Review : A Midsummer’s Nightmare

I lasted less than five minutes into this one and I’m not kidding. It opens with this scary scene straight out of Wicker Man as a girl’s arms and legs are duct taped and a mask is placed over her face. She’s then thrown into an open grave while Courtney Love (pretty sure that was her) takes Polaroids.  Then they throw a beehive in with her.  Told you it was Wicker Man.  Not the bees!

The guy shovelling dirt on her?  Has a donkey’s head.

I’ve already got the remote control in hand but I’m trying to give it a chance. Shortly we’re introduced to the hotel manager Puck, and the handyman Nick Bottoms. Just when I think I might get something resembling Shakespeare, instead I get a play by play of a girl in the bathroom, which ends with a closeup shot of her phone in the (used) toilet.

At that point I weigh the odds of there being any Shakespeare of note in this, decide no way, and give it up.

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Review : WILL, Episode 5

I actually kind of liked this episode, which starts with Shakespeare’s wife and kids showing up for a surprise visit in London.  This of course throws a real monkey wrench in his plans to swive Burbage’s daughter. But he makes it work, taking them for a tour of town that includes meeting all daddy’s friends from work.

I like this bit.  It’s exactly like you’d expect.  The kids are young and excited and wild and in the middle of things one of them says they have to pee.  Poor Anne Hathaway spends most of her time chasing them around, trying to get them to behave, not losing them in the crowd, all while still trying to be a wife to her husband and not just mother to his kids.

Of course she also learns that her husband is cheating on her in about the first ten seconds, so most of the episode is them fighting over what to do.  Of course he says he’ll break it off, but then what?  Will the family stay in London with him, or return to Stratford? Will he give up writing and come back with them to be a glove maker?

I particularly like the kids.  There’s a scene where Hamnet has written a story about dragons, and tells Shakespeare that it’s for him to use in his work. He reminds me greatly of my son.  They’re kids. They’re oblivious to the problems of the grownups. When Shakespeare enters a room they all yell “Daddy!” and hurl themselves at him in their excitement. It’s exactly what kids do.

As a juxtaposition in this family episode, our head torture guy – Topcliffe, right? – also has a “take your kids to work day.” His does not end so well. He catches his daughter singing a “Mary, Mary” rhyme and explains to her exactly how horrible Mary is. But the teenage son actually gets to see daddy beat some guy half to death, until he (the son) has to yell for him to stop.  Which of course humiliates dad, and son is off to boarding school.

I still hate the street urchin. I hate everything about the story. On the one side, the woman in charge of the prostitutes has seen him in the dress and tells the sister that she’s going to put him to work because there’s customers that like boys dressed as girls.  Great, so we start with the threat of pedophiles. But then he’s caught by the theatre folk for stealing a dress, and immediately declares, “Shakespeare give it to me!” making it clear that he’ll blackmail Shakespeare for the whole secret Catholic thing.  So now we have to pretend that he’s Shakespeare’s distant cousin, and they give him a job at the theatre -a job he promptly quits because he can’t read.  So we’re left with him cutting himself again.  I so don’t care about any of that, it’s all just awkward and uncomfortable and has nothing to do with Shakespeare.

Marlowe’s got this weird obsession with death going on, that ends with him hiring people to bury him alive so he can experience death.  Huh?  I so don’t get what’s going on with him. There’s an appearance by a character that’s obviously very close to him, but I have no idea who it is.

Is there any actual Shakespeare in this episode? Yes – sonnet 116 is recited throughout, which is an interesting choice if we were otherwise following a reasonably accurate timeline.  But we’re to believe that the “two minds” are actually Shakespeare and Alice Burbage, who, whether they’re sleeping together are not, are going to keep the theatre alive.


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Review: Will, Episode 4

SCENE : The “Will” writer’s room.  BILL sit lazily about, staring at the ceiling, drumming fingers, periodically crumbling paper and tossing into a wastebasket.  DAVE sits in a corner, reading.

DAVE: (looking up)  Hey, do you  know what swive means?

