Venn Shakespeare


Venn vs Euler Diagram
Venn <-> Euler

The most popular post I’ve ever made is the one depicting Shakespeare’s works as a Venn Diagram (although technically that shape is an Euler Diagram).  That post on Facebook has garnered over 2 million views at this point, and hundreds of comments. People have asked me if it is available as a poster (as far as I know it is not – I did not create the original image).

The problem is, I don’t like it.  Most of the comments are of the form “Why do you have play X in this category but not that one?” and “You forgot to put Y in the Z category” and so on.  The categories (Suicide, War, Romance, Supernatural) are, I think, too broad.  Does Romeo and Juliet count as war between the two families?  I would say no, but some people disagree.  How about Much Ado About Nothing? It starts with the men coming home from war.

So here’s what I propose.  Can we make a better one, or a set of better ones?  Something that more people can agree on? If we can make something that’s generally agreeable to a large audience I’ll be happy to make it available as a poster / stickers / t-shirt / etc…

I’ve been working with Bardfilm on some new categories.  The goal would be to find a set such that:

  • All plays are represented by at least one category.
  • Minimize the number of categories that have no entries.
  • No single category has too many entries.

What categories would you like to see?  “Supernatural” made our list as well.  I was thinking “Insanity” might be a good one. Bardfilm proposed “Fake Deaths” and “Cross-Dressing”.  If we can’t agree across all the categories we can look at doing one for Comedy, one for Tragedy, one for History, but I think those would end up looking a little sparse, and I’d feel bad about leaving out Romance.

What other ideas have you got for us? Tell us the category you think should be on our diagram, and which plays would be in it.


Most Popular Shakespeare Geek Merch for 2017

When started making Shakespeare geek merchandise as part of Amazon’s merchandise program back in April of this year I had no idea how it would go. I’m no graphic designer.  At best I had the strength and popularity of one particular quote I thought might do well.  So I started throwing anything I could think of up onto a shirt and seeing what happens.  I’m actually quite happy with the results, and I hope that the hundreds of people out there who purchased are happy with what they received in return.  I still harbor hope of bumping into strangers wearing a shirt I created.

Since it’s a slow week to close out the year I thought I’d take a look at my sales numbers and see what the most popular Shakespeare geek merchandise turned out to be. In all examples below, click the image to visit Amazon if you’d like one for yourself!

Right now Amazon’s got something weird happening with their inventory where they’ve drastically cut back on how merch vendors (like me) are indexed.  What that means is that while I have nearly 100 designs with them, only about two dozen are visible at the moment. And even with that, some of them are out of stock.  I hope they get it together soon because they also have a “delist shirts that haven’t sold in XX days” policy that hasn’t changed, which makes no sense to me — if people can’t see my designs then, of course, they can’t buy them!  

Got Dagger?  This idea actually came out of a Twitter conversation, from one of my followers.  I asked permission to use it on a shirt, and people seemed to like it.  Amazon looks like they’re having trouble sourcing the long sleeve shirts right now (most of them say currently unavailable) but hopefully that will be remedied after the holidays.

Mercutio Drew First! The Sequel  This is the one that brought me to the dance, so to speak, but it’s not the original.  People had told me that they didn’t like the Star Wars font of the original, which I wouldn’t have expected because isn’t it a Star Wars joke?  But I aim to please, so I made a few versions with different fonts and they seem to have been popular enough to make the list.

Bard Core  Who knew? I was walking through a department store one day and saw some kind of skater / surfer shirt that said “Hard Core” on it and thought, “Can I do something Shakespearey with that?”  So I threw “Bard Core” onto a shirt. Sure enough, people liked it!

Elsinore Was An Inside Job I have to say, I think this is my favorite shirt even though nobody seems to get it. I wanted to do a play on the 9-11 conspiracy meme (jet fuel can’t melt unbated and envenomed steel?), and this is what I came up with. That’s actually the silhouette of the real Kronborg castle, but I don’t know how many people are going to recognize that.  The smoke plume and the gun sight seem a little mixed message, I know. But I wanted to break it up with some color.

