Win Shakespeare In Love on Blu-ray!

Shakespeare in Love has become infamous in the world of Academy Award trivia for beating out some war movie about saving private somebody or other.  It also guaranteed that Gwynneth Paltrow would forever show up in my Shakespeare news filters every single time she is mentioned because she is now always referred to as “Shakespeare in Love actress Gwynneth Paltrow” (and I’m sure that someday very soon Ralph Fiennes’ brother Joseph is going to get sick of hearing people say, “Weren’t you Shakespeare?”)

Among Shakespeare geeks the movie is a joy, a wonderful example of how you can start with Shakespeare’s material (in this case, Romeo and Juliet) and still make an entirely new and beautiful thing.  It should be no surprise that Tom Stoppard, who brought us Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, was behind this masterpiece as well.

On Tuesday, January 31, Shakespeare in Love will be released on Blu-ray high definition DVD. Thanks to the good people at Click Communications I have *three* (3) copies to giveaway.


1) Whenever I think of this movie I think of the whole Academy Award thing.  So I want you to add a comment to this post inventing a “Shakespeare Award” category and nominating a play.  Who had the best sword fight? Best Soliloquoy?  Best supporting actor in a non-comedic role?  Hopefully you get the idea. Best Cross-Dressing?

2) Entries must be received by end of day on Wednesday, February 1. This is a quick one!  I like the idea of announcing the winners on Groundhog Day. So you have all day Tuesday and Wednesday to enter (you can make as many entries as you like but your name’s only going in the hat once)!

3) Winners will be chosen randomly from all valid entries received.  So don’t be afraid to get silly with your guesses.

4) Contest open to residents of the continental United States due to shipping constraints.


By a spectacular quirk of fate, and the fact that he found out about the release first and alerted me to it, our buddy KJ over at Bardfilm is running his own giveaway, and he’s taking entries until Friday!  So don’t forget to go put your name in his hat as well to double your chances!

Who will win?  I don’t know. It’s a mystery!

Coriolanus 101

So with the new movie out in theaters (and a certain special review on the way), I’m in a Coriolanus mood. I’ll be honest, I’m just not that familiar with the play. Here’s my nutshell understanding:

Caius Martius is this war hero for Rome.  He’s recently given the title Coriolanus for almost single-handedly winning the battle at Corioles (reminds one of Macbeth getting his Glamis/Cawdor titles).  He’s also got this really uncomfortably close relationship with his mother, and everybody knows it.  Anyway, his advisors tell him to seek a political career, even though he’s a warrior not a politician. It goes bad and he ends up banished from his own city.  So he takes up with his sworn enemy and leads them in an attack on the homeland the betrayed him.  That is, until his mother comes and talks him out of it.

So, I have a couple of questions that I thought maybe people could explain to me?

* How exactly does it go so badly for Coriolanus in his political quest? How does someone go from national hero to banished traitor literally in the span of two scenes?

* How are we supposed to read his mother?  That she loves her son, or that she loves Rome (and herself) more?  The more it seems obvious that she manipulated him to get what she wanted, it just makes him look stupid for not seeing through it.  Or, is that what we’re supposed to see? He’s just this war machine that others manipulate for their own purposes, his own mother included?

I’m sure I’ll think of others.  Feel free to add your own if you’ve always wondered.

When, and How Much?

Discussion time.  When, in your opinion, should Shakespeare be introduced?  I’m looking for a specific age/grade level.  Along with that, what are your *expectations* of understanding Shakespeare at that age?

Last week the topic came up over that whole darned Cliff Notes thing (yet again) and whether you’re assisting students in their introduction to the material (and thus a good thing), or dumbing it down because you acknowledge that they’ll never understand the real thing (which I don’t think anybody is for 🙂 ).

Long time readers know my answer.  My kids have heard *about* Shakespeare and his stories since they were born. And I  mean that almost literally.  My youngest saw his first production of The Tempest while still in his stroller – we were telling that story long before that. The archives for this blog are loaded with stories of me coming home from work and overhearing my daughter playing games with her Barbies which that day were named Ariel, Miranda and Sycorax.  Over the years my older kids have taken to reading the “for kids” versions of the plays on their own, and I’m not shy about showing them quotes and explaining their meaning.