BILL:  Swive? Nope. Why?

DAVE: (showing book) Because it says in this Shakespeare glossary that it’s another word for the F-bomb.

BILL:  So?

DAVE: (devious smile appearing) Don’t you get it?  If we didn’t know about it, neither will the censors!  So we can fill this week’s script with stuff like “Shut up and swive me now” and “They can go swive themselves for all I care.”

BILL: That’s genius.

Last week was all about how many naked buttocks they could show, this week is apparently archaic swear words. I can’t make this stuff up.  (For the record, my searches indicate that Shakespeare himself never used the word.)

“But what about the torture?” I hear you asking.  “I’m not here for the language and the nudity, I want to see blood spattering for no reason!”

Well then fear not, I have good news!  There’s actually what I thought a funny scene where our resident psychopath (Topcliffe, is it?) is fishing.  “Ha!” I thought.  “Fishing.  Shakespeare. That’s funny.”  (“Shakespeare” is actually a very popular manufacturing line of fishing poles.)

Hahaha, it’s all fun and games until somebody gets a fish hook embedded in his chest. Topcliffe then picks up the fishing rod (still attached, mind you) and starts walking away.  I think, nay hope, that he’s going to now lead the poor soul away like a leash.  Nope.  Just goes ahead and rips it right out of him.

Grossed out yet? Later we’ll see him actually hung from the ceiling by giant hooks in his back.

Sometimes I wonder why I watch this stuff.  Seriously.

There’s almost no actual Shakespeare in this one.  He’s riding on the popularity of Two Gents, but everybody keeps calling it a “tragicomedy” and saying how much they like the dog, and Will wants to be taken seriously.

He’s got some good lines about why he wants to write – to explore why we love and why we fight and what it means to be human. That’s the good stuff, that’s what I want to hear about.  But it’s pretty brief.

Of course we drop a few random lines, Marlowe talks about how it’s not his fault that his life’s not going so great, the fault lies in his astrology. This of course is wide open for “The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves,” or maybe ” Additionally we meet Sir Walter Raleigh, who has been to America, and describes it as “Brave new world with such stuff in it.”  You get the idea.


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Will #3 : Oh, Sylvia!

(I’m going to try reviewing every episode of Will on TNT as they come out. If something doesn’t seem right this week, it’s because last week they actually ran 2 episodes.  So this is second week, third episode.)

This week’s episode does not bode well (bode Will?)  for fans of the text.  For fans of naked guys, absolutely.

You know the theory that Marlowe is gay?  Not really a theory in this show.  Marlowe is naked for much of the show, and surrounded by lots of other naked dudes.  Not knocking the lifestyle, just saying that’s not what I’m here for, and I think they’re trying way, way too hard.  It’s not even that naked Marlowe wakes up, strategically draped by another naked guy. Or that he leans over the balcony and yells to the other six naked guys, “Time to leave, I have to go to work.” Later there’s a full on naked orgy, with Marlowe in the middle demanding that he be serviced.  Can we get back to the text, please?

The actual interesting plot line opens with Will being way too confident in his abilities and knocking out a random play that sucks.  Everyone tells him, even Burbage’s daughter who is normally on his side.  It takes him a little while to accept that he’s still new at this and needs to learn to improve his craft.  Specifically, he needs to do so, daughter tells him, by stealing from other people.  “Everybody does it, even Marlowe.’

Off they go to the bookseller to find source material, end up stealing a book, getting caught, and then … nothing happens. I found that relatively pointless, other than to set up as a cute little bonding adventure between Will and, I really should go look up her name.  Alice?  For a universe that started out showing us torture, you now have someone catch a thief red handed and play it for comedy.  Make up your mind.

Anyway, now we get to the stuff that’s cribbed right from Shakespeare in Love as this girl acts as Will’s muse, helping him alter his ideas into the lines we know and love.  It is not until I hear them change a character’s name to Sylvia that I can finally relax and think, “Ok, cool, they’re doing Two Gentlemen of Verona. The universe is back where it’s supposed to be.” Hence title of this post, by the way 🙂

Shakespeare in Love
The comparisons are obvious, but the competition isn’t even close.

