The Great Shakespeare Egg Hunt

With Easter approaching, what do you say we go hunting for eggs in Shakespeare’s work?  I’m not going to list them all here (since it’s easy to hunt them down with a search engine where’s the fun in that?) but I’ll hit the most famous ones.  Add more in the comments!

“Give me an egg, nuncle, and I’ll give thee two crowns.”

Why, after I have cut the egg i’ th’ middle and eat up the
meat, the two crowns of the egg.

When I first tried to read King Lear I couldn’t understand Fool at all.  After many readings and watchings, I think the scenes with Lear, Fool and Kent are my favorite (even if I don’t always understand what he’s saying). He’s one of the few people (perhaps the only one?) who can say to the king, “Hey genius, how smart was it to split your kingdom down the middle and then give away both parts?”

Falstaff 

Take away these chalices. Go brew me a pottle of
sack finely.

Bardolph 

With eggs, sir?

Falstaff 

Simple of itself; I’ll no pullet-sperm in my brewage.

Ok Falstaff, eww.  How am I supposed to look at my kids’ Easter eggs the same way ever again?  (Courtesy Merry Wives of Windsor, for those that don’t remember this charming lesson in animal husbandry showing up in the Henry plays.)  I actually googled this to see if I was missing something and saw it turn up in a list entitled “Why Aren’t These Shakespeare Quotes Famous Too?”

 

 

What, you egg!
[Stabbing him]
Young fry of treachery!

Students love this quote, I regularly see it posted when people reading Macbeth for the first time stumble across it. There are web pages and apps and even books dedicated to Shakespearean Insults, but calling somebody an egg just has a special sort of “What did he just call me?” flare to it.

My favorite part is the second line, where he calls him a young fry of treachery.  You know why, don’t you?

Because now he’s a fried egg.

 

On that note, I’m out of here before anybody gets the pitchforks.  What other egg references have you found?

 

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An Interview With MC Lars

So the other day I saw a post on the Shakespeare section of Reddit that mentioned a King Lear rap. Which happens.  Later that day I got an email about a King Lear rap. Which also happens, as people trying to promote their original content will google for Shakespeare blogs and I’m usually somewhere on that list. Then I saw that the name on the rap (and the email) was MC Lars.

Hey, I thought.  I know that name.

MC Lars (real name Andrew Nielsen) is a “lit-hop” rapper who has opened for Snoop Dogg and worked with Weird Al Yankovic (among many, many others).  He’s also written songs about Ophelia, Macbeth, Edgar Allen Poe, Moby Dick, and now, King Lear.

I wrote back and told him, “Sure I can share the link around, but while I’ve got you here can I ask you a few questions?”  He said sure.

So, first things first!

Oh, and did I mention he’s also got a TEDx talk on the subject of hip-hop and Shakespeare?

So the way this worked is that I sent him some questions via email, and he sent back his answers. Both my questions and his answers have been edited. Any misrepresentation of intent is entirely unintentional, I am editing only for length and clarity.

SG: If I hadn’t done enough research I would have used the term nerdcore to describe you, but from what I’ve learned lit-hop is the better term.  Can you tell us more about how you prefer to be presented?

MC Lars: While rapping about Shakespeare is indeed nerdy, “nerdcore” has always been MC Frontalot’s invention, which is why I’ve opted to let him own the genre.  While I would agree that my Game of Thronesand Star Wars raps could potentially fall under the nerdcore genre, “lit-hop” (a term coined by Canada’s amazing rapper Baba Brinkman) better describes the literary songs I’ve been releasing.  semantically speaking.  I started using Brinkman’s term in 2012 when I released by Edgar Allan Poe EP.

SG: When I think hip-hop and Shakespeare I think of that TEDx talk by Akala. Is there a relationship between your work and his?

MC Lars: I wrote my first Shakespeare rap in 1998, but I doubt if Akala ever heard it.  He is truly awesome, though!  After my TEDx came out, lots of people tweeted me to check out his, which I did and really enjoyed.  Looking at the YouTube timestamps, it looks like he debuted his TED Talk a few months before mine.  I would love to meet him one day.

SG: “Hey There Ophelia” came out in 2009 (and I admit I assumed it was just a cover of the Lumineers’ song, I did not make the connection). How come we’ve had to wait eight years for you to come back to Shakespeare?

MC Lars: I wrote “Hey There Ophelia” in 2007; the song’s title is a play on the Plain White T’s song “Hey There Delilah” which was a big hit back then.  I always wanted to crowdfund a Shakespeare album and series of videos, but the time never seemed right.  I did Poe in 2012 and this year it was my goal to launch a Series of Shakespeare ones.  My next one is about his sonnets.

