Would You Forgive Caliban?

Bardfilm and I are currently having a heated debate about sympathy for Caliban.  He basically commits one sin (attempts to, at least), and for that he is cast out from his adopted family and turned into their slave, treated like something less than human.

His sin, for those unfamiliar with the story, is that Prospero walked on him trying to “violate the honor” of his daughter Miranda.  Rape her, to put it bluntly.

Wait wait wait, don’t get out your pitchforks yet, it’s more complicated than that.

Caliban was born on the island, far away from any civilization, with only his mother Sycorax as his guardian. It is unclear how old he was when she died, but from that point on he lived alone on the island for something like the next twelve years (we know that Ariel was trapped in the tree that long).  So he’s likely a young teenager when Prospero arrives with three year old Miranda in tow.

While recounting the story, Caliban tells us that he wanted to “people the isle with Calibans.” So presumably he understood what he was trying to do, and that Miranda had to be old enough to do it with. That suggests that maybe ten years or so have gone by, making Miranda maybe twelve or thirteen, but making Caliban closer to twenty.

We can also assume that this was a single incident. Miranda clearly wasn’t a willing participant, so it’s not like she had any urges of her own that she was exploring behind her father’s back.

So then we arrive at the critical moment. What do you think of Caliban’s state of mind at that point? What was his capacity for understanding right from wrong? He certainly understood the general idea behind sex and the purpose of it, probably from having seen animals on the island. Do you think that Prospero ever sat down to tell him about the birds and the bees?  I don’t. I expect that the thought never occurred to Prospero until he literally walked in on them. Why would he? He taught Caliban language so that Caliban could tell him about the island, not to better Caliban’s existence.

The other important part of the story, not to be too graphic about it, is that we don’t really know what he walked in on. Was Caliban chasing her around the cave with a lusty look? Or did he have her on the ground and half out of her clothes? Prospero is the very definition of an overprotective father, so it’s easy to imagine Caliban doing little more than giving her the eye and Prospero seeing that as over the line.

Whatever happened, it was enough to cast him out as a slave. I suppose it could be worse, I suppose Prospero could have just killed him outright. But then who would bring them their firewood?

The play is about forgiveness. Prospero brings his enemies to his island to forgive them. Do you think he forgives Caliban?  Would you?


How Much Does Miranda Know?

My Tempest series continues…

I had read The Tempest many times before someone drew my attention to the fact that Miranda does not know Ariel exists! Prospero puts her to sleep every time Ariel appears.

But we know that Miranda is aware of her father’s magical powers, since the first time we see her she asks him whether he caused the storm, and to please make it stop.

Ok, so fine, the only magic she knows is what her father does, right?

When Ferdinand arrives, her first guess is, “Oh, he’s a sprite.  A very handsome sprite, but definitely a sprite.”  So….what, she’s cool with random sprites roaming around?

How about the music? Caliban has that great speech where he tells Stephano and Trinculo, “Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises…”  Does Miranda hear those noises as well?

Miranda has grown up on the island, the island is all she knows, I get that. I’m just trying to see the world through her eyes. She’s amazed at the brave new world of people, but she’s used to seeing sprites just randomly floating through the forest?

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No More! The Texts Are Foolish!

Perhaps you’ve heard the story by now about the guy that is getting revenge on a scammer by texting him the complete works of Shakespeare? Seems he sent a bank transfer to this guy to buy a PS3, and never got his PS3 and can’t get his money back. So he decides to start cutting and pasting, sending monstrous texts to the guy. Whether it’s just to annoy him or because the dude still lives in a time when you have to pay to receive a text I don’t know, but the sender has unlimited sending data so he figures he’s cool.

Whole lot of problems with this plan. Most notably, the scammer has probably already blocked his number by now so continuing to text him will do no good.

Worse, if the scammer realizes that he actually has rights (whether he’s a jerk in other matters does not change legal issues), he might decide to sue the guy for harassing him.  In our modern world of cyberbullying, sending unwanted texts to a person for the malicious purposes such as these is a big deal. Whether it’s a criminal offense yet I cannot tell (and would depend on where they are) but at the very least the scammer could make his case to the phone company and cost our Shakespearean friend
his service plan.

Don’t punish people with Shakespeare.

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Parsing Shakespeare

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare make an outstanding dataset for projects like this, which looked at how often various “couples” in Shakespeare spend talking to each other.