As for my expectation, well, that’s sort of my motivation for the question. I’m ok with my 5yr old knowing plot and character. He asked for King Lear, for pete’s sake.  *Asked* for it.  So when you show me a 17yr old that has to read Romeo and Juliet and goes running for whatever crutches he can find because he’s already convinced it’s too hard and he’s never going to understand it, I get frustrated.  Had we just brought them up on these stories from a very young age, this wouldn’t happen as often as it does.

There are other problems with expectation when it comes to Shakespeare. Last night a Twitter follower asked me for help with her Hamlet homework.  Her essay question?  

“One critic said, ‘Hamlet himself seems stranded between two worlds, unable to emulate the heroic values of his father, unable to engage with the modern world of diplomacy.’ To what extent does this statement explain why Hamlet is a tragic character?”

Are you kidding me??  What high school student, forced to stay awake long enough to even *read* that question let alone *answer* it, will go through life thinking “Wow, I really got into Hamlet, that was an awesome play.”  These are students who have just been introduced to it, and are at the same time trying to get their heads around that same story and character that, had they lived in my house, they would have learned 10+ years ago. And you’re asking questions like that?! Are you crazy?!

I suppose it has value, but there are times when I simply *loathe* literary analysis of the plays.  I try to go back to what Shakespeare was trying to say, versus what 400 years of critical analysis has read into it, and wonder what we should test kids on.  Tell me what you thought of the play. Tell me how you sympathized with the characters, or did not.  Where did you rage?  Where did you laugh out loud? Why? Which passages do you remember because they resonated with you in just the right way?  How do AC Bradley and TS Eliot change what Hamlet means to you?

Ok, rant over.  Been busy at the day job so I haven’t been posting as often as I should, and wanted to see if I could get some conversation going.

The Mute and Pause Method

Long-time readers of the blog know my special love for The Tempest, my excitement over the recent movie version by Julie Taymor, and my eventual crushing disappointment that followed.  I can’t begin to link to all the stories on those subjects over the years.

But that was then and this is now, and I’ve got a copy of the DVD here at home and I’m walking the kids through it in these little 10 minute before-you-go-to-bed bursts.  They don’t understand a word of it, and they tell me.  And I’m ok with that, because I’m standing right there explaining to them, in these 10 minute chunks, precisely what’s going on.

Last night it dawned on me that I’d stumbled across what I’ll call the “mute and pause” teaching method.  Specifically we were watching the scene where Gonzalo and Alonso have suddenly fallen asleep, and Antonio and Sebastian plot to kill them. I mute the scene, since the kids aren’t getting the words at all.

“You see that guy?  He’s the real bad guy.  He’s here thinking, hey, the king’s asleep, his son’s dead, nobody else is around … he’s telling his friend, if we kill the king, then you can be king!  His friend here, he’s more of a medium bad guy, he’s not the kind of guy that thinks of that first.  But when somebody plants the idea in his brain he’s all Yeahhhh…..*I* could be king! Good idea!”

You can’t do this with a book, or a retelling, or even a stage play.  From a child’s perspective, that scene is long.  They talk a lot.  If you’re forced to sit through that, or read that, and you don’t understand it?  Sure, I can see where it’s confusing and boring.  So what we get in my house is we get to *see* it, we get to see the bad guy’s face and how he pulls his friend aside and whispers conspiratorial thoughts in his ear, all while getting the high level summary of what’s going on.  So they get more than just “story and character”, they get a visual to go along with it.  We bridge that gap toward “Shakespeare must be seen, not read!”  Seeing goes a long way toward understanding, I agree completely. But not the whole way.  So why not help the kids along?

Even better than the mute option is the pause option.  *Click* pause. “See that, kids?  See how Ariel has frozen time for a second?  Ariel knows that Gonzalo – the nice man with the gray hair, who won’t stop talking?  He’s Prospero’s friend from a long time ago.  Ariel sees that there’s trouble, and he knows that Prospero would want his friend to be protected, so Ariel’s about to foil the bad guys’ plans.”  *Click* resume.