I hope that we can fast forward a little bit and get to some of the material that typical audiences know. It’s going to be cliche as all heck for we geeks to have to sit through Romeo and Juliet like it’s a new thing, but I think that’s part of the reason why the show is so weak now.  There’s nothing for the regular audience to recognize.  They don’t know their Two Gents from their Two Kinsmen. Once we get to writing Hamlet and Lear and Othello (if we get that far!) then maybe we can settle in to having some episodes center around what the actual Shakespeare actually did, and not all this made up nonsense.


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Review : WILL

I wish I had more time to review this, but I barely had time to watch it.  So I’m going to try and hit the highlights, and we can talk about it.

When Shakespeare, Kemp, Burbage and the other “moderately historically accurate” characters are on screen, I am enraptured. I could watch it all day.  I’ve been telling people it reminds me of the recent “Jobs” movie starring Michael Fassbender, which was basically two plus hours of a universe centered on Steve Jobs.  To the degree that this show will be a universe centered on Shakespeare and his circle, you won’t be able to tear me away from the television.

Alas, television producers don’t have nearly enough faith in modern audiences to allow for that.  Instead it’s set against a backdrop of such gratuitous language, sex and violence that I’d be embarrassed to share it with anybody, and almost turned it off fifteen minutes into the show.  Think I’m exaggerating?

  • We watch a man’s intestines pulled out.  Another has what I believe was some sort of hot poker shoved down his throat.  Great, we get it, we live in a world where to go against the crown is to risk torture.  But you could just as easily have said “you risk losing your head” and had the same effect. Unless you want an audience turned on instead of off by that sort of thing. If I wanted that I know what channel Game of Thrones is on.
  • I’m not a prude and I realize that the later the hour, the more sex is allowed in these shows.  But as I told one friend, “I didn’t realize that people were allowed to get that naked for that long.”  Seriously, it made me wonder whether they were going in and digitally erasing bits, because there’s literally nothing for them to strategically hide anything behind.
  • If that’s not awkward enough for you, there’s a side plot involving a prostitute and her little brother who is desperately trying to make enough money to get her out of that life.  Just to hammer the point home, we’re treated to a scene of him hiding under her bed while she services a client. The icing on the cake is when he takes out his knife and starts cutting himself, so we’re quite sure of how emotionally messed up he is.  Tell me again what the show is called and how any of that has anything to do with Shakespeare?

We could get into the details about the storylines and characters, how much they’re playing up the Catholic/Protestant thing, and whether or not we’re supposed to like Marlowe (I don’t).  But that’s my summary for now.  When it’s about Shakespeare, it’s got me.  Just about everything else, I’m disappointed and embarrassed for the people that made it.


Review : Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.

Eleanor and Park : Romeo and Juliet?I honestly thought that Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell as a new release, after seeing it on some random “must read this summer” list.  It had some sort of Romeo and Juliet connection, so I thought, “I’m in.  Maybe it’ll be something my kids will like.”  Turns out it’s published in 2013 so I’m late to the party.

The first line of the book is, “He’d stopped trying to bring her back.”

Interesting!  I immediately wondered whether the book was taking a page from Romeo and Juliet and giving us ye olde “star-crossed lovers take their life” right there in the prologue.  So I was hooked for the rest of the story thinking, “When’s it all gonna go down?”  The boy (Park) is still narrating so I guess he doesn’t die, but then again, no one says that we’re starting at the very end.  This could be the middle.  He could be telling us the equivalent of standing in front of her tomb holding his own poison.

Eleanor and Park does have some Romeo and Juliet in it.  On the surface, it’s just the standard “boy and girl decide they like each other to the backdrop of high school English class,” where of course they’re studying Romeo and Juliet. This gives us a chance to learn about the modern teenager’s interpretation of love at first sight:


‘I just don’t think it’s a tragedy.’ She rolled her eyes again. She knew Mr Stessman’s game by now. ‘But he’s so obviously making fun of them. Romeo and Juliet are just two rich kids who’ve always gotten every little thing they wanted. And now, they think they want each other.’

