The Great Richard III Experiment Begins

Ok, so, pointers from many directions coming that say we should talk more about Richard III.  I’ve admitted in the past that this is perhaps the largest gap in my Shakespeare knowledge – I’ve not seen it, nor read it (at least in any sense other than 20 years ago when I read them all through and have forgotten much).

So begins my quest to add R3 to my list.  I will post here as I work my way through it.  This will no doubt also involve watching the Ian McKellen movie version, which I’m told is outstanding.

So, any tips before I dig in?  I have one big question – how much do the other histories act as prequel to this one?  If I’m about as generally familiar with the histories as I am with this one (and by that I mean, other than a few plot points, not much!) am I going to miss a great deal by just jumping in to R3?  Not that I have the time or patience to go back and read everything, but I am curious.

If you’ve got favorite scenes or other bits, let me know – I’ll mark them for later so I can pay particular attention and generate some discussion topics once I’ve caught up.

Geek Dad Phones One In

I’ve mentioned before that bedtime for my 5yr old son often involves my being called upon to whip up a story on the fly.  That story must contain either superheroes, or Shakespeare – his choice, not mine.  Superheroes are easy, he picks a couple good guys and a couple bad guys and I inevitably start with whatever my son did that day.  He got a haircut, Wolverine was getting a haircut.

But then he asks for a Shakespeare story, like he did tonight, and I’m often stuck. He doesn’t want an existing story, you see – he wants an adlib.

So here’s the version he got tonight:

“One day, Hamlet was out by the water practicing his swordfighting.”

“Who was he practicing with?”


“Oh, ok.”

“So, Hamlet and Horatio were practicing their swordfighting, and Ophelia came up to them.  “I’m going to go pick some flowers down by the river,” she told them.  “Have fun,” said Hamlet, and off she went.

A few minutes later they heard a *crack*, a *splash*, and a “Help!”  Ophelia had fallen in the water!  Hamlet rushed to the edge of the river like he was going to jump in, but Horatio held him back. “You’ll never save her!” Horatio said, “You’ll be swept away too!”

So Hamlet and Horatio called out, “Shakespeare! We need your help!”

“Wait a minute,” my son interrupted, “Didn’t Shakespeare *write* this story?”

“Yes,” I half lied.

“Then how can he *be* in the story?”

“He wrote himself into the story.”

“Oh.  Ok.”

“So Hamlet and Horatio called to Shakespeare, and *poof* William Shakespeare appeared, with a piece of paper in one hand and a quill pen in the other.  “Shakespeare,” Hamlet said, “You didn’t write in any way for us to rescue Ophelia.”

“Oh,” said Shakespeare, “Apparently I didn’t. I can fix that!” and he scribble scribble scribbled something onto his paper.  When he was done, *poof* there was a giant tree at the edge of the river, and dangling from the tree was a tire swing. With that, Shakespeare disappeared.

Hamlet and Horatio knew immediately what to do. Hamlet climbed into the swing, and Horatio pulled him back as far as he could go and released.  Hamlet swung out over the river where he was able to grab onto Ophelia’s arms and pull her back to shore.

Horatio and Hamlet patted each other on the back, congratulating themselves on saving Ophelia.  Ophelia saw the tire swing and said, “Oooo, where’d you get the tire swing?  I call next!”

“Good grief!” said Horatio and Hamlet together.

The end.

Shakespeare’s Standard Deviation (or, How Old You Are)

This weekend my dad challenged me with a question about Twitter. He asked how old the people are who follow a discussion of Shakespeare, with the implicit assumption that it is an older crowd.

So I did what I’ve been doing lately, to demonstrate the value of Twitter – I asked (on Facebook as well).

89 of you wrote back over the weekend, which is a reasonable number to do some statistics.  [ For the record, I *think* that Stanley Wells of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust follows me, but he did not check in with his age.  Knowing his age (it is public record) I know that it would skew my results higher, but I can’t include somebody’s information without their consent, so he’s not included in these findings.  I can’t just pick out one number because I happen to know it, that would skew my random sample. ]


With a minimum reported age of 16 and a max of 55, the average age of Shakespeare Geek followers is …. 30 and a half.  *trumpet blare* 

The standard deviation is 10.4.  If I remember my statistics correctly, that means that 68% of the audience falls within plus or minus a standard deviation from the average – so, 2/3rds of you are basically between 20 and 40.