I could *never* do that for a stage performance.  In the time it took me to lean over my seat and try to whisper that explanation, the scene will have progressed and we’d never catch up.  But when reading it, you don’t get that great tension of exactly how close it is, how they’ve got their swords up and ready to strike right at the moment Ariel wakes them.

One last thing, I’d also like to point out that I’m not just sacrificing the text in my muting and fast forwarding. I’m just picking my spots.  For instance they got to hear the whole introduction of Trinculo and Caliban, and for the most part they understood it (and laughed their behinds off). 

Today’s lesson, though, was about Gonzalo.  “Watch for something, kids.  You know the white haired guy that won’t shut up?  He’s a good and loyal friend, and that’s a big deal. Even though he’s in with the bad guys, he’s a good guy.  When they kicked Prospero and Miranda out of the kingdom and stuck them in the boat? It was Gonzalo who put the food and water and most importantly Prospero’s magic books into the boat with them.  You know how Gonzalo is a good guy?  Because when the king falls asleep, you’ve got these two other guys over here whose first thoughts are let’s kill him and become king!  But good old Gonzalo, who is really pretty old to be doing any fighting, when Ariel wakes him up watch this – his very first words aren’t ‘Holy cow I fell asleep!’ or “What’s going on?” or anything, his very first thought is “Preserve the king!”  So that’s how you know that he’s a good guy.  That’s the guy you want on your team.”

In any other context you might completely miss that line.  But once your attention is called to it, it’s a very important character trait.  At least, in my humble opinion. 🙂

Shakespearean Light Bulb Jokes (Guest Post)

Bardfilm and Shakespeare Geek have put their heads together and taken the rare step of combining Shakespeare and the genre of Light Bulb Jokes, with the following results:

How many Henry VIs does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but he has to do it in three parts.

How many Prosperos does it take to change a light bulb?
Are you kidding? He has Caliban take care of all that kind of thing.

How many Brutuses does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but he needs the help of 23 conspirators to do it.

How many Ophelias does it take to change a light bulb?
STOP! You wouldn’t let someone that wet near electricity, would you?

How many Macbeths does it take to change a light bulb?
I wouldn’t know. Every time he sees a working light bulb, he yells, “Out, out, brief candle!” and smashes it to bits.

How many Othellos does it take to change a light bulb?
Two—after he puts out the light, he puts out the light!

No, really. How many Othellos does it take to change a light bulb?
Wait a minute—this bulb has been changed a thousand times in secret! O that I had nothing known!

How many Lears does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but the light bulb needs to convince him that it LOVES to be changed.

How many Calibans does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but first you have to teach him language and then you have to endure his cursing.

How many Pericleses does it take to change a light bulb?
I don’t know—I’m not familiar with that play.

How many Sebastians does it take to change a light bulb in Olivia’s bedroom?
Viola. And Orsino pounding on the door to let him in.

How many Lavinias does it take to change a light bulb?
Oh, that’s really tasteless. And so is that “tasteless” comment. Eww.

How many Earls of Oxford does it take to change a light bulb?
Oh, come ON! Don’t EVEN get me STARTED!Ok, how many Shakespeares does it take to change a light bulb?
THERE’S NO MENTION OF ANY LIGHTBULBS IN THE WILL! ONLY A MEMBER OF THE ARISTOCRACY WOULD HAVE OWNED—Sorry about that, folks. I have no idea how he snuck in. Carry on.How many Claudiuses does it take to change a light bulb?
He won’t change them—he just keeps yelling, “Give me some light! Away!”

How many Hamlets does it take to change a light bulb?
Just one, but it takes him a really long time to make up his mind, and he only eventually changes it after Claudius pushes his mom down the cellar stairs.

Or, how many members of the Danish Royal Court does it take to change a light bulb?
None. They all kill each other and then Horatio changes it while drawing his breath in pain.

How many Muses of Fire does it take to change a light bulb?
One, but it will also ascend the brightest heaven of invention if you ask it nicely.

