”, something I don’t really know anything about.

Check out these quotes from the article, which I’m sure was written just to taunt me…

“That was, to this day, one of the greatest experiences of my life,’’ Donovan says. “To not only be given one of the most cherished and difficult roles in Shakespeare’s canon, but to do it in front of my hometown, basically. . . . It gives me chills even now.’’

Maler says the production was one of the highlights of the company’s history: “Seeing the way the audiences of Boston, and particularly young audiences, would gravitate toward his performance was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.’’

Argh. Why can’t I get *that* on DVD? I get enough David Tennant. Where’s the CommShakes petition?