Now let’s have some fun with the Facebook crowd, since I can separate them out.  25 of those 89 results came from Facebook.  Looking specifically at Facebook we have a range of 19 to 48, averaging just shy of 35 (stddev of 9.5, so the range of ages is similar – but a few years older).

So if we take the FB numbers out, that leaves Twitter specifically with a range of 16 – 55 still, but the average age actually drops to 29. 

I find the results interesting, and not just because it suggests that Facebook, once the realm of the college-only crowd, is starting to look a bit old, while Twitter comes up strong from behind.

What this continues to tell us is that Shakespeare remains appealing to a wide array of people.  How often do you get a 16yr old engaged in conversation with a 55yr old?  Not too often!  But obviously something’s got them all coming to this common ground.  I love it.

Cataracts and Hurricanoes

I know not everybody’s on the east coast of the United States, but I am :).  How’d you spend your hurricane?

Personally I spent it on Twitter tossing out mostly King Lear jokes, with the occasional Tempest thrown in for good measure.  So many Lear comments, in fact, that at one point Sunday afternoon I took a bit of a nap on the couch and had this weird dream where I was some sort of guest speaker for this crowd that had gathered outside, after the hurricane.  I was directed to a podium with a microphone, and had no prepared comments, so I opened with “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!”  Of course even in my dream I can never remember the next line (I always want to say “spitfires and hurricanoes”), so that’s all I’ve got.

For the obligatory “Replace a word in the title with Irene” game on Twitter we had A Midsummer Night’s Irene, Much Ado About Irene, Irene’s Labour’s Lost, and Twelfth Hurricane, or, What Irene Will.

Then came a wide variety of stuff, some of which I think will make good t-shirt material 🙂 …

I Survived Hurricane Irene and all I got was a drunken butler, a jester,
and a fishy smelling mooncalf who tried to steal my laundry.

NC police report multiple complaints of an elderly gentleman claiming to
have caused the hurricane, to seek revenge on his enemies.

 During the storm, keep an eye out for a rambling naked fellow and his fool. He’s had a bad day, give him a cup of tea.

Oh, and lastly, for your entertainment, I found this interesting collection of three separate interpretations of the “storm scene” from Lear. It’s called “Choices”, and whoever made it has overlaid some text on each version – why did this guy swing his hands like that? why did this one choose to emphasize a certain word, or pause in a certain way?  It’s all questions, there’s no real analysis, but it’s still interesting.

Actor, Poet, Playwright

I saw a discussion the other day where somebody argued that Shakespeare was these three things – actor, poet, playwright – specifically in that order. In other words he was an actor first, a poet second, a playwright last.  I don’t think he meant chronologically, either.

I disagree.  I think that while he may have gotten involved in the theatre as an actor, he certainly found himself as a poet shortly after and then spent the rest of his career putting poetry on the stage.  Nobody ever speaks of Shakespeare’s name among the great actors of his generation.  He was no Burbage or Kempe.  He acted, sure, and he started out as an actor. But I don’t think it’s accurate to say that he was primarily an actor.

Thoughts? This is another spin on the old, “Did Shakespeare really know he was that good, or was he just doing whatever it took to pay the bills?” argument.  Discuss.

Knock, Knock

Ok, people, we need some Shakespeare knock knock jokes.  After all, the man invented the form, right?  Fill in your own Hamlet or Macbeth reference, your choice :).

Feel free to make one up on the spot, that’s what I spend most of my time on Twitter doing.

“Knock, knock.”
Who’s there?
“Earl of Oxford.
Earl of Oxford who?

That’s my only real entry thus far that meets the appropriate form (i.e. you could actually tell it to somebody who plays their part correctly).  Others, that do not fit the form:

“Knock, knock.”
Who’s th….oh, hi Lavinia.  Doesn’t it hurt your head to do that?

“Knock, knock.”

Knock, knock.”

Knock, knock.”
Darnit didn’t we hire a Porter who’s supposed to get that? Has he been drinking again?

What else ya got?

The Tempest Was A Musical?

At least, that’s our story of the morning

“Academics have wondered for years why music is quite so central to
the play,” said Holmes. “I have always felt that it reads like there is
something missing. There are gaps in the text and character development
is cut short. It has a reputation as an underwritten play, although it
seems clear that extra text has not been cut or lost.”
points to unexplained musical references in every scene and his theory
has been supported by the distinguished Shakespearean Stanley Wells. “I
would want to see the evidence, but this sounds possible. I can quite
believe The Tempest might have been conceived as a musical
entertainment,” said Wells, who has edited Shakespeare texts for Oxford
University Press and chairs the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Why not? They’re right, there’s an awful lot of music references in the play (Caliban’s “Be not afeard…” speech being a particularly powerful example).
Last year (or whenever it was), Julie Taymor put an awful lot of music into her Tempest film – including lifting the “Journeys end in lovers meeting” song from Twelfth Night.