How many Angelos does it take to change a light bulb?
One, but first he’ll deny it—and then he’ll discover he changed the OTHER bulb!

How many Claudios does it take to change a lightbulb?
Trick question, the lightbulb didn’t really blow out—Don John just loosened it because he is so very evil.

How many Benedicks does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but you have to convince him that the light bulb wants to be changed. And then you have to convince the light bulb that it wants to be changed by Benedick.

How many Rude Mechanicals does it take to change a light bulb?
Well, you figure you need somebody to hold the ladder, somebody to get up and change the actual bulb, somebody downstairs at the fusebox, somebody to run to the store to get bulbs in the first place…. So, one. Nick Bottom. He’ll play all the roles.

How many Gentlemen of Verona does it take to change a light bulb?
Same as the number of Noble Kinsmen it takes!

How many Noble Kinsmen does it take to change a light bulb?

I don’t get it.
And if we made a really obscure Two Noble Kinsmen reference nobody would have gotten that, either. 😉

How many sonnets does it take to change a light bulb?
One hundred and fifty or thereabouts, although a whole bunch in the middle apparently suggest that they prefer the dark. And 400 years of debate over which light bulb it was in the first place.

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

Geeklet Story Time, Part 2

…so, where was I?

The 5yr old, after getting a shortened form of Macbeth, wants the one about the king who divides his kingdom up among his daughters. Here we go!

Once upon a time there was a king, who had gotten so old and tired that he didn’t want to be king anymore.  He decided to split his kingdom into three parts and give each part to one of his daughters.  So he called them all together and said, “Tell me how much you love me.  Whoever loves me the most gets the best part of my kingdom.”

Well, the first daughter got up and said “I love you *thhiisssss* much, and I love no one else but you.”  The king was pleased by this and gave her a share of the kingdom.

The second daughter got up and said, “Forget her, *I* love you *TTTTHHHIISSSS* much, and I, too, love no one else but you.”  The king was again very pleased, and gave the second daughter her share. 

He then turned to his third daughter, the youngest, and said, “And now let’s hear the best of all, because you are our favorite and we know that you love us the most of all.”

“No, father,” she told him.  “I love you very very much, but I will not lie to you and tell you that I only love you, because when I get married I will love my husband, and when we have children I will love them too.”

Well, her father the king was not happy with this answer at all. He got so mad that he said she would not have any share of the kingdom, and he banished her.

…at this point a choked little voice asks me, “But did he still love her?” And I am caught so by surprise that I don’t quite know what to do with myself.  My little guy has been hanging on every word, and he’s an emphathetic little bugger.

“Oh, he absolutely still loved her,” I told him, “He was just really really mad because he thought she was saying that she didn’t love him.  He didn’t understand her answer.  Are you sad?”

He nods, unable to get any words out.

I squeeze him a bit tighter and remind him that this story has a happy ending, remember?  “We’re going to find out that she loved him most of all.”

So, the story continues.  The king wanted to go live in the castle of the first daughter, but he wanted to have 100 soldiers with him just like any king should. But the soldiers ate all the food in the castle and made a big mess and didn’t pick up after themselves…

Again, I am stopped. “Why didn’t they pick up after themselves?”

“Well, soldiers can be pretty rowdy, and they really didn’t listen to anybody.  The king wasn’t the king anymore, so they didn’t think they had to do what he said.”

He thought about this.  “If I had 100 soldiers and I told them to pick up after themselves, would they listen to me?”

I assured him that absolutely, his soldiers would listen to him.

So, anyway, the first daughter told him that if he wanted to live there, he couldn’t have his soldiers.  So the king decided that he would go live with the second daughter.  But, alas, the second daughter agreed with the first and said that no, he could not have his soldiers with him there, either.

So the king, who was very old and starting to get really sick, said that he would live alone and went out into the forest in the really bad rain.  His remaining friends, Fool and Kent and Edgar, who were the most loyal of all, went out with him to protect him.

