Happy Halloween! (Costume pics inside!)

For years we’ve discussed Shakespeare Halloween costumes, and I’ve never done one myself.  This year I decided to change that, and hit on the idea earlier this month when I spotted one of those “evil Jester” costumes.  “Perfect!” I thought, “I’ll write up a nametag referring to myself as a fellow of infinite jest, and hang a stuffed Piglet from my back to represent Hamlet, whom I hath borne upon my back a thousand times.  I’ll be Yorick!”

Mission accomplished.

“…a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.”
“he hath born me on his back a thousand times….”

Piglet, Prince of Denmark
How’d it go?  I didn’t expect too many people to get it, of course.  I got a lot of “Joker” and “Evil Jester.”

A few people read my nametags and just smiled and said, “Oh, ok!” but I don’t think that helped them.

One lady did in fact guess it! She turns to her husband and says, “He’s Hamlet’s friend, you know, the court jester, the guy whose skull he finds in the cemetary and he talks to it?”

What I did not expect was that my costume could end up insulting.  Picture this, a random somebody comes up to me and says, “Ok, so, what are you supposed to be? Why is Piglet hanging from your back?”  So then I say, “You know that scene in Hamlet where he picks up the skull and says ‘Alas, poor Yorick…’ and this poor schmoe looks at me and says, “…no.”  Awkward!  Then he inevitably turns to one of the other guys in the crowd and says, “Guess I was absent that day,” and get a laugh.  Wrong crowd. 🙂

I did tell people repeatedly, “I don’t expect anybody to get it, I did this for the fans of my web site.”  Hope y’all dig it!

P.S. – I know that when I wrote up the idea originally I said that the costume had a harlequin pattern, but when I got it home it was what you see above.  I think the costume comes in two different styles because at my kids’ Halloween party I definitely saw diamond harlequin pattern version.

Contested Will

Simon and Schuster recently sent me the paperback edition of James Shapiro’s Contested Will, which addresses the very timely authorship question. 

Since I clearly have not had time to read it, I’m reporting long-time contributor Carl Atkins’ guest review that he did for us back in December 2010:


I was actually pleasantly surprised. It was much more readable
than I expected. I had read his “1599: A Year in the Life of William
Shakespeare” and found it to be rambling, disjointed, and filled with
conjecture, so I was not expecting good things from a book about such a
difficult subject. Yet “Contested Will” is, for the most part, tightly
written, well structured, straightforward, factual without being too
dry, and absorbing. It details the history of the authorship
controversy, interestingly laying the blame on one of the most renowned
Shakespeare scholars, Edmond Malone. He notes that Malone, frustrated at
being unable to uncover any documents to help flesh out the biography
he hoped to write about Shakespeare, began to look to the plays for
biographical references. This opened the door for anti-Stratfordians to
launch their only means of attack.

If the book has any fault
it is only in spending a bit too much time detailing the course of the
Oxfordian cause. I found myself getting a bit bored by the end of that
section. But only a bit.

It is a testament to Shapiro’s
cool-headedness that he spends two-thirds of the book discussing the
(circumstantial) evidence against Shakespeare’s authorship and ends with
27 pages debunking it.

What is most impressive is that
Shapiro does not come across as someone with an axe to grind, or as a
scornful elitist. He actually sounds like someone who is presenting the
evidence for all to see. He makes no pretense about what side he is on,
but he makes the evidence very clear.

I did not think I would
like a book about the authorship question because I do not think it is
an important question. But this book is more about understanding the
history of the authorship question than about resolving the controversy.
That is a more interesting topic. This is a book I would recommend to
all interested in Shakespeare. It is fun to read.

Our Position on “Anonymous”

A month ago I asked, How should we deal with Anonymous?  In general, other than some assorted Twitter chats, I’ve not said much.

But today it opens, and it’s come to my attention that people (students in particular) may show up here looking for a counter argument.  So I wanted to use this space not necessarily just to present my own position, but to give you readers the opportunity to offer yours as well.

This is a movie, made for entertainment value, made not by academics for the purpose of proving an academic theory, but my moviemakers for the purposes of entertaining you enough to make money.  In this sense it is exactly the same as Shakespeare in Love.

The primary difference is that one movie was made by people who know, love and respect Shakespeare and his works, and were completely open with the fact that their movie was pure fiction. Anonymous wants you to believe that some of it is real.

Personally I don’t think that anybody involved with the actual making of the movie cares one way or the other about Oxfordian theory.  I think that any statements Roland Emmerich (the director) or others make to the press are just glorified trolls, drumming up interest in their project.  I think that the minute the movie is out of the theatres, no one will ever speak of it again.