Warning! Quotes Shakespeare When Drunk This one was another Twitter group effort (from the same evening that gave us “Got Dagger?”) People seem to like the long sleeve version more than the short sleeve, so I hope Amazon gets its act together and restocks soon!

Swords Don’t Kill People (Unbated and Envenom’d Swords Kill People)  I’m so happy this one found an audience. I just like everything about it – the image, the font, the way the top part catches your attention and the bottom delivers the punchline. I hope somewhere there’s a fencing team wearing it to competition.

Quince & Snug & Flute & Snout & Bottom & Starveling I made a whole bunch of these after seeing this particular style (just a list of names with & at the end of each line) pop up everywhere. I don’t understand where it came from, I thought it was part of some viral tv show. Turns out it’s been around forever. There’s another design I made that has Hermia & Helena & Demetrius & Lysander, which I thought surely would have been more popular, but this is the winner (for this particular style, at least).

A Midsummer Night’s Dream I guess Dream is just a popular choice for Shakespeare t-shirts.  This one, as you can see, is really more about the cool center graphic. It’s hard to tell from the thumbnail, but the decoration around the edge is the names of the characters, all properly in balance with Bottom on top and Puck on bottom.  Lots of discussion over whether Bottom should be on the bottom, but I personally like it better this way. Shows the importance of Bottom to the play, while leaving in the silly nature of Puck who I think would enjoy hanging out upside down.  Do it in the reverse and you make Puck the central figure, and no matter how much you like Puck, I don’t think that was Shakespeare’s point.

Shakespeare Makes Life Better I love that this one is popular.  It’s a very simple idea – doesn’t even have a picture of Shakespeare, just a quill pen.  But it’s also the heart of this site, so if any of these designs is going to deliver the message I’m trying to get across, let it be this one.

And the winner, to no great surprise, is…

Mercutio Drew First (The Original)   Maybe it’s because I promote this one the most, or because it’s been around the longest with the most links. Or maybe it really is the most popular all on its own. I think I started using this one back as early as 2008, but didn’t have shirts until 2010. It’s been ripped off plenty of times since then, so if you do like it, remember to look for the original!

So that’s it!  The most popular Shakespeare geek merchandise of 2017. If you see anything above that you’d like, or that someone you know might like, please click the images to visit Amazon!  Once there you can browse around the “recommended” and “people also bought” links to see many of the other designs not listed here, in case something else strikes your fancy.

Thanks as always for your support (of both the site and the mission) and I’ll see everybody in 2018!



Shakespearean Collective Nouns

Once again, Bardfilm offers a guest post for our edification—or, at least, for our amusement.

The English language offers a host of interesting collective nouns. You can describe a lot of geese as a gaggle of geese. More than a few whales make up a pod of whales. When you see tons of crows around, it’s natural (and fun) to say, “A murder of crows was on the neighbor’s back tree this morning.”
But what if you have a lot of Hamlets running around? How do you refer to the twenty-three Lady Macbeths you saw auditioning last night?
Here’s a list for exactly those instances. Think how useful (and fun) it will be to say, “I’m not looking forward to auditions. There’s a whole scrub of Lady Macbeths out there!” Without much more ado, here they are:

Shakespearean Collective Nouns

  • An innocence of Desdemonas.
  • A sack of Falstaffs.
  • An assignation of Bottoms.
  • An ide of Caesars.
  • A jealousy of Iagos.
  • A wherefore of Romeos.
  • A vengeance of Hamlets.
  • A fahrenfoul of witches.
  • An obscurity of Pericleses.
  • A gurgle of Ophelias.
  • A torrent of Lears.
  • An equivocation of Porters.
  • An infinite variety of Cleopatras.
  • A platitude of Poloniuses.
  • A poke of Gloucesters.
  • A scrub of Lady Macbeths.
  • A discontent of Richard IIIs.