‘They’re in love …’ Mr Stessman said, clutching his heart.

‘They don’t even know each other,’ she said.

‘It was love at first sight.’

‘It was “Oh my God, he’s so cute” at first sight. If Shakespeare wanted you to believe they were in love, he wouldn’t tell you in almost the very first scene that Romeo was hung up on Rosaline … It’s Shakespeare making fun of love,’ she said.

The rest of the book, of course, is two teenagers from different worlds (he from the nice happy family, she from the broken home with the abusive step father) who fall head over heels in love and can’t bear to live life without each other.

I still can’t figure out if it’s supposed to be a Romeo and Juliet story or I’m just looking for parallels.  It’s got some weird gender flippy things going on, with the weird girl who likes to dress in boys’ clothes and the longer boy who discovers he really likes how he looks in makeup.  I thought that would be cool to run with.  But the girl’s still got violent family members and her boyfriend couldn’t be caught dead at her house, so I guess she’s still playing the Capulet role. She’s welcome at his house, though, which was the motivation for my earlier post “Dinner At The Montagues.”

Without the Shakespeare? I suppose it’s good, but maybe it’s too far removed from my world to fully appreciate.  I get what it’s like to be young and in love, I’m not that old.  The author does a great job of painting that slow, slow crawl from “Oh god I hate you” to “I hope that girl I hate sits next to me again” to “Maybe today I’ll tell her I liked what she said in English class” to “I should ask her about those song lyrics written on her book cover…” until one day you’re deciding whether or not you’re boyfriend and girlfriend and should you tell anybody? Eleanor and Park ride that entire rollercoaster right before our eyes.

I was expecting a Bridge to Terabithia twist through the whole thing. I thought I knew where it was going.  I was mistaken.  I think I would have liked my ending better.


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Review : Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Loyal readers know I’ve got a soft spot for The Tempest.  I worry that I sound like a broken record saying that. So even though my book review queue is backed up well beyond my ability to ever get through it, I said sure, go ahead and send me Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey.

I wish I could say I liked it, but I just can’t. First of all, it’s written in that “I want to sound Elizabethan” manner of speech which ends up being more grating than anything else. The author’s got a particular fondness for the word “mayhap”, to the point where it would sometimes appear multiple times on a single page of dialogue. Does she think that sounds like Shakespeare? I checked – that word does not appear in Shakespeare.

The story itself is interesting, starting with Miranda and Prospero’s attempt to catch Caliban.  So we get to see Caliban being taught language and learn what he knew about his mother, and how she died, and the role Setebos played in their lives.

It’s clear from the beginning that Prospero is the bad guy in this story. As a savage, Caliban had his freedom to roam the island.  But as soon as Prospero decides to civilize him, he is their servant, locked in his cell and only given limited amounts of freedom as a reward for good behavior. It only gets worse from there.  We also learn that Caliban would rather Ariel remain trapped in his tree. He’s there for a reason as far as Caliban is concerned and bad things will happen if Prospero frees him.  Prospero doesn’t care, invoking the name of Setebos to break Sycorax’s charm and create his own to bind Ariel to his service.

None of that would be a deal breaker for me.  I didn’t love the “if I say mayhap enough times I’ll sound like Shakespeare” approach to the dialogue, but it was a reasonable retelling of what happens in the story.  I should mention at this point that my daughter saw the book, recognized the characters, and asked if she could read it – before I was finished with it.  I had a bad feeling about that – this is, after all, spun like a romance novel – but I trust my kids, and told her that if it becomes inappropriate I expect her to tell me and give it back.

Fast forward a few days when she returns from school with a look of horror on her face, hands the book back shaking her head and saying, “I should not be reading that.”  She later tells me, “When you get to page two fifty it’s disgusting.”