There’s a number of reasons, of course, why the actual “results” are only somewhat interesting. The amount of lines exchanged between two characters is not really an indicator of their compatibility or the strength of their relationship, as is demonstrated by the finding that Romeo and Juliet don’t spend all that much time together. You could alter your hypothesis, for example, and maybe look at the average number of lines per scene? Obviously characters that only have 3 scenes together are going to have less lines than those that have 5 or more.
I’m also disappointed that they didn’t do every play. Why, in such a finite dataset as this, don’t you do a complete analysis? Where is Much Ado About Nothing?  I’d like to see them release the source code. It could be fun to play with.
The project also reminds me of the Bechdel Movie Test, which measures how frequently women communicate with each other about a subject other than men. How cool would it be for scriptwriters to upload their draft into a test like this to see how they do?
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New Game! The Play’s A Thing!

As I read The Tempest and how it starts with a tempest and how Miranda runs to her father and says, “Did you cause that tempest?” I had an idea for a game.

Start with one of Shakespeare’s plays that is a noun or noun phrase, but not a proper noun / name.  All plays named after people are too obvious. The Tempest counts, as do Merry Wives of Windsor, Taming of the Shrew, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and so forth.  Get the idea? The name of the play references a thing of some sort.

Now, find me a passage in the play that refers to that thing. For instance can you find the spot where the wives of Windsor are referred to as merry? Or that a certain shrew ends up tamed?  How about a tale of winter?

For extra credit, is there actually a specific line in Two Gents that refers to them as two gents? Or noble kinsmen in Noble Kinsmen?

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New “Enemy of Man” (Macbeth) Trailer

Shortlist has a look at the trailer for the upcoming Macbeth adaptation “Enemy of Man”, starring Sean Bean in the title role (that title being “Macbeth”, not “Man” nor “Enemy”. :))

I don’t like Sean Bean with short hair. Doesn’t seem right.

I really wanted to see this trailer based on something else that Shortlist said a few months ago, when they referred to this one as “cutting back on the dialogue and cranking up the action.” Because that’s why we go to see Shakespeare, for the action.  Maybe they’ll do Hemingway next.

If you’re as curious as I was I’ll save you the trouble – the only text you get is a voiceover of the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech.  That’s nothing.  They could work that into a high school musical if they wanted. Doesn’t tell us anything about how far they stray from the plot or anything. Heck even Fellowes’ Romeo and Juliet gave us a better indication of why we wouldn’t want to see it.

Oh, and it’s got Ron “Rupert Grint” Weasley in it, swimming in his armor.  No idea what role he plays.  Wait, I can look that up….from the Kickstarter page, he plays Ross.

ROSS? That’s funny. Look at how much screen time he gets in the trailer.  I hope nobody is coming to this one just to see their Harry Potter crush.

I also learned on IMDB that people have been talking about this one since 2003 (at least!) and that Courtney Love was supposed to be in it at one point?  I may have to see it just to see what took them so long.

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Short, Sharp, Shakespeare (A Continuing Shakespeare Dreams Series)

This will mark the fifth time that I’m documenting a dream that has Shakespeare in it:

Blogging Shakespeare Dreams (November 2005)
Shakespeare Dreams (July 2010)
Bad Shakespeare Dreams (June 2012)
Dreaming in Shakespeare

I wish I could remember more of this one. I was on some sort of sports team, can’t tell/remember whether it was an adult thing or I was a kid again. But the coach was actually using a Shakespeare speech for motivation!  Like so many of my dreams I kind of sort of recognized it, and desperately wanted to head for my search engine to double check my sources.  It had a vague Coriolanus-like “make you a sword of me” type of feel to it.

Anyway, here’s the kicker, the coach asks everybody (sitting crosslegged on the grass, listening intently) whether they know where that speech comes from. I do not raise my hand because I am unable to verify the source.  But sure enough just about every other kid(?) does! It was mortifying.

That’s about it. Nobody pointed and mocked. Nobody even really noticed. It was entirely in my head, thinking “Wow an actual opportunity to be asked an actual spontaneous Shakespeare question and I have to choose between not answering at all, or possibly getting the answer wrong?”

It’s always funny when insecurities show their little ugly heads. That looks like a pretty clearcut case of “Impostor Syndrome”, this feeling that one day I’m going to walk into a situation where everybody not only knows Shakespeare, they know it far better than I do and look at me like an idiot for thinking I knew something.