Speaking of Twelfth Night, what other Shakespeare plays would make good musicals?

Oh Look, It’s Ophelia. Hey, Ophelia.

Twitter user ScottySheldon brought up a new game yesterday – best “intro” in Shakespeare.  At first I thought he meant “best opening lines” which has been done to death. But that’s not what he meant.

What he meant was, a character enters, and some other characters says “Oh, hey Ophelia.”  Well, technically, someone says something like “Oh look here comes Ophelia” and then Ophelia enters.

That, I don’t think I’ve seen before.  All the plays are ripe for the picking — any character, any play, how is that character introduced?  Lots to choose from.

Off the top of my head I think I might point to “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes” as an introduction for Macbeth’s entrance. I like it so much that I once did a whole post about just that one line.  The way it introduces Macbeth, a human being, as “something”?  Not someone – some *thing*.  Something inhuman.

Should we count Orsino’s “If music be the food of love…” line?  It’s not like he’s technically introducing himself, but as far as the language of the stage goes, this is certainly his introduction to the audience.  You immediately know what sort of character he is when he starts out like that.

Review : The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare

Score one for my mom, who has apparently been paying attention when I talk.  A few weeks ago she handed me Arliss Ryan’s The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare
, which she’d picked up at a yard sale for fifty cents.  “I saw Shakespeare and thought of you,” she told me.  I enjoy that this is the response to Shakespeare people in my life have, “Oh Duane would like this.”

I thank her for the gift, and based on the cover art I assume that it is a young adult piece of fiction that I can hand over to my daughters.  Nevertheless I decide to read it.  It does not go past me that a) I blogged about this as a new arrival in February of this year, and b) it’s still got it’s $15.00 price tag on it from Borders, and my mom found it for 50 cents.  So I do not have high hopes for a book that tumbled so quickly out of sight.

I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised.  First of all it
is not young adult.  It does not take long at all for Mistress Hathaway to meet young Master Shakespeare, and all sorts of things are being unbuttoned and unlaced very quickly.  My kids aren’t seeing this one anytime soon.  So forget the young adult thing, this is more of I guess what you’d call a “historical romance.”  (Although I am left wondering, since the book basically starts with them getting married when Anne was what, 28? Why is there a young teenage girl on the cover?)
Once I realized what I was reading, everything fell into place.  This is to be your classic “behind every great man is a woman” story.  Will Shakespeare, forced into a loveless marriage and unhappy with his life in Stratford, runs away to London to make a name for himself.  What does Anne Shakespeare do?  Why, follows him of course.  Leaving her children to the care of the Shakespeares, forever loyal Anne (who continually repeats her mantra that she married for life) packs some belongings, hitches up her skirt and heads off to London as well.

What happens next?  Why, she writes Shakespeare’s plays, of course. 🙂  I’m only half kidding.  Using the story that she is Shakespeare’s sister, not his wife (thus allowing both of them many freedoms a married couple would not have been allowed), she quickly gets a job copying scripts for him, which turns into a job (unknown to anyone else) helping him edit and, soon, write the plays.  How many?  I won’t spoil it.  In this book’s world, her contribution is … not small.

I am very pleased with the amount of detail that’s gone into the biographical portions.  All of the details of Shakespeare’s life that I would expect are accounted for – Greene’s Groatsworth, the back story behind the sonnets, Marlowe’s bar fight, the night time raid on the Globe, Hamnet’s death, etc… The author appears to have done some research.

The downside, however, is in the treatment of the plays. It looks pretty obvious to me that the author took her own opinion of the plays, and pasted that over her storyline.  Falstaff and Hamlet are their greatest creations (makes you wonder what role Bloom played in the research, doesn’t it?), while King Lear gets nary a mention, other than to say that it’s the saddest of the lot, and is part of a comedy sequence involving Shakespeare trying to figure out how to make it rain in his theatre.  Most of the later plays are dismissed as “not our best work.”  Coriolanus is singled out with “no one will be quoting that one in twenty years.”  And it is a fairly obvious modern woman who heaps her scorn upon Two Gentlemen of Verona, and not a historically accurate Anne Hathaway.  The author may hate that one, but the words she put into Anne’s mouth seemed pretty out of place for anybody that pays attention to more plays than just “the big ones.”

