You Only Get One Shot

For some reason on the ride in to work today I was thinking about Sir Derek Jacobi.  That’s not even a “the reason is not important,” that’s “No, seriously, I honestly can’t remember.”  I do remember thinking, if I had the chance to interview the man, what would I even say? I hate that fake, “I’m such a big fan I’ve seen all your movies you’ve changed my life” stuff. Other than a clip of his Hamlet I’m not sure how much else I could name.

But then walking to work, for a brief moment, I thought I saw Sir Patrick Stewart. Whether the former led to the latter, I have no idea.  It wasn’t him, but it could have been one of those, “I saw a celebrity at a distance and I had the chance to yell something at him…” moments.  All I could think to yell would have been, “Why did you have Claudius shrug opposite David Tennant’s Hamlet?”  It’s always bothered me.  And I have no idea how I’d yell italics, but I could give it a shot.

I thought that would make a fun game.  Pick one of the modern Shakespeare gods – Sir Ian, Sir Patrick, Dame Judi, etc… You get the random opportunity to shout a single question at them.  Which celebrity and what’s your question?

Don’t throw away your shot!

 

 

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Virtual Reality Shakespeare is Almost Here

Virtual Reality ShakespeareA good video game starts with a good story, and anybody looking for a good story heads straight for Shakespeare.  I’ve seen many video game versions of Hamlet over the years, and even wrote about virtual reality Shakespeare back in 2015. Now it looks like we’re one step closer.

TheatreVR has created a demo where you don the headset and play through the last scene of Hamlet.  Check it out!

Companies have been working around this idea for years.  Remember Second Life?  There was a whole virtual reality Shakespeare troupe in there.

I think that the problem with VR has always been one of interface.  There’s just too many ways that your body is interacting with reality – site, sound, smell, touch, not to mention peripheral vision, not to mention more specific senses like balance and proprioception (knowing where your limbs are in space). You can only do so much putting on a headset and some gloves.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that the OMG COOL! factor is very real.  Even putting on something like Google Cardboard (not to mention Oculus Rift) is still something to be experienced before you’ll believe it.  But the same was true of Pacman and DOOM once, too.  The excitement wears off, and you’d better have a good story to tell when it does.  From the perspective of the plot, yup, you’ve got Shakespeare.  But have we just reduced it down to going through the motions?  Escape the pirates, save Ophelia, kill Claudius?  Or are we saying that one day we’ll act it out as well?

I’m not a “gamer” by modern standards, and will likely never have the necessary gear to play most of these. I’m hoping that eventually they become the new video arcade, and I can go somewhere like a Dave and Busters to try my hand for a couple bucks.  I’m sure it’ll last 30 seconds, but maybe if I manage to kill Laertes and Claudius I can win enough tickets to a shot glass! 🙂

 

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Also Based On Shakespeare

Once again the other day I walked into another Lion King is Hamlet conversation. Twice. It always goes like this:

Lion King is Hamlet.”

“Seriously? I had no idea it was based on Shakespeare.”

“Timon and Pumbaa are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.”

Yes, there were three people talking. How the middle person hadn’t previously heard this story I have no idea, it seems like I hear it at least once a week.  There’s always somebody that brings it up, somebody that has no idea, and somebody that goes “Oh, sure…” and promptly parrots back what they saw on Buzzfeed last week.

I’ve decided that I give up. It’s no longer fun to explain to people that the number of ways in which Lion King is NOT Hamlet far outweigh those in which Lion King is Hamlet.  Instead I’m jumping on the bandwagon.  Enlisting the help of Bardfilm (who no doubt will be responsible for the best bits), I present:

 

#AlsoBasedOnShakespeare

Psycho is based on Coriolanus because it’s about a guy that does what his mother tells him.

The Shining is actually based on The Tempest.  They both take place in a remote location and involve apparitions.

Seriously, though, Titanic is really The Tempest.  Not only is there a shipwreck, but at the end an old person throws valuable stuff in the ocean.

Goodfellas is really Julius Caesar because that one guy gets stabbed a lot.

On The Waterfront is a modern retelling of The Merchant of Venice because both are on the waterfront.

The Silence of the Lambs is based on Titus Andronicus. We know all about Hannibal Lecter’s main course of liver with fava beans and a nice chianti, but he never talks about the pie he had for dessert.

Twins (with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny deVito) is really Comedy of Errors because both involve twins.

No Country for Old Men is King Lear, for obvious reasons.