Feel free to add your own options in the comments below. I know you’ve seen one too many Juliets—how would you describe them as a group?

Our thanks to kj, the author of Bardfilm. Bardfilm is a blog that comments on films, plays, and other matters related to Shakespeare in a relatively-informal manner.


This “Best Of” article originally appeared December 2010.


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Shakespeare Wedding Season

Remember when I wrote a book? Spring is peak season for weddings, and frequently I get traffic for people looking for Shakespeare wedding ideas. So I thought it was a good opportunity to revisit the story…

Has it been seven years? Man I forget how long it’s been that I’ve been doing this.  Then I realize that there’s probably a whole slew of readers who never saw the original project.

Back in 2010 I told myself, “Listen, take one of those ideas running around your brain and actually finish it.”  Ideas are the easy part.  Execution and completion are the hard part.  That’s the story of my life right there.  This was my pure will power effort to get something from the idea stage all the way to completion.

The result is Hear My Soul Speak: Wedding Quotations from Shakespeare. I’d been to one too many weddings where they trotted out Sonnet 116 again and I said to my wife, again, “Why can’t they ever recite something different? There’s so many Shakespeare wedding quotes to choose from.”  I read Sonnet 17, personally.  Actually I recited it to my wife during our first dance.Then it dawned on me that maybe it’s because they don’t know anything else to choose from. Everybody knows 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments…” by the way) probably because they heard it at somebody else’s wedding and thought, “I’ll have that at mine, too.”

Then it dawned on me that maybe it’s because they don’t know anything else to choose from. Everybody knows 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments…” by the way) probably because they heard it at somebody else’s wedding and thought, “I’ll have that at mine, too.”

Shakespeare Wedding QuotesSo I went through all the sonnets and quote databases I could, pruning out the not by Shakespeares (*), organizing them into how they might be used (the proposal, the vows, the guest book, the toast…) and explaining their context.

Hear My Soul Speak

The end result is a tidy little Shakespeare wedding quote reference book to use whether you’re getting married, in the wedding party, or just on the guest list.  If you’re in any of the above categories, check it out!  Shakespeare makes life better.

(*) Look, I love “I love none but thee til the stars grow old and the sun grows cold,” or however it goes, but it’s not Shakespeare. It’s Bayard Taylor.

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Why I Love My Shakespeare Life

This post brought to you by three or four glasses of cabernet sauvignon, so put it in its appropriate context.

We had company this evening, one of the dads came over to watch the baseball game while his daughter (and mine) were off at their first middle school dance, and the moms were off at some other mom’s house.  So eventually the guests depart, the game is over, and we’re left to clean up.

I realize that the television has stopped showing baseball and is now showing some old dude with a bushy beard talking to some other guys in poofy clothes. I run to the kitchen and grab my wife by the face while she is mopping.  “Henry IV Part 2!” I squeal at her.  “Do you have any idea how happy Shakespeare makes me?!”

“Who is that?” asks my 7yr old son.

“That is Prince Hal who at the end of the movie is King Henry,” I tell him.  “It is a very sad scene, one of the saddest scenes in all of Shakespeare, and it is awesome. It is one of my favorites.”

“Why is it sad?” he asks.

“Well,” I tell him, “Pretend that I am the king. That would make you the prince, right?  That means that one day you’re going to be the king.  Well, until then, you are just out hanging around with your friends, partying, doing crazy stuff, you know, like friends do.  And then one day you find out that the king, that’s me, has died, and that means that you’re the king now. And your best friend is all, ‘Oh, cool, you’re the king, we are going to do awesome stuff together!’ and you turn to him and you say, “We’re not friends anymore.”

“Why can’t I be friends with my friend anymore?” he asks.

“Because you’re the king now, and the king has very important responsibilities, and he’s not allowed to hang out with regular people and do crazy wild things like he’s been doing.  It’s very sad, and his friend knows it’s sad, and the king knows it’s sad, but they both know that it has to be that way.”