What troubles me is the idea that there are classrooms where teachers are presenting this movie to their students as if it has any academic merit at all.  If you are a student and your teacher wants you to see this movie, you are almost certainly in one of the following situations, so act accordingly:

* Your teacher actually believes this theory and is trying to convert you.  This is a very dangerous place for a teacher, and is the exact same kind of thinking that would have you learning that we didn’t land on the moon, or that cavemen rode dinosaurs. The freedom to question things does not in any way legitimize the alternate theory you may come up with.

* Your teacher is working off of free educational materials that were distributed along with the movie.  Think about that.  The company that made the movie sent out “educational” materials hyping their movie. Because that couldn’t possibly be a biased source.  So head home and tell your parents *that*.  “My teacher is telling us exactly what the movie company told her to say! Next month we’re learning about the historical accuracy of Shrek’s friends the talking donkey and the sword-fighting kitty.”

* Your teacher wants to teach you the value of questioning “established” fact, and make up your own mind.  I can live with this, this is a good thing to teach.  This is not a good WAY TO TEACH IT, since it’s been made pretty obvious that the motivation here is to make an entertaining movie and not to tell an accurate story.  If you want to teach about the existence of the authorship question, there are many other documentary films to use.

For the record, I don’t think that Shakespeare was a god among men who wrote perfect plays every time he picked up a pen. I’m quite happy with the theory of collaboration, and have no problem with the idea that there’s plenty of Fletcher and Middleton and others mixed in with his work.  That’s not what the authorship question is about.  The authorship question starts with the idea that Shakespeare could *not* have written the works, because of who he was. And then goes about trying to find candidates to fit who they feel earned the right to be considered for authorship.

In conclusion?  If your teacher is trying to teach you to question authority and to consider alternate theories, I can’t argue against that. It’s a good thing.  If your teacher is trying to argue that this particular theory *is* true, because of what this movie says? Then you are being taught poorly, and your teacher is precisely the authority that you should question. Make up your own mind, but be sure that you’ve got good sources for your information first.

For more information from people who *do* have the academic cred to speak intelligently on the topic, I’ll point you to Blogging Shakespeare, the site run by the Stratford Birthplace Trust.  They’ve put out a free e-book on the subject. Look around the site while you’re there, you’ll also find the 60 interviews that they did with experts in the field.

Ok, I’ll let someone else talk.  This is not the post for debating my position – if you have a different one, post it.  I’d like anyone who comes here to read a variety of opinions.  I’ll disclaim right up front saying that I WILL REMOVE ANYTHING WITH PERSONAL ATTACKS OR OTHER FLAME-WAR GENERATING COMMENTS.  Post your opinion and let it stand for itself. Links allowed.

Ask Your Joss Whedon Much Ado Questions HERE!

Ok, so, this has the potential to be highly exciting. Through the magic of Twitter I crossed paths last night with Brian McElhaney, who is part of the cast Joss Whedon’s Much Ado : The Movie and one half of the comedy duo BriTANicK.  (The other half being Nick Kocher, who is also in the movie.)

“Can I interview you?” I immediately asked.

“Joss said yes, so yes!” he wrote back.

Wicked awesome.  (It just dawned on me that I’m now one step away from Joss Whedon. I wonder what that makes my Kevin Bacon number? 😉 )

So, hit me with your questions!  I’ll compile and send them over for both Nick and Brian to answer.  What do you want to know?  The faster we can make this happen the more of a scoop we get ;).

UPDATE – Please note!  We are asking questions of Brian and Nick, not Joss.  I see some questions directed at, well, the director.  Unless Brian and Nick have a direct line to the man and plan on funneling some questions over, you’ll need to keep questions in the realm of what they themselves can answer.

UPDATEDQuestions closed!  I’ve batched up and reformatted questions as best I can, and sent them off to Brian and Nick.  If you want to make sure you see their answers the best way is to either follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

A Chip Off The Old Uncle Claudius

Here’s a random thought that came to me while waiting for my wife’s car at the shop (yes, again – don’t buy a VW Routan.)

Of the few things we know about old King Hamlet, we know that he fought Old Fortinbras in honorable one-on-one combat.  True?

Claudius, on the other hand, is a sneaky backstabber who poisons King Hamlet in his sleep, and then later not only tries to pawn off his dirty work on England, but when that fails, he manipulates Laertes into doing it.  Claudius isn’t much for facing his enemies.

So, then, where does Hamlet fall on that family tree?

Thinking Claudius to be behind the arras, he doesn’t exactly say “Come out and face me,” now does he? He blindly runs him through and hopes for the best.

Then, later? When he finds out about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s secret mission to have him killed (a mission they didn’t even know about), does he do them in? Nope – a little trickier with the note and he, too, lets England do his dirty work.