SG: I’ve noticed that you tend to find a hook and repeat. Do you feel that’s the essence of the hip-hop style? Or is there not enough meat on the bones to get more verses out of the original content? Do you think that your audience doesn’t have the interest or attention span to get more details from the story?

MC Lars: The idea of repeating phrases is more of a “pop song” thing that rap emulates in a simple way.  I always try to leave the audience with a repeating line.  “King Lear, King Lear” is a lot shorter than “Hey There Ophelia”; in the past decade, people’s attention spans have gotten even shorter.  I think you really only have 45 to 90 seconds to get people’s attention!  I would have loved to rap more about Edmund and Edgar’s relationship in my “King Lear, King Lear” song – maybe I’ll do a sequel.

SG: Have you had people come up to you who want to dissect your interpretation of Shakespeare?  I’m personally of the belief that more Shakespeare is better, and whatever I can get into people’s heads, the better, even if it is sometimes a gloss of the details.

MC Lars: Academics do enjoy analyzing my literary raps, which I love, letting me know when I’m off the mark.  I learn a lot from them though, I once tweeted about existential and family comparisons between Hamlet and Antigone and people were quick to point out that it was a stretch.  My audience is smart, which means I can’t be sloppy!!

SG: Ok, let’s talk about King Lear.  Shakespeare’s Mt. Everest.  Why pick that one?  Do you think that your audience, in general, knows the story already?  I’ve often argued that King Lear, in particular, is a play that you can’t really understand until you’ve lived your whole life, and I’m amazed when high schools try to get teenagers to read it.  Why not go with a Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are you avoiding those deliberately because they’ve been done to death?

MC Lars: I did a term abroad at Corpus Christi in Oxford sophomore year and Lear was the first piece we studied, so it has a special place in my literary memory.  But, honestly, of all of the demos I did for this new YouTube series, my Lear song was my favorite.  I do love your point, in the fifteen years since I first was introduced to Lear I understand it now more…  the betrayal of youth and greediness becomes more scandalous with age!  It’s more of a nightmare imagining going mad and losing everything.  That’s an interesting analysis which I appreciate.

SG: Finally, any words of advice for kids out there like my son who dream of being a social media sensation?

MC Lars:  I think the key is persistence – sometimes I get disappointed when things I produce don’t get an instant reaction.  I think the only formula is you need to do anything consistently – like multiple times a month – for a year.  If your social media numbers don’t go up, it’s time to rethink it.  I went through a period for a few years where my focus was trying to hit something mainstream by writing about things like Rick and Morty or Game of Thrones, but then it began clear that I couldn’t offer much more interpretation?  My main projects now are doing pop culture Patreon songs to help pay the rent and then these literary rap videos, in addition to ICP history videos (that’s another long story, but something that inspired me to start rapping back int he 90s).  I am going to keep at it for a year and see what happens.  I think that it’s tempting to want instantaneous recognition for something, but I think the advice would be to tell your son to keep working at something and give everything a year.  It’s not easy with everyone’s access to the internet for cultural expression / edification, but, ironically, those who are persistent stick around and make an impact.

Thanks to MC Lars for his time! If you’ve got questions that I didn’t think to ask, first, where were you on Twitter when I put out the request? 🙂  And second, go ahead and ask them in the comments – he might stick around and keep answering!

 

 

 

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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.

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Lear’s Shadow

SCENE

A rehearsal room, dark. Enter JACK through the curtains, directly from outside as we see cars driving past.  He rolls a single, lit incandescent lamp to center, and opens the curtains. We see folding tables on which sit copies of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.  JACK picks one up and starts swearing.

Enter a younger man, STEPHEN, on the phone and holding a neck brace. He’s clearly been looking for JACK and is relieved to find him.

Thus opens Lear’s Shadow, written and directed by Brian Elerding, which I had the pleasure of watching yesterday at Mr. Elerding’s invitation.

We quickly learn that something bad has happened, though what we do not yet know. Jack is bruised, Stephen is trying to get him back into the neck brace, so those are some obvious clues. More telling, however, is that Jack – our director – seems to have no real idea where or when he is. He doesn’t know what play they’re rehearsing (hence his anger at seeing Romeo and Juliet scripts) or why no one else has shown up for rehearsal.

Stephen’s job is to keep Jack talking until Rachel (who Stephen was speaking with on the phone) can bring the car around. They reminisce about other plays they’ve done together, before landing on King Lear.  Jack keeps re-realizing that the scripts are wrong, and doesn’t know the date. Stephen takes it upon himself to walk through the play with Jack.