But remember the third daughter?  The one who was banished when the king got mad at her for not saying she loved him the most of all?  That daughter had gone out and formed an army of her own.  And with her army she came charging back into the kingdom to do battle with the two evil sisters. She beat them, took the kingdom back, and rescued her father from the forest and told him that he could come and live with her forever with as many soldiers as he wanted.  Because she really was the one that loved him the most of all.

And they all lived happily ever after.

“Were the other sisters allowed to come visit too?” asked my little empathetic guy, who didn’t want to see anybody’s feelings hurt.

“Oh, absolutely,” I told him.  “Once the third daughter came back and said that the king could live with her, everything was forgiven and they were all happy again.”

He’s probably going to hate me when he gets older and learns the real story, but if you’d heard his little voice crack over concern whether Lear still loved Cordelia, it would break your heart.

Geeklet Story Time

So tonight my wife’s at work and I’m putting the kids to bed. My older girls are in their rooms reading, and I’m laying (lying?) down in my 5yr old son’s bed with him.

“Daddy!” yells the 9yr old from her room, “There’s a Shakespeare quote in my book!”

“Which one?” I yell back.

“Life’s but a walking shadow…” she begins.

“…that struts and frets his hour upon the stage. A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I reply.  And, yes, I missed a few words in the middle.

“Yes, that one,” comes the reply.

“Macbeth.  That’s a good one.”

“Why is that a good one?” asks the 5yr old.

“Well, he’s sad because his wife died,” I say.

Somehow I end up telling the story of Macbeth. To my 5yr old.  As a bedtime story.  My 5yr old who is prone to bad dreams as it is. 

I now present my very shortened, very censored, off-the-top-of-my-head version of Macbeth, suitable for 5yr olds:

Once upon a time there was a soldier in the army named Macbeth. One day when he was coming home from the war he ran into a witch who said, “Greetings, King of Scotland!”

“I’m not king of Scotland, you crazy witch!” said Macbeth.

“Not yet!” said the witch.  “But you will be.”

So Macbeth went home and told his wife this crazy story.  “You know what we should do?” said his wife.  “We should invite the king over, and then when he’s sleeping we should take his crown!  Then you could be king!”

“I don’t know about that,” said Macbeth, “I mean, he’s a good king, he’s never really done anything to us.”

“What sort of chicken are you?!” his wife yelled at him.  “The witch said you are going to be king.  How do you expect that to happen if you don’t take action?”

Macbeth agreed, and they invited the king over to dinner.  Sure enough, that might while he slept they came into his room and stole his crown, and then Macbeth proclaimed himself king of Scotland.

Well this was just plain silly, as everybody knew you don’t get to be king just by taking the crown.  But Macbeth locked himself up in a castle and wouldn’t listen to anyone who tried to talk sense into him.

Meanwhile, the king’s family went off and rallied support to get their crown back.  They brought in Macduff, a brave warrior, to face Macbeth in hand-to-hand combat.  Macbeth thought that he would easily win because the witches told him that he would be king.  But Macduff won the battle, and rather than keep the crown for himself he gave it back to the original king who was the rightful owner.

“What happened to Macbeth?” my audience of 1 asks.

“He lost the battle,” I say, stalling.

“How did he lose the battle?”

“They had a sword fight, and he lost. Macduff made him surrender.”

“So did Macbeth go to jail?” I love the 5yr old perspective.

“You know,” I tell him, “I’m not sure.  The story doesn’t really say what happens next.  But I think you’re right, I think that he probably went to jail.”

At this point, and I am totally not kidding, my 5yr old decides that he’s in a Shakespeare mood, and he wants to hear the one about the father who has to divide his kingdom up among his three daughters but he gets mad because one says she doesn’t love him most of all.  I’m flabbergasted at this – I may have told him Lear like, once, a year or more ago.

As a matter of fact, I have this story that I told my middle daughter back in 2007, but my son was only 18months old! I know I’ve told him the story, but right now I can’t find a link to it.

…continued in part 2, because this is a very long post. 🙂

Fate v. Free Will in Romeo + Juliet (Plus, Changing The Ending?)

While cruising through Yahoo! Answers today I saw that somebody had asked about the theme of destiny in Romeo and Juliet.  Then something hit me.  It’s easy to point to the “star-crossed lovers” right in the prologue, and later Romeo, who is Fortune’s fool, defies to stars, etc etc etc.

