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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How To Embarrass Teenagers (A Geeklet Story)

Can I still call my kids geeklets now that they’re all teenagers?

So I’ve got driving duty this weekend for my daughter’s volleyball practice.  Scene : A Honda Pilot with four 16yr old girls jammed into it. They are discussing the recent walkout, how it went with various teachers, etc… and one of them clearly says “…we were listening to Macbeth and we just left.”

Fast forward through the fifteen or twenty minute ride, waiting for a break in their conversation, but it never comes. Instead there is a steady discussion about parties, school events, math homework (oh, sure, you bring your math homework with you in the car ride but not your Shakespeare?) and general kinds of things teenage girls discuss, peppered with too many “likes” for my liking.

But then, when we’re about a minute from practice, there’s a lull.  I can tell they’ve run out of things to say because one of them is singing along to the music on the radio.

“Did one of you say you walked out of Macbeth?” I ask. I look in the rearview mirror.  Three sets of eyes are staring back at me as if to say, “Wait, is the adult talking to us? Who ordered this Uber? Two stars.”

My daughter in the front seat, shrinking rapidly, says, “None of them know about your obsession with Shakespeare.”

“I’ve run a Shakespeare website for ten years,” I continue.  Now they do.  “And if you thought I was going to let that pass by unnoticed you’re sadly mistaken. Which production were you listening to?  Do you remember?”

She did not.  I did not expect her to, but that’s ok.  I would have been annoyed with myself if I hadn’t mentioned it.  You never know.  Could have spurred a whole conversation. She might actually *like* the class. If not, I could maybe even convince them that it’s more interesting than their teacher is making it sound.  She said they were reading along as they listened to the play.  Not a horrible technique, but man, GET UP AND READ IT YOURSELVES.

Maybe if the topic came up faster we could have found more to talk about, or maybe I’m just overly optimistic when it comes to my favorite subject.  In reality we got to practice and they jumped out of the car, although they did at least wait for it to stop.

I have no idea who was more embarrassed, the girl I tried to talk to, or my daughter.  Eh, they’ll live.

 

 

 

 

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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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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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The Play So Nice They Filmed It Twice

So the other day I spot a headline that says something about the worst Emmy Awards in the history of the show.  Thinking it’s going to be some sort of slam on the job Stephen Colbert did, I check it out.

Imagine my surprise upon learning that the 1961 Emmy Awards are on the list primarily because a certain movie swept all the major categories. That movie?  The Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Macbeth!

Maurice EvansNow if you told me, in a year when I was alive, that a Shakespeare production was sweeping the night?  I’d watch the whole thing with popcorn.  Probably call some friends.

I went to research this production, see if I could maybe find some video.  It starred Maurice Evans, who I only knew from such supporting roles as Dr. Zaius in the original Planet of the Apes movies,  and The Puzzler from the Batman tv series (in fact I even blogged about him once).

But once you’ve seen his IMDB page you realize just the level of Shakespeare cred the man had in his prime:  Malvolio in 1957, Petruchio in 1956, Richard II in 1954, Macbeth in 1954…wait, what?

In 1954, Maurice Evans played Macbeth in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Macbeth.

In 1961, Maurice Evans played Macbeth in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Macbeth.

That’s not a typo.  According to the Wikipedia page:

Macbeth is a live television adaptation of the William Shakespeare play presented as the November 28, 1954 episode of the American anthology series Hallmark Hall of Fame. Directed by George Schaefer, and starring Maurice Evans and Dame Judith Anderson, the production was telecast in color, but has only been preserved on black-and-white kinescope.

In 1960, Evans and Anderson starred in a filmed made-for-television production of the play, also directed by Schaefer for the Hallmark Hall of Fame, but with an entirely different supporting cast. That production was filmed in color on location in Scotland, and was released theatrically in Europe.

These days when we think of a “reboot” we think of an entirely new production with an entirely new cast, usually because of some sort of contract wrangling between studios.  In this case we’ve got the same director and the same leads, just a different location and different supporting cast.

Though I’d love to watch them side by side and play spot the differences, I can’t find much video of the 1961 version.  However, the 1954 version appears to be complete on YouTube (as of this posting, at least), so enjoy!

All I found of the 1960 version (won an award in 1961 but the film is dated 1960) is the opening credits:

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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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Weather As Plot Device

Lear and his Fool on the heathI’m trying to think of plays where the weather plays an important role.  Sure there’s The Tempest, but we get the storm at the beginning and then…nothing.

Macbeth seems to be all about the weather.  So fair and foul a day I have not seen!