Four Weddings And A Funeral is The Taming of the Shrew, only with more weddings.  (The funeral being for Petruchio’s father, which is technically before the play begins, but when has that ever stopped the movie people? )

The Godfather is King Lear.  I don’t know how, but apparently people really do think this. Hmmm, might require a separate post…

Purple Rain is based on Romeo and Juliet because Prince is a character in both.

The Wrestler (2008) with Mickey Rourke is a sequel to As You Like It, looking at what happens to Charles after the events of the play.

The Wizard of Oz is Twelfth Night.  It’s so obvious. Storm causes girl to be shipwrecked alone in a strange new land? The Wizard is Orsino, and Glenda is Olivia.  The Wicked Witch is a gender blind Malvolio.  Not buying it?  I don’t see why not, it makes about as much sense as saying the meerkat and warthog are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

My goal is to own the Google search results for “Lion King is Hamlet” so we can set the record straight and stop people from including it on all those lists otherwise reserved for 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s The Man.  Help Bardfilm and I achieve this goal by adding your comments below!  More content on the page helps drive up the quality score 😉

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It’s Not Hamlet

Say what?

Regular readers know my opinion on the “Lion King is Hamlet” issue.  King is killed by his brother, son must go on hero’s journey and eventually regain the crown. Boom, Hamlet.  Timon and Pumbaa are kind of like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, other than the fact that they’re his friends and not spies for the bad guy, I suppose … and  Zazu is the Polonius character even though he doesn’t have any children, doesn’t end up dead…  you get the idea.  We focus on the facts that support our case and ignore the ones that don’t.  Like politics.

Well, the bombshell from the creators this week is that Scar and Mufasa aren’t brothers. That’s not how the dynamics work in lion prides.  They are not from the same gene pool.  Mufasa calls Scar “brother,” this is true, but you don’t need me to cite every time a Shakespearean character calls somebody “cousin,” do you?

 

 

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Enter, Stage Directions

Today I was asking random people about their thoughts on Shakespeare, and there was at least one expected answer of, “old and hard to read.”  My normal reaction was to go with the “Well, you really need to see it to understand what’s going on, reading is great after you already understand the story and character and now want to get into the details…..” when something occurred to me that I don’t think I’ve ever considered before.

When it comes to making Shakespeare “easier to read” we always seem to go to “modern translation” at worst, or “easy to access glossary and crazy amounts of footnotes” at best. The latter might give the most amount of information to the reader, but it’s certainly hard to “read” anything when your eye is constantly jumping around the page.

When I need an example I often go back to one that Mr. Corey, my 12th grade English teacher, used when discussing Hamlet. There’s a moment when Polonius says, “take this from this, if this be so.” Which makes no sense unless you can see that he is pointing to his head and then his shoulders, in other words, “have me decapitated if I’m lying.”

In this particular case, there’s often (always?) a stage direction that says, “[Points to his head and shoulder]. So it’s not really the greatest example. But is that part of the problem? The incredible dearth of stage directions? For the most part all we get with Shakespeare is who entered, who exited, and who stabbed or killed whom.  You’ve got to be careful, too, because those that are stabbed often stick around for a few speeches before they die.

Has anybody published an addition that doesn’t touch the actual text of the dialogue, but instead lays out the context in the stage directions?  Modern stage directions, in my limited experience, seem much more detailed.  For some reason True West by Sam Shepard  is what came to mind, and here’s a snippet of those stage directions (I was unsure if the bolding was in the original, I took a screenshot of somebody’s analysis I found online):

There’s a fairly obvious argument against going down this path in that it destroys the infinite interpretation of Shakespeare that has made him so timeless.  To say “Enter Hamlet, and here’s what he’s wearing, and here’s the expression on his face because here’s what he’s thinking…” is to destroy the character. Or at the very least, to lock one interpretation in stone.  But surely there’s middle ground?  How hard is it to write, “Enter HAMLET, still mourning his recently deceased father, dressed mostly in black.”  Now you’ve got context for “clouds hang on you”, “inky cloak,” “nighted color”, and so on.

Maybe this is how Shakespeare is actually performed, I don’t know.  Maybe the director, in trying to document her vision, does something similar where she has to go through and add notes of description to all the various scenes?

 

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Reddit’s Favorite Shakespeare

Hello /r/Shakespeare!Anybody that knows me knows that when I see a post titled 1000 Most Mentioned Books on Reddit (or, really, anywhere), the first thing I’m going to do is search it to see where Shakespeare shows up.  Any guesses?