With that I race to the remote control and start bringing up my copy of Chimes at Midnight.

At this point my son begins to cry.  “I don’t want to see it if it’s sad!” he wails.  Despite my overwhelming desire to jump right to that scene, I resist and go help my wife clean the kitchen.  “I’ve shown you that scene, right?” I ask her.  I then begin reciting the scene.  “My jove, my king!  Speak to me, my heart!   I know thee not, old man…, so sad.  And so amazing.  Have I shown you that scene yet? You know I’m going to.”

My son is apparently now on a Shakespeare kick.  “I want to see where somebody says To be or not to be,” he tells me.  Being a Shakespeare Geek I happen to have Richard Burton’s Hamlet ripped and ready to go, and move to start it.  But then I realize that he’s already vetoed the sad stuff, and it’s not like Hamlet is a laugh riot.  So I ask him whether he wants to see To be or not to be, or if he wants to see one of the funny ones. He tells me he wants to see one of the funny ones.

Can do!  I fire up Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Taming of the Shrew. Here’s how I explain it to my boy.  “There’s this girl, Katherine, and she hates boys. She’s sworn that she’s never going to marry a boy because all boys stink. Well along comes this boy Petruchio, and he says I’m going to marry Katherine! And then they get into a whole big fight and she chucks things at his head, and it’s really funny.”

So there we sit, my son and I, watching Taming of the Shrew.  I fast forward to the famous “wooing” scene, and I do play by play as it approaches.  “Ok, see in there? That’s Katherine, and she hates to be called Kate. She’s pitching a tantrum and breaking all of her stuff.  Petruchio is outside, and he knows he has to go in there and woo her, and he’s building up his courage, telling himself that no matter how much she yells, he’s just going to tell her that her voice sounds like an angel singing…”

And we go through the entire scene, my son asking questions and me doing my best to keep him interested.  “What is that pile of stuff she fell in?” That’s feathers, in the old days you had to make your own pillows.  She thinks she got away from him, but he’s not done chasing her yet. See? Here he comes again…

“She’s holding an apple, is she going to throw an apple at him?” Probably, yes.  Sure enough Richard Burton pops his head up through the trap door and she hurls a macintosh at him.

At one point I realize that my wife has gone up to get into her pajamas and is now just hanging around waiting for our eldest to get home from the dance.  “I’m watching Taming of the Shrew with my son!” I tell her. “And he is paying attention! I am so very, very happy! And hey this isn’t even like it’s just Shakespare, this is Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, this is a classic love story we’re talking about here!”

Meanwhile I get random questions, like “So if I was king, would I still be able to be best friends with David?”  “Absolutely,” I tell him, “The rules were different back then.  Hal’s friend Falstaff was kind of a bad guy.”

“Kind of?”

“Well…how can I explain it? Not like a bad bad guy, he was…..hmmm…”


“Yeah, medium.  He was hanging out with guys that were medium.  And when you’re a  king you can’t hang out with those kind of people anymore.”

Eventually Petruchio catches Katherine, and I end that particular movie.  I ask if my son still wants to see to be or not to be, he tells me yes.  “Ok,” I tell him, “This is going to be cool. Because the man that was just playing Katherine’s boyfriend, who was chasing her all over the place?  Well, now he’s Hamlet.”

Just picture this, for a moment.  My 7yr old son is curled up under a blanket on the couch waiting for the To be or not to be scene.  I am standing in front of the television with a remote control in one hand and my phone in the other, where I have brought up the text of Hamlet and am now working back and forth to determine whether I’ve fast forwarded too far.  At last I hit the right moment, and pause it.  “Ok here we go!” I tell him.  “See that guy? That’s Claudius, the bad guy king.”

“Why is he a bad guy king?”

“Because he stole the throne from Hamlet.  And that guy there?  That’s Polonius. He works for the king, so he’s a bad guy too.  That girl? That’s Hamlet’s girlfriend.  Polonius has told her that she has to go to Hamlet and say that she doesn’t love him.”

