So, Then, You’re Saying That Shakespeare is Universal?

I can’t help but point out the timing on this one.  It seems that the Globe is taking Hamlet to every country in the world, in celebration of Shakespeare’s 450th birthday.

You think they’ll do something crazy, like market a t-shirt with “To be or not to be” translated into a whole bunch of languages? 🙂

Hey Globe, if you’re reading this, I’ve got a ready-made t-shirt all set for you!

The earth has music for those who listen.

Also “The earth has music for those who will listen,” “The earth has its music for those who listen,” and so on.

This one is easily mistaken as Shakespeare because the words remind us of “If music be the food of love play on” while the sentiment closely echoes Caliban’s “Be no afeard, the isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.”

However, this one is George Santayana:

“The earth has its music for those who will listen,
Its bright variations forever abound;
With all the wonders that God has bequeathed us,
There is nothing that thrills like the magic of sound.”

Thanks to “That’s Not Shakespeare,” who looks to be as upset about misattributed Shakespeare as I am 🙂


UPDATED September 8, 2014 : I was asked to provide citation that this is Santayana. And you know what? I can’t. It’s quite possible that this quote has fallen victim to that same logic that gets us so many “Not by Shakespeare” quotes, where you find a couple of blogs saying something so it must be true.  I can’t speak for the entirety of Santayana’s work but I can safely say that it’s definitely not in Shakespeare’s work. If anybody can cite exactly where it occurs, we’d all be very grateful!


“This Did Something To Me” : Authors’ Favorite First Lines

When I see articles like The Atlantic’s “‘This Did Something Powerful to Me’: Authors’ Favorite First Lines of Books,” the first thing I think is, of course, “Anybody going to mention Shakespeare?”

Yup.  I don’t know who Lydia Davis is but she’s my new best pal because not only does she bring Shakespeare into a discussion where no less than 3 others went with “Call me Ishmael”, she goes where you wouldn’t expect:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

That’s the opening to Sonnet 73, in case you don’t recognize it.  How about that?  38 or so plays to choose from and 153 other sonnets, and she reaches right into the middle of the pack to pluck that one.

But wait, there’s more!  Look at what she says about why that choice:  “the interesting order of the second line.”  I love how specific she gets.  I assume she’s referring to the “none, or few” bit rather than “few, or none”.  It’s a good point.  Had Shakespeare said “leaves, or few, or none” there’s a linear (and therefore anticipated) sequence there.  But to go the other way like he did makes it more random and unpredictable.  Some trees will still have their leaves. Some will have none, some will have few.  There’s no pattern.

What do you think?  Even if you kept it to the realm of Shakespeare and somebody asked you to name your favorite first line, what would your choice be?

I quite like Sonnet 104’s “To me fair friend you never can be old,” though I’m not sure I’d so quickly throw it out there as my absolute favorite. Have to think more about it.

Review : Two Gentlemen of Boston Common (Part 2)

…ok, where was I?

It’s past 9pm on Friday night.  We’re wet, having sat in the rain for 45 minutes waiting for the show to start.  Stephen Maler, the director, comes out to tell us that while he may have said for years that every audience is the best audience ever, seriously, *we* are the best audience ever.

Enter Kennedy, the local radio show host who is now apparently going to be a regular because she was here last year as well?  She says, “Last year I told a knock knock joke, and it went over maybe 50-50…”

Yeah, I remember, because IT WAS MY JOKE YOU TOLD.  I wondered what jokes she’d tell this year when she promised two new ones.

New?  She went with “prose before hoes” and Shakespeare not being able get a drink at the pub because “he’s Bard.”  I wish she’d kept googling, she could have come up with something better that Bardfilm or I had written!

Once again I watch as she leaves the stage thinking that I might chase her down and introduce myself, but she disappears.

Two Gents is pretty unknown to anybody who’s not a Shakespeare fan, so I’ve had to summarize it for wife, friends, coworkers and whoever else asked me what I was doing for the weekend.  Keep in mind that the last time I read it was maybe 20 years ago, so I’m not too big on the details as well.  Here’s what I’ve been telling people:

Ok, Proteus and Valentine are best friends in Verona.  Proteus is in love with Julia.  Valentine heads off to Milan, where he falls in love with Sylvia.  Proteus is sent off to Milan as well for some reason, where he too falls in love with Sylvia (promptly leaving Julia in the dust).  Julia, meanwhile, dresses up like a boy to follow Proteus to Milan.  Proteus decides that he can get Sylvia all for himself if he screws over Valentine to the Duke.  This plan works, Valentine is banished and ends up leading a band of outlaws.  Proteus meanwhile thinks he’ll have Sylvia all to himself, but she’s still into Valentine so she runs away, and promptly gets captured by the outlaws.  Well, Proteus rescues her from the outlaws and when she’s not appropriately appreciative enough he says that he’ll just have his way with her regardless, causing Valentine to come to her rescue.  Proteus then apologizes for his bad behavior, and his best pal Valentine immediately forgive him and says oh you can have Sylvia.  But Sylvia reminds Proteus of his love for Julia, Julia unveils that she’s been hanging out with them dressed as a boy, and Proteus decides to go back with her.  The Duke comes in, everybody’s forgiven (including the outlaws), and we end on the promise of a double wedding just like always.  Oh, and there’s a dog.  The dog’s supposed to be funny.