I’d love to say more about who made the list and why and how, but there doesn’t seem much to go on. The post, on Medium, was made by BookAdvice.  Have to look more into that, see what other cool lists they have.  All we know about the methodology is, from the summary, “Sorted based on the number of upvotes and the number of different users linking to them in post and comments.”  I suppose that’s got a certain chronological bias — a book that came out last year couldn’t possibly compete with those that have been around since before Reddit.  But it does say “most mentioned” and not “best” or “most loved” or anything like that, so I suppose it’s accurate to say that a book that has existed for ten years will typically be mentioned more than a book that’s only existed for one.

Much of the list is highly predictable, if you know anything about Reddit.  Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy all rank in the top ten.  I’m pleasantly surprised to see To Kill A Mockingbird in there, and The Count of Monte Cristo (though not so pleasantly Catcher in the Rye.  Really, reddit?)  Thrilled to see J.K. Rowling’s name not appear until well after the 250 mark.  Not that her work is bad, just that I’m tired of seeing such brand new books always top the lists of “all time classics”.

Ok, you want the data?  Drum roll, please. Presented in reverse order, from least to most mentioned, we have …

905. The Taming of the Shrew

754. The Tempest

674. Merchant of Venice

625. King Lear

578. Much Ado About Nothing

568. Othello

371. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (*)

295. Macbeth

237. Romeo and Juliet

and the most mentioned work of William Shakespeare on Reddit is……

144. Hamlet

What do we think, any surprises?  Surely not the great tragedies, I think those became self-fulfilling long long ago.  Is Romeo and Juliet popular because it’s so good, or is it considered so good because it’s popular?  Little surprised about Othello, that one doesn’t usually get much love, and I’m kind of wondering if they took the time to rule out references to the board game.

When I first made this list, searching for the word “Shakespeare”, I was surprised to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream not make the list.  I had to go back and double check.  It’s because they’ve got it listed by, and I’m not kidding, SparkNotes.  I wondered if there were many on the list marked this way, but it turns out that’s the only one.  Glad I checked, I almost missed it!

Anything you think should be on the list that’s not there?  Hey, wait … where’s Twelfth Night?

 

 

 

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Geeklet Sorrows (And A Confession)

Yesterday my daughter had an unexpected medical procedure on her mouth, so she’s in some degree of pain this morning (but not enough to skip school).  So she’s getting ready and I ask, “How’s your face?”

“Bad,” she says, “And now I have a pimple!”

“When sorrows come they come not single spies but in battalions,” I offer.

“That means a third bad thing is gonna happen to me now too! Great!”

“No, it was just an opportunity for me to use a Shakespeare quote I don’t normally get to use.  King Lear?”

Both wife and geeklet look at each other and just leave the room.

Didn’t feel right, though.  Couldn’t place who said it, or where.  So over breakfast I had to look it up.  “You know what?” I told them, “When I said that quote was from Lot of sorrow in King Lear, but maybe not battalions of it.?  I was wrong, it’s Hamlet.”

Geeklet looks at wife, looks at me, and says, “Well, duh. We just didn’t want to embarrass you.”

But now I’m trying to figure out what quote I was confusing it with, because surely there’s stuff in King Lear all about the piling on of sorrows.

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Where Is Polonius?

A discussion came up on Reddit the other day about how Hamlet can be so concerned over the fate of Claudius’ soul (and whether he goes to heaven or hell), while being engaged in a revenge murder himself. Shouldn’t he worry about his own soul?

But I took the question in a different direction. I’m wondering about Polonius.  Hamlet has just gone to great lengths to explain to the audience why it’s not cool to kill a man when he’s praying:

Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven;
And so am I revenged. That would be scann’d:
A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.
O, this is hire and salary, not revenge.
He took my father grossly, full of bread;
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May;
And how his audit stands who knows save heaven?
But in our circumstance and course of thought,
‘Tis heavy with him: and am I then revenged,
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and season’d for his passage?
No!

Then what about poor Polonius? His sins are all still on his head. He’s basically an innocent man when Hamlet runs him through.  True he didn’t kill anybody like Claudius did, he’s probably not got any mortal sins working against him.  So where do we think he went – heaven, or hell?  Or purgatory? Probably the third, he probably gets the same deal that Hamlet’s father got, ironically enough.