It is only in his final rage (panic?) that he murders Claudius in front of everybody.  An unarmed Claudius, mind you.  Granted, Claudius didn’t exactly deserve a fair fight after everything he did, but still. You’d like to think that the good guy at least attempts to win a fair fight (I’m thinking Romeo/Tybalt – Romeo didn’t sneak up on him, he came straight at him).

Kind of makes you wonder whether Hamlet’s more like his dad’s brother, than his dad.

Lady, You Picked The Wrong Parent

So today we had parent teacher conferences for all three of my kids. If you don’t know the drill, basically you sit down in your 15 minute window and the teacher tries to calm all your fears, say nice things, and generally keep optimistic.

So, I find out that my middle child (7yrs old) is off the charts on her reading skills.  “126 words per minute with 97% accuracy,” the teacher says, “Normally at this level we expect to see 50 word per minute and 70% accuracy.”  The topic turns to coming up with challenging books for her, and the difference between “reads a lot” and “can read complex things.”

The teacher explains that she’s not a fan of challenging kids to the point of making them hate reading, and that she’d rather then tear through books that are easy, yet fun, rather than harder for them but boring.  Then she hits me with it.  “It’s not like I’m going to assign them Shakespeare,” she says.  “I hated Shakespeare in school, it was so hard and so boring and I just hated it.”

“Funny you should mention him,” I say with an ear-to-ear smirk.

“Why,” she asks, “Are you a Shakespeare fan?”

“This is his thing,” my wife jumps in with, “He does Shakespeare on the internet.”

“Oh, really? How interesting!”

“I run a bunch of sites about Shakespeare, yes,” I say.  “My kids have been raised on Shakespeare.  Go ahead and ask Elizabeth about the subject, see what she says.”

“She could probably teach me!” laughs the teacher.

She probably could :).

“He could be one of your guest readers,” my wife suggests.

Long story short? I may end up teaching a unit on Shakespeare to my daughter’s second grade class.  Good times!

Long-time readers will remember that this is not my first rodeo — I went into my oldest daughter’s first grade class and tried reading them The Tempest. I think this time would go better.  Not only is it an older class, and not only am I more experienced at this game, but this time would be more about getting butts out of the seats and having *them* act it out, rather than trying to keep their attention while I read it.

I’ll keep everybody updated on where that plan goes.

UPDATE! Much Ado About Joss Whedon

UPDATE!  There’s a press release. Either that is new, or it was hidden or something because I didn’t see anybody mention it a few hours ago.

Looks like this is the real deal – contains the cast breakdown and everything.  Shot in black and white in just a couple of weeks, by a new studio that’s going to focus on exactly this kind of festival-friendly indie film.  Should be completed in the spring.  Awesome!

Geeks of all types are abuzz this morning about the news that Joss Whedon has managed to crank out a Shakespeare movie in secret, in his spare time:  Much Ado, The Movie


Whedon is legend among the geeky set for his work on Buffy, Angel, and Firefly, and if this movie is the real deal he brings with him his regular cast of players including Nathan Fillion, Sean Maher, Tom Lenk and Amy Acker.


Here’s the thing, though.  Everybody’s wondering if it’s the real thing, or an elaborate joke.  Some points to consider:


* The man’s in the middle of The Avengers, the biggest comic book movie in a generation of comic book movies.  And he managed to sneak in a Shakespeare movie in his spare time?


* He did it entirely in secret.  Who does that these days? How does a cast of characters like that manage to evade all of the gossip rags for however long it took, without word getting out?


* The only evidence that we have is a screen shot (which, obviously, could be fake), and the cast all tweeting “It’s real!” which, of course, they would do if they were in on the joke.


* The screen shot, if you didn’t notice, never mentions Shakespeare.  It just says “Based on a play.”  So either that’s a very low key “Look at us, we’re doing Shakespeare!” or it’s part of the joke and this is not a Shakespeare project.


* Interesting choice of play.  The title itself could be the joke, no?  The world gets all excited about what they think is a Shakespeare movie, and it turns out to be something completely different?  Much Ado About Nothing, no?


One curious point — back on Oct 9 I spotted Nathan Fillion making Shakespeare references on Twitter.  That clearly came and went with no buzz (unlike last night), so maybe that wasn’t part of the joke, maybe that was real?  But if so, what the heck?  He’s reciting Shakespeare on 10/9 and by 10/23 filming is complete?  Does it really happen that quickly?


Here’s my guess, for the record – I think it is real. I think that it’s probably going to be a web project, like their Dr. Horrible from a few years back.  I think that, as a bunch of friends, they all basically got together in Whedon’s back yard (figuratively speaking) and banged it out.  That way it’s quick, it’s among friends – easy to keep it a secret and do it during downtime.  No one said it was a *big* project.