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Ok, Worth It.

Hot on the heels of my wonderful experience teaching my daughter’s fourth grade class, I went into my son’s second grade classroom to teach some Shakespeare.  You may recall me asking you for your short, awesome lines for a game of “scenes from a hat.”  Or my spontaneous Shakespeare Survivor game.

Quite frankly it went so badly I almost didn’t write about it.

As usual I brought all my props, my popup Globe Theatre, my Shakespeare finger puppets, my DVDs and so on. I decided that “scenes from a hat” was not going to work but I did take “Hamlet Survivor”. I wrote up 21 name cards (including Yorick and Ghost) with the intent of giving one to each child, and then playing the game as described (where I tell the story and students sit down when they die).

I also went a little insane.  To date I’ve not yet shown any actual Shakespeare performance video to any of these classes I’ve been in.  So I came up with a plan. I wrote up Henry V’s band of brothers speech, a few lines per card.  I thought that, if things went well, I would have the kids recite the speech – and then I’d show them Kenneth Branagh’s version.

My expectations were, to put it bluntly, wildly too high.  I asked questions like whether they knew when Columbus sailed to America, or the Pilgrims came (because I put Shakespeare in between them). Nope. Neither.   Great.  I mentioned the Plague, and suddenly they wanted to tell me everything they knew about germs and covering your mouth when you sneeze.  At any time I did not have the attention of more than half the kids. When I was showing a prop, kids were looking in my bag of tricks to see what the next prop would be.

As time rapidly passed (mostly because every 5 minutes I was having to call their attention back to me) I decided to give up on the lecturing and go with the game.  I gave everybody a name card, and said “You are now all actors in the play called Hamlet. The goal of the game is to survive. Stand up. When you’re dead, sit down.”

It’s at this point that I learn 7yr olds can’t read.

Now, fine, I expected problems with “Laertes” and “Guildenstern.”  But, really?  They can’t figure out Hamlet, or Yorick, or Polonius?  That was a big shock to me, and really killed my spirit.

“Who has Old King Hamlet?” I asked.  A student walks up to the front of the room with me.  Ok, I hadn’t planned on actually acting it out like this, but maybe it will work.  “You are the King of Denmark,” I tell him.  “And when the play starts?  You’re dead. Sit down.”  He’s confused, but sits. I tell him, “Don’t worry – even though you’re dead you get to come back.  Now, where’s my royal court? Where are Claudius and Gertrude?”  I have to help them read their cards.  A boy has gotten the Gertrude card, which causes plenty of laughter.

The game rapidly goes out of control, nobody can read their cards so I’ve got 18 kids who I haven’t called yet saying “What’s my name? What do I do?”

Finally I send them all back to their seats and start going up and down the aisles.  “Who are you…Laertes?  You try to kill Hamlet with a poisoned sword, but Hamlet finds out and kills you with your own sword.  You’re dead.   Next?  Ophelia?  You’re Hamlet’s girlfriend, Laertes’ sister.  You go crazy and drown yourself in the river. You’re dead.  Gertrude?  You’re Hamlet’s mom. Your husband Claudius, who happens to be your former husband’s brother, tries to kill your son Hamlet with poison. You don’t know this and accidentally drink the poison.  You’re dead.”  And so on. That part was fun, especially when we got to Claudius and the “Hamlet stabs you and makes you drink the poison so you’re double dead” bit.  But all the kids who got minor parts like Cornelius and Voltimand or Osric are wondering how come they basically didn’t get to play.  All I can tell them is, “You survived the game, so you win.”  They’re confused.

I never even attempted my Henry V game.  Would never have worked in a million years.

I never regret going, but I had to admit to the teacher that I was way out of my league with that one, and that my expectations had been set abnormally high by the excellent fourth grade class I’d had. She thanked me for coming, probably disappointed herself in how little I’d done to keep the kids’ attention, and off I went, disappointed in my showing.

That was maybe two weeks ago.

Yesterday morning we had a nice day and I walked the kids to school.  One of the moms who I always see said good morning to me, as she does. We cross and I keep walking until I hear, “Oh I needed to tell you!” I turn around.  “Sarah has *never* come home from class more excited than she did after you came in to teach them about Shakespeare.  Thank you for that.  She didn’t really understand all of it,” she said. I had no idea that her daughter was in my son’s class.