For the next hour the two debate the finer details of Lear – what scenes and lines can be cut, how to deliver certain lines, where to “start” so you have “somewhere to go”.  If you love being a fly on the wall during conversations like this (as I do) you’re going to greatly enjoy this. I do not fancy myself an actor, never have, so I like to watch them work at their craft without trying to put myself in their place.

Of course none of this is random, we’ve got a man who has lost his memory and has clearly had some tragedy befall him doing what amounts to a one man show about a man who has lost his memory upon which many tragedies fall. It’s a reminder that while King Lear may have been written five hundred years ago it could also have happened yesterday.

Though I’m watching this as a movie it reminds me of going to theatre back when I was a younger man. It’s a bare stage two man show, just dialogue, no real plot to speak of other than toward the ultimate answer to the “What happened?” question (which we may or may not receive).

If you believe that Shakespeare makes life better, even when it brings tears rather than laughter, then of course you’re going to like this. It’s very reminiscent of when Slings & Arrows did Lear, a connection the director and I already spoke of.  “There’s no way I wasn’t influenced by Slings & Arrows,” he wrote.  That’s intended as high praise.  I’m not saying “This is trying to be Slings & Arrows,” I’m saying, “I’d watch an entire season of this like I’d watch a season of Slings & Arrows.”

 

 

 

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Which Play Do You Wish You Had Studied?

Richard III? Never read it.
Who’s this guy?

I’m in the middle of a book right now, The Idiot by Elif Batuman, and while I can agree that it’s a very well-written book that deserves that praise it’s getting … I’m not enjoying it.  It feels like homework.  If I was back in college and this was required reading? Fine.  I can read some chapters and then come to class ready to discuss the relationship between Selin and Ivan.  But I’ve been out of college twenty plus years, I read things because I want to, not because I get a letter grade.

I was thinking about what to say to my book club at work and my first thought was, “I’m not about to go reading War and Peace for fun, either.” Then I thought about that for a second and realized, “But for me, King Lear is pleasure reading.”

We often talk about the difficulties of reading Shakespeare and trot out the old “see the play!” cliche.  But what about actually sitting down to study a play? How many of us get the chance to do that once we’ve left school?  I suppose if you’re active in a theatre group you can do that, but I’m certainly not. Most of my friends (barring my online following) barely get my references, let alone have interest in discussing the symbolism in The Tempest. I feel that once you’ve missed your window to study certain pieces of literature, you’re unlikely to get another shot at it.  (In my adult life I also went back to read Catcher in the Rye and, more recently, The Great Gatsby.  Both had that same feeling of, “Ok, I can see why this is good, but … I don’t love it.”)

Most of us probably have easy access to all the plays (the text, at least) and can read them at will.  But which did you *study*? Where a group of students sat with a teacher and went through the deeper intricacies of the play?  More interestingly, which *didn’t* you get a chance to study, that you wish you did?

For me, it’s Richard III.  Never seen it live, and can only say that I’ve read it in the sense that twenty-five years ago I read all the plays.  Never “studied” it, and certainly never had anybody walk me through the finer points.  I feel a gap in my understanding of Shakespeare’s works as a whole, because of that.

Who else? Tell us in the comments which play you want to go back and study like somebody was going to quiz you on it.

 

 

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Shakespeare Storm Quiz

Storm still.

If I scheduled it properly and my software behaved, you should be reading this while I’m sitting up in New England under about a foot of snow.

How often does Shakespeare make a storm of some sort a major plot point?

  • The Tempest, duh.
  • Twelfth Night needs to deposit Viola in Illyria to get started, so a shipwreck seems as good a reason as any. But does the description of how they went down count as a storm, or was it just bad luck at sea?
  • Poor Antonio’s ships in The Merchant of Venice.  Or am I misremembering that? Do we get much of an explanation about how all of his ships go down? I think I’ve always just assumed a storm but not sure my evidence.
  • Macbeth opens with thunder and lightning.  And then there’s Macduff’s description of the night before he arrives at Macbeth’s castle, where it all hits the fan.
  • King Lear on the heath.  I didn’t realize the power of stage directions until I went back and looked and saw how many scenes say, “Storm still.”  That is a huge storm.

What did I miss?

 

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Unseen Scenes

For reasons too complicated to mention I was fast forwarding through King Lear with the kids last night, jumping to the ending.  I knew it wouldn’t really capture their attention the way I hoped, and I’d have to explain 90% context, but I’m ok with that :).