Oh, and the Dark Lady of the sonnets gets completely brushed off, which to me screamed simply that the author didn’t want to take a stand on that one (or, did not have the research to do so).  From her perspective, she knows that her husband has women on the side, so if he writes about one in particular in his sonnets, so what is it to her?  The only obvious thing here is that the sonnets are supposedly autobiographical. Take that how you please.

Another disappointing bit is that she seems to just plain get bored detailing how the plays came to be.  They start out strong, and there’s good back story for why the Henry plays were written, and in that order.  But it’s not long before the plot chugs along as quickly as “Oh, the new Scottish king likes witches, does he?  Here, let’s bang out Macbeth” or “I’m feeling a bit jealous today, oh look there’s a new Italian story on the market nobody’s done yet let me just run home and whip up Othello.”  But even then, later in the book the two Shakespeares will bemoan that they’ll only be remembered for “the great ones like Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello.”  Other than with Hamlet and Falstaff (and maybe a little Romeo and Juliet), there is very little time spent on “Wow, we wrote a masterpiece that will be spoken of for centuries to come.”  It’s all just “Shakespeare became a successful playwright by giving the audience what they wanted.”

It is an entertaining book, don’t get me wrong. I want my wife to read it. I think it’s written for a very specific audience.  Clearly a romance novel.  Anne, the ever loyal wife stuck in a loveless marriage, tries everything to make it work.  But darn it she’s still a woman, she still has needs, and she finds ways to fill those needs.

This is an good book not precisely for a Shakespeare fan, but for someone close to a Shakespeare fan.  You want your family and your friends to get the details of Shakespeare’s life? To share a little bit of your passion for the subject with them, without boring them to tears or talking over their heads?  That’s where a book like this comes in.  The details are basically right. I would much rather have somebody start with this book and explain to them where the story is not historically accurate, than for them to fall victim to any number of Authorship theories and have to start them over from scratch. This book knows that it is fiction.

Pick it up
and give it to a loved one, like my mom did, and like I’m going to do.

A Personal Milestone, Achieved

A funny thing happened today on Twitter. I’ve now (at least, at the moment!) got more followers than the Folger Library.

I know, Twitter is pretty much the very definition of trivial, people telling other people what they had for breakfast.  And I know that celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Lady Gaga number their followers in the millions.
But at least for a moment, at least for our tiny little Shakespearean corner of that universe, I’ve potentially got more people listening to me than to the Folger itself.

Think about that for a second.

This is no dig at Folger, not by a long shot.  They are who they are, after all – the center of the Shakespeare universe (* at least in the US – Stratford may have some commentary on that subject).  They use Twitter less than I do, and they use it for different purposes (although they do, frequently and generously, re-tweet many of the silly games that Bardfilm and I come up with).

And here I sit, a computer engineer without even an academic background in the subject, with a following that surpasses theirs.

It’s moments like this that make me fascinated by social media.  Why do I have more followers? Is it because I use the service more?  I don’t think that’s it.  I’ve got maybe 6000 tweets. I’ll show you people that have 20,000 and still only a fraction of the followers. I think it’s because I am deliberately going out and reaching as *wide* an audience as I possibly can, using Shakespeare as my vehicle. 

There’s an audience of Shakespeare lovers.  No doubt.  I count myself among them.  When I see a search engine I always type “Shakespeare” first, to see what I get.  It doesn’t take long for all of us to find each other and share the love on all these different networks.

What I’m going after is every single person who even *recognizes* Shakespeare.  I make Shakespeare jokes.  Lots of em.  Today, during the hashtag “Once you’re married you can’t…”  I wrote, “…poison your husband and marry his brother.”  I honestly don’t know how many people recognized it as a Hamlet reference and how many just thought it something funny for a married person to say, but that little quote alone brought in over 100 followers.  Surely they see the Shakespeare in my name, ShakespeareGeek. They have to know what they’re getting into, right? 🙂

I guess what I’m trying to say is that when you look at the Folger (or the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, or Stanley Wells, or any other big names in the Shakespeare game), and the people who seek them out and follow them, you think “That tells me something about that person.  That person likes Shakespeare.”  When you look at the folks who follow me?  I want you to think, “That says something about Shakespeare.”  The appeal is universal, and I’m looking to prove it every day.

Thanks to everybody that’s joined in the Twitter fun!  If you haven’t yet, what are you waiting for?