“Why can’t she just say no?”

“Because that guy is her father. And when you were a girl back in Shakespeare’s time, when your father told you to do something, you had to do it, even if he was a bad guy and you didn’t want to.”

And with that, I was watching Richard Burton perform Hamlet while sitting on the couch with my son.  It was….bliss.

I explain to my son, “Now see you have to wait for the end, because this is a very important scene.  Ophelia, Hamlet’s girlfriend, is going to come up to Hamlet and give him back his presents and tell him that she doesn’t love him.”


“Well because her father told her she has to. Also, because she thinks he’s a little crazy, like everyone else does. Hamlet doesn’t know that, though. Hamlet thinks that she’s the only person left who understands that he’s only pretending.”

“Why is he pretending to be crazy?”

“So he can spy on the bad king. He thinks that the bad guy king cheated to win the throne, and Hamlet wants to win it back, so to do that he has to get close to the bad king to learn more about whether he is guilty, and he thinks that the way to do that is to pretend to be crazy so nobody will pay attention to him. Now,shhhh, here comes Ophelia…”

Funny thing? I don’t like the way they do this scene.  I race to my iPad and begin googling.

At this point, by the way, my daughter has arrived home and she is now off to bed, along with my wife. They are both calling down that my son needs to go to bed. I call back that he’ll be up in a minute.

I then bring up Kenneth Branagh’s rendition of this scene.  “Watch this,” I tell my son, “It is the same scene, only different people doing it.  When Ophelia gives the presents back I want you to watch Hamlet’s face.”  *play*  “Wait…..wait……..see? SEE? Right here, SEE?  He’s so happy to see her, he knows that she’s the only one that believes him…and then he realizes that she thinks he’s crazy too, and at first he is so sad, you can see how he’s almost going to cry…and now look how mad he gets….”

I then go on to show him the Derek Jacobi and Kevin Kline versions of the same scene, before deciding that he only wanted to hear To be or not to be, and having now heard it, all he wants to do is go to bed.

I finally shut it all down, and tell him how very happy it makes me to be able to watch Shakespeare with him. He tells me that he only wanted to hear somebody say to be or not to be and, having heard that, he’s fine with going to bed.

And that’s precisely what he did. Me? I ran to my laptop to blog this whole evening, because it’s been one to remember.



Knock Knock! The Definitive List of Shakespeare Knock Knock Jokes (Guest Post)

From time to time, Bardfilm and Shakespeare Geek have tried putting a Shakespearean spin on some of the classic genres of humor. In the past, they’ve tackled light bulb jokes and dealt with why the chicken crossed the road. Finally, the great challenge of the Knock knock joke proved irresistible. Here are some Shakespearean knock knock jokes that you can use to entertain or torment your friends, colleagues, and children.  No, you don’t need advanced Shakespeare knowledge to get all of them – but it certainly helps sometimes!

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Oberon who?
Oberon the other bank you might try to catch some fish.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Noah who?
Noah’s the winter of our discontent.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Dogberry who?
Dog bury a bone in my petunias again, dog get sent to the pound.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Julius Caesar.
Julius Caesar who?
Julius, seize her! She’s the one who stole my wallet!

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
The Earl of Oxford.
The Earl of Oxford who?

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Wherefore means.
Wherefore means who?
No, “wherefore” means “why.” How many times do we have to go over this?

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Nay, answer me!  Stand and unfold yourself.
Long live the king?

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Laertes who?
Layer Ts and sweaters to stay dry and comfortable on the ski slopes.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
The Nightingale.
The Nightingale who?
Ha! Fooled you! It’s really the Lark.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Orlando who?
Or Lando or Leia or Luke or Chewbacca will pilot the Millennium Falcon.

Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Tom who?
Tom R. O. and Tom R. O. and Tom R. O.  We creep in this petty pace from day to day.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Shelly who?
Shelly compare thee to a summer’s day?