I never made it to page two fifty because around page one seventy it becomes a Blue Lagoon story.  Everybody knows what I mean by that?  Fourteen-year-old Miranda gets to learn in great detail about her first period.  She has no idea what’s happening. Neither does her friend Caliban. Fine. I’ve actually argued in the past for sympathy for Caliban, because biology is a hell of a thing that you can’t always control, especially when you don’t know what’s happening.

Cut to the scene where Miranda’s taking a bath trying to get the blood off, while Caliban watches (without her knowledge).  Caliban who goes off into the forest and, to put it the way Ariel puts it after catching him, commits the sin of spilling his seed on the ground. Even better, Ariel then blackmails Caliban by threatening to tell Miranda and Prospero about it. So there’s now this ongoing sexualization of Miranda that’s entirely the invention of the author because there’s none of it in the original.

Yeah, I’m out.  I can’t go on to what I know must ultimately be sex scenes between them, and knowing that my daughter read it before me doesn’t help at all.

If nothing I said above bothers you, you might find that you like this one. But I just can’t.  The characters are too special to me, and you can’t do that to them. The Tempest for me is a fairy tale about a long lost princess stranded on an island with her sorcerer father, who meets a prince and falls in love and first sight, who takes her away to live happily ever after.  I know there’s more to it than that, and it can be looked at and interpreted many ways. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

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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Behold! Behowl The Moon by Erin Nelsen Parekh

In September 2016 I found this Kickstarter project for a “baby board book” based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream called Behowl the Moon.  Look what came in the mail today!




These images came as some lovely postcards representing the illustrations within the book. They’ve now been added to the ever growing shrine at my desk!  New employees rapidly learn that I’m the Shakespeare guy.

I love that this exists, and that we helped make it happen. My kids are too old for baby books now, but there’s lots of new parents out there that can have this. My coworker just had a baby 10 months ago and was happy to pick one up.  “I just hope he doesn’t eat it,” he told me today. “He’s starting to gnaw on everything he can reach.”

If you didn’t get in on the Kickstarter it’s not too late!  The book is available on Amazon in both Kindle and “board book” formats.

In a different world I might have read this book to my kids.  Instead I get to do this. I love it.

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Review : Wool by Hugh Howey

I first heard about Wool in the same context as The Martian, one of these self published runaway hits that is already fast tracked to become a movie. It’s a pretty standard dystopian story of people living in an artificially constructed society where the worst crime is to express a desire to go “out”. What’s outside and why are they in? The answers seem pretty obvious if you’ve read any of a dozen other books with this same premise.  I guess this came out  back in 2011 and was originally eight books, now it’s been republished as three bigger ones.
So why are we talking about it here? Because for some strange reason it’s loaded with Shakespeare references. There’s even a character named George Wilkins, and I challenge casual fans of Shakespeare to recognize that reference!
The main character’s name is Juliet (or Juliette, I have it on audiobook so who knows), and I keep waiting for a Romeo to appear and the longer he doesn’t the more I’m thinking, “Oh, good, we can actually have a character named Juliet without it requiring the Shakespeare story.”
Soon enough, though, we’re flashing back to when she’s a kid and sees a production of the play. She’s even given a script that she then carries around for the rest of the story.  Once the explicit R&J connection is made, the different sections (chapters? again, audiobook, hard to tell) suddenly become quotes from the play.
I don’t get it. There’s no Romeo and Juliet story here, and I’m stretching to come up with one.  I’m wondering if there’s more Pericles in it (see George Wilkins, above ;)).  I’m not nearly familiar enough with that play.
So, surely others out there have already read this one, and probably the whole series.  Is it right in front of my face and I’m missing it? I once read a Hamlet story told from the perspective of super-intelligent dogs, and I managed to figure that one out (eventually).  Does it come up more in later books? Or did the author just feel like sprinkling around some Shakespeare?  The latter seems unlikely, but you never know in the self-published world, things don’t have to stay strictly to formula.  Besides, there’s no way that he drops George Wilkins into the story and expects anybody to recognize the Shakespeare connection!
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