My Interview with “Hamlet Supercut” Creator Geoff Klock

Last week a good part of the Shakespeare fan universe was knocked on its collective Bottoms (see what I did there :)?) by the discovery of what’s best called a Hamlet Supercut – a 15 minute retelling of Hamlet made up entirely of 200+ movie and television references.  If you’ve not yet seen it, you’re in for a treat.  Warning, there’s a bit of NSFW dialogue so you might want to grab the headphones (more on that later):

Amazing, right?  Everybody I showed said the same thing.  I got a number of “I thought I knew a few references to add but he already had them!” and even one professor who said, “I teach this stuff for a living and I only knew about 60-70% of those!”

When the creator Geoff Klock introduced himself on Twitter I jumped at the chance to interview him by email.  I sent him half a dozen questions, all set to the tune of Hamlet quotes (hey I gotta show off my geek skills somewhere!), and he sent me back his answers.  Enjoy.

1) “What’s Shakespeare to you, or you to Shakespeare?” Tell us about yourself and the context for this project. We’ve all got “high school teacher” but what grade? Is this for honors/AP? Where in the world are you? How did the idea for this project come up and how long has it taken you?

I am actually not a high school teacher, though I have a lot in common with one. I teach at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, which is open admissions. I teach the two term freshman writing course, and also film and Brit Lit 1, where I teach Hamlet. To get my students interested in Hamlet I started collecting clips quoting it. It got out of hand. At a show called Kevin Geeks Out in NYC I saw a guy do a mash up Christmas Carol. I thought “That’s what I will do with the clips!” It took years, but that feels misleading, since it only took a few minutes a day, and then a handful of days to put it all together. I was doing other stuff!

2) “Tell us about the method to your madness.” There’s obviously a ridiculous amount of overlapping between all the references where you have to decide which reference to use for which line, or whether to do a whole bunch of them strung together. Any method to how you decided which clip goes with which line?

I tried to go with the most entertaining / recognizable clip I could. Given a choice in one show between a line I already had (such as “To be or not to be”) and a more obscure one (such as “I’ll call
the king, father, Royal dane!”) I tried to go with the lesser known one. In some Platonic Ideal Universe I could build the whole play out of quotes, I imagined. Also I had to cut all references to Hamlet in music and each show only got one bite — a lot of folks want to know where the Star Trek “Conscience of King” episode is but for that generation of Trek I wanted Christopher Plummer as a Klingon. Cause, obviously.

3) “F-words, f-words, f-words.” I’ve already heard a few people comment that they’d love to show this to their students, but several of the quotes drop that big f-bomb that is know to set parents aroar. Any particular reason why you chose to leave those in (since they’re not Shakespeare’s text)? Did it even come up when you were making this?
If you are teaching high school you are doing the Lord’s work. I could not hack it at that job. And if you have that job you don’t want to lose it and I get that. But too often teachers present intelligence
to students as something antiseptic. We imply that to be smart they need to dress like J Crew ads, put away childish pleasures like Batman, and talk and write like goddamn news broadcasters. Then we are shocked that they do not want to learn. I have a doctorate from Oxford, I wear converse with suits, and the two things I love best in this fucking world are Hamlet and The X-Men, and my students know that. And honestly, while “fuck” may not be in the text, Hamlet says to Ophelia that he wants to lie in her lap. He clarifies that he means his head upon her lap, and then asks her if she thought he meant “country matters.” Are we to leave students, who are always a single click of their phones away from every manner of Hard Core Porn, with the impression that Shakespeare is above a pun on the word “cunt?” The Hamlet Mash Up demonstrates that intelligence can coexist with trash culture, and that both are kickass. Cf. any movie by Quentin Tarantino for a further lesson on this subject.


4) “I have entreated geeks along with me to watch the 15 minutes of this video.” You’ve already told me that you’ve got more than a dozen clips to add and that your goal is “all of them.” I told a friend that if this was two hours long I’d invite people over and serve popcorn. How long do you think you can make it, and still have it be a useful teaching tool?

More than 15 minutes and it can’t be on YouTube. If you are not on YouTube you are not getting to all the people you can. Plus there is a tradition of the “15 minute Shakespeare” I want to stay in. It’s too long as it is. If I could start over I would just do To Be Or Not To Be.