Let’s see how I do.

Shakespearean Movie Quotes (Guest Post)

The more Shakespeare you learn, the more you see, and that is delightful—most of the time; however, as the brain becomes more and more filled with Shakespeare, the Shakespeare tends to get mixed up with everything else. As an example, Bardfilm has compiled a list of the Shakespearean’s most frequently misquoted movie quotes. Enjoy!

Love means never having to say you’re sorry. It also means drinking the poison right before your true love, the one you thought was dead, wakes up.

Is this a dagger that I see before me, the handle toward my hand, or are you just happy to see me?

You’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do you, Puck?

I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse: A pound of flesh for 3,000 ducats.

Hamlet: “Hello. My name is Hamlet of Elsinore. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Claudius: “Stop saying that!”

What we’ve got here, Yorick, is a failure to communicate.

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give an incestuous, murderous, damnèd Dane.

I’m as mad as Lear, and I’m not going to take it any more!

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Then again, I thought that about Iago.

Show me the ducats!

Back to Milan, eh—with all this lot? You’re gonna need a bigger boat.

I see dead people. You know, the ghost of Lady Anne, the ghost of Hastings, the ghosts of the princes, the ghost of Buckingham—that kind of thing.

You had me at “Forsooth.”

Keep your Iagos close; but keep your Cassios closer.

“Open the pod bay doors, Hal.” “Shut up, Falstaff.”

Demetrius, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Athens anymore.

[Singing wistfully] Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could. / But somewhere in her youth or childhood, / I must have smacked Cordelia good.

Striker: “S’blood, you can’t be serious!” Rumack: “I am serious . . . and don’t call me S’blood.”

“What is between you, Ophelia? Give me up the truth.” “The truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

Horses? We ain’t got no horses! We don’t need no horses! I don’t have to show you any stinking horses! So keep your lousy kingdom, which seems to be in a right shambles in any case.

Get your stinking paws off me, you incestuous, murderous, damnèd dirty Dane!

Of all the taverns in all the streets in all Eastcheap, she walks into mine.

Gertrude: [Flails about in agony, dies.] Claudius: I’ll have what she’s having.

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.

You say that you love rain, but you open your umbrella when it rains.

You say that you love rain, but you open your umbrella when it rains.
You say that you love the sun, but you find a shadow spot when the sun shines.
You say that you love the wind, but you close your windows when wind blows.
This is why I am afraid, you say that you love me too.

I must not be hanging out in the right circles, because I’d never heard this quote – but when I went googling for it, it’s all over the place.  It should take about 2 seconds to realize that this isn’t Shakespeare, just another victim of “I don’t know who said it so I’ll make it sound better by attaching Shakespeare’s name.”

Here’s a tip – whenever you see one of these quotes attributed to Shakespeare that’s written in second person (in other words, says “you do this” and “you do that” a lot), ask yourself “Who was he talking to?” and “Where would this make sense in his work?”  Shakespeare wasn’t in the business of writing Hallmark cards. Rarely does one character just stand there and go on and on about another, as in this quote.  

The best I’ve been able to find is that this quote is a Turkish poem called “I Am Afraid (Korkuyorum)” which is attributed even in the original to William Shakespeare.  The source material long since disappeared from the net, but with a little help from the Wayback Machine – here it is, I Am Afraid (Korkuyorum), in the original Turkish along with English translation. Enjoy.  If anybody knows the actual author, please let us know.  It’s just not Shakespeare.

UPDATED May 29, 2012

It appears that the original author’s name might very well be Qyazzirah Syeikh Ariffin.  At least, there are a number of sources attributing the Turkish version of the poem to him.

Nothing Personal, Duncan

We don’t discuss interpretation of the text enough these days. I really should make more progress in R3, but that’s a different story :).

The other day I answered somebody’s question on Macbeth, asking what this quote means:

I have no spur To prick the sides of my intent

I pointed out that this quote is only partial, and when you look at the rest it makes more sense:

I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent
, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself

And falls on the other.

This quote comes from Macbeth himself, trying to pump up for the bloody deed he’s about do (namely, kill the king).  My best summary for this particular passage was, “Nothing personal, Duncan.  I don’t have to do this because of anything that you did.  You’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I want to be king, and that means you gotta go.”

I know that’s a gross over simplification, but sometimes that’s all these kids want.  When I think of “translating Shakespeare into modern speech” this is what I think of.

Anybody want to help flesh out (or correct) that answer?  The next time somebody googles for the meaning of that quote I’d love for them to land here and see some interesting discussion about what that passage means.