What I’m wondering, though, is what Hamlet thinks.  He seems to be concerned only with himself:

I do repent: but heaven hath pleased it so,
To punish me with this and this with me,
That I must be their scourge and minister.
I will bestow him, and will answer well
The death I gave him.

It’s not all about you, Hamlet. He doesn’t seem to care about the fate of Polonius’ soul.  Am I missing something?  Hamlet’s distraught when his father’s ghost tells him about being doomed to walk the earth a certain time.  It seems as if Polonius has just been sentenced to this same fate.  So Hamlet’s got no sympathy for him at all?

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!

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Review : Ryan North’s Interactive Hamlet “To Be Or Not To Be”

I realize this one came out several years ago, but I’m pretty sure I never reviewed it. If you haven’t heard of it, have you heard of those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books?  Where you’d get to the end of a page and it would say things like, “To talk to the pirates turn to page 19, to hide and hope they don’t catch you turn to page 25”?  It’s that.  The great thing about the ebook form is that everything’s just clicks now, which makes the format that much more flexible.  You can go crazy with the different paths through the book and not worry about producing a paperback that’s 500 pages.

You have to know, right from the start, that this is going to be mostly original material, rather than follow the plot.  How can it be otherwise? Every time you choose to do something that a character didn’t do in the original, North has to supply his own version of events.

With that in mind, you can “play” as Hamlet, Ophelia, or even Hamlet Senior. I first chose the latter thinking it to be a joke – you get one page in and find out you’re dead – but the author’s better than that.  You’re now the ghost, and you get to play the book that way, going on adventures, checking in periodically to see how your son is doing on his quest, all that good stuff.

It’s actually quite fun. There’s a lot of the author’s attitude in here, and the fourth wall is just a pile of rubble.  He is speaking right at you the whole time, asking you to double check your choices, scolding you if you don’t follow directions.  It’s great fun.

I don’t know that you’re ever really finished with a book like this.  Since it is technically a book and not a game or app, your reader will give you page numbers. Mine tells me that there are about 1200 pages.  In theory, you should visit all of them, but I’m not so sure.  I’m fairly convinced that the author has written one or more entirely separate stories as easter eggs for people who just randomly flip through the pages (because, since it is a book and not an app, he can’t stop you).

If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to give this one a chance. I see on his author page that he did a Romeo and Juliet as well, I think I might have to add that one to my collection.

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!

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Why Does Hamlet Hesitate to Kill Claudius?

Why does Hamlet hesitate to kill Claudius?

There’s a few different ways to answer this question. I assume that most of the time people ask it, they’re referring to III.3, when he catches Claudius at prayer:

Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven,
And so am I reveng’d. That would be scann’d.
A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.
Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge! [citation]

So the short and easy answer is, Hamlet tells us – by killing Claudius at prayer, his soul is clean, and therefore he’d go to heaven. This is not a luxury granted to Hamlet’s father, however, which is why he now roams the earth as a ghost.  Hamlet doesn’t feel that this is an even exchange.

You should, however, be saying “Seriously?” right now.  “You set the trap to prove Claudius’ guilt, it worked, now you’re behind him, there’s no witnesses, you could absolutely finish him off. And instead you’re thinking ahead to where he soul ends up?”

Precisely the whole point of the play. Hamlet’s indecisiveness is all. He can talk himself out of anything. Go back to I.5:

But know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father’s life
Now wears his crown. [citation]

So your father’s ghost appears and says, “I was murdered by the king.”  Your first thought is, “I know, I’ll start acting crazy around everybody so they won’t know what I’m up to.”

At least point has a certain rationale, however. In Amleth, the source material for Hamlet, the hero believes that his life is in danger and decides to pretend that he is an imbecile so that he will not be perceived as a threat to the new king.

In Shakespeare’s version, however, that connection is lost — there’s no reason early in the play to think that Claudius is playing to kill Hamlet. So it ends up looking like Hamlet’s just coming up with reasons to delay action.

David Tennant as Hamlet Personally I’ve always held that it is his mother’s death, not his father’s, that ultimately spurs him into action. The entire play passes without him avenging his father, but it takes just 20 lines of dialogue between his mother’s death (“The drink! I am poison’d.”) and Hamlet’s action (“Follow my mother!”) There are those that argue that he finally sees his own mortality and knows, from Laertes, that he too has been poisoned and if he  does not act now he will never have the chance. But I’ve always felt that “Follow my mother” line is a big deal – it’s not as if he mentions his father.

 

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