Which gave me an idea, as I explained how Cordelia died.  Shakespeare gives us lots of action off stage, for whatever reason.  Sometimes modern directors will go ahead and add the scene to make things easier to follow – I’m thinking of Romeo and Juliet‘s wedding scene as an obvious example.  Many people will swear that they’ve seen Romeo and Juliet’s wedding and refuse to believe that Shakespeare never wrote that scene, because it was in the 1996 movie.

What other scenes fit the bill?  I’d love to see Lear’s last desperate act trying to protect his daughter.  I can see the whole thing quite clearly (having just watched Olivier’s version doesn’t hurt).  Cordelia and Lear are sitting happily in a cell.  Enter guard with a rope, who roughly pulls her away despite Lear’s protests. He tries to protect her but is no match for the guard who hurls him back to the ground. The guard struggles with Cordelia and drops his sword so he can use both hands (having been ordered to hang her, not stab her).  Behind his back Lear recovers the sword and does the scoundrel in, just as the messenger from Edmund (et al) arrives screaming for them to stop the execution.

What else?  Petruchio and Kate’s wedding scene writes itself, that’s an easy one.  Then you have Macduff beheading Macbeth, but I don’t think of that one as a really necessary scene, there’s just not much to it.

Which ones am I missing?

 

 

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From This Is Us to King Lear

Breaking!  This Is Us star Milo Ventimiglia has sold a “modern Latino King Lear” to FOX pictures.  It’s called Cordelia, and it…

…is a modern re-telling of the King Lear story set to the back drop of a strong Cuban family and the three sisters running the scene in Miami. Told through the eyes of the one daughter who truly loved her father, Cordelia delves into a world of secrets, lies and complex family bonds that are constantly tested but ultimately never broken.

I suppose it could be interesting?  Given the name it almost makes you wonder if somebody heard about the movie that’s coming out and said, “Somebody makes us one of those!”  Hey, that’s how we got Antz before A Bug’s Life, if you remember.  If the movie studios want to compete over Shakespeare adaptations as well as animated features, I’m totally ok with that.

Somebody should totally tap John Leguizamo to play Edmund.  Dude’s already got a Shakespeare resume that includes Romeo+Juliet and Cymbeline.

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Sir Anthony Hopkins To Play Lear….Finally!

I’ve never seen Sir Antony Hopkins play in King Lear, though I’ve always felt he’d be outstanding.

In fact, I’ve been watching the possibility closely for years.

Here’s a post from 2006 about how he wanted to do a Lear movie one more time and then quit doing Shakespeare.

And here’s a 2008 discussion about an “upcoming Lear” that was to star Hopkins, but I don’t recall ever seeing anything else about it.

Well, I’m happy to report that it looks like it’s finally happening!

Set in the fictional present, King Lear sees Hopkins as the eponymous ruler, presiding over a totalitarian military dictatorship in England. Emma Thompson stars as his oldest daughter Goneril. The ensemble also includes Emily Watson, who stars as his middle daughter, Regan, and Florence Pugh (Lacy Macbeth), who plays his youngest daughter Cordelia.

This is a BBC production, but the headline clearly says Amazon, so I’m unclear when (and whether) this will be available to Amazon Prime customers in the US.  But I’ll be waiting!

Does anybody know whatever happened to that 2008 production? None of the actors (nor the director) named in that post appear to have any IMDB Shakespeare credits in that time frame.

 

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Special Sneak Preview! Here There Be Dragons!

Let’s try something different.  I may have mentioned once or a thousand times that there’s a Shakespeare Geek line of merchandise on Amazon.  I try very hard not to nag everybody by actually creating blog posts for every new design.  I keep it mostly to the Facebook/Twitter feed and some ads around the edges. I appreciate the patience of my most loyal readers who still make it here to the blog and don’t catch just the headlines and summaries on social media :).

tmmSo, I’ve got a present for you!  Introducing my new King LearGame of Thrones-inspired design, Come Not Between The Dragons And Their Wrath:

Everybody who sees you in this is going to go straight to Game of Thrones, but we Shakespeare geeks know that the original quote comes from King Lear ( albeit with 2 fewer dragons 😉 ).

For a limited time, this shirt is available ONLY through this link for the sneak preview price of $15.99.  It is not available in Amazon search, and I will not advertise it.  In a couple of weeks, once I feel that my followers have had a chance to buy it if they want it, I’ll release it to the Amazon public search feed – and raise the price as well, most likely to $19.99.

You CAN share the link with your friends, or just let them be envious and beg you to tell them where you got that awesome shirt.  As with just about all of my designs it’s available in men’s, women’s and youth styles, in a variety of colors.

Thanks for loyal readership over the years. This link will continue to work, but the price of $15.99 is only temporary, so if you want it I encourage you to grab it before the price goes up!

 

 

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