But here’s the thing, I’ve also always thought of the play as a lesson to the parents about not being so stubborn in your ancient grudges and your own problems that you don’t realize what you’re about to lose. 

At the end of the play, the prince gives his great “All are punished” speech and the two families shake hands and build statues.  I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely left with a feeling of, “See how stupid you’ve been? If only you’d changed your ways and seen what was happening, this all could have been prevented.”

And there’s the problem.  Which is it?  Is Shakespeare giving us a story where we’re supposed to come away thinking that this tragedy could have been prevented?  Or that it was Fate, and that these kids were going to end up dead no matter what happened?

I’d never really thought of this before, but has anybody ever done an ending to this play where the Prince still gets to give his speech, but rather than the statue building stuff, the two families turn their backs on each other and the grudge continues?  I think that would be genius.  Depressing, but genius.  Then you’ve got the more helpless feeling that no, these kids never had a chance, the feud is never going to end even in the face of such overwhelming tragedy.

Sounds and Sweet Airs That Give Delight, and Hurt Not

So I’m walking my kids slowly through last year’s Tempest movie, now that I have it on DVD.  By slowly I mean about 5-10 minutes at a time before they go to bed, with heavy voiceover.  They seem to be confused (not understanding a word of the dialogue), but interested.

So we’re at the scene where Ariel, singing “Full fathom five,” guides Ferdinand across the island to where Miranda can see him.  It’s easy to see a how a big part of the play is missed here.  The kids can see Ariel, singing.  They ask me whether Ferdinand can see Ariel, I say no.  I try to explain this whole idea that, from the perspective of the shipwrecked sailors, all they know is that they miraculously survived the wreck, showed up on shore with their clothes completely dry, and they hear music. It’s very important in a number of scenes that they want to follow the music, which we as the audience know is Ariel’s way of bringing them where he wants them to go.  The music is so prevalent that even the child-monster Caliban gives his beautiful speech about how not only is this magical sound no big deal, but he’s actually come to quite love it.

Very hard to convey that on film, where we’ve become so used to separating out the idea of “soundtrack” that it’s difficult to understand when the characters on screen can hear the music and when they can’t. On top of that you have to get across the idea of “following” the music, which seems to be coming from over there somewhere.  To the film audience, the music is coming from the same place the dialogue is coming from, it has no direction.

So that gets me to my discussion question.  Let’s say that you’re staging a Tempest.  What sort of special things can you do with the music to get this point across?  I’m thinking of stuff like having speakers randomly behind and around (under?) the audience so we can feel where precisely the music is coming from, and have the characters actually come out into the crowd, literally trying to follow it.

That’s a very specific question, but I’m also curious about broader answers on the whole “What can you accomplish with live theater that is hard-to-impossible on film?”

The Return of Geeklet

My girls got Kindle Fires for Christmas, so my 5yr old son has basically taken my old iPhone and uses it for his own game playing.

Just now he wanders in, face in the screen, and says, “Daddy, I’m reading Shakespeare.”

I look at the iPhone and sure enough he’s gotten into my Shakespeare app.  Specifically, Winter’s Tale.

“Oh,” I tell him, “You’ve got Winter’s Tale there.  That’s a hard one.”  He is actually looking at the Dramatic Personae.

“Well I don’t know what the words say,” he tells me, “But I like to look at the words.”  He has never grown out of the little speech thing he has were all his “er” sounds come out like “or”, so “words” actually sounds like “wards” and it is the cutest darned thing. 🙂

“You can always sound out the words and find the ones you do know,” I tell him.

“Can you find me Hamlet?”

“Sure,” I tell him, and bring up Hamlet, Act I.

He tries to walk away reading it, then quickly comes back saying, “I don’t know these words. Can you find me To be or not to be?”

“Sure,” I tell him again, and show him how to look up Act III.  I find the speech he wants and show it to him.

Off he goes, reading Hamlet.  I’m sure he put it down 2 seconds after he left the room, but still, gotta love the boy.