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Hal who?
Hal long until Henry IV dies and I can become king?

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Gracie Zar.
Gracie Zar who?
Gracie Zar’s Ghost!

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Et who?
Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Utah who?
Utah me language, and my profit on it is I know how to curse!

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
The cause, my soul.
The cause, my soul who?
Let me not name it to you!

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Leon who?
Leon Macduff.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Rosencrantz.  No, wait, Guildenstern! *sigh*—let me get back to you.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Ferris who?
Ferris foul and foul is fair.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Lysander who?
Lie, Sander, and you’ll get in trouble, Sander.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Cordelia who?
Oh, that’s real nice, Daddy. I come all the way from France with an army to rescue you and that’s the welcome I get.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Falstaff who?
[Excessively Loud Belch]

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Will Shakespeare.
Will Shakespeare who?
Will Shakespeare or just stand there holding one as long as I get to be on stage.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Desdemona who?
Nobody.  I myself.  Farewell.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Riese who?
Riese and not the need.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
The Porter from Macbeth.
The Porter from Macbeth who?
The Porter from Macbeth, who wants to know how you like it! Knock, Knock. Knock, Knock. Knock, Knock. Knock, Knock. Knock, Knock. Knock, Knock. Knock, Knock. Knock, Knock.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Interrupting Chorus.
Interrupting . . .

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Demetrius who?
Just try to Demetri us before we Demetri you!

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Hamlet who?
Ham let Ophee fall in love with him.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Hamlet who?
Hamlet the dogs out!  (woof, woof woof woof…)

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Helena who?
Helena handbasket is where this world seems to be going.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Pericles who?
Well, I know it’s not Hamlet, but it’s not that unknown.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Rosaline who?
Yeah, that’s what Romeo said as soon as he saw Juliet.

Shakespeare Geek Merchandise Now Available!
Shakespeare Geek Merchandise Now Available!

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Lloyd who?
Lloyd, what fools these moytals be.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Mary who?
Mary, your manhood mew.


Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
William Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare who?
William Shakespeare cans so they explode when you open them.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Interrupting Richard the Third.
Interrupting Richard the . . .

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Amos who?
Amos shapen knave; his mother was a witch, and one so strong that could control the moon!

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Otis who?
Otis too, too solid flesh! I wish it would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!

Or . . .

Otis too true! How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience.

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Mike who?
Mike Ingdom for a horse.

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Arthur who?
Arthur world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Toby who?
Wait—sorry. Not Toby.
Make up your mind! Who’s there?
Toby or not Toby, that is the question.

Shakespearean Knock Knock JokesOur 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.


Best of “Shakespearean First Drafts”

I got into work this morning to a note from Bardfilm that he’d started a new game on Twitter that he called, “Shakespearean First Drafts”.  As has become our new policy, here’s a best-of post for posterity:
  • “We are all made of dream stuff.”
  •  “Hey look, it’s Juliet up in the balcony. Hi, Juliet!”
  •  “Brutus is a cool dude.  All these dudes, are cool dudes.”
  • “For aught that ever I could read, / The course of true love never was a walk i’ th’ park.”
  • “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio. Crummy clown, bad material.”
  • “Wanted: 1 horse. 10 bucks. Willing to negotiate. Call Rick ASAP.”
  • “Anyone got a horse? Cause I really need one, like right now.”
  • Claudius: How is’t the clouds still hang on you? Hamlet: You suck! You’re not my real dad!
  • “Holy crap, it’s Yorick! Yorick died? When the frick did that happen?”
  • “And you, also, are among these conspirators? Oh, Brutus. Really?”
  • “My mistress’ eyes are almost like the sun. Something like? Nearly like? Partly?”
  • “By the tickling of my nose, something evil this way blows.”
  • “To be or not – I’m kinda leaning one way, but I’m a bit on the fence, you know?”
  • “Two loves I have, of comfort and despair, / And darned if I know what to do with either one.”
  • “The game’s a toe!”
  • “Darn it, Goneril just said what I was gonna say.”
  • “There’s something a bit off in the state of Denmark.”
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What If Shakespeare Wasn’t Public Domain?