King Lear is probably the ultimate example.  If you haven’t seen Act 3 Scene 1 live yet, your Shakespeare life is not complete.  The wind is blowing, the rain is pouring down. Kent staggers in at one level, battling against the wind, hanging on to the scaffolding so he doesn’t blow away.  Enter a gentleman below, also buffeted by the wind.  “Where’s the king?”  first thing Kent asks, only to learn that he’s out in this storm.  “But who is with him?”  “None but the fool.”  Shivers.  Goosebumps. That’s one of my favorite moments in the play.

Hey, here’s a question — the stage direction I read for this scene says “Storm still.”  Does that mean the storm is still continuing, or that there is a lull in the storm, an actual still moment?

What else?  Any of the comedies do something similar to work weather into the plot?

 

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How did Lady Macbeth die?

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth
John Singer Sargent [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
It’s easy to miss when and how Lady Macbeth dies, because like so many other major character she dies off stage and her death is reported by a lesser character. In this case the news comes in Act 5 Scene 5, when Macbeth hears a scream and sends Seyton to investigate. Seyton returns and says, “The queen, my lord, is dead.”

Macbeth does not ask how she died. Before play ends, however, Malcolm gives more information about the circumstances in Act 5 Scene 8:

…Producing forth the cruel ministers
Of this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen,
Who, as ’tis thought, by self and violent hands
Took off her life;

Malcolm here appears to be confirming a rumor that Lady Macbeth killed herself. It is well established in other scenes that she has been slowly losing her mind. Shakespeare’s audience would have accepted as fact that she was possessed by demons at this point, and no additional detail would have been necessary.

 

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Top Shakespeare Costumes for Halloween

Ok, ok, I want to play too. Over the last week or so I’ve seen lists for tv shows, family movies, horror movies – everything to get you in the Halloween mood. But what about our little corner of the world? Doesn’t Shakespeare have anything to get us into the Halloween Spirit? Here’s my contribution:

Twelfth Night

You’re a girl? Dress up like a boy. You’re a boy? Dress up like a girl dressing up like a boy. Twelfth Night’s main character spends the whole play in costume. We discovered, a few months back, that she’s not even called by her real name until the very end of the play!

Julius Caesar

Why just be any ghost, when you can be Great Caesar’s Ghost(*)? Don’t skimp on the knife wounds, or the blood. Lots and lots of blood. Or if you really want to wear a toga and don’t want to get blood all over it, dip your arms in the red stuff up to your elbows, then go as Brutus.

(*) Bonus points if you can actually convince somebody to dress up like J Jonah Jameson from the Spiderman movies, and then spend the night pointing at you and shouting that.

Hamlet

I knew Hamlet would make a good costume when my 4yr old spotted the idea on one of his cartoon shows. After random channel flipping he comes running into my office to tell me “Daddy, somebody on tv is dressed like Shakespeare!” Along comes the 6 and 8yr olds to tell me “Well, not Shakespeare – he’s dressed like Hamlet. He’s holding a skull and talking to it.”

Of course you could also go with Ophelia, although taking a quick jump in the pool before going out trick or treating might cause you to catch your death (ha!). Then again why not go as Hamlet’s father’s ghost? I’ll leave it up to reader imagination to depict how exactly you’d walk around wearing your beaver up.

Or you could do like I did, and go as Yorick.

The Tempest

A witch (although, granted, she doesn’t really make much of an appearance), a wizard, a sea monster, an airy spirit. Plenty of opportunity here to take a traditional Halloween costume and really run with it. If you want to get really creative, grab a partner and dress up as Stefano and Trinculo. I always described them as pirates to my kids, although “court jester” is probably more accurate.

Titus Andronicus

How can you not have fun dressing up like Titus? Put on a chef’s hat and bloody apron, carry a cleaver and a big stew pot. Throw a prop head in it, maybe a prop hand while you’re at it. Shakespeare’s goriest tragedy is often compared to a modern slasher movie, so why not just go completely over the top with it? Bring along your daughter. Don’t let her talk.

Macbeth

Ghosts make plenty of appearances in Shakespeare’s work, The Tempest and Midsummer are both loaded with magical goings on … but really, is there any play scarier than Macbeth? Dress up like a weird sister, dress up like Banquo’s ghost. Or maybe a sleepwalking Lady Macbeth, covered in blood? For the really inside reference, go as Macduff – carry around Macbeth’s head.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Fairies are timeless, in more ways than one. If you need a couple’s idea, why not Titania and Oberon? I love the idea of an entire family dressing up as Midsummer, with the kids playing the roles of Cobweb, Mustardseed and the others. Or go in a completely different direction and make an ass of yourself, literally.

Have I forgotten any? You can always throw on your monk’s outfit and go as Friar Laurence (carry around a pickaxe, crowbar or some other tomb-opening implement for extra credit), or really grab any random “Elizabethan” or “Renaissance” costume from the local store and say that you’re the lead in As You Like It, Much Ado, or any of the other romantic comedies.

What else? Who’s got the creative ideas?

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