The set is supposed to be some sort of Las Vegas / nightclub thing, with plenty of singing and showgirls dancing.  The actual characters break into song, it’s not like a background track.  Julia sings “Fever”, Proteus sings “Witchcraft,” that kind of thing.  The back wall is decorated with neon nightclub signs, and the one labelled “Hermione’s Place” is very surreal to me, I try to remember if there’s a Hermione in this play.

Proteus (left) bids farewell to Valentine.

I tried to take pictures this year since we were close enough, but between the rain and the distance and the darkness they didn’t come out great.  Hopefully you at least get the idea of what we were seeing.

The play starts with Proteus and Valentine saying their farewells as Valentine is off to see the world, while Proteus will stay home with Julia.  It’s only a matter of minutes before I lean over to my wife, rub her arm, and whisper, “Shakespeare makes me so very happy. Thanks for staying!”  I couldn’t even tell you what they were saying at that point, but it didn’t matter, you know?  There’s that magic spell that comes with hearing a Shakespeare play, outside under the stars, and you experience bliss.  It’s been almost 4  hours since we left the house to get here, but the words start flowing, and all that is erased, and it is totally worth it, just like every year.

I don’t really want to recap the entire show, mostly because it’s not up any more so it’s not like anybody’s going to rush down to see it.  But also because I just didn’t love it.  Here’s my highlights:

* They kept breaking character and playing to the audience, like pointing and winking whenever somebody laughed particularly loudly or “Woo!”ed at a joke.  The Duke was shown at one point playing golf, and after a particularly bad drive he’d mutter “son of a bitch…”  After intermission when Speed and Launce were doing some sort of vaudevillian schtick, Launce looks at the audience after a flopped joke, holds up a paper and says, “You know who wrote that joke?  WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.  That one killed during the plague!  If you want to complain email williamshakespeare at bard of avon dot com.”  <beat>  “dot org.”     That sort of thing.  It was like they didn’t have enough faith in the material.  And maybe that’s an accurate assumption to make, but then why pick this play?

Julia (seated) argues with Lucetta over a certain letter.

* There’s too much letter writing in this play, and it rapidly confused my wife (well, and me too).  Speed, who works for Valentine, brought Proteus’ letter to Julia?  But then Lucetta has the letter, and Julia tears it up, only to later try putting the pieces back together?  Sylvia has Valentine write a letter to some imaginary friend, then tells him it’s not good enough, gives it back to him, tells him to write another one, and give it to himself?  I knew the general plot of who loved who, but the letters lost me.

* The only characters that seem to get any stage time are Proteus and Julia (separately).  And Proteus is a real dick.  Seriously.  Pardon my language but that’s the best word to use.  He gives a big speech about how, to get Sylvia, he has to screw over both Julia and Valentine.  Then goes ahead and does it.  Then later he has to get Thurio (to whom Sylvia is betrothed) out of the picture.  It’s quite clear that Sylvia has no interest in him, but that doesn’t stop him.  This actually leads us to the famous “near rape”(?) scene.  They’ve done a good job of showing Sylvia escaping the outlaws, only to ultimately be captured.  But when Proteus arrives to rescue her, she then runs from him the same way she ran from the outlaws.  So he delivers his “I’ll woo you like a soldier, at arms’ end,
And love you ‘gainst the nature of love,–force ye.” line and goes in for what can best be described as an aggressive hug, like something out of a 1950’s movie where you have to show the bad guy doing bad things but still keep it clean.  No matter, though, because Valentine shows up and we have a quick fight scene to end Proteus’ evil ways. 

Our two clowns, Launce and Speed, with Crab the dog.

* What’s the dog supposed to do?  All our did was look cute.  When Launce comes out and says “I have a dog…” people cheered in anticipation.  So out comes a cute dog, who does little more than wag his (her?) tail and eat treats.  Launce does his whole routine about his mother and father as shoes, and that probably could have gotten more laughs (“No, the left shoe is my mother, it has the worser sole.”  Come on, that’s funny!)  Is the whole joke that the dog just sits there and says nothing?
* The best scene, and I’m not even sure where it appears in the script, is when Sylvia sits down with Julia (dressed as a boy) to talk about Proteus’ love for “her”.  That alone added more depth to both characters than anything else I saw.  Now we can understand why Sylvia hates Proteus – she knows how quickly he turned on his former love so she knows what kind of man she is. And we get to understand why Julia would stay next to Proteus even though, right in front of her face, he’s forswearing her and proclaiming his love for another woman.
* This leads to what I thought was the funniest scene, and one of the few times I’ll forgive them for the random “extra” bits:


How! let me see:
Why, this is the ring I gave to Julia.


O, cry you mercy, sir, I have mistook:
This is the ring you sent to Silvia.


But how camest thou by this ring? At my depart
I gave this unto Julia.


And Julia herself did give it me;
And Julia herself hath brought it hither. <pause, as all stare at her confused>  REALLY?!  <takes off her cap, shakes out her hair>


 How! Julia!

Overall I come away with the same thought I went into it – it’s not that great of a play.  There aren’t many characters to appreciate (except the scorned Julia), and everybody seems pretty stupid and unsympathetic (what with the whole “Oh, you just tried to rape Sylvia, but you apologized, so you can have Sylvia” sort of thing going on).  The clowns’ jokes are all “cheap pops” that get a laugh here and there but I didn’t see anybody rolling in the aisles.

Over the weekend as we told the story of how hard it was to go see the show, and people asked why we even bother, I took the easy path – I explained that Shakespeare’s plays are like my bucket list, and I’d not seen this one so even if it’s not a great one I still need to see it.  The real reason, of course, is back a few paragraphs and happened within the first five minutes of the play.

Shakespeare makes me so very happy.

Romeo and Juliet, by Dire Straits

(Spotted first by @FolgerLibrary!)

American Songwriter gives dddus the chance this morning to talk about one of the great moments in “Shakespeare put to music” — Dire Straits’ Romeo and Juliet.  Acknowledging that “Knopfler just used those iconic names as a jumping-off point for a portrait of a modern romance,” the author of the piece goes on to examine (with ample Shakespeare references) just where the similarities lie.

What the piece does not do is ask the all important question that we ask ourselves whenever this song comes up.  Who had the best version?

First we have Dire Straits’ original, from Making Movies.

Next up is the version I think I’m most familiar with (well, besides the original) — Indigo Girls.  I don’t think they’ve got an official music video for the song, so the best I could find was this live clip.

Now here’s the version that everybody else but me seems more familiar with — The Killers.  I’ve got a bunch of their stuff in my regular playlists, but this one just never seemed to find its way to the list.

For a bonus, here’s a couple I never knew existed.  First, Edwin McCain (“I’ll Be”, “I Could Not Ask For More”, …)

And, finally, somebody named Dan Hardin?  I don’t know anything about him, but I spotted people talking about his version on the YouTube comments so I thought I’d give him a shout out.  Warning, the video’s awful.  But the singing is good.

Which version is your favorite?  Or do you have another version that you prefer, that I missed?  Let us know!

What Wouldn’t I Do For Shakespeare on the Common? Part 1

I have been attending Commonwealth Shakespeare’s Shakespeare on Boston Common show pretty much since I knew it existed, in 2003 (they’ve actually been doing it since 1996). I have seen their Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, Shrew, Dream, As You Like It, Comedy of Errors, Othello, Coriolanus, and All’s Well That Ends Well.  The only show I missed was the 2005 Hamlet, and as I’ve joked in the past, it haunts me to this day.  

This year thus marked my 10 year anniversary!  The show? Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Ok, I suppose.  On the one hand I’m all, “Eh.  Really?”  But on the other, I’ve never seen the show, so I can add it to my collection.
 My wife and I were supposed to go last week.  The kids were staying over their grandparents for the night anyway, so the timing was perfect.  But when my wife asked what time the show was and I checked the calendar I discovered that they were dark that night, because of some other festival that was sharing the stage.  Drat!
So we arrange to go this past Friday.  It’s been raining off and on all week, but the weather report for Friday says “Early showers” with nothing for the evening. Great.  We pack a picnic.  I’ve got a raincoat with a hood, my wife chooses a fleece.  She figures it may not rain but it will definitely get chilly. 
We hit the road at 5:30pm.  Granted we’re north of Boston and there’s going to be traffic, but still, we should be where we need to be within an hour.  Nope!  Two hours.  Raining the entire time.  It was awful. The things I screamed at the drivers around me, I’m still ashamed of.
The whole time I’m dialing the hotline, checking to see whether the show is still on.  “Still on!” it keeps telling me, despite the fact that we’re coming up on 7:30 for an 8pm show and it’s been raining steadily.  Still, we keep telling ourselves that maybe it’s clear where the show is, so we continue.
We make it all the way in to town, now seriously convinced that the show’s got to be cancelled.  We don’t even bother bringing the picnic basket out of the car, having decided that plan B will be to wander over to a bar/restaurant and get out of the rain.
We get to the Common at about 7:45, still raining.  People standing around with umbrellas.  None of the VIP chairs have been set up.  There’s techs up on stage squeegeeing puddles away.  I ask what’s up, I’m told that they won’t cancel the show until the very last minute, possibly even “doing like they do in baseball” and delaying the start.  I make small talk with the fans around me, trying to decide whether it will be a good or a bad idea to cancel this show.  There’s two shows on Saturday but I am entirely booked for the day, which would leave me only Sunday night as a fallback.  “I’ve only  missed one show in ten years,” I tell the woman I’m talking to, “And that was because I waited until the last weekend and got rained out. And that was Hamlet!”
“We did get to see the Hamlet,” she tells me.  And then, after a pause, “Oh, yeah, that one was really good!”
Son of a ….!!!  Didn’t I tell you it still haunts me?
For the next 45 minutes we sat in the rain.  My wife’s miserable because she doesn’t have a raincoat, so I give her mine.  We haven’t brought our picnic so we have no drinks or food.  All we can do is listen to the conversation around us, most of which consists of, “It’ll clear up any minute, I just know it!  Look on the horizon, it looks clear over there!”
We watch the actors come out and discuss.  Two of them, who I soon learn are Proteus and Valentine, practice their stage combat to see if they’re going to literally kill themselves.
I start offering to my wife that we can leave.  Provided that she understands I simply must return on Sunday, no ifs ands or buts.  She’s a trooper, though, and playing the “We’ve waited this long” card, argues that we can wait until there’s at least a decision.  “We’ll just leave at intermission,” she tells me.  I give her what may have been a pitiful look or a murderous one, I’m not sure.
Then, around maybe 8:30….the rain stops. The show will go on!  Now they have to setup all the stuff that they didn’t setup in the rain, so it’ll be just a littttle bit longer.    I’m dispatched to the car to get the picnic basket.
The show did not start until after 9 :(.  Normally wouldn’t trouble me, but we’ve got a baby sitter at home and now we’re not going to be getting back until approaching 1am.
How was the show?  You’ll have to wait for Part 2! 

Is The New Romeo & Juliet Movie Going To Be As Bad As It Looks?

There’s a new trailer up for the Hailee Steinfeld Romeo & Juliet movie, and I was very excited to see it.  I’m of the believe that that DiCaprio Romeo + Juliet movie may not have been high art, but was an important step in bringing Shakespeare to young “MTV” audiences.  So when I saw the trailer posted by MTV News I had high hopes.

There’s a soundtrack, and it’s a cool trailer, I’ll give it that.

But … oh, oh god.  It’s not Shakespeare. They just went ahead and wrote their own dialogue.

Let’s play a game.  Watch the trailer, and mark two points – the first time you hear dialogue that is so very clearly NOT Shakespeare that you can’t stand it … and the point at which you hear so much of it you can’t watch anymore.

For me the first time is the bit at the ball where somebody says, “The Capulets and Montagues are mortal enemies!”

REALLY?  What genius script writer felt the need to add that little bit of exposition?  Show me don’t tell me, isn’t that what they teach in writing 101?

As for the second, my finger was hovering over the STOP (for the love of god, STOP!) button when Tybalt shows up, uttering such Shakespearean classics as, “Don’t let that name be spoken in this house!”  and my favorite, which I knew was coming from an earlier trailer, “Come settle with me, boy!”

But out of my love for Shakespeare and for you my loyal geeks, I had my coworkers tie me to down to the armrests of my chair and forced myself to watch through to the end.

The trailer ends with Hailee doing a voiceover of the “Give me my Romeo” speech that just sticks a fork in the entire thing, because it’s just plain bad.  It sounds like somebody handed her a complete works (perhaps the No Sweat version) and told her, “Read this.”

Am I overreacting?  Will we be talking about this one 20 years later like we do with Luhrman’s version?  Maybe by then at least Hailee Steinfeld will be old enough that I won’t look at her like a babyfaced child when she flops herself down on the bed under Romeo. Ewww.

When a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry.

As I work on ShakeShare, my Shakespeare Quotes app for the iPhone, I’m constantly scanning for new quotes. It is, as you might imagine, very important to me to cite every quote correctly. How could I look myself in the mirror if I let a Not By Shakespeare slip in there?

Today I found this one. Honestly I don’t even understand it. And I am a father to a son. 🙂

All I can find are references to this one as a “Jewish proverb.” Anybody got a definitive database of those??