A few years back, i had a coworker that ran a Hemingway site. He was, other than the difference in authors, a lot like many of us. He had no special academic background in the subject, he was just a rabid fan. Read what he could. Collected books. New opportunities to discuss new ideas? Jumped all over them. Hosted a forum where he posted his ideas to get discussion going, answered questions when he knew the answers, and so on.

Big, big difference? Hemingway is not public domain. Imagine all the things about Shakespeare that we take for granted – how often we freely cut and paste as many pieces of text, as long as we want, whenever we need to make a point. Need video? There’s almost always a YouTube clip of somebody reciting the sonnet or performing the scene that you need. He had none of that. He dreamed of the sort of concordances and textual analyses that we take for granted with Shakespeare. How many different words did Hemingway use? How did his vocabulary change during his career? Can’t do it.

So I wonder … how would your life be different if Shakespeare were not public domain? Let’s say that, like Winnie the Pooh, somebody along the line *had* the rights to Shakespeare’s works, and sold them. And that the entity who now owns them has aggressively marketed them, and rigorously defended their copyright. How would your life be different?

I’m pretty sure this blog wouldn’t exist. I can go out and buy a book on Shakespeare like anybody else, but what I really needed was the forum where we could talk about it. I’m not a theatre person or an academic, so I am not normally surrounded with Shakespearean resources (be they scripts or people). So if you suddenly took away my ability to make my point in text by preventing me from cutting and pasting a portion of a scene from a play? Or, worse, hung the spectre of the takedown notice over my head so that whenever I did cite text I could potentially receive such a scary lawyer letter? I can’t see how it would ever get off the ground.

UPDATED: If you’re coming in from Twitter, don’t be shy!  How do you think the world would be different if Shakespeare were not public domain?

A professor on Twitter wanted to make sure that everybody knew that not every *edition* of Shakespeare is public domain, and that her notes and emendations were copyrighted!  I pointed out that, if Shakespeare were not public domain to begin with, she wouldn’t have had anything to write notes on 🙂  No response.

The Shakespeare Tavern said that their budget would go up, which is certainly true since now they’d have to pay for rights to produce the plays :).  But, I wonder, if Shakespeare wasn’t so universal, would there even be a market anymore for full-time Shakespeare houses?


Romeo and Juliet : How old is Romeo?

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There’s a simple question. How old is Romeo? Sure, we all know that Juliet is 13, the Nurse comes right out and tells us. And often I think that we then make the leap and assume that Romeo is 13 as well.

But that’s hardly true, is it? Would that imply that Mercutio, Tybalt and Paris are also all about 13? Surely it was the case that men simply chose younger wives (Capulet is much older than his wife, is he not?), and actually we can assume that Romeo and the others are what, maybe late teens, early 20’s?

It wouldn’t stage well these days to point out that age difference, of course. I can just imagine R&J being closed down because it promotes pedophilia or something. But honestly I’m cool with it (the age difference, not the pedophilia!)  The more I read the play, the more I appreciate that Juliet is the most mature person in it. That she’s 13, surrounded by people generations older than her, is quite impressive. I don’t need to make her older to justify anything, and I don’t need to make Romeo younger to get it to balance out.

Romeo can be older and still be rash and impetuous. Juliet can be young and be the smart one. Better than trying to imagine 13yr old Tybalt saying, “I hate the word as I hate Hell….”


While looking at the trivia for Luhrman’s movie, I learned something interesting. Apparently Natalie Portman auditioned for the role of Juliet. But because of her small frame, in her words, “Leonardo looked like he was molesting me.”  The director said the same thing I said above, only backwards — “Leonardo was 21, but could look 18 – and she made him look 21.” In other words he looked too old, not that she looked too young.  So that certainly backs up the idea that you have to cast R&J of roughly equivalent ages to avoid squicking out your audience.