5) “Well spoken, with good accent.” Several of the clips appear to be foreign language versions of Hamlet productions. Isn’t that cheating? If you open up that door couldn’t you do an entire video of nothing but versions of Hamlet from around the world? That’s really a different thing, isn’t it?

Are there a lot of foreign movies quoting Hamlet? I don’t know that many. If there are too many the foreign language ones will be the first thing cut in a next edition.

6) “I did enact Julius Caesar: I was killed i’ the Capitol; Brutus killed me.” Does this only work for Hamlet, or could you set your sites on other Shakespeare works? What would your second choice be? Do you think it’s possible to find enough cultural references to, say, Midsummer Night’s Dream that you could make a similar video?


I am not doing any more of these. This was hard enough and I am clearly missing 15 things at least. I will keep this one as up to date if I can, maybe releasing an update a year or something. I tried to do it with MacBeth but MacBeth is not as sound-bite-y as Hamlet as so the clips had to be longer, and it was a mess. You could do one of Romeo and Juliet maybe but the whole thing would be pop culture characters saying “A rose by any other name” and “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art
thou Romeo.”

Thanks very much Geoff!  I apologize for assuming you were a high school teacher, I don’t know where I got that. Maybe somebody else will pick up the gauntlet and make another one of these, just as you suggest!

Could It Be, Hmmm, I Don’t Know … SEYTON!?!?!

(Does a “Church Lady” impression date me pretty badly?)

Bardfilm wanted some academic discussion on Twitter today, and knowing that it’s very hard to learn anything permanent on Twitter (try Googling for it later!) I’m summarizing in a blog post but you can check to see if the #SeytonSatan hashtag is still active.

Question : In Macbeth, would “Seyton” be pronounced like “Satan”?  And, if so, would that have suggested some sort of desired audience reaction?  When Macbeth calls, “Seyton!” would the audience have been all, “He’s calling SATAN?! Dude’s evil!”   (My paraphrase.  Bardfilm’s original question had more “you betcha”).

There’s much that’s been said on the topic but little of academic note.

On the subject of sounding it out I linked in @BenCrystal, an expert in original pronunciation (OP), who responded, “I’d say them the same in OP, something like [‘sei-tun] with a really soft /t/.” This then led to a discussion about when exactly the Scots burr came into the language (after the arrival of King James) and whether Macbeth would have been played that way.

But what of the whole Satan thing?  Do we think that Shakespeare intended to put Satan in the mind of his audience?

My personal position on this is perhaps too grounded – what happens next?  The audience hears Macbeth call, “Satan!” and then this regular old soldier shows up and starts taking orders.  So either you just get this brief scare where the audience is left thinking, “Oh, phew, for a minute there I thought Macbeth was actually calling you know who!” and then we go about our business.  Or we get something more like “Who’s this guy?  Is that Satan in the form of one of Macbeth’s soldiers?  Oooo, I bet he’s going to do something just off the charts evil.”

I just don’t know enough about the time period to know if this was a think that Shakespeare would even attempt.  Did you get to mention Satan on stage like that?  Would Shakespeare have suggested that Macbeth was so evil as to invoke the big man himself?  And, worse, order him around like a lackey?

Lots of discussion material here.  Show of hands, who’s done the Scottish play and has an opinion from experience?

Drop Everything

…for the next 15 minutes and go watch this insane “supercut” that tells Hamlet using 200 tv and movie references.

I don’t even know what to say about it. The amount of effort is insane.  You’ve got the Monkees, the Addams Family, Head of the Class, Clueless, Simpsons, Cookie Monster and on and on and on.  Monty Python references I just saw on Bardfilm yesterday?  They’re in there.

And he even lists the credits, in order, at the end!

You know that feeling you get when you’re just minding your own business and then you randomly hear a snippet of conversation come from over the cube wall where somebody’s dropped a Hamlet reference?  Your ears perk up, you listen more closely to see what happens next, and your brain does this thing where it pulls the entire context for that quote out of storage and brings it front and center for you in case you need it (or is that just me?).  I get this neat little shock up my spine when I catch random Shakespeare.  It makes me happy.  It is a reminder that Shakespeare is everywhere.

Now imagine sustaining that feeling for 15 minutes.

It says in the description that the creator is open to adding new references.  I hope he makes this an hour long.  I would watch with equal fascination.

Sonnets Simplified?

So next week I’ll at long last be heading in to a classroom to talk about Shakespeare.  In this particular instance we’re talking about the sonnets, and I’m busy gathering material that I can use.

I’ve been informed by the teacher that, in preparation for the lesson, they “studied” Sonnet 29.  That is, she read and paraphrased it to them.  They also read Sonnet 18.  This was done mostly as a lesson in iambic pentameter.

Here’s my question to you, loyal readers.  What are the best sonnets I can use for examples in class?  We’ll be doing several games involving filling in blanks and shuffling words so we’ll need a handful of sonnets to work with that the kids don’t already know.

Guidelines

1) The iambic pentameter should be about as straightforward as it can be.  If we’re trying to get across five feet of baDUM baDUM baDUM baDUM baDUM and giving them puzzles where they need to put that meter back into place it won’t be fair to throw in too many twists.

2) Family friendly.  I love #130 as an example, just not sure what to do with “breasts are dun” yet.  Most likely going to come through as “flesh is dun” just so I can use it, but I’d rather have examples I don’t have to mess with.

3) Not too archaic.  If the kids need to be going to the glossary (me) for every single line, they’re never going to understand it.

I’d like to use Sonnet 12, as an example.  I think the imagery is something they could grasp, the meter is straightforward, and I don’t think I have to worry too much about the family friendliness of a word like “breed”.

Who’s got some help for me? Carl Atkins, you out there? You always seem to have a few sonnets to rattle off when we bring up the topic.  What’s that one about thinking about his beloved and he can’t sleep?  That’s a good one.

Last Day to Join the Shakespeare is Universal Campaign!

Our revels will soon be ending, and our little lives will be rounded with a stunning new t-shirt because we hit our goal!  I just wanted to leave a note here for those people that really were waiting until the end, possibly to see if we made it (so there’s no risk), possibly to see if we *didnt* make it so they could help put us over the edge.  Either way, you’ve still got (as of this writing) about 9 hours to go add your name to the list and get a shirt if you wanted one.

For those that have already joined the campaign, remember that your payment will be charged so don’t suddenly forget what you signed up for :).  But shirts should be arriving by the end of the month.  I look forward to hearing reports of sightings in the wild!

Shakespeare for everyone!

P.S. – No more nagging!  I know that’s the most exciting part for some people.  Thanks for putting up with me.

What Was The Ben Jonson / William Shakespeare Friendship?

I guess I always thought that most of Shakespeare’s “friends” recognized his genius and organized themselves around him like some sort of disciples re-learning their craft.  I don’t know where I got that, it’s just the image that works for me – they’ve got this good thing going, they think they’re at the top of their game, then along comes this new kid who pretty much reinvents how it should be done, and then they’re suddenly in a position to try and keep up with him.  
Specifically, though, I’m curious about Ben Jonson since he’s typically recognized as the most famous and successful of Shakespeare’s friends.  What exactly was that relationship?  Twice today I spotted references like this one:

Jonson was pals with Shakespeare (and defended him often), but considered himself a genius and Shakespeare a hack (he often heckled Shakespeare’s plays).

…and I realized that I probably have a lot to learn about this aspect of Shakespeare’s life.  I get that Jonson thought he was a genius, I’ve seen that before.  But is it true that he looked down on Shakespeare’s work?  If there was really any heckling I can only assume that it was good-natured among friends, and I can totally believe that.

Who wants to take the floor and tell us about Mr. Jonson?

What Comics Can Take From Shakespeare

I tagged this article by John Ostrander without knowing who he is.  I gathered from a quick skim that he is an author of comic books, who cites Shakespeare as one of his influences.  I like that.  I’m reminded of last week’s Ben Kingsley story where he said that he “Brings a little Shakespeare into everything he does.”  Which in turn reminds me of the great Martin Luther King’s quote about, and I will paraphrase this because I’ve got to get back to the topic at hand, “If you are called to sweep streets, then sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry.” Amen, Dr. King.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, yeah, John Ostrander on what the comics can take from Shakespeare. The fact that he uses Measure for Measure as his primary example shows that there’s going to be some depth to his argument, he’s not just pulling high school memories of Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet and doing little but name dropping our dear bard.  Mr. Ostrander’s apparently thought a lot about this.

A brief excerpt:

Explore all sides of the question. What did Shakespeare think on any given question? It’s hard to tell because he would give convincing arguments to both (or more) sides of a question.

He then uses the example of Claudio preparing for his possible death, first speaking with the Duke and accepting it, but then turning around and telling his sister Isabella how much he fears it.

Which attitude speaks Shakespeare’s true mind? 

Both. Both are true, to the moment, to the character, to the author, and for the reader or audience. It comes down to which is truer for us and that was Shakespeare’s intent or what I learned from it. Shakespeare had a many faceted mind and he used it in his work.

That’s just one of several points he makes (although, to be temper my original praise, his point about Hamlet seems a little thin.)

Oh, and before I wrote this I had to google Mr. Ostrander so that I didn’t get schooled by the comic geeks in the audience for not knowing him.  Turns out he’s not only done time with Marvel and DC, he’s contributed to the Star Wars universe as well.  Looks like his Shakespeare lessons have been serving him well!

Iago Does Not Exist

I love a good “Hey look at Shakespeare *this* way” theory, and the TV Tropes brought me some new ones to play with. Hat tip to Michigan Shakespeare Festival for posting about this on their Facebook page!

How about the idea that Iago doesn’t exist?  That he is just the personification of the individual evil side of each character?

He’s the incarnation of that voice within every person’s mind, which is why it’s so easy for him to trick everyone into believing what he says. He’s not saying it — they’re thinking it. Emilia is just a klepto with self-esteem issues; Othello is suffering from paranoia (or, if you hold that his seizures are real, he’s also having epileptic hallucinations); Roderigo is generally unstable; Cassio has a serious drinking problem… the list goes on.

Now, obviously we’re out of the realm of what Shakespeare may have actually intended – there’s no way he had the narrative to even think of something like this.  But in terms of modern interpretation, could you pull this off?  I wonder whether some sort of weird version could be made where there is no Iago character, but instead each of the characters listed above takes turns reciting Iago’s appropriate lines as if schizophrenic.

How many scenes does Iago have by himself?

There’s a few more good theories on that page (like Horatio being a hired assassin sent by Fortinbras) that maybe we’ll get to another time.

This Geek Hath Had Good Counsel — A HUNDRED SHIRTS!

If you didn’t see the email, or the Facebook posts, or the Twitter tweets… our Shakespeare is Universal campaign has reached its goal, with 3 days to spare!  If you’re one of those 100 you will get your shirt, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for joining our cause.  As I wrote in a previous email this wasn’t just an opportunity to go fishing for funds, this was a bit of a crisis of faith on my part, and I’d really convinced myself that if after all these years I couldn’t find an audience of 100 people who were willing to make a real world commitment to what we were trying to do here?  Let’s just say I was seriously thinking about how I’d be spending my time going forward.

BUT!  That’s all in the past, because you do like Shakespeare, you really really like Shakespeare, and I am a very happy geek heading off into the weekend.  I will stop checking my dashboard every 3 minutes like I’ve been doing for the last 3 weeks, and I will sleep soundly.

Thanks again.

Please note that the campaign does not officially end until sometime Monday afternoon (the page actually has a counter), so if you planned on buying a shirt you still have time to do so.  Of course you won’t get to ride the rollercoaster that we all just did of not knowing whether they’d ever exist!  You’ll just know you’re getting yours.  And that’s ok, too.  Shakespeare for everybody!

Happy Shakespeare Mother’s Day!

In honor of our moms, this week we imagine what Mother’s Day cards might have been like from Shakespeare’s characters.  Shakespeare is a bit like Disney in not giving us very many mothers to work with, but we do our best.

Happy Mother’s Day!

“Dearest Mother, I can not begin to tell you how thankful I am that you did not pluck your nipple from my toothless gums and dash my brains out.” 

“Mom, I know you don’t always like to express just how much you care about me, but I know you do because you died of grief at the end of our play.  Offstage of course.  Love, Romeo.” 

“To The Woman Who Raised Me As If I Were Her Own Daughter,   I’m totally crushing on your son Bertram, could help me hook that up?” 

“What would I do for you, Mother?  I would spare Rome, even if you did embarrass me in front of Aufidius and his friends.” 

“For A Wonderful Mother-In-Law on Mother’s Day.  Sorry about the Tybalt thing Mrs. Capulet, I totally understand why you tried to have me executed.” 

“You Are The Queen, Your Husband’s Brother’s Wife, and Would It Were Not So You Are My Mother.  Happy Mother’s Day. “