“…of course,” I said, “We don’t expect them to, it’s more about exposing them to it for recognition when it keeps coming back over the years.”

“She really liked the bit about the brother who got stabbed with his own poisoned sword,” she continues.  “At first she told me that they’d performed Hamilton.  Took me a second.”

Totally worth it. 🙂

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Morning With Geeklets and Fairies

Me:  “Oh, I emailed your teacher last night.”

Middle school geeklet: “What? WHY?”

Me: “In her update she’d said that you guys were starting poetry, and I wrote her to say that if she’s planning on doing the sonnets at all I have some classroom materials she could use.”

Geeklet: “Ok, so, yesterday? We split up into these groups and there’s this book of poems where we’re supposed to pick one to recite to the class…”

Me: “Yes, she mentioned that…”

Geeklet: “…and there was one by Shakespeare called, ‘Fairies’.”


Geeklet: “Well, that’s what it said.”

Me: “I don’t care what it said, Shakespeare never wrote a poem called Fairies.  Let me guess, did it contain the line Come not near our fairy queen?”

Geeklet: “That sounds familiar. I think so. It was so hard to read!!”

Me: <google>  “Ahem.

You spotted snakes with double tongue,
Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;
Newts and blind-worms, do no wrong,
Come not near our fairy queen.
Philomel, with melody
Sing in our sweet lullaby;
Lulla, lulla, lullaby, lulla, lulla, lullaby:
Never harm,
Nor spell nor charm,
Come our lovely lady nigh;
So, good night, with lullaby.
Weaving spiders, come not here;
Hence, you long-legg’d spinners, hence!
Beetles black, approach not near;
Worm nor snail, do no offence.”

Geeklet: “That’s the one! Right there, that lullalullalullalulla stuff, what does that even mean?!”

It’s a good bit of poetry, but personally I believe that if you don’t have context, then it’s just random words to these kids.

Me: “What other poets were there?”

Geeklet: “There was one called hist wist.”

That’s e.e. cummings! I pity the poor child that had to read that one cold.


Just How Powerful Is Prospero?

Can we make a list of all the different displays of Prospero’s magical powers?

1) He knows that a ship full of his enemies is approaching the island. How long has he known that? Were they coming near his island originally or did he have something to do with them coming that way?

2) He doesn’t actually cause the tempest, ironically enough — Ariel does.

3) Speaking of which, he’s got whatever powers he needed to not only free Ariel from his imprisonment, but to keep the spirit as his own servant. Consider how powerful Ariel must be – not only causing the Tempest, but keeping all the sailors safe and unharmed – and what sort of power Prospero has over him.  Or is it a power at all?  Is it just repayment for freeing him from the tree? Ariel certainly seems like he’d leave if he could, at some points.

4) He regularly causes Caliban physical pain (“pinches” and “cramps”).

5) He puts Miranda to sleep at will.

6) He “charms” Ferdinand, whatever we choose for that to mean. I like to imagine Prospero actually animating Ferdinand’s frozen limbs like a puppet master, walking him around against his will. He tells Ferdinand “I can disarm you with my stick from here” but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he does.  But how cool would a martial arts sword-versus-staff battle have been?

7) When he wants to watch the vanishing banquet and Ariel’s harpy act, he turns invisible.  Unclear how much of that is Ariel and how much is Prospero.

8) He and Ariel chase Caliban and the others with hounds that appear out of nowhere. Unclear if this is suppose to be a trick of Ariel’s, or Prospero’s.

9) He brings forth the goddesses to bless his daughter’s marriage, as a show of his power.

Are there any other overt displays of his work?

He gives us another list of things that he can do, when he’s talking about leaving the island:

I have bedimm’dThe noontide sun, call’d forth the mutinous winds,And ‘twixt the green sea and the azured vaultSet roaring war: to the dread rattling thunderHave I given fire and rifted Jove’s stout oakWith his own bolt; the strong-based promontoryHave I made shake and by the spurs pluck’d upThe pine and cedar: graves at my commandHave waked their sleepers, oped, and let ’em forthBy my so potent art.

My favorite part of that speech is “graves at my command have waked their sleepers, oped, and let ’em forth.”  So, basically, zombies?  Awesome.

How much of Prospero’s magic is the from the island itself, do you think?  Even if he didn’t break his staff and drown his books, would he have retained his powers after